When a Plan comes Together
So here it is, the winter after another long hunting season. If you are anything like me, you are anxiously waiting to hit the woods looking for antlers off the bucks you just got done chasing. If you were unlucky in harvesting one of those bucks hopefully you are lucky enough to know he is still around! However, shed hunting is not what this story is about. After every season, I find myself like many others thinking about the next place I plan to go to pursue my passion for hunting whitetails. Last year, about this time, I found myself looking for a chance to plan a hunt with my brother Jason, who lives in North Carolina. I say a “chance” because his schedule does not allow him much time to hunt. He works for a NASCAR team traveling 36+ weekends a year, so it is very difficult to plan hunts together. After debating and trying to come up with something in a few different states, we finally caught a break. Jason met Rick who is from Ohio. Rick enjoyed racing and Jason enjoyed hunting so they began talking often and before long Rick had invited him to come hunt. Jason accepted the offer and also got the okay to invite me along to hunt with him, now it was just a matter of when and where.
As summer was passing by, we were exchanging pictures, talking about how the hunt would be out in Ohio and what to expect since neither of us had hunted this state before. Rick sent us the address of a place he was going to get permission on to hunt but he hadn’t hunted there, himself, for many years. We were told there were good buck around the area and we didn’t doubt that for a second knowing what Ohio can produce. The problem we had was that we had very little time to get it done when we got there. Due to our work schedules, we decided on a three day hunt at the beginning of November starting on a Monday. I would drive out by myself from Pennsylvania and get set up at the property for Mondays hunt. We took advantage of knowing where the property was located by studying property lines and terrain on Google earth. We both pinned where we felt the best stand locations would be and what wind we would need to hunt them. Let me mention now, that the property was small and only about 15 acres with the house being smack in the middle of it. Being surrounded by farm land and tons of good looking property, it still looked very promising to have big buck on it or at least cruising through from other properties. Going into October, we had seen pictures of some nice buck from Rick. The property we were going in looked like a 120” or better buck was what we were looking for, especially given that we could only hunt 3 days. We both decided that being picky on this trip wasn’t an option and if we wanted to make it a successful trip, we needed to have a shooter buck at least in range during the 3 days we would be there.
After a slow start to hunting in Pennsylvania, November was finally here and I was heading to Ohio. Sunday November 2nd I woke up early to make the 7 hour drive to Rick’s house where we would be staying in a camper during our time there. Looking back on it now, it feels like that drive flew by. Before I knew it, it was 1pm and I pulled into his driveway. Not wasting any time after meeting Rick for the first time, we hopped in my truck and headed out. Before heading to the property to get permission, we stopped by his buddies’ house who just so happens to hold the World Record Non-typical Whitetail buck. Meeting Mike Beatty was awesome, he is a great guy and gave me a tour of his trophy room, where I saw buck I’m only use to seeing in Cabelas. To see the world record Beatty Buck mounted and the sheds from a previous year, off the same buck, was unbelievable. Mike was heading out to the tree stand himself that afternoon, so Rick and I quickly drove to the farm and property where we wanted to hunt. After getting a hold of the farmer, we learned he had family up from out of state and that they would be hunting all week. Disappointed to hear that, we drove to the neighbor’s house where I met with the lady who owned the 15 acres we would be hunting. I was not hunting Sunday evening, I just wanted to sneak in and hang two stands, one for my brother and one for me, to get into and hunt the next day. Rick helped carry a stand in as we headed for a spot we marked on a map between an old dried up pond and a standing corn field in the back of the property. It was maybe 75 yards from the pond to the corn field, which made a sort of funnel the deer would take while traveling through the woodlot. This was one of the 3 main spots we studied from maps and it only took about 1 minute to see this was a good location for a stand. We were 25 yards into the woods and a heavy trail opened up with 3-4 freshly worked over scrapes one right after another. To top it off, a nice sized tree was shredded just off the trail. Instantly this had my blood pumping in excitement. I told Rick I wanted to stay quiet and not go any further into the woods. As I was spinning in circles looking up for a tree, I was forced to choose between only 2 options in order to keep my wind blowing out over the old pond and toward the house. I checked the time and it was just around 2pm when I secured the stand in a tree. I trimmed a few branches opening up 2 main shooting lanes with about 20-30 yard shots. The rest was super thick under growth that would make it tough to see any deer coming. I was excited about the first stand I hung, but worried about bumping deer, I made the decision to not go into the woods aside of the house where I wanted to put up a stand for my brother. Since he was coming in around noon the next day, I felt it would work out that he could go in in daylight to have the least amount of intrusion in the small patch of woods.
This was it. As I pulled into the driveway the next morning I thought about how long I waited for this day to finally get here. I didn’t know any of the deer in the area and honestly I hardly knew the area at all! At home I have hunted the same mountain for my entire life, I run trail cameras and I know every buck before I lay eyes on them in the woods. Ohio was going to be different and it was exciting to have the mystery of a new property and new deer. Where would they be coming from? What time will they be moving through? Is the rut on yet? How big are the buck here? These were all the questions I was asking myself as I slipped into the stand that morning. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my breathing and heart pounding as I walked as slow and as quietly as I could. I only had one option on entering this stand and I had no idea what I’d run into on the way. It was 125 yards from the truck to the stand and I made it in without being detected as far as I knew. I got set up and realized I had an hour before the sun would start to rise. I began day dreaming about a monster buck crossing my path and the excitement me and my brother would share if one of us were able to take a buck during this hunting trip. My creative mind played out scenarios that seem so unreal that I eventually told myself I have to stop thinking it will happen that way because it never happens the way you dream of it happening. I feel like I almost curse myself when I picture exactly what will happen in my head, because it never seems to go the way you think. My dream went sort of like this, I got permission on this property in Ohio, hung a stand on a scrape line, I see 20+ deer including buck everywhere then this huge buck shows up that I put the perfect shot on and watch fall over! Usually about that time, I wake up suddenly with that falling feeling you get when your head bobs off.
Shortly after the sun began to rise I caught myself staring down a shooting lane thinking it looked like a man-made trail that was grown shut. I confirmed my suspicion when I noticed a hang on tree stand 45 yards away along the edge of the standing cornfield. I was surprised to see this here. I didn’t think the piece of land I was on was being hunted by anyone else. My main concern was, if this person was from the neighboring property and if they decided to hunt the days I was going to be there, it could possibly ruin or at least change my hunt completely. I started to feel disappointed when I could see a ladder stand about 75 yards down the field edge from the first stand I saw. “How many people have been hunting here?” I wondered and “how often were they in here?” I couldn’t figure out if they were both old and unused stands or not, because there was actually another one that looked like it had been there for years back behind me off the dried pond. The trail through the woods certainly wasn’t used, other than by deer, so I assumed it hadn’t been hunted at least from this side. My first encounter with an Ohio deer came about an hour and a half after light. I caught a deer moving from right to left along the edge of the cornfield. With binoculars, I realized it was a young 7pt buck. Excited, I quickly grabbed my grunt tube and as he turned toward the corn I gave 2 grunts to get his attention. To my surprise, he turned and headed straight at me but before he entered the woods he turned again and walked along the edge and out of my sight. I wasn’t sure why at the time, but later would find out why he did what he did to get into the woods. Within minutes, I could hear him walking toward me under the thick brush, he stepped out into the open lane while I self videoed him. This buck circled the stand I was in after walking directly under me. He then headed down wind to scent check the area. After that, I caught the sounds of deer in the thick stuff above me. I was not sure if he was in there or if another deer was at first. It wasn’t long before I saw my next two deer come out from that direction onto the open tail at 15 yards, this was a big doe followed by a younger fawn. They went in opposite directions and the same buck from earlier came out and laid down just in front of me for the next 10 minutes before the smaller doe walked by again making him jump up and follow her off and out of sight. Over an hour passed ‘till I saw my next deer. I caught movement in the thick brush to my left that looked like a small tree moving from being rubbed. At that time I did not know if this was one of the 250 squirrels it felt like I had seen that morning or a deer. Just like that, a small 8pt buck walking left to right in front of me flew through my shooting lane. I watched him disappear off to my right thinking that if a shooter buck would do the same thing I would need to be ready or really fast at grabbing my bow and stopping him in an open spot to get a shot at him.
From 11-1:45 it was very slow, I did not see a single deer. My brother pulled into the driveway at the house around 1:45. Knowing the plan was for my brother to slip into the woods next to the house around 150 yards away from me, I grabbed my bow and held it so that I was ready for any deer that might move through if he were to push any from their beds. I watched as far as I could toward the house knowing my brother would be looking my way to see where I was set up. He crossed the back yard and stopped to look through binoculars as I was doing the same, we both gave a wave to let one another know we saw the other and he slowly walked to the side of the house where I could no longer see him. Within what felt like seconds, I found my heart pounding and adrenaline flowing as I caught a flash of a main beam just 20 yards to my front left in some thick brush. It’s amazing the difference in feeling you get when you instantly know the deer you see is in another league then the previous 1.5 year olds. I watched closely as he turned his head 180 degrees where I was able to make out a big framed 8 pt rack with good brow tines. In my head, I compared it to my 2013 PA buck only bigger framed, longer brows and longer tines this was all I needed to see to immediately know it was a shooter buck. It crossed my mind for a split second this deer might have been pushed from my brother but the buck appeared like it was in no hurry and 100% calm as he took a few steps through the thick brush going left to right. I had no shot opportunity and it appeared he was on a similar trail the small buck took when he came from the field only this buck was facing toward the field. He was 5 yards away from the open shooting lane I needed him in and I worried he would head straight for the field never coming into an open lane. Because of that, I felt like my mind was racing and I needed to think quickly about what to do. I tried to get the video camera rolling as I knew it was pointed in his direction already. I reached up opened the screen and pushed record. Then, before the buck would start moving, I picked out an opening 1ft by 1ft with a few small branches around it and thought that was going to be my first opportunity if he headed the way he was facing. This all happened in less than a minute. I clipped on my release and as soon as he took one step I drew back my bow. As I anchored in, I settled my pin into the opening I realized I had my face mask up and I actually pulled it down at full draw then re-anchored so I was ready. The buck was about 3 steps from the opening so I actually held the bow away from my face watching him as I waited. As soon as he made a move forward I anchored back in on the opening and this time I watched his neck and front shoulder move through my pins before letting him get to far through the opening, I grunted with my mouth to stop him. I never took my eyes off my top pin that settled in behind his shoulder. I knew the buck locked up and stopped when I grunted but never noticed if he looked my way before I released the arrow. I watched my nock-out lighted nock disappear perfectly into high double lung. The buck took off running forward crashing through the trees and in seconds all was quiet. I never saw the buck make it to the cornfield. “Could he have died and fell over in just 40-50 short yards?” I wondered. Immediately after the shot, still high on adrenaline and heart pounding, I grabbed my phone and called my brother. “What is it?” he asked when he answered wondering why I was calling so quickly after he just got there. He thought maybe I saw some deer heading in his direction. My response was “I just smoked a 140” 8pt” he couldn’t believe it and neither could I. He was only a few steps into the woods when it happened. Because I thought the buck fell within 50 yards or so, we decided he could sneak into the stand with me and we would hunt the remainder of the evening together.
2013 Pennsylvania 8pt Archery Buck
It was only 2pm on the first day of my 3 day hunt and I had shot the biggest buck I had ever shot with a bow. As crazy as this is though, this was my third out of state hunting trip where I was fortunate enough to shoot a buck on the first day I was hunting. The first time was opening day in Kentucky in 2010. The second was 4 hours after I arrived in Illinois in November of 2012. And lastly, this time my first day in Ohio 2014. Unfortunately I realized the video camera had never started recording, I hit the button before it had turned on all the way and missed the shot because of this. As many people know self videoing is not an easy task. That was okay though because in the end I was going to have the memories and a big Ohio buck on my wall with the story to share for years to come! My brother and I hunted the rest of the evening while I sat impatiently and anxiously waiting. We wouldn’t see any deer the rest of the evening. As the sun was setting, I caught myself staring at my red lighted nock in the ground thinking about the day I just had. I was second guessing everything that happened probably to the point where my brother thought it was funny because I remember saying “What if” a lot. All too often with hunting, we second guess what to do, where to hunt, where to hang cameras, when to move stands… It is all part of the challenge putting the pieces together to have a successful hunt!
We waited for Rick to get there at dark and he was just as excited as me because he was in the woods with a flashlight before we could climb down from our tree stand. Finding the arrow was easy thanks to the nock that was still lit up. I had good blood on the arrow and there were two trails leading away from the spot he was standing. I took up the first one going slightly left and could not find any blood at all. In fact, all three of us couldn’t seem to pick up a blood trail in the beginning. That quick my doubt started to kick in, knowing how tough these animals are I began to worry if I had shot too high or too far back. “There is no way” I told myself, “I know I hit exactly where I saw the arrow disappear in his body, it was a high double lung shot.” After a few minutes we picked up the trail, Rick took the lead ahead of us looking for the deer while my brother and I went step by step following the very thin blood trail. We reached the edge of the woods and a fence crossing. I couldn’t believe the deer wasn’t dead in the woods because I was sure I would have seen him enter the field from the stand. But here is why I didn’t see the deer get to the cornfield, the fence was down and this was where all the deer were crossing it. On top of that there was about 20 yards of high grass from the woods to the standing corn. That’s also why I didn’t hear or see him crashing into the cornfield like I thought I would. By this point Rick had made it to the cornfield and was zig-zagging around about 50-75 yards in front of us. I starting thinking, man, if he is that far ahead and didn’t find the deer or blood this might be a long night. My brother and I continued following blood little by little, the deer was now traveling parallel to the cornfield through the high grass. I was quiet and a little worried because of the lack of blood trail we had. My brother even said because of the shot being high lung that the buck wasn’t going to bleed out much. Instead he would fill up with blood. Every once in awhile, I would stand up shining my flashlight around looking for a rack or white belly and finally after about 80 yards into the search, I stood up and when I shined the light this time I could see the butt of a deer and his tail just 5 yards away, the rest of the deer was hidden in the tall grass. I stood there saying “there he is, right there,” to my brother who was running the video camera as we both stepped forward to see him. Rick was 75 yards ahead and had already seen my buck laying there. He walked past for my brother and me to share the moment of finding him together. When I grabbed a hold of him he was bigger then I imagined no ground shrinkage on him and was exactly what I thought! A big framed, huge bodied, 8pt buck with a bonus sticker point off his left brow tine!
That moment is something you try to sit back and enjoy but after it’s all done it becomes a blur of excitement and emotion. A couple high fives, hugs, and a lot of pictures later we tackled the task of dragging him back uphill to the house. My first day on my first hunt in Ohio I was able to take the biggest buck of my life. Unbelievable doesn’t seem like enough to describe this hunt. A ton of credit is due to my brother who made the hunt possible for us and special thanks to Rick for knowing the area, giving us a place to sleep, and feeding us all week! I met a great family that I will continue to be friends with for a lifetime, and I got to share an unforgettable hunt with my favorite hunting partner and brother. Hunting memories are what it is all about in the end, and together we have been on a lot over the years. More often than not they end unsuccessfully but times like this make every sit in the woods worth it all at once. The 3 day hunt in Ohio ended as a huge success, even after we hunted the next 2 days with little opportunity at a buck to double up. One thing is for sure the drive back home goes much quicker when you know you have your biggest buck to date in the back of the truck. I can’t wait to plan my next hunting trip and get back to Ohio in 2015!