Brace yourself, long winded blog ahead
Setting the Stage… Last Christmas
Last year I had been seeing a few nice bucks on camera and when Christmas day came around I figured I better sleep in and not get in trouble with the family for potentially shooting, tracking, and handling a deer on Christmas morning. I slept in and a few days later I checked the game camera and one of the biggest bucks I had been seeing came in during shooting light. The one day I didn’t hunt I missed my chance. I didn’t forget that that this year.
A Roller Coaster Season
This year I’ve hunted pretty hard. If I had a chance to go hunting, I went. Even though I’ve hunted hard it’s been a difficult season. This season has been unlike any others for me in that it’s been full of curveballs and change. I mainly hunt two tracks of land and both tracks have portions of them that have been getting logged for what seems like forever.
Logging started at the end of last season and the management continues throughout this season. By that I mean that the timber crews started cutting wood during the middle of last season and worked throughout the summer. They stopped logging a little bit before deer season and when they moved out my game-planning, strategizing, and stand relocating moved in. I was able to put out some game cams and was even getting nice bucks on a decent pattern. I looked forward to the opening of the season.
As the season approached I got word that the forestry management team was fixing to spray the new cutover to kill everything in preparation for a burn that would be followed up by re-planting. Two weeks before the season started the area where I was getting good game-cam pics went from all green to brown and dry after being sprayed. Needless to say, this affected things and the big bucks seemed to vacate the area. I had to drop back and punt with my previous strategy and adjust accordingly.
After a while big bucks slowly started appearing back on camera and the rut was approaching. I was excited to see deer back in the area and was hopeful to catch one coming through chasing does during the peak of the rut. As rut sign increased so did my anticipation… until I learned that the area that had been sprayed was going to then be burned! Burning during the rut, just my luck. Here again burning the area really changed the deer’s pattern and consequently my hunting strategy. Big bucks fled the immediate area again and adapted.
My whole season this year has been “on the move”…
Hunting a Specific Deer
I’ve hunted deer since I was 12, but I have never really hunted specific deer until this year. I told my friends that hunting deer is one thing, hunting big deer is another thing, and hunting a specific deer is a completely different ball game. To me, it is more fun because it’s more challenging and as imagined the rewards are less frequent. It’s like a chess match with nature. I realize I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here, but big bucks think, behave, act, & react differently than younger bucks and does do and that takes a little getting used to when planning. They don’t get big by being dumb. Learning how to target and go after specific deer has been my quest this season… and I don’t have it figured out and am still learning.
In my case I’ve been hunting 2 specific deer all season. Sometimes I thought these deer were ghosts of my imagination that merely taunt me on game camera every so often just to keep me interested. They have been running me in circles so much it has been frustrating. My wife even once told me this season “I’ll be glad when you kill that deer because he’s driving me crazy and I don’t even hunt!” As you can see, in the moments of frustration I tried to turn the quest into a family journey in hopes of getting more input or some type of perceived edge. If showing game cam pics and pleading my case to my buddies and wife would help kill deer I’d have both of the big ones on the wall already. Unfortunately talking about it doesn’t help too much. If you’ve hunted a big deer before I’m sure you feel my pain.
The Big Boys
All season long I’ve been focusing in on these specific deer that I would randomly get on camera. When you hunt specific deer you tend to give them names. My 2 are named “Big Dook” and “Big Dook’s Brother” as we affectionately refer to them. As I closed down on their territories this season something would always happen (as mentioned above) to mess my strategy up.
As the season continued I started losing hope. Then in early December Big Dook and Big Dook’s Brother started showing back up on game camera, but in different areas. Their reappearance on game camera was most likely due to their food sources getting lower as the season progresses
I noticed that on one of my stands Big Dook’s Brother was coming in every other day or so. The frequency of his appearances was exciting, but the unexciting part was that he only showed up in the dark. For that matter, Big Dook and his brother only show up at night. However, Big Dook’s Brother was starting to show up closer and closer to shooting light. For example… if you can see around 6:45am he was coming in around 6:15 or so… and he did the same thing in the evening.
As time passed he started cutting it closer and closer to shooting light. Of course he would also be there in the middle of the night too, but the times when he did come in at dawn and dusk made it seem like he was starting to getting risky with his movements. Maybe he was hungry or maybe he hadn’t heard any guns go off all season in his area and was relaxing a bit. And to that point, I’ve let a lot of deer walk this season waiting on these 2 specific deer.
With the Big Dook’s Brother coming in frequently and starting to take risks with his timing I really was looking forward to the Christmas/New Year’s holiday time frame because I felt like I may be able to catch him slipping. I was sure to keep the stand “corned” up and made note of the timing of his movements based on game camera data.
As I mentioned above, last year on Christmas morning I slept in… and regretted it because the big buck showed up in shooting light. With this buck coming in frequently I wasn’t going to sleep in this year, I had learned my lesson. To answer the question some of you may be thinking right now… I don’t have any kids that would be getting up early to open presents and we didn’t have anything scheduled for early Christmas morning so I was free to hunt.
I climbed into the stand and sat in the dark waiting on the sun to rise. It was a little cool, but not as cold as it usually is in late December. I anticipated the direction that he would come from as well as anticipating that it would happen as soon as I could barely see. After all, that’s what the game camera footage indicated.
I sat and waited and the sun started rising. Nothing but squirrels were running around everywhere. The “prime time” as I envisioned it had passed and I could see clearly through the woods. I thought to myself that it simply wasn’t the day that it was meant to be because the big boy never showed up when once visibility was good. As it was Christmas day I was upbeat so not all was lost. Then I saw a flicker.
You know how you sit in a stand and see a flicker and it catches your eye, that’s what happened to me. Usually the flickers are leaves falling, squirrels moving, but sometimes they are the flicker of a deer’s tail. And that’s exactly what this was. However, the deer wasn’t coming in from the direction I anticipated. I was wrong on both my time and directional anticipations.
I was hunting in some oak woods that deer pass through on the way to their bedding areas. I was up on a hill overlooking a valley with a dried up creek that only fills when it rains hard. I had corn down in the valley near the dried up creek bed. When deer come through that “holler”, as they say, they usually pause at the corn pile as they are naturally funneled toward it by the lay of the land.
The flicker I saw was directly in front of me on top of the hill across the valley and it was about 90 yards out. When I saw the flicker I didn’t instantly know what it was. I raised my scope up and could tell it was a deer. Though, I only saw the deer’s body as his head was behind some brush. I continued watching. Then he stepped forward and I could tell that it was a buck because I saw antlers, but I couldn’t see exactly how many points or denote the size of the deer because he was walking and going behind several trees and tree limbs. When I saw antlers I bumped the safety off on my gun.
The good part was that the deer was heading directly towards me. He was walking through the valley and I believed / hoped he was heading toward the corn pile. As he made his way through the woods he would walk 5 or 10 yards then pause and look around. He wasn’t in a hurry and he was being cautious. He started getting closer to me. At 60 yards I could tell he was a good buck. At 50 yards I zoomed in the scope and saw a specific “crab claw” point on one side which indicated to me that he was indeed Big Dook’s Brother. Our showdown was upon us, the chess match was hopefully coming to an end if I could execute.
When I saw that unique point on the right side of his rack my heart started pounding. I was staring at a deer through my scope in broad daylight at 50 yards that I’d been hunting for a long time. He looked up in my direction from behind a bunch of limbs. I could see him, but taking a shot through all that brush was too risky. If he would have run off I would have beat myself up for not shooting, but I felt he would eventually head to the corn and give me a clearer shot and even though it tore my nerves up, I held off on forcing the shot.
Check out the screenshot of my heart rate from my FitBit as the deer approached
While my heart was in my throat and the knot was in my stomach I tried to take deep breaths to calm myself down. I was shaking and trying to maintain steadiness. When I took those deep breaths, they fogged up my scope. Even worse I thought the fog from my deep breaths would be visible to the deer I feared. I could easily see the cloud of fog that I just exhaled so I’m sure he could have. I thought to myself that the deer was going to see my cloud of air and run off. I stopped the deep breaths and the deer held still for what seemed like forever. I wondered if he saw me because he was moving his head around from right to left.
I was in mid-freak out when he started moving again. He jumped the dried creek bed and got into a clearer view for me. When his feet landed on this side of the creek bed I could “hear” how heavy he was. It was a deep thud when his back legs hit. I knew he was a big one. As he stepped through the brush I again saw the unique point on the right side of his rack which re-confirmed that he was the deer I was chasing.
I had him in the scope and knew I was going to shoot. He was 15 yards from the corn pile and I had another opportunity to shoot through some brush. Again, I held off hoping for an open shot. I didn’t want to force the shot while he was heading in the direction I wanted him to. It was tearing me up on the inside. He progressed ahead a few more yards and paused just 5 yards from the corn. Why would he stop before the corn? I was wigging out. When he stopped, his head was behind a big oak tree and the back end of his body was behind a smaller tree. I had a clear shot on the base of his neck and I couldn’t wait any longer. He held still observing his surroundings and I was focused on not flinching on my trigger pull, a mistake I made years back that still haunts me. I focused on making a smooth trigger pull…well as smooth as you can get with your heart racing and whole body shaking. I pulled on the trigger as steady as I could and at 7:17am on Christmas morning the hammer dropped!
When the gun went off I thought I saw the deer fall down on the spot, but in the commotion of things I wasn’t sure. Suddenly I saw a deer take off running to the right. I didn’t even put another shell in, but I raised my gun up and looked at the deer that was running. I didn’t see any antlers and all that math wasn’t adding up to me in that moment as I was somewhat flustered. I thought I saw the deer fall, but what was running away? Turns out that there was another with the deer I shot, but I was so focused in on the big boy that I didn’t even see the other deer. I wondered to myself what had happened. I was sure I saw the deer fall, but I couldn’t see him on the ground anywhere, which made me a little nervous. Then I heard the sound of a deer thrashing and when I heard that I knew that I’d made a good shot and that he had indeed fallen on the spot.
I sat in the stand shaking and tried to calm myself down at what had just taken place. I literally couldn’t believe it. I ensured my gun was on safe and got out of the stand and headed down the hill. When I got there, I could not believe I actually saw the deer and how big he was! He fell on the spot and he was definitely the shooter I’d been chasing. I started taking pics and texting everybody who would be interested. I texted my mom and told her I needed her help taking pictures. I was pumped up, excited, thankful, emotional, and still not believing that this deer came through in good shooting light on Christmas morning. It was a story too good to be true, but it happened!
The below pics are pics my mother took right before she helped me drag the deer! Yes, she loves me (and it’s not her first time dragging a deer with me either) :-)
Being able to get this deer on the ground was a great Christmas present for me! I still can’t believe it happened, how it happened, and how the hunt unfolded was just as any hunter would script a hunt. I’d put in hours and hours of scouting, moving cameras, carrying corn through woods, cutting shooting lanes, and numerous hunts sitting in the stand waiting for that very deer to come through. It was a great reward for the time and energy invested and made it all worth it. In my case it was persistence that paid off more than anything.
Also, many of you know I lost my dad this past year to Alzheimer’s disease and sitting in the woods has been somewhat of a therapy for me throughout the season. When I got my mom to help me take some pictures of the deer she was sending out text messages telling people that “Clint got a Christmas present from Frank today”. In that moment, I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective, but it did make me think. I can imagine my dad up there in heaven saying “Come on God, let’s send the boy a big deer, he’s been hunting hard this year” lol. Hey, whatever it was that caused the deer to move I am not mad about it one bit! I am thankful and praise God for it regardless! With this Christmas being somewhat of a potentially somber one being able to get this big deer did bring about an unexpected excitement for us and a lingering thought of a higher power making everything line up like it did. I think my dad would have been proud, I know that I am. It was a hunt that I will never forget
Now, we still have a few more days to hunt in this season and Big Dook is still out there and I’m hoping he will make a similar mistake like his brother did. It only takes a matter of seconds to turn your whole season around…