Picture Perfect

Picture Perfect

When a trail camera proves the existence of a big buck, you have only one choice -- stay on stand!

Sure, I'd got lucky, but this had been no accident. Within the first three hours of my first evening on stand during the 2006 archery season, I'd made a good shot on one of the biggest whitetails I'd ever seen while bowhunting. As I tried to collect myself following the shot, my first move was to call my younger brother and hunting partner, Luke, on my cell phone. You see, by the 2006 archery season, we'd been trying to keep tabs on this particular buck for quite some time.

Thanks to scouting camera photos and a cold front that instigated some early rutting activity, I took this mammoth buck my first evening on stand in early October.

When Luke answered the phone, he probably thought I was in trouble. With my heart still pounding and my emotions running wild, I tried to spit out, "I got him!"

"What? Are you okay?" Luke asked.

"I think I just killed him," I sputtered back.

"Killed who? You sound cold. Are you shivering?" Luke inquired with a serious tone in his voice.

"No, I'm excited! I think I just killed the big one!" I fired back.

As soon as Luke deciphered what I'd been saying, we shared a wonderful moment over the phone as I told him the story. I was on cloud nine and couldn't wait to get home to tell the rest of my family the news and gather some friends to go retrieve the monster buck. I was confident in the shot but still wanted to gather some help before taking up the blood trail. Besides, following a blood trail with family and friends is half the fun of bagging a deer.

After waiting an hour or so for some friends to arrive, we all made our way back to the site of the shot. No one could believe how close the buck had been -- within 10 feet of my ladder -- when I loosed the arrow. Within five minutes and about 150 yards, I had my hands on his magnificent antlers. Then the ritualistic congratulations, thanks to the Lord, and field-dressing commenced.

Sure, I'd got lucky. Yes, I had planned to get a shot at this buck at some point during the season. But never did I expect it to happen my first night on stand, or at such close range. This sounds like a cliché, but I literally could not have drawn up the hunt any better. Everything had been perfect. Picture perfect.

But let me back up and give you some background. This particular deer had almost become a legend among my father, my brother Luke, and me. We'd first learned of his existence through the help of my Leaf River trail camera, which had captured his image twice in July 2005.

On a whim, I had set up the trail camera on a 40-acre piece of property my father owned. The two pictures I got of him were taken on the same July night around 11 p.m., within five minutes of each other. The buck looked to be a perfect 10-point with an inside spread of at least 19 inches and some amazing brow tines, as well as lengthy G2s and G3s. I estimated his antlers would gross-score in the 160s.

We hoped that with enough hard work and a little bit of luck, one of the three of us would get a chance at him sometime during the 2005 deer season. But you've heard what they say about the best laid plans...

Thanks to scouting camera photos and a cold front that instigated some early rutting activity, I took this mammoth buck my first evening on stand in early October.

To our disappointment, as the summer of 2005 was winding down and the season approached, we failed to capture any more pictures of him before the October 1 opener. As a result, my excitement over hunting the little 40-acre spot waned, and I turned my focus toward some larger tracts I felt would give me a better chance to tag a good buck.

On November 14, 2005, I took a fine buck that grossed over 160 nontypical, which ultimately justified my decision to hunt the larger property. Still, I often wondered if the monster 10-point had ever passed by my stand on the little 40-acre patch during the season.

In late November, I got my answer. After hearing that the local mail carrier had spotted a fine buck several times close to the property where we'd got the first trail camera pictures of the big fella, I returned to check the camera once again. Sure enough, as I downloaded the pictures onto my computer, there he was in bright, brilliant, digital beauty! He'd passed right by my stand, a perfect picture -- except that I was not in the stand.

Throughout the 2005 firearms season, rifle hunters reported seeing him near the property, but none ever reported getting a shot at the buck. Through good fortune, we caught a glimpse of him on the final day of the 2005 firearms season, with only two hours of shooting light remaining. I was optimistic about getting a chance at him when the 2006 archery season rolled around.

After returning home from a Colorado elk hunt in September 2006, my thoughts once again turned to whitetails in early October. Despite my lack of success in Colorado, I was still optimistic about hunting the big whitetail that had haunted my dreams for over a year now.

In early May, I'd got another trail camera picture of him, but it was so early in the antler development stage I couldn't tell how big he was going to be.

Then, in late July, a neighboring property owner and fellow bowhunter shared a trail camera picture with me he'd just got of the buck. The deer's rack had exploded in size! He'd been a slick 10-point the year before, but this latest picture showed a mainframe 9-point with a bunch of stickers and kickers around the bases. Simply put, he looked huge and gnarly, just the kind of buck I dream of taking.

When that fateful evening of October 11 rolled around, I didn't have to wait long to get a chance at the bruiser deer, and I have thanked the Lord many times for that rare opportunity. How often is it that a person can locate a trophy-class whitetail buck one year, follow him through actual sightings and trail camera images for well over a year, and then get a chance to kill the animal on the first night out? This was simply unbelievable.

One last thing really surprised me about this hunt and ultimately was the reason I got a shot at this deer on that memorable October evening -- early rutting behavior.

Traditionally, in Kansas the rut occurs from the last few days of October through the end of November, with the peak around November 15. I've seen younger bucks pursuing does as early as the third week of October, but never this early.

This particular evening was cooler than normal for early October, because a cold front had moved through a day or so before. Maybe the cooler weather fired them up, but whatever the reason, this big buck and two smaller bucks were in full pursuit of a yearling doe as they exhibited all the signs of peak-rut behavior -- snort-wheezing at each other, grunting at the doe, and sparring aggressively.

I've often heard bowhunters mention that they never hunt the early season because of the heat, bugs, and limited visibility due to the full foliage on trees, not to mention the amount of time still remaining before the rut "really gets going." Well, after my experience, you can remove me from that crowd.

For those of you who like to wait until late October and early November to get out there, you just might be missing an opportunity at your buck of a lifetime. Use your trail cameras to find out what kind of bucks are available, and then remember -- you'll never know what might stroll past your stand during the early season if you aren't in the stand.

Author's Notes: Once we discovered this buck had survived the 2005 hunting season, my family and I spent countless hours and covered many miles -- unsuccessfully -- searching for his shed antlers, which are most likely still lying out there somewhere. I used a Mathews Switchback set at 70 pounds, Carbon Express Maxima Hunter arrows, American Broadhead Company's Sonic 100 heads, Tru-Fire release, Trophy Taker Shakey Hunter Fall-Away rest, Cobra sight, and Sims Vibration Labor-atory products. I wore Scent-Lok Base-Slayers clothing, Wolverine boots, and I used Wildlife Research Center's Scent Killer spray and body wash.

The author is a resident of Scandia, Kansas. He is a touring singer/songwriter who also writes a game management column for a Midwestern publication.

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