The 2017 deer season has been a long one for me and I don’t mean that in a negative way. Rather, I mean that I’ve hunted harder and more this year than any in the past. As I mentioned in the Black Friday Buck blog, I’ve been getting after it this season. I’ve watched a lot of deer and have been chasing a few specific bucks throughout the season.
Chasing the Big Boys
I specifically focused on 2 big deer at the start and middle of the season. I couldn’t get the job done with them and they stopped appearing on camera. I believe someone got them. As the season progressed, I had to monitor and adjust.
In late November, after the Black Friday Buck, I moved some cameras around and scouted for sign in different areas of our lease. One location I set up in was in some planted pines not far from a creek. I hoped I could see what was traveling the creek, but was unsure as I hadn’t been hunting that area.
It only took about a week of the game camera being up when I saw a nice buck with a split brown tine that I had not seen anywhere else. He was very wide, not too tall, and looked heavy. As it was late November I figured this buck was “cruising” as they call it when bucks roam around areas they don’t normally go to looking for does to breed.
Needless to say, I was intrigued and kept paying attention in this area. I continued hauling corn and checking game cameras and noticed this buck was coming in every now and then. After he appeared multiple times I thought I might have a chance to get him, but knew I’d have to be lucky for that to happen.
Cat & Mousing Me
Over time it seemed like this deer knew when I hunted! I would hunt and check my game camera a week later and find that the deer was coming in either before or after I hunted… sometimes in the dark, sometimes in the daylight. It was frustrating. I’d hunt on a Sunday morning and leave in time to get to early service and the deer would come out 30 minutes after I left. Surely God wanted me in church instead of in the woods, but I won’t lie I was tempted ;-)
It became almost like a chess match with nature and I continuously lost. I then tried changing things up. I’d park my truck in various locations, I’d drive in with my lights off, I’d walk in extremely quietly, etc. Regardless of what I tried, nothing seemed to work.
Adding to the frustration was the fact that this deer was impossible to pattern, likely a reason he got so big. He never came in on a schedule. The days in between his visits weren’t consistent. He’d not come at all for 7 days then show up 3 times in 2 days. Then he’d take a few days off and come 2 days in a row. And yes, he always came when I wasn’t there
Getting this deer would be a test of skill yes, but mostly of determination and persistence.
I moved around and hunted different stands because I didn’t want to put too much pressure on that one deer and in that one area. Though, like any hunter, it’s hard to get the big buck off your mind. As I spent day after day and week after week trying to figure out a solid game plan, hauling corn, and checking game cameras I started to think I was crazy because this mission was nearly an impossible one.
The obsession may be hard to explain if you’re not a hunter, but I’m sure many of you understand where I’m coming from. This deer was in my head and was seemingly always a step ahead of me. When you try to hunt specific deer, it starts to eat at you after a while when you can’t line things up. As the season was winding down getting this deer became a border line obsession.
Week after week I failed to the point of wondering why I even kept trying.
The Lead Up
Christmas came, and the cold weather had set in. It was unusually cold by South Carolina standards. A big cold front made its way in and temperatures were in the low 20’s to 30’s the week after Christmas. The season was drawing to an end, food sources were low, and the temperature was supposed to drop over 10 degrees on New Year’s Eve.
I hoped that the deer would feel the temperature/pressure change coming and be on their feet, but as you most likely know, late in the season a lot of deer go nocturnal. I was optimistic, but not holding my breath. On top of this the moon had been getting brighter and fuller during this time period so deer would mostly likely be walking all night long. The saving grace on this day was the cloud cover. It was overcast, and the clouds blocked the sun. It was a cold, winter day - the perfect kind of day to hunt and the type of day you dream about when you’re sitting in 90-degree humidity getting eaten alive by mosquitos in the early season.
Interesting Note – He Didn’t Travel Far
One interesting thing I should mention was that this deer only showed up on this one specific camera. A normal practice of hunting, I do a little recon with a few game cameras that I move around to see what deer are in various areas. With several cameras nearby I was surprised that this deer only showed up on this one specific camera. I’ve not seen him anywhere else all year long. I believe he was either bedding very close by and not traveling far or either he was traveling a very restricted path to wherever he was going.
In the past I’ve seen deer tighten down the geographic areas of travel as the season progresses. I think they sense hunting pressure and react accordingly. However, this deer did not roam too far. He was disciplined in his movements and I would have also have to be disciplined and persistent, beyond the point of obsession to succeed.
It was New Year’s Eve and it was a Sunday. I’d gone to church and eaten lunch. I headed out around 3:45. It was cold and the wind made it colder. I had on nearly every layer I could find plus a Thermacare back wrap with heat pockets and 2 hot hands inside my gloves. I walked in (it was more like a waddle in due to the numerous layers I had on) and got in the stand as quietly as I could.
Several of my friends were also hunting and we were all texting on a group chat. Around 4:35 I had a small deer enter the narrow shooting lane. It was either a button buck or yearling doe, definitely too small to shoot.
I texted the crew and told them I already had a deer in the lane. Seeing a deer this early seemed positive to me. I was hopeful that they were moving. I watched this deer for a few minutes and occasionally looked down at my phone while the guys were talking. After the deer had been there for a few minutes it looked to its right very quickly, then to its left as if it was alarmed by something. I could tell the deer heard something, I just wasn’t sure what. I took the above pic around 4:42 and sent it to the group chat. As soon as I did the young deer just bolted off the corn pile and out of the lane. His abrupt exit got my attention because I knew that could potentially mean he saw another deer.
One of the guys responded to our group text and I momentarily looked down at the phone and read the message. When I looked back up I saw a big deer already in the lane, facing me, and with his head down eating corn. Within seconds this deer had entered the lane and started eating. He wasn’t wasting any time, and neither was I.
I slowly raised my gun and looked through the scope. I could see the crown of his head, the top of his neck, and his back. I dialed in the scope a little to zoom in closer. The first thing I saw was the split brow tine that I’d seen in game cam pics before. In that moment I knew exactly which deer it was and that I would indeed be pulling the trigger.
I’ve always thought it’s not the best shooting position when a deer is facing you or basically in any scenario where you weren’t going through vital organs (a broadsided or quartering shot). However, in this scenario I had good light, knew the deer was moving quickly, and any wrong move would result in the deer leaving the shooting lane. I couldn’t wait or give him a chance.
I put the crosshairs at the base of his neck as if to shoot down through his neck aiming for critical mass. I was also worried that at any moment he would quickly raise his head up. The deer was about 45 yards from me and all I could think about was a smooth trigger pull. I reminded myself to squeeze off slowly and not flinch. I pulled the trigger as smoothly as I could. The gun went off and the deer dropped on the spot! Talk about excited, I was pumped up!
At 4:44 I texted the group chat “BBD!” which means “Big Buck Down!”, an abbreviation often used by deer hunters. Since I had just sent a pic of a small deer 2 minutes earlier the guys responded with “What?”, “Are you serious?”, “For real?”. BBD is not a message sent often or in a joking manner!
I started shaking and started getting down out of the stand. I couldn’t believe it. It was the eve of the last day of hunting season and this huge buck showed up in perfect shooting light. I went down to the buck and started snapping pics. I got more excited as I approached and was still in disbelief, it all happened so fast.
I sent the crew the following pictures so they knew I wasn’t joking!
I then called for assistance with loading the deer and help was on the way. Since it was early I hoped we could get some decent pics before dark. I texted my wife and mother and then made a call to my hunting partner Coach Sam Mungo! Sam and I had sat in this stand numerous times trying to get this big deer. From the group chats, texts, & phone calls we were all excited.
It had finally happened. The specific deer I was hunting made a mistake and I was finally in the right place at the right time.
As I tried to calm down and waited on help to come there wasn’t much to do other than wait. I just laid down in the shooting lane still not believing what had just happened. I flashed back to all the time and energy I’d spent hunting this season, all the work done, unsuccessful hunts, early mornings waking up heading out into the freezing cold, and drive that led to the moment I was in and I just laid there. It was a relieving moment. I could finally relax. I took a few pics in that moment.
Once help arrived I was able to get some pics holding the deer.
Reflection and Thank You’s
I guess when you put a lot of time and effort into something, whenever it finally happens, at some point, you look back on things. As I laid there in the pine trees and throughout the rest of the weekend I thought about the journey leading up to that moment. It has indeed been a long ride, but one that I was fortunate enough to end on a positive note.
In the end I was glad that the hunt happened so quickly because I didn’t have time to get nervous and get all worked up. If I would have seen that deer walking across a field I would have probably been so nervous by the time he got close enough to shoot that I would have missed him.
I do need to thank a few people here as well. Thanks to Jason Fararooei for letting me use his 308 which was a significant part of the deer dropping on the spot. I need to thank Gavin Jackson (and family) for helping me do a lot of work in the deer woods, stand assembly, hauling/cutting/trimming and just work in general this season. Without their help that stand and set up wouldn’t have come together like it did.
I also need to say a big thank you to my wife! As mentioned in the Black Friday Buck blog, we are expecting our first child in February and as such I’ve been hunting hard in the last season before the baby arrives. Holly has put up with me hunting at all possible chances this season when many times my hunting inconvenienced her in some way. She has been very gracious and understanding while I frequently messed up her scheduling, planning, and social activities! I told her that I can now close the chapter on the season and am ready to focus on putting as much time and energy into figuring out how to be a dad as I did hunting… at least until turkey season comes around in April! (just joking)
2017 was a good season…