Sweat-Equity Results In Oconee County Buck
By Andy Hodges
I put in tons of sweat equity in the early spring and summer mow- ing 6-foot-wide shooting lanes in two separate, over-grown pastures with my walk-behind brush cutter known as the “Billy Goat.” The pastures had about five years of growth since the last time they were bush-hogged and were full of sweetgum trees, briars and pasture grasses. I had previously mowed lanes in both pastures over the last three years. The habitat was awesome cover, browse and bedding area, and a spring was just down the hill from the pasture.
I converted an old swing-set fort into a 9-foot tall tower stand that I call the “Swing Set Hilton.” I placed it on the highest point in the pasture. Hurricane Irma blew it over and broke it all up, so I had to rebuild it. I put out my feeders early in May and put trail cameras out on the feeders in my shooting lanes. It wasn’t long before I had pictures of multiple bucks, including the buck I ended up shooting. I also had pictures of does and fawns in the main shooting lane in front of the stand.
All summer while the feed was out, I had picture after picture of this buck. I decided then that this 11-pointer would consume my hunting time until I could see the buck in person.
I planted a food plot strip about a month out from bow season and pulled the feeders about three weeks ahead of bow season. When the feeders were gone, so were the deer.
Well, the landowner decided to mow both pastures about two weeks before the bow-season opener. Although I was worried it would hurt the hunting, it was actually a blessing in disguise. We had a little rain, and the fresh cut on the pasture exploded with tons of green browse for the deer. I left the cameras out and got pictures of the 11-point buck and his bachelor group at all hours of the day and night.
During bow season, I hunted the pasture from the edge of the woods where I had the most pictures of the buck coming and going from the field. It became evident that the heat changed things. I saw no sign of the buck during bow season.
On Friday of muzzleloader season, another hunter on the farm took a nice buck that looked almost exactly like the buck I ended up killing on Nov. 10. We looked at multiple pictures and decided it was my buck—utter disappointment.
On opening day of gun season, I hunted the Swing Set Hilton and saw 18 does, a small basket 8 and a really good 8. Every day I hunted, I was in the Swing Set Hilton and saw deer every time until the moon got full. The wind didn’t cooperate very well, so the does started getting wise to the stand. I let it rest and hunted a few other spots with no luck.
My dad and I had a tripod stand that we borrowed and placed in the other pasture not far from the Swing Set Hilton. He hunted it a few times and saw does and several young bucks, but no shooters. The owner of the tripod decided he wanted it back, so we made a new plan and placed a ladder off the edge of the pasture that was well hidden. We found some good sign at another one of our stands, so my dad decided to hunt there.
Wednesday, Nov. 8, was a drizzly, overcast day, and we decided to sit all day. He went to the scrapes he found, and I went to the new ladder. We both had does on the ground by 8 a.m. We took them to the cooler and came back to sit the rest of the day but saw nothing else.
The doe I took was being run to death by a small 8-point buck, while eight other deer watched and ran all over the pasture. He had his head low and his neck flat, grunting at every step. We eat venison instead of beef, so when the doe stopped, I started filling the freezer.
I had to work Thursday, but I took Friday off and hunted that morning. The bright moon and muggy temps kept the deer from moving. I came home and picked up my dad from work, and we went back to the woods. He decided to hunt the scrapes again, and I went to the ladder. Poor planning on our part reminded me that even at 65 degrees, the sun is still cooking until it gets below the tree line a little before 5.
At 5 p.m., I was watching the far side of the pasture with my binoculars. When I put my binoculars down and looked to my right, the 11-pointer was tending a doe feeding in the field. He was facing straight away, and from that angle, it looked like the big 8 I had seen earlier. He turned to follow the doe, and I saw the rack I had been seeing all summer on my trail cameras.
I took the shot at 5:05 p.m., and at 5:10 I was taking pictures.