A Time To Kill A Mature Buck
You get one best chance to kill a mature buck, and timing is everything.
The weather man was calling for a steady east wind with temps in the mid 80s. The date was Oct. 19, the day before opening of gun season last year.
I had a spot in mind to go try that I felt might hold a good buck, and the east wind was perfect. I left work a little early and rushed home to get my trailer and 4-wheeler.
Even after a 4-wheeler ride, it was going to be a long walk to the spot I wanted to hunt. This was a privet thicket on the Oconee River that bucks tend to bed in and where they feel safe. They can hear anything coming from the river or by 4-wheeler. I decided I was going to have to park far enough away and walk. This is one reason I prefer afternoon hunts verses morning hunts because you can’t get behind the deer in the mornings, not to mention sound carries much farther in the pre-dawn darkness than in the afternoons when everything is active.
With the deer already bedded, it is much easier to slip in close to them in the afternoons. This spot is basically a long slough with privet thickets on both sides, and the deer must either cross the old slough or walk up and down it to offer a shot.
So, after a 15-minute 4-wheeler ride, I gathered my PSE Carbon Air, fanny pack and put my Lone Wolf climber on my back. I started the long walk to my spot wearing a short sleeved camo shirt. According to Google Earth, it was 1,250 yards to the tree I was going to climb.
Needless to say, I was a little sweaty by the time I got to the tree and climbed up. I climbed a sweetgum tree, which is a great tree for a climbing stand because the bark is soft and quiet. I did my best not to make a sound going up due to the fact I might have been within 100 yards of a bedded deer. A quick check of the wind, and it was perfect, right out of the east. I grabbed my bottle of Voo Doo deer lure and used the cap to broadcast the lure from my tree 360 degrees around me. I never walk around my stand to put out scent, as this will jeopardize the perimeter of your location with human scent. Go straight to the tree and climb.
I took out my ThermaCell and got it going, and I was waiting to cool down a bit before it got prime time. I pulled up my bow and loaded an arrow, and then I attached my rattling antlers to the pull-up cord and let them back down to the ground and waited. When the sun had set and everything was shaded over, I grabbed the pull cord and did a short rattling sequence with my antlers on the ground, trying to make as much ground noise as possible. I remember thinking, ‘I’m still in my short-sleeve shirt.’ But the skeeters were not bothering me with the ThermaCell doing its job, so I was not going to put on my Bug Tamer jacket.
It had only been a matter of a minute or two after rattling when I could hear something coming, and it was making a lot of noise. My first thought was a hog was coming through the thicket. I made the decision to stand up and get my bow ready just in case it was a deer.
As the animal got closer, I could tell it was a deer by the cadence of his steps. As it approached, a large holly tree had my view blocked, so all I could tell was that it was a buck with a nice frame, which was probably a blessing in disguise. He would be less than 10 yards when he stepped in an opening to shoot, and I still could not tell if he was a shooter. This club has a one buck limit, so if you pull the trigger, you are done.
I drew my PSE back, arrow tipped with an all-steel 165-grain Bi-polar broadhead, and settled my pin just past the holly tree, and I waited for the buck to step in the opening. I was going to have to make a split second decision whether or not to shoot, and as soon as I saw his full frame, it was a no-brainer. I dropped my pin right behind his shoulder and squeezed the trigger.
I am asked all the time, how many cameras do you use? And I always get that same puzzled look when I tell hunters I don’t use cameras. Then they say, ‘No, really. How many and what kind do you use?’ And again I say I have never used cameras, and I don’t put out corn. I have nothing against them, I just personally prefer to use woodsmanship and experience, and I employ the very important factor of not hunting any of my good spots until the time to kill is right.
I am always asked, ‘When is the best time to hunt?’ In other words, when is the time to kill?
If I could only hunt one week out of the year, it would always be the last week in October, hands down. In the counties near Dublin where I hunt, that’s when the bucks are ready to breed, but the does are not, so bucks are very territorial and will respond to any intruder in their territory.
This the pre-rut. Calling with rattling antlers, grunts and especially snort wheezes can be very effective during this time. I always make this point about calling to bucks… how many turkeys do you think you would kill if you left your call at home and just went and sat by a tree in the woods and just waited and hoped a gobbler would just happen to walk by you close enough to shoot?
Yet, most all deer hunters do just that. They sit and wait and hope and pray that a buck will get up before dark and walk by them or chase a doe by them. Why not give them a reason to come to you?
Wait For The Right Time
I am a firm believer that deer hunters should stay away from a hunting spot, no matter how tempting, until it’s the right time. Far too many hunters burn out or ruin their spot way before the time gets right.
A mature buck will not tolerate pressure. He will either become totally nocturnal, or he will change his core area. Sadly, this is the mistake lots of hunters running cameras make—not all, but lots. They have pics of great deer, but their neighbor winds up killing him, or nobody does.
You only have to spook or bump a mature deer once. There is a lot of truth to this saying: The first time in is your best opportunity to take a mature buck.
I am also a big believer in climbing stands, due to the element of surprise, and more importantly the ability to play the wind. Can’t tell you how many times I have heard hunters say, “Can’t hunt my stand today, the wind is wrong.”
Yet all other conditions are perfect, and it’s the right time of the year, which is a short window. You have handicapped yourself to a permanent stand location. Being mobile and having the ability to change locations on a moment’s notice is invaluable this time of year.
• • •
As the buck stepped out into my shooting lane, I immediately said to myself Shoooooter!
I watched the Ignitor lighted nock disappear behind his right shoulder, and he bolted away only to crash a short distance from my tree. I sat back down and struggled to find my phone to call my sons Josh and Hunter, because I knew I was going to need help. That’s the beauty of being in the bowhunter family, most everyone is more than eager to help track or retrieve a downed deer, especially a good buck. And this buck would prove no different. I called Josh first to tell him I had just shot what I thought was a big framed 8-point. Hunter was too far away to help. I told Josh I would call him back after I got down and found the deer. I looked at my watch, and it was almost 7 p.m. when I started down. I put my Lone Wolf back together and propped it up against the tree, grabbed my tracking light in case I needed it, and I started the track.
It was obvious from the sign on my arrow shaft and the ground around it that this buck could not have gone far. The sign was heavy and steady, and the buck had only made it about 40 yards before expiring. As I walked up on the deer I turned on my headlight, and I could not believe my eyes! The buck had fallen facing away from me, and when the light hit his antlers, I said those can’t be brow tines… OMG! Look at those brow tines!
And what I thought was vines caught up in his antlers proved to be shreds of velvet! I struggled and fumbled to find my phone, and I called Josh back.
“You are not going to believe what I have killed. It’s a 10-point with unbelievable brow tines.”
Josh said, “I am on my way, where you at?”
“That’s something else you won’t believe. It’s going to take me 45 minutes to get back to the 4-wheeler, and then another 30 minutes to meet you at the gate.”
I stood there in disbelief pondering how get this big boy out. The first thing I did was call Dan Styles, my local game warden, and told him what I had just shot. I then took a quick picture and sent it to him along with my game check tag number. He was quick to say thanks and give his congratulations and offer any help.
So here is where the marathon begins. I walked back to the 4-wheeler and drove to the club gate and met Josh. I told him we had a long walk and drag ahead of us. He asked how far? I told him that after the 4-wheeler ride, we still had 1,250 yards give or take a few.
Then I thought, the buck was down not far from the river bank and not far from a boat landing. I called my friend Matt Ballard to see if he could bring his surface drive duck boat to save us a lot of dragging. As luck would have it, Matt was available and said, “I am on the way.”
So Josh and I struck out to go back to the spot I shot my buck, and I remember Josh saying about halfway in after leaving the 4-wheeler, “Dang Dad, how far you back here?”
“About halfway now, had to park far enough away they could not even think about hearing the 4-wheeler.”
Once we got back to my tree, we retracked and recovered the deer and drug him back to my tree. The look on Josh’s face and sound of his voice was priceless when he saw the buck for the first time.
“Look at them brow tines!”
I took out my phone and went to my HuntStand app to see how far the river was and what direction. It was only about 200 yards to the river bank in a straight line, so that was a no brainer. So Josh and I started dragging after I field-dressed it. As luck would have it, we got to the river bank about the same time Matt was coming down the river, and he had brought help just in case. Tal Johnson had volunteered to come along because he knew that stretch of the river better than about anyone, not to mention the river was low, and it was well after dark.
As we met at the river bank, the hunt story was shared along with high fives and congratulations. I then called Dan Styles back and told him that Matt and Tal were extracting my buck for me and would be taking out at the boat landing on the other side of the river. Can’t thank Matt and Tal enough for their help. Now it was time for me and Josh to walk back and get my stand and bow and walk back to the 4-wheeler. I shot the buck around 7 p.m., and after all was said and done, we got home around 11:30.
I have always lived by the saying success comes before work only in the dictionary, and this hunt was the epitome of that. Not only do you have to be willing to put the work in, you have to understand the key component to success on a mature buck—the pre-rut phase is when it is TIME TO KILL!
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