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…
The Jackson household is full of hunters. I have three boys and a girl and they can all shoot better than me! As they’ve grown we’ve spent a lot of time in the outdoors hunting and fishing with them. They are now getting to the age where they can handle a gun by themselves. Of course, they never hunt alone as we hunt in pairs and I ensure everyone’s arrivals and departures from their stands. The kids are motivated to learn more about hunting and are eager to gain responsibilities. They are growing up right in front of our eyes.
The past two deer seasons I have been preparing for my middle son (Bryson) and youngest son (Kingston) to shoot their first bucks! My oldest (Caiden) harvested his first buck 3 years ago at the age of 7 and that's what I hoped would happen with my other two.
Rules for the First Buck
Now you should know that for my kid’s first bucks I have no restrictions on the size. Your family may operate under different rules and that’s fine, but that’s not how it is at our house. We have plenty of deer in our area and I wouldn't take away the potential excitement from the kids getting their first buck trying to make them wait on a trophy buck. Kids have short attention spans and success in the field, (whether a Boone & Crocket deer or not) is my initial goal for them. I want them to be encouraged and feel that hunting is something that they can be successful at. I believe as a kid they should enjoy and appreciate the experience and not have to be on pins and needles worrying about if they shot the wrong buck. I don’t want them to hunt putting pressure on themselves. Again, I know some of you may not agree with this tactic, but my goal is for them to not be discouraged early on in their hunting careers. Also, I manage this land and we eat deer and hog meat every night and we have yet been able to eat horns!
Bryson’s First Buck
As I teach the kids about deer hunting I like to make them think. To do this, I often ask them situational questions to both help them consider various scenarios and to help them learn to think critically. On September 17th, Bryson and I were discussing strategies for the evening’s hunt. After considering his options, Bryson decided (on his own) what stand he wanted to hunt as he had checked the wind to make sure that stand would be a good one.
I (Dad/Gavin) knew that there was a small buck coming by this stand everyday like clockwork so I had that feeling it was going to happen. However, Bryson didn't know this. As I mentioned earlier, we hunt in pairs… that is, 2 brothers sitting in the stand together. On this hunt Bryson got settled in the stand with his older brother Caiden and they sat still and quiet for about an hour and half. To their surprise a 6 point that weighed 121 lbs eased out of the woods into the shooting lane. As Bryson was eager to get his first buck, he wasted no time getting the Ruger .308 to his shoulder. The deer was about 50 yards out and Bryson slowly squeezed off. Bryson’s decision on the stand to hunt that evening paid off as he made a perfect shot on the deer. The deer ran maybe 15 yards and fell. Bryson was on the board with his first buck!
Talk about excited, he was hyped up and knew that he had just killed his first buck! As excited as he was I think my wife and I were probably more excited for him! We took pictures and as tradition as has it, we bloodied him up at the processor. Later, Bryson told me that the hunt was his best hunt ever and that he thought he wasn't going to see anything and then all of sudden the buck stepped out. Congrats to Bryson on working hard, being patient, and making the perfect shot!
Kingston’s First Buck
My youngest son Kingston has been hunting with me probably 50+ times and for whatever reason we never could get him on a buck. We’ve had a bunch of close calls but just couldn't make it happen.
On September 23rd that all changed…
Kingston had been hunting for 2 days straight as he was extra-motivated to kill his first deer since he now was living with the self-imposed pressure of his brothers already having killed their first bucks. Here again I asked him questions about where to hunt, why to hunt there, and the wind. Kingston picked his stand and I told him that would be a good stand because the wind was perfect. I also knew that there were several bucks working that area and I hoped one would show up in shooting light.
Kingston got in the stand with his older brother Caiden and they had been sitting for about an hour. It was getting about time for deer to move when two bucks stepped out on the edge of the field at about 100 yards. As you may imagine, Kingston didn't waste a second getting down to business. He wanted to get the monkey off his back so he was ultra-focused.
Within a minute he was in the Ruger .308 and had made great shot on one of the bucks! The deer fell on the spot and rolled about 10 feet. I was sitting in another stand not too far away and I knew he’d got his first buck when I heard a gunshot then heard them hollering and celebrating. You could have heard it from a mile away. The boys got down from the stand and headed toward the deer.
Little did they know that when they got down to the deer the other buck would be standing in the woods looking at them. Yes, I found this amazing as I always try to be quiet, control my scent, and do everything that to not spook deer and here these kids were yelling loudly and the second buck stayed around! Well, with the second deer staring at them Caiden did what you would expect. He pulled up the .308 and shot it! It was a Jackson brothers double-buck hunt!
Now the excitement was really happening! They boys had practiced their shooting this summer and it paid off because no tracking was needed. We just pulled up to the deer, took some pics, loaded up, and headed to the house before going to the processor. One of the best parts was hearing the boys tell their mama the story of the hunt, which we recorded and you can see in the below video. They were amped up to the max and talked all night about their first buck!
Bryson age 9 finally got his first buck on Sept 17th and Kingston age 7 got his on Sept 23rd which was a double-buck hunt with his older brother Caiden! Needless to say, it has been exciting times around our house lately… and I may have to order more deer tags if they keep it up like this.
Ok so I did get a little extreme on Kingston’s bloodying at the processor, but it's what he asked for.
Congrats to Kingston for his patience and congrats to all the boys for their hard work and shooting abilities. So far, this past summer and deer season the kids have all been very helpful and have hunted every time they could go. Caiden has really lucked out as he was able to be with both of his brothers when they shot their first buck. Now that the hard work has finally paid off we can start the discussions about game management, mature deer, and trophy bucks.
I’m sure this story is just one of many more to come. It's awesome and exciting to watch and experience these kids growing up, learning about the outdoors, and shooting their first bucks. We are indeed blessed and we give God all the glory!
If you keep up with the blog or the SC Hog Removal page you know we’ve been getting calls from local farmers with hog problems. We’ve been staying after these hogs as it seems they can reproduce nearly as fast as we can get them off a farmer’s property. It’s a full-time job to keep them at bay and we are having fun with it.
Big & J Hog AttractantsWe have been using the Big & J hog attractants “Hogs Hammer It” and “Pigs Dig It” in combination with corn and I can tell you that the hogs do like it! When they come in they stay until all the corn is gone and leave the place looking like a tractor had plowed through it. Here again leading up to this hunt we’d put out the corn and attractants and hoped things would line up.
Labor Day WeekendI had to hang around for a day or so this Labor Day weekend and so why not see if the hogs were moving I thought. It was also the first day of deer hunting season in my game zone so I went deer hunting before dark, got some food afterwards and then headed out for hogs.
As it was a holiday weekend some of my hunting partners were unable to go, but at the same time some of my friends were back at home for the holiday. I was able to talk Garth Knight into going hunting with me. I let him know the hogs had been acting oddly lately as far as their feeding schedule so I was not sure what would happen.
A Short Hog Hunt!Garth and I set up overlooking a field that was not far from a swamp. We’d been getting hogs on camera at all hours of the night. Sometimes they would be solo and sometimes they’d be about 15 of them so I didn’t know what to expect. We got there and got setup around 9:15 or so. I was telling Garth about all the lessons we’d learned with night vision technologies, guns, and the way the hogs had been acting lately.
Every few minutes I checked the bottom of the field looking for heat signatures. We’d been there about 45 minutes when I was telling Garth about how the scope can live-stream hunts to the phone. I got up to turn the Wi-Fi on and as I looked through the scope I saw some bright spots coming through the woods. I told him they were on the way! So we finished streaming the video to the phone and just watched as the hogs approached.
I wanted to give the hogs a few minutes to ensure there were no more coming because sometimes there would be large groups trailing the hogs. So we watched the hogs eating the corn for a few minutes. Nothing seemed to be coming behind these hogs so I decided it was time to take action. I asked Garth if he wanted to shoot and he said he’d hold off this time. It took me a little bit to pick out which hog was bigger and I flipped into black hot mode once to see if that would help. Finally, I was able to figure out the hog on the left was the bigger hog and I told Garth to get ready.
A few seconds later, thanks to the Anderson Rifles AM-10 308 Hunter + Pulsar Trail XP 50, the bigger hog was on the ground! Not bad for the first day of deer hunting season right 😉
As you may know, we’ve been helping farmers out with nuisance hogs lately. Early this week we continued this mission and had one of the best nights of hog hunting we’ve had to date. It has been amazing to see the damage these creatures are doing to crop fields in our local area.
Also, SCDNR should be commended because they worked quickly with farmers and us to gain depredation permits to help control the crop destruction by these hogs. We always try to abide by the laws and regulations and hunt ethically. So kudos to SCDNR for assisting with this problem and working efficiently.
The First Hog
Gavin and I arrived to the farm around 9pm and upon arrival there was nothing on the corn pile. I state this because recently hogs had been coming in as the sun went down, but that only seemed to be for the few weeks following the arrival of little ones (piglets). Now they are going back to their night routines.
We hadn’t been in the field long when we started seeing deer. Thus far in our experiences at this farm the deer tend to stay away from areas hogs are in and they hadn’t been eating the corn too much. However, on this night the deer went to the corn pile. They ate for a while and some left, but one deer remained longer than the others. As the deer was eating I saw hogs approaching in the woods from the left. I wondered what would happen in this scenario. I figured the hogs would startle the deer and scare it off. However, it was exactly the opposite. I couldn’t believe it when the deer blew and the hogs ran off into the woods! Unfortunately, I did not catch this on video.
Time passed and the deer finally left the corn pile. Gavin and I were whispering to each other about how we couldn’t believe that a deer just ruined our hog hunt. We were already planning for the next time if we had a deer come out we would flash lights at it or something to make it move. We were kicking ourselves out there in the field while the deer walked towards us. In this scenario, we had a perfect wind. It was hitting us in our faces so the deer/hogs couldn’t smell us at all. Surprisingly the deer got closer and closer to us and at it’s closest was about 20 yards away. I got some extremely close video of this deer. Eventually the deer passed us and we started the hog watch again.
We were sitting there watching some raccoons when I noticed more heat coming through the woods. I told Gavin to get ready. Sure enough the hogs came out and got on the pile. They weren’t on the corn too long before something startled them and again we were frustrated. Though, this time they came back relatively quickly.
When a group of hogs are on the corn pile and very close together it’s hard to discern what is what. That is, you could be shooting at a hog’s head, rear quarters, vital area, non-vital area, etc. and not really know because everything blends together. This is why it’s good to spread corn out in a long line or across a wide area. On this hunt the majority of the corn had already been eaten so there wasn’t much left to spread the hogs out. So it all came down to time and patience. It was a waiting game.
Eventually the biggest hog in the group separated itself and I told Gavin to hold on because it was fixing to happen. I put the cross-hairs on the hog and started squeezing off very slowly in hopes of ensuring a smooth trigger pull. A few seconds later the big hog was on the ground and the remaining hogs had retreated into the woods. I hoped to get off more than one shot, but by the time I was able to get back on any hogs in the scope there wasn’t a good shot to be had so I held off. This hunt was a true test of patience.
The Second and Third Hog
We made a trip to the processor to drop the hog off and then headed to another field. Here again nuisance hogs were devastating a local farmer’s crop field. We sat and sat and sat. We knew the hogs were causing big problems, but yet nothing had shown for nearly 2 hours. Then we saw a bobcat stroll along the edge of the field. It was neat to see the bobcat’s movements.
Gavin and I were both starting to yawn and the clock was getting close to 1am. We were somewhat frustrated that nothing had shown up when we knew they were somewhere very close by. Gavin said “Ok buddy, we’re going to give it another 10 minutes and then we’re leaving”. He had resorted to reading random FaceBook posts to pass time and I was scanning in the monocular.
As I’d been scanning the field earlier in the evening I had seen heat signatures from electrical units, random lights, birds in trees, and just other objects that were giving off heat. I made mental notes of these so that I didn’t get excited every time I saw them. On a side note, for some reason it’s easy to get a little disoriented when looking through night vision. I don’t mean like get lost, but rather it’s harder to gauge distance and you can get a little turned around. I say this because as I scanned I saw some heat signatures near where I’d previously seen other signatures. It was late and we were tired and I thought to myself that I remember seeing heat signatures on this side of the field, but not really that many.
Then I saw one of them move.
It was one of the most interesting sights I’ve seen while hunting. I watched 12 hogs come across the top of a hill in a line. It was almost like a scene from a Braveheart movie and they were coming at a pretty good clip. I told Gavin to get in the gun. He put his phone and way and got in the gun. I said “Look to the right” and he spun the gun directly in front of us and I saw where he was looking and said “No you’re other right… to the right! To the right!” I grew frustrated with him quickly because I was seeing what was happening and he couldn’t find them. Finally, he turned to where the hogs were and I believe he said, “Oh my God!”.
Gavin counted the hogs and said, “Man look there are 12 hogs in that pack!”. The hogs were milling around and coming towards us, but they were also arching towards a side of the field that we couldn’t shoot towards. I talked to Gavin and told him that if we were patient we could potentially have a very close encounter. We discussed it, but ultimately, we decided to go ahead and start shooting because we couldn’t predict where the hogs were going to go and we didn’t want to completely miss out on a chance to shoot them in the case that they continued heading the wrong direction. I told Gavin to go ahead and let her fly.
From watching the group, we could easily tell that the biggest hog was on the far left and he just happened to be the closest one to us. Gavin waited on the hog to move to just the right angle and then he buckled that rascal to his knees. As soon as he shot the remaining hogs took off to the left. The video will illustrate this better than I can here with words, but it was a sight to be seen. Gavin continued peppering the hogs as they ran. From watching the video, we believe he hit more than 2, but there was one hog that reversed course and started coming back towards the top of the hill. In the end, Gavin dropped it as well. It was an impressive shooting display from my point of view so props to Gavin “The Chesterfield County Hawg Whisperer” Jackson for getting it done.
By the end of the night we’d shot 3 hogs and had a ton of fun! We’d like to again give shout outs to SCDNR for working with us to get the depredation permit, Reel Determined Outdoors for handling all our artillery & gear needs, Anderson Rifles for making a great gun, and Pulsar for making top-notch thermal equipment that makes all this possible.
If you have hog problems, let us know and we can assist! Contact us on the site, Twitter, or Facebook.
This past weekend we had a great time in the woods even though we didn’t come away with a turkey. The area we hunt in has been logged and “clear-cut” by timber companies since last season. This caused a lot of changes in how animals (both deer and turkey) move and where they roost, strut, gobble etc. We have been adapting our game plans just as the game has adapted its patterns.
On opening weekend we were out and on the move. We definitely heard turkeys gobbling, but they were a little bit further away from where we were. In the weekends since we’ve been closing ground on them and getting closer to the right spot. This past Saturday we had a few different locations lined up and our first setup was right on the money.
We entered the woods where we anticipated the gobbler being based off what he’d taught us on earlier hunts. As we walked in he was gobbling from the roost and it was still dark out. We continued in and he kept gobbling We set up on the top of a ridge in some oaks near a creek. We had 2 decoys (a jake and a hen) out just 20 yards in front of us. We could tell he was close. He was hammering back at nearly all our calls. With each gobble, he was getting closer and our hearts started beating a little faster.
The sun wasn’t even up really good before this bird was on the ground and he was closing distance fast. On one of his last gobbles Jason said “He’s close, be still”. However, we couldn’t see him. From his gobbles, it was clear that he was out in front of us and to our right a little bit. He was working up the ridge coming up the hill that we were sitting on. I was sitting on a tree on the left and Jason was on a tree right beside of me to my right. We had a pop-up blind in an arc in front of us. It was fixing to be on!
I had the camera pointed in the direction the turkey seemingly came from. All of a sudden I saw his white head coming through the woods. He was a big turkey! Oh, man it was awesome. As the turkey came up the hill he was behind several trees. What I didn’t realize was that Jason had a clear and direct shot at the turkey and could have shot him several times. However, he was waiting on the turkey to come out into the clearing so we could get good video. After all the turkey was closing ground quickly and was only 3 steps from being out in the clearing.
When the turkey got up on the hill pretty good he was hesitating and spinning behind some trees. I caught him on camera as he went from the right to the left behind the tree. It was a textbook hunt. I felt as soon as he saw the jake decoy he would come up and spur it and we would have some epic footage! However, if you’ve turkey hunted before then you already know the story, it doesn’t always work out as you envision.
The turkey was headed to the lane for prime-time video and a kill shot. Then suddenly, he freaked out and started running and making the “putting” sound. Something about the setup spooked him. We weren’t making any noise, nobody was moving, something just set him off. Perhaps it was when he saw the decoys or maybe he saw unusual objects on the ground near him. Whatever it was he got out of there in no time flat!
It was unsuccessful as far as getting a turkey on the ground, but it was successful in the sense that we were exactly where we were supposed to be and had an awesome bird come in with 20 yards of us. It was a story we’ll be telling for years to come.
The 2nd Turkey
Jason and I sure did walk a lot that morning as we tried to get to different turkeys from different angles. I easily hit my daily “step count” and was sore the next day from walking around and up and down so many hills. We went to several different locations looking for birds and hunted most of the day. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon when we got on another turkey. We were, as they say, “Running and Gunning”.
It was much warmer by this time of the day and we were getting tired. We pulled up to a spot and started calling. A few seconds later a turkey hammered very close to us. Jason and I jumped up and were heading to sit down very quickly as if a bomb had just gone off. It was pretty funny. We sat down on a tree on the edge of the cutover and Jason started calling. The turkey hammered repeatedly and was getting closer. We hoped it was just a matter of time and that our persistence would be pay off!
One distraction we had at this point was that a huge fox-squirrel perched on a tree right beside us and was hissing repeatedly at us. He stayed there for about 15 to 20 minutes doing this. It was aggravating.
It didn’t take long before we saw the turkey come down the hill out of some small pines. He was not as big as the turkey from the morning hunt, but he was not bad at all. He was gobbling and puffing up and twirling as he came. We were, again, getting ready for prime-time footage.
The turkey was heading down the hill when he stopped behind some cedar trees. He had paused previously so at first it wasn’t a big deal. However, he stayed in this one spot and would not move. We called to him, he gobbled back. He puffed up and spun around and showed off, but would not come closer. They say that in the turkey world the female is supposed to go to the male and that at a certain point the male Tom will draw the line and not move any closer. If that is the case that is exactly what this Tom was doing. He simply would not advance. We sat there for 45 minutes watching this bird do the same thing over and over. It was both a beautiful sight and a frustrating experience at the same time.
We did everything we could think of to get him to come closer, but in the end, he would not come forward any more than he already had. Eventually he turned around and went back into the woods and continued to gobble at us and then we quietly slipped out of the woods and headed back in.
Focusing On the Positives
In situations like this you just have to find the positives… and for us there are several. We are very blessed to be able to simply get out and hunt. Everyone doesn’t have that privilege. Beyond that we are fortunate to have a few spots with turkeys on it and we are learning more about their general area and patterns with each hunt. It’s just a matter of time I believe! Ultimately though, getting a bird on the ground is not all it’s about. Being able to get out there with friends and see these sights up close in a great experience. We won’t soon forget any of these memories and hopefully they are just a chapter in the story of when we get the big Tom on the ground! Until then we’ll stay after it.
We’ve hunted in the WeHuntSC.com Predator Challenge for 7 years. We’ve hunted hard and have yielded minimal results other than being frustrated. Lately we’ve heard a lot of people telling us how effective they have been with hunting coyotes with night vision. This year we aimed to reduce frustration and get more coyotes on the ground by upgrading to a night vision setup. This journey would lead to many lessons learned, which I’ll share in the below blog entry.
After doing some research it seems most hunters are using AR’s for their choice of weapon when coyote hunting. The AR model frees hunters from having to manually chamber another shell as this is done by the gun. This allows more rapid fire at targets which is beneficial when hoping to shoot multiple coyotes … if you can get multiple to come in.
I’d recently heard about Anderson Arms having a unique AR setup. Anderson uses a nanotechnology called RF-85 on their guns that makes it to where you never have to oil the gun. It’s pretty sweet technology. I went with the Anderson Arms AM15 optic ready. If you haven’t checked it out, head on over to https://www.andersonrifles.com.
With the gun selection done it was time to move on to the scope. This meant I had to learn about night vision. It seems in the night vision world there are 2 routes one can go – infrared or thermal. I’m sure you can get into religious debates about the advantages & disadvantages of each, but in the end I chose thermal. Once I decided on thermal I needed to pick out a brand. I had previously purchased a FLIR monocular for spotting scope which I use for tracking wounded animals and ensuring I’m not spooking deer on my way in or out of the woods. It’s very handy, but not very clear. I wanted to try a different brand to see if it was any different. PULSAR seemed to be a popular brand based on the research I had done. I ended up going with the PULSAR Apex XD38.
I worked with the crew at Reel Determined Outdoors to get this rig set up. If you haven’t checked out Reel Determined or the team up there you should give them a shout.
One initial note about night-vision gear. I was surprised at how expensive these technologies are so if you’re looking for a cheap night vision solution get ready to be surprised. However, I can tell you that once you use a night vision setup for coyotes you will never go back.
Sighting In a Thermal Scope
With the gun in hand and scope mounted on it we were ready to venture into the world of thermal night vision. Before we got to shoot at any coyotes however, we needed to sight it in. This is where we really started learning some stuff.
When you take a thermal scope out and look at a target you don’t see the lines on the target. This is because the scope is responding to heat signatures and, as you would imagine, the lines on the target aren’t putting out any heat. Yes, this would seem obvious, but to some rookies we didn’t think ahead about this too much. On our first attempts at sighting this thing in we ended up cutting the center of the target out and putting up some tin foil as the tin foil maintained different temperatures and we could *vaguely see the contrast in the scope. It was all we needed to get excited and get started though.
Once inside the scope I realized that we’d have to learn the menu systems inside of the PULSAR scope. At first sight it was a little overwhelming because I had no idea what all the icons represented. Yes there is a book that comes with it explaining it and yes we didn’t really read it before getting started! In retrospect the best thing I did was watch some YouTube videos of people talking through the menu items.
The menus are not difficult to understand I was just in initial shock of trying to understand them all. The icons make sense and there are 2 menus inside of the software. Yes, software… the thermal scope is essentially a computer system on your gun that’s giving you a screen with information on it and view into the dark. As such, it does require some time to boot up when you press the on button.
The thing that is important to understand about the menu is that you zero the sights in in the menu, that it can hold “sight-ins” for 3 different weapons, and there is a reset button. Sometimes I got lost in the menus and didn’t know what I was clicking and changed the weapon number and even clicked reset. This did indeed make for a frustrating time sighting in the weapon. Once I learned what buttons not to click things got easier.
Gavin and I ended up sighting this gun in about 3 or 4 times as we learned more, messed things up, saw that our scope wasn’t tight on the gun, and figured out the menu items. Once you understand how it works sighting it in is fairly easy. Another trick that made sense was to use hot-hands hands on the middle of your target. If you want to go the extra mile, soak a pizza pan in ice-water and then put it behind the hot-hands on the target. This creates a cool circle encompassing a hot center, which in the scope creates a good contrast for you to aim at.
After several times out with the gun and sighting it in we finally started hitting the target where we wanted to… in the bullseye.
Videoing with a Pulsar Recorder
One neat thing about digital night vision is the ability to record the footage from inside your scope. Since it’s a computer, why not right? PULSAR has different models and with the more recent models the video recording capabilities are getting even better and more user friendly. Our experience with the video recorder left some to be desired and required some learning on our behalf.
The video recorder for the model scope I have is the CVR 640 and it mounts on the weaver/picatinny rail… that is it can be attached to anywhere you see the grooved sections on the gun. In my scenario this meant I could attach the recorder on the side of the scope or on the front of the gun. I initially attached it on the front of the gun because this made ergonomic sense. The recorder holds an SD card and you simply pop the SD card out to download the footage. The recorder plugs into the base of the scope and screws in tightly. The odd thing about this is that your gun literally has cables running down & around it (however you handle your cable management that is).
I was very excited to video all the coyotes we would be busting in the near future! Sure enough it wasn’t long before we had coyotes in the scope and started pulling triggers. The first time I was sure that I was recording when I shot. I looked at the video box and noticed the blue light wasn’t on anymore. How terrible luck was it for the batteries to die right before the shot! So I got new batteries.
A few hunts later the same thing happened. Did I have a bad batch of batteries or what? After 8 live-action shots that were recording, but yet failed to record I had had enough. I’d put in numerous new batteries and nothing worked… I was going to get to the bottom of this. We had some hunts coming up and I left the gun with Gavin during one of our re-sight-in attempts. Gavin and I were both doing research on this issue. Gavin noticed that even though the recorder has a weaver rail and mounts to the gun it was NOT rated for recoil. I told Gavin to remove the video recorder from the gun, put it in his pocket and record himself sighting the gun in and see if the video stopped recording. BINGO! We’d found the culprit. Gavin said the video recorder continued to record during the shots when not attached to the gun. This let us know that the video recorder will record if it wasn’t attached to the gun when shooting.
The First Coyote on The Ground With Night Vision
With multiple times to the range figuring out the sighting in process and now with the video issue out of the way we were ready to rock and actually get some footage. We had been bummed about previous footage attempts because we had some great encounters. We were about to change that.
Gavin and I were requested to help a local farmer out who has a hog problem. We had indeed gotten hogs on camera at the location and were headed in to assist. When we arrived to the location we went in to the field scanning with the monocular as we walked toward our stand. Gavin saw that hogs were already in the field. So we dropped down to a knee and just watched. Right then a coyote started howling very close to us. To our surprise the coyote howl startled the hogs and they exited the field that they had just entered. I was surprised that hogs would be intimidated by coyotes, but thinking back on it the hogs has some young ones with them and maybe their leaving the field was to protect the young ones.
I told Gavin we should go to the area on the other side of the field where there is a deer stand and just be patient. I was sure the hogs would return. We agreed and slowly retreated to the other area of the field. We were just sitting there talking letting time pass when coyotes started howling very loudly again. This time there were more than one howling. We were hog hunting, but we did have the coyote call in the truck. Frustrated at the situation Gavin said “I’m going to the truck to get the call”.
After returning back from the truck Gavin set the call up and said “Get in the gun because when I hit this call they are going to come in”. So I did as Gavin instructed and turned the scope on.
If you’re wondering why my scope would even be off… night vision and thermal optics flat eat batteries. If you’re going thermal do yourself a favor and order the extended battery pack so that you are not like me and have to carry around packs of batteries in your pockets and constantly replace them.
Back to the story... Gavin told me to get in the scope and I did just that. Gavin played some coyote whimpers and a coyote duet, new sounds we’d just downloaded to the FoxPro before leaving. I was scanning left and Gavin was scanning right. We stopped the calls and it was quiet, crisp, and clear out. Nothing responded… no howl backs, no barks, nothing. Then all of a sudden Gavin whispered “There he is” and at that I turned to the right and saw a coyote crossing my face from right to left. I followed this coyote waiting on it to pause so that I could squeeze the trigger. Gavin said “What are you doing turn right turn right”. What we didn’t know until afterwards was that Gavin didn’t see the coyote I saw. He had seen another one, a bigger one, to our right. I told Gavin “Shut up” and he said “There’s a big one here on the right”. I said “Make him stop, say something, bark” and he responded “A big one on the right”. It was not easy to pull the scope off the one I was following and turn right, but I did. What I saw was indeed a larger coyote on our right. I put the crosshairs on him and squeezed off. I could tell from the video that I hit him! I then swiveled back left and got back on the coyote that I had seen earlier. It paused just enough and I dropped it on the spot.
It all happened so fast. My heart was pumping and adrenaline was racing, but one thing was for sure. We definitely had the scope sighted in correctly this time. And when I pulled the video recorder out of my pocket it was still recording! We had footage to review!
We looked and looked for the first coyote, but could not find it. We think it ran off and died somewhere, but we did recover the second coyote and got some pics. Man it was a fun hunt.
And now you can re-live the hunt with us in the below video:
Tips For Hunting With Thermal Night Vision
Throughout this process we’ve learned a good deal about AR-15’s, night vision scopes, PULSAR, and recording video. Here’s a list of things we’ve learned and hopefully they are helpful to you in some way:
The 2017 Predator Challenge was another successful event. We had hunters from SC, NC, & VA competing this year with a total of 86 teams and 281 hunters. We had been preparing to both host and participate in the competition all year and looked forward to its arrival. Out of all the years we’ve hosted the event it seemed like this year saw the most activity and movement from coyotes. Everyone we talked to seemed to have enjoyed the event regardless of how many coyotes they ended up getting on the ground.
As many of you know and as we mentioned yesterday at the check-in we don’t charge a fee for the competition and we don’t make money from it. We are regular hunters just like you who hope to protect our deer, turkey, duck, and others species for future hunters. (Hunting coyotes also helps protect local farmer’s livestock).
We would not be able to host the competition without the generous donations from our sponsors. They donate their products and services for free for the winners. They don’t have to do this! We ask that you patronize the sponsors by buying your goods, products, and services from them. Be sure to be vocal about our appreciation for their sponsorships. Without the sponsors we would not have a competition.
Competition Volunteers Thanks
Hosting a competition is not an easy task. There are tons of details to consider, emails to be sent, sponsors to connect with, hunters to explain (and re-explain) rules to, etc. You get what I’m saying… a competition doesn’t just host itself. With that said I’d like to also thank Gavin Jackson and Adam Smith. Gavin and Adam are the main guys behind making the competition possible. They stalk and wrangle sponsors, handle the Facebook promotions, constantly talk with hunters, promote the competition to everyone, build the check-in setup, handle the weighing of coyotes, and handle all the details that you don’t see on the surface. If you all see, know, or communicate with these guys be sure to thank them.
Did Changing the Date Result in Better Numbers?
Based on feedback from last year’s competition participants we moved the competition from January to March. This was done for the sake of listening to our participant’s feedback. This change allowed for the use of night vision for hunting coyotes as SCDNR has implemented a night-hunting program where hunters can register their lands for night hunting and use infrared and/or thermal optics to hunt coyotes.
Moving the competition to March ran the risk of much warmer weather, but we lucked out this year as it was cool the entire weekend. We were interested to see how moving the competition would affect the numbers at the check-in. Of course, there are more variables than just the time of year, but we really can’t control the weather. We anticipated a good turnout at the check-in as we received messages during the competition of people seeing a lot of coyotes while they were hunting. It seemed they were moving well this past weekend. It would turn out that we had a total of 57 coyotes checked-in, which is more than all previous years combined. Whether it was changing the competition from January to March or just a lucky streak of movement we don’t know, but we were pleased with the outcome.
This years winners were:
First Place – Jim Shepherd, Concord, NC - 12 Coyotes
Second Place – Carolina Coyote Slayers, Denver, NC - 8 Coyotes
Third Place + Big Dawg (42.8 lbs) – Wind Walkers Kryptonite, Lucknow SC – 7 Coyotes
Sportsman's Warehouse Gun Give-Away Winner - Ben McAlister, Monroe NC
Thanks, Surveys, & Video
Thanks to everyone who hunted in the competition. We appreciate your support and hope you enjoyed the event. We’ll be sending out emails asking for feedback very soon. We’ll see you next year at the check-in.
My family really loves the outdoors. With several young children around we always have our deerstands filled and we really enjoy deer hunting season. Probably just like you we suffer from the “deer-pression” that comes about once the season ends. Well, this year I decided to figure out a way for our family to continue being active in the outdoors in the off season!
The first idea that came to mind was to build a deer antler catcher! The timing was perfect to start trying to catch horns as the bucks in our area usually start shedding their antlers in January to early February. There is no exact date when this happens, but if you pay attention to your game cameras you may notice bucks starting to drop horns. This is a good sign that deer are starting to lose their antlers.
Generally speaking, in South Carolina antlers will be dropping from mid-December (though that is early) to early April (though that is late). One thing we do know is that after the rut, a buck’s testosterone levels begin to decrease and when they drop to a certain level, antlers will shed. Since testosterone levels to vary from area to area and winter to winter, antlers can shed at various times.
There are a few different ways people go about shed hunting. Some people train dogs to track the smell of antlers, some just go for walks in the woods, and some construct antler traps/catchers. In our case we are opting for the third way, the antler catcher.
You can imagine that my kids were excited for our first family project to be underway! I have 3 sons (Caiden, Bryson, and Kingston), one daughter (Adrianna), and we even got my wife Brandy involved too! With this many young outdoorsmen and women around I have to frequently come up with ideas that they will all enjoy, which is sometimes harder than you think!
Building the Antler Catcher
As a family went out Sunday Jan 8th, 2017, the day after the first 2017 snow, and built our first antler catcher! As you would imagine there are many different styles of antler catchers and there is no official or standard way to build these traps. In our case we are opting for building one using “chicken wire.
Also important is the location of your antler trap. Since hunting season had just ended we have a good understanding of the general trails that deer in our area use to travel. We went out to an active trail near a feeding area and found two trees that were a few feet apart. This was the perfect location for our antler trap.
Once you find the perfect spot you take the chicken wire and wrap it around the trees so that there is wire on both sides of the trees. Pull the wire as tight as possible and staple it to the trees, cut your extra wire off. Take zip ties and run it around the trees and through the wire so that when you tighten the zip tie down it pulls the wire even tighter!
Important: You want to make sure that the wire is tight so that if the bucks aren't ready to drop their horns the tightness will allow them to easily pull their antlers out of the wire and not get hung up!
Then take the fresh corn and pour between the wires so that the deer must stick their heads down close to the wire to get the corn. Havin the wire so close to the corn allows the horns to catch the wire! The idea is that one antler will hit the chicken wire and if the horns are ready to drop the resistance from the wire will help give the antler(s) the final nudge to release and drop. This is like a child pulling their baby teeth out when a tooth is just about to fall. If the horns are ready to come off the resistance in the chicken wire will help them pull off and you should have antlers piled up at the site or close by around it.
This project was a great project for our family. It helps teach the kids and it gives them something to look forward to in the outdoors during the off-season. We hope to collect a lot of sheds this year. We will use the bigger antlers for rattling next season and take the small ones and add them to our collection. We will also have some creative projects for the kids. We will make knife handles, house decorations, and hopefully one day have enough to make a lamp or Christmas tree!
Thank you for taking the time to read about our project and I hope you can take this and use it with your family also! I will post another blog at the end of shed season and give the results! Happy Shed Hunting!
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…
We've been hosting the Predator Challenge for 6 years now and we've seen it constantly grow in numbers and popularity. The awareness of what coyotes are doing across the state to both game & livestock populations is spreading quickly and as a result so is the sport of predator hunting. We're happy to continue hosting the competition and we hope you'll join us this year.
SCDNR Coyote Incentive Program
Since last year SC DNR has implemented a Coyote Harvest Incentive Program! If you are not aware of this (and registered in it) please take a look at SC DNR's site. You could win some cool stuff from SC DNR simply by shooting coyotes! Visit the Coyote Harvest Incentive Program page.
Learn more about the competition and register your team for the WeHuntSC.com 2017 Predator Challenge
See you at the check-in!