Some people say success is 80-percent desire; this bowhunter revises that to 90 percent.
Amid negative circumstances, a positive attitude led me to this 1466⁄8-inch Wisconsin brute.
NEVER BEFORE HAD I prepared so well for a hunting season. I'd done extensive off-season scouting, planted a food plot, and fine-tuned my shooting skills. For several years I'd enjoyed consistent success on decent bucks, but this year, I would tag a truly giant whitetail -- or tag no buck at all. I'd laid out my plans perfectly. I'd spent many weekend hours preparing a food plot and got it planted right in the time window suggested on the bag of plot seed. Two weeks later it was growing incredibly. I was so excited I marked potential treestand sites and vowed not to return until conditions were perfect during hunting season.
One week later, I experienced my first setback of the season -- after four days of torrential rains I checked on the food plot and found it 90-percent underwater. My food plot was history.
All was not lost, however, as during summer scouting sessions I spotted several bucks feeding in farm fields directly surrounding my leased lands. Even without my food plot honey hole, the season still held promise.
Then disaster struck when I went to a wedding reception -- and sprained my ankle. I'd prefer not to go into detail. Let's just say it was a freak accident and left me on crutches with a badly swollen ankle. There was no way I'd be slipping on my hunting boots in two weeks.
Scouting and setting stands were completely out of the question, but I didn't need my ankle to shoot my bow, so that became my focus -- working on my shooting form. I'm not saying I didn't feel discouraged, but I tried to remain positive, never losing sight of my goal.
IN 20 YEARS OF bowhunting, I had never missed an opening day, and I wasn't going to break that streak now. So on opening morning, I hobbled into the woods on crutches. Unable to go far, I opted for my closest stand tree, and given the pain, I was able to ascend only 10 feet with my climbing stand. Still, I saw a few deer, and it felt good to be in the woods at the start of a new hunting season.
Over the next few weeks, I intensely rehabbed my ankle to the point that I was able to walk to all of my stand sites -- without crutches. I just needed to allow a little extra time to get there due to my reduced walking speed.
Then another disaster struck. In mid-October, I was hobbling into the woods I lease from a local lumber company when I soon realized something drastic had taken place -- the company had just started logging the land. Quickly, I called the company, only to learn they most likely would be working there through the entire first bow season. That took the wind out of my sails.
To add insult to injury, a few days later I learned that my back-up hunting land was about to be sold to become a subdivision. Over the coming weeks, survey crews and developers would be visiting the property, which would totally disrupt the deer movement. I won't lie -- I felt like quitting, and over the next few days I catalogued all the reasons why this season was shot.
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Then I remembered an elk hunt many years earlier when, after six hard, unsuccessful days, I felt very much the same and almost packed it in. However, I chose to remain steadfast in my decisions regarding how and where to hunt, and on the last morning, my persistence prevailed as I arrowed a 300-inch bull.
NOW, FACED WITH A SIMILAR situation, I looked back at all the work I'd put into this season and began to formulate a new plan. With the rut rapidly approaching, I had to act quickly.
To start, I speed-scouted the fringes of the property that was being logged. My only option here was to hit it hard on Sundays, since that was the only day off from active logging. I would concentrate my efforts on downed oak treetops that still held acorns. Does were flocking to them, and with the pre-rut at hand, bucks would not be far behind.
My other hunting property was hit or miss. The land forms a good funnel, and the deer didn't seem too disrupted with the survey crews and developers. With my week of vacation just days away, I scouted for good stand trees near doe bedding areas.
When my vacation week arrived, I felt satisfied I'd done everything possible and now just needed to let things play out. The first couple of days flew by with numerous deer sightings, including several bucks. Unfor-tunately, nearly all of them were yearlings and two-year-olds. Weather had been great all week -- cool temperatures and mild winds.
Day three was no exception, and by 7:30 a.m., several does had bedded for the day within 80 yards of my stand. It didn't take long for some bucks to come snooping around. At 11:00 a.m., a two-year-old 10-pointer came within pointblank range. He was a beautiful buck, but I was not about to compromise my goal -- not after all that had transpired up to this point. With no regrets, I passed up the shot.
Days four, five, and six showed no letdown in deer activity, but I just was not seeing any big bucks. With my vacation time running out, I once again began to feel doubts about filling my tag.
Day seven, a Sunday, started differently from all the rest, as my family and I attended church in the morning. After a long week of hunting -- in six days I'd spent more than 60 hours on stand -- it felt good to sleep in until 7 a.m., and then to spend some quality time with my family.
By lunch my two kids had worn me out, and I felt content to rest the remainder of the day. But before I could get comfortable, my wife, Sandy, made an unusual statement: "How do you expect to shoot a Pope and Young buck sitting on the couch?"
Snapping out of my relaxation-induced haze, I jumped to my feet. "You're right! What was I thinking?"
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Within minutes, I was on my way to the woods. I reached my logged lease only to find that hunters on the adjacent property were readying their stands for the upcoming gun season and practicing their shooting skills. There would be no deer movement tonight in this area. Quickly, I drove to the other property. Nobody would be there on Sunday.
With time running out, my plan was to set up as close to the doe bedding area as possible, and I'd got within 100 yards when a branch broke under my foot. The loud crack spooked a doe from her bed, followed by a h
uge buck right on her tail. Clearly, the doe was in estrus. The wind was in my favor, and immediately I knelt to see what would transpire. The doe had no idea what made the noise, but felt uneasy about the situation and moved off deeper into the woods. Because it was still early afternoon, I knew the doe would not head out to feed this early. On a hunch, I guessed she might return to her bed if she felt no other pressure. Waiting until the deer were fully out of sight, I quickly found a tree near where I thought the doe had been bedded and climbed 30 feet up.
After only 30 minutes on stand, I saw the doe coming back, and the buck was still hot on her heels. I'd miscalculated slightly on where she had been bedded, but the doe still led the impressive 12-pointer within 35 yards of my stand. Luckily, I'd ranged the tree trunk the buck now stood behind only moments before, so I had no doubt about the distance. Totally distracted by the doe, the buck never knew what hit him and piled up within 50 yards.
MY FATHER REMINDS ME regularly that the buck of a lifetime will show up when you least expect him. "If you're not in the woods, there's no way you can shoot him," he concludes.
He's exactly right, and I hope my experience serves as inspiration when you think things are hopeless. Adapt to changing conditions, keep a positive attitude, and put in your time.
Like any worthwhile endeavor, bowhunting requires a strong mental attitude, a tenacious work ethic, and a whole lot of patience. It's easy to rationalize failure or settle for something less than your goal, but never surrender to that way of thinking. I didn't, and just look at the result.
The author is a resident of Kiel, Wisconsin. This is his third feature for Bowhunter.
To succeed during my "impossible" season, I used a Parker EZDraw 33 bow; Easton XX78 SuperSlam 2315 shafts; Muzzy three-blade, 125-grain broadheads; Toxonics Sniper Pendulum sight; Tru-Fire Classic Caliper Power Strap release aid; Lone Wolf Alpha Sit & Climb stand; Nikon Mountaineer II 8x25 binoculars; and Bushnell Yardage Pro Sport rangefinder.