When hunting deer turns to hunting a deer

Another early November morning sitting in my favorite stand on the Buffalo County property had been uneventful. It was late morning, approaching the noon hour, and I had yet to see a deer. Seemed as if it was feast or famine in this spot but I had seen many deer from this vantage point over the years, appearing at any time. By this time of day it was hard to prevent myself from day-dreaming, but past experience kept me on-stand.

In the midst of thinking about something other than deer, I caught movement to my right about 100 yards out. The stand sits 15 yards downhill from a logging road that parallels a ridge and is cut-in halfway down the slope. Three heavily used trails parallel the logging road and are 10, 35, and 40 yards downhill from me. Another angles up the slope and crosses 15 yards to my left. The deer come from anywhere here; this deer was trotting down the logging road from right to left.

I could see it was a buck with the naked eye and pulled up the binos to get a better look. He was a solid, heavy-antlered eight-pointer and was coming my way all on his own. I thought, Chip shot, stop him on the logging road 15 yards in front of me, slam dunk. As he trotted closer, I drew when he was behind some cover and prepared for him to close the distance. The buck had something else in mind as he got off the logging road and hit the trail 10 yards below me at full trot. The change of plans caught me off guard. I had to think and act quickly, which was usually not a good position to be in at a moment like this.

***

There are as many ways to hunt deer as there are deer hunters. At that time, I scouted hard, found stand sites with abundant sign, and hoped to be in the right place at the right time for a nice buck to walk by or to be coaxed within range. This can be effective and I have had a slew of run-ins with quality deer. However, strategies evolve as new skills and knowledge are gained.

To feed my monstrous obsession I looked for ways to be “deer hunting” when I couldn’t be in the woods during the season. My hunting comrades and I kept track of the movements, behaviors, and personalities of the specific deer in our area with the use of game cameras. We discussed sightings of bucks with each other and compared those encounters to the pictures we obtained, continually gathering information. Over the season we got to know individual deer and tweaked our action plans based on ever-changing intel.

A more recent shot of Sir Prize, taken in 2014.
A more recent shot of Sir Prize, taken in 2014.

With years of employing these tactics a deer hunter can compile hundreds of pictures. I found enjoyment in recognizing deer during the season that I’d originally become acquainted with through a game camera. My OCD roared again and I spent countless hours further analyzing pictures and memories from numerous years. Antler conformations, abnormal points, fur coloring, and other aspects were “banked” and led to the recognition of deer that appeared year after year.

These methods will find bucks that are growing tens of inches of antler every year and have measurable trophy potential, but will also yield bucks not growing appreciably larger antlers from one year to the next. At that point a hunter can make an educated decision to shoot a buck which may not measure up to “trophy status” and likely never will. A cull buck that is a mature buck can still be a trophy, and there will be no grounds for your hunting partners to criticize that “small” buck.

I had recently started using game cameras throughout the off-season, not just during the hunting season. Game cameras can be shuffled around deer territory as the months change to optimize sighting opportunities. This year-round strategy creates an intimate relationship between hunter and hunted (at least from the hunter’s point of view) while feeding that need to hunt throughout the year. A sense of accomplishment comes from unraveling specific deer’s behaviors and personalities and using those traits to outsmart a few old bucks. Each deer is unique so the strategy will be equally unique. As evidence is gathered from personal and virtual encounters, the plan comes together.

Many hours are spent chasing one or two deer which may never show their face and could seem like a waste of precious vacation and weekend time. Ups and downs are certain from year to year when a buck seems to change personalities as he matures. However, the years of refining tactics in this chess match to connect with Mr. Big may add a greater satisfaction to the hunt as he finally appears where you expect him. But don’t get me wrong, I will happily send an arrow or bullet through a big buck I have never met.

***

As for the buck that switched trails, I swung at full draw, stopped him at 10 yards, and released an arrow. The arrow hit the dirt a foot behind the deer, a good four feet to the left of my intended destination—at least my elevation was dead on. I was dumb-founded. After replaying the events over and over (and over and over), I realized days later that I forgot to use my peep-sight. The peep was new for me that season and obviously I was not comfortable with it.

That was the 2010 season and neither I or the buck knew it at the time, but he would become “Tall Boy.” Like a good Scooby-Doo episode, I put all the clues together after the 2012 season. Tall Boy was likely a two-and-a-half-year-old, 120-inch buck in 2010 when I blew the shot. In 2011, I saw him once in the same area and had numerous game camera pictures and videos. Tall Boy had grown into a mid-130s class eight-pointer with tight mainbeam curl and long brow tines at three-and-a-half years old. The synapses started sparking in my skull when a strikingly tall and tight eight-pointer showed up on the game camera during the 2012 season (pictures that were inadvertently deleted). Tall Boy was by then four-and-a-half, and likely scored in the 150s in his eight-point frame.

Looking back at the 2010 experience, I was glad I missed him that season but never did get daylight pictures of him or see him in the flesh in 2012. A neighbor saw him in January 2013, but that was the last sighting up to this point. Hopefully, he disappeared for a season and will be back in 2014. Let’s see what the game cameras can find.

Images courtesy Marc Schwabenlander

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