Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Duck Pond Buck

If the setting of the photo above looks suspiciously like a duck pond, that would be because it is one. And if that good lookin' fella with the deer on the edge of the duck pond bears a stiking resemblance to yours truly, that would be an observation best not shared with him, lest he break out in hives or convulsions at the thought.

As dawn broke last Sunday morning, my son Hunter and I were lying prone on the edge of a flooded cornfield. We were hunting with our good friends Greg and Tucker Voges during the Alabama youth deer hunt.

With the temperature in the low 30's and 10 mph winds, we were treated to an almost constant show of ducks working overhead. Minutes earlier, as we walked through the pre-dawn darkness, the sound of thousands of ducks getting up out of the corn was truly awesome. It was already a special day.

The day before, Greg had pointed out a slick trail leaving out of the corner of the dike into the adjacent woods. I surmised that the deer would be leaving an unflooded cornfield that lay about a hundred yards away and crossing the dyke to get to their bedding area in the woods via that trail. Given the close proximity of the cornfield, using a climbing stand without spooking the deer seemed out of the question, so we decided to hunt on the ground.

In the flashlight-less darkness, we managed to find a section of dike where we could lie down along the dry side and peer over the top, foxhole style.

About thirty minutes after first light the spiker pictured above eased out of the cornfield and across the dike. Hunter's first shot through the ribs sent the buck scrambling for the nearby woods where he slowed to a walk, allowing a follow-up neck shot that dropped him in his tracks. Hunter reminded me of the mistake I had made a week earlier and said he wasn't going to repeat it by not taking a second shot. I'm glad that lesson stuck. Now if we could just work on the picking up the room lesson...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Joella's Missouri Monster

A couple days ago, I received the following email and the attached photos from my friend Joella Bates DeWitt, one of the most acomplished hunters I know. I had the pleasure of spending several days bowhunting and quail hunting with Joella at a writers camp a couple years ago when I took this buck. While we were in camp, she shared her amazing photo album of hunting adventures and her video footage of becoming the first woman to take a cape buffalo with a bow. It was pretty darn impressive. Joella is a great ambassador for bowhunting and is very active in recruiting other women to the sport. Congratulations Joella and thanks for sharing your story and photos.

Hello Friends,

On Nov. 8, 2009, I took my second amazing buck of 2009
(Editor's note: see the photo of her first buck below). This time I spotted him bringing up the rear in a rut chase. A 1 ½ year old 5 pointer was hot on the tail of a doe that must have outweighed him by at least 50 pounds. The pair advanced to the terrace that circled the just-cut corn field that our stands overlooked. Dan began filming the chase. I continued to watch also until the flash of big white antlers caught my attention. He was coming. Hot on the trail of the pair, he followed the same route to the terrace. Being the mature buck that he was, he stopped to paw a couple of hits on his scrape before coming within bow range.

On the previous Monday, I had rattled in a 190’s buck that came in so fast and so close that I could not get turned or draw on him. Not to repeat the missed opportunity, I drew when he was 60 yards out and headed my way and held.

We had several challenges that we had to overcome in order for me to take the shot. He had to come in range. The doe and little buck had gone into the woodlot just to our east. When my husband, Dan DeWitt, bleated, the buck stopped to look for the doe.

The gusting winds exceeded 30 miles per hour making the 20 degree F wind chill brutal. My Raven Wear kept me warm and as comfortable as you can be in those conditions, so I had no trouble drawing the 75 pound BowTech Guardian. The problem came with trying to remain balanced on the small Gorilla lock-on platform 22 feet high in a leaning pin oak. The buck came in behind the tree forcing me to attempt to get a shot through the thick branches. The platform was too small for me to comfortably balance on with the rock’in and roll’in occurring as a result of the wind gusts. Thank goodness for the safety harness that my neighbor, Robert Frady, had made for me with a six-foot barge-rope attachment to the tree allowing me the maneuverability to get turned to safely attempt the shot. The hold-up was there were two tree limbs that touched my bow when I tried to aim. I didn’t dare shoot until I could shoot without hitting a limb.

Finally, Dan bleated the buck to a clear spot, just 15 yards from the stand. While he stood directly downwind, I released the power of the Aerodynamic Solutions ATOM broadhead. I watched the arrow impact and stop. Knowing that the shot had hit both lungs and suspecting I had taken his heart, I watched the buck explode for 20 yards, then slow after another 40 yards. After a brief moon-walk and break-dance, the buck tumbled into a grassy grave.

I stayed in the tree, but switched places with my husband. He became the hunter and I the camera-girl. Finally, he told me that I could climb down and go see my buck. I started climbing down, but got interrupted when I spotted a buck on the field. I hung on to the ladder and filmed until we ran out of light. The buck came within 12 yards of us in the woodlot, but he was not sporting appropriate headgear to become a movie star.

I will tell you the rest of the story later.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Close Scrape on a Gloomy Day

With the leaves falling heavily and the last of the white oak acorns already on the ground, finding a dominant tree wasn't an option last weekend. Even if the deer were feeding on a particular tree (which I don't believe they were since acorns weren't dropping) any sign they left behind would have been quickly covered by freshly fallen leaves. It was time to change tactics.

After the success that Ted and I had rattling the prior weekend, I decided to try rattling again. As I mentioned in the post describing that hunt, it was the first time that rattling had worked for me. Now I was like an addict. I had to have another fix.

I spent most of Saturday scouting for fresh buck sign and late in the day struck paydirt when I found a hollow that had several large rubs and fresh scrapes about every 100 yards or so. My son had a basketball game that night, so I picked out a tree to climb the next morning, marked a brite-eye trail in from the nearest logging road and headed out.

The next morning was overcast and cold, with a 10 mph west wind. I spent the first couple hours in the stand seeing just one spike. With the wind blowing steadily and the leaves on the ground still damp from Friday's hard rain, I decided that conditions were right for moving silently along the scrape line. I decided to ease up the hollow, rattling every time I had moved far enough along for the sound to cover a new area.

I climbed down the tree as quietly as I could, left my climbing stand on the tree and eased about 100 yards up the hollow. The first spot I rattled was at the confluence of two small creeks. I sat down under a small maple tree with lots of yellow and orange leaves at ground level to disguise my orange vest and hat. As soon as I finished a short rattling sequence, a six pointer trotted off the ridge to my right, crossed the trail about thirty yards in front of me and headed up the ridge separating the two creeks. "That was cool," I thought. "Things are looking good."

After the buck passed out of sight, I continued up the hollow repeating the rattling process every 200 - 300 yards. I passed lots of scrapes and rubs as I worked my way about three quarters of a mile up the hollow, but didn't see any more deer.

At about 11:30 I decided to turn around and head back to the truck for some lunch. A short way back down the trail where I had seen a pretty good sized rub on the way up, I noticed a very fresh pile of deer droppings in the trail. I was pretty sure I would have seen them the first time through the area, so I decided to try rattling there again.

I backed up against a large beech tree and tickled the horns together lightly for about twenty seconds then picked up my muzzleloader. Almost instantly, I heard the sound of a deer moving quickly toward me about fifty yards away. I threw the muzzleloader up to my shoulder and scanned over the top of the scope for movement. Within seconds I spotted a large buck headed directly toward me and dropped my eye down to scope level, quickly getting a fix on him. He was moving too quickly to make much of an assessment of his headgear, but I could tell he was wide and had good mass. That was all I needed to see! He was definitely a shooter.

At about thirty five yards, he paused to thrash some small bushes with his antlers. He was not happy that some competitors had invaded his turf and he was about to do something about it. All of a sudden he stopped whipping the brush around and looked directly at me. He was facing me with his head down low. I knew I only had a split second left to get a shot off before he bolted. I had a clear shot over the top of his head at his spine, so I settled the cross hairs at the base of his neck, between his shoulder blades, and squeezed the trigger.

Boom! Crash, crash, crash! Through the smoke, I watched him roll down the hill and pile up against a tree, motionless with all four feet straight up in the air. "Yes!"

For about two minutes I stood there, looking at the fallen buck and processing what had just happened in the course of about twenty seconds. I tried to make out the details of his rack, but couldn't because his antlers had plowed under the leaves. I had just started to contemplate the logistics of getting him out of that hollow single-handed when a leg suddenly moved. Then another.

In an instant, the deer rolled over, got his back legs under him, and drove himself down the hill like an otter sliding on his chest and dragging his front legs. He crashed into the creek bed and spun around violently as his back legs searched for traction on the flat wet rock. After a couple 360s he stopped and lay there looking around.

As this was happening the realization that I was standing there with nothing more than a club to halt his progress quickly set in. I frantically dug into my belt pouch and found a reload tube. I managed to quickly and quietly get two powder pellets and the bullet seated without the buck noticing me, but as I pulled the ramrod out of the barrel, it hit the side of the bore with a soft clink.

Well, that clink was all it took to send the buck into a frenzy. As he began scrambling to get away, I focused my attention on getting my multi-tool out of its sheath, pulling the fired primer off the nipple and replacing it with a fresh one. I was moving fast, but I wasn't too worried about him getting out of the creek bed without the use of his front legs.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally had a fully loaded weapon and was ready to apply the coup de grace. There was only one problem. The buck was now a hundred yards away on all fours and moving at mach speed up the steep ridge on the other side of the creek.

I can only describe the feeling I had as a mixture of agony, disgust, and nausea, all rolled into one. If I hadn't been a grown man I'm sure I would have cried. "This can't be happening," I thought. "I sat there for two minutes gawking at him without reloading. What a dumb-@#*!"

There was blood where the deer had laid against the tree, but I couldn't find the first trace where he had run off. After searching for three hours I reluctantly admitted defeat.

I can only guess what might have happened, but my theory is that the .44 caliber pistol bullet I was using must have hit the spine at a shallow enough angle that it ricocheted off without penetrating the bone. The impact of it must have been enough to temporarily knock the deer out and incapacitate his front legs.

Needless to say, I learned a valuable lesson that day. From now on, the gawking and antler sizing will have to wait until I've reloaded.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Rattle and Roll 'em

What a hunt! Opening day of the 2008 Muzzleloader season, Ted and I were hunting a ridgeline that had several active scrapes in the middle of a group of white oaks that were still dropping nuts. Here is a picture of one of the scrapes:

When I scouted the area the day before, I couldn't find a dominant tree, but I could tell from the walk sign (and the scrapes, of course) that deer were in the area. I have to admit that without a dominant tree, I was less than optimistic about our chances (I gave it a three on a scale of one to ten), but it was the best looking spot I could find in a couple hours of quick scouting.

I've got to give credit where credit is due and Ted's got a big ol' IOU from me. He suggested that we try rattling. I've never had ANY luck rattling, and had pretty much written off the idea, but he convinced me to try again. Boy am I glad we did.

According to Ted, the secret is to start with a 140-class set of rattling horns - just kidding, but they're impressive aren't they. The rattling sequence in the video is the real deal. It wasn't re-created after the shot. I used a doe can call a couple times during short breaks in Ted's rattling. According to Ted, the real secret is in grinding the antlers together gently to simulate sparring, not crashing them together violently like some kind of prize fight. As you can see from the video, it worked like a charm.

The deer ended up being just two and a half years old and weighing 125 pounds field dressed. I haven't measured him yet, but will update the post when I do. (Update - he grossed 128 and netted 122 5/8) He has the most antler mass of any two and a half year old deer that I've seen. He certainly caused a stir at the checking station where my buddy Doug Markham with the TWRA was on hand to check him in and take the photo above. For the record, I'm not a fan of "buck in the truck" photos, but there was this good lookin' fella hanging around who offered to pose with the deer, so I'm making an exception. Actually, Doug said he'd write me a ticket for some unspecified violation if I didn't use his photo.

Speaking of Doug, Ted and I will be on his radio show on Saturday the 15th of November to talk about deer hunting, dominant trees, and probably ex-mothers in law too. Tune in to 99.7 WTN in Nashville from 5:00 a.m. to 7 a.m. to listen in.