An "old-school" bowhunter takes the biggest buck of his life, literally within earshot of his home.
Lucky for Tom Schneider, the Green Bay Packers were having a bad afternoon, which led to his spending the last 90 minutes of hunting light in his "backyard" ground blind.
It was November 2, 2008, and the rut wasn't quite on time. Tom Schneider is sort of an old-school hunter in that instead of running and gunning and trying to pattern every buck in the woods, he waits. In fact, he waits for the rut before he even steps onto his best stands, which are carefully picked and set in those key areas that always seem to hold the real keepers moving through his acreage. Tom had hunted that morning -- his first sit of the season in one of his "A" spots -- but the woods were as quiet and lonely as the shores of the Dead Sea.
"The weather wasn't optimal for hunting," Tom said, "but the Packers were looking dismal that day, so I threw on my gear and walked to a spot about 100 yards from my home to spend the last 90 minutes of daylight."
It was a southeast wind, which meant hunting from his homemade ground blind off a little food plot would be perfect. Tom, now 52 years old, found himself using ground blinds more and more since surviving a fall 15 years ago that fractured one of his vertebrae.
After sitting for a few minutes, he saw a nice buck about 80 yards out and working his way to the food plot.
"I gave him one soft grunt and he immediately looked in my direction," Tom said. "I like to wait until a buck starts walking to grunt again. Behind my blind is an extremely thick pine plantation the buck could not see into, so I made a series of more aggressive calls, trying to mimic a buck tending a doe. It worked out great, because the buck couldn't see into the pines and had to investigate."
The buck was a good one by Tom's standards, in the 120-class.
"I'm not a numbers guy," he said. "I pass up a lot of bucks but don't really consider myself a trophy hunter. I'm lucky in that we have a place in Michigan where I take three to five does a year, so there's really no reason for me to take a buck unless he's nice. My freezer is full. Still, if the antlers are out to the ears, and there's some decent length to his tines, I'll try to end my season."
Instead of committing to the food plot, the buck circled the perimeter of the soybeans and entered the pines, looking for the source of the noise.
"The pines are perfect for the rut because a lot of does bed there and the bucks go in looking for them," Tom continued. "With an hour of light still left, I hoped the buck would come back out. I didn't want to overcall this early in the season."
A few minutes had passed when a doe and her fawn entered the half-acre plot and began to feed.
"They hadn't been bumped out by the buck and were at ease," Tom said. "The deer were only about 20 yards away when I heard some grunting in the pines."
Tom was sure the grunting came from the buck he'd seen earlier.
"If he stepped out where the two does did, I'd have an easy 20-yard poke at him. I had my bow ready and was about to come to full draw when I noticed another doe squirt out of the pines into the beans on the same trail the first doe had used. This one showed signs of being in heat. I felt certain the buck would step out now, right behind her."
Tom Schneider's homemade ground blind sits tight against some almost impenetrable pines that allow him to prevent deer from winding him when there's a southeast wind.
What Tom didn't know was that the buck was shadowing the doe downwind of her, not behind her, which brought him out of the pines closer to the blind. Tom caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and when he slowly turned to look, his eyes met a buck that was clearly the largest he'd ever seen and definitely not the buck he'd grunted at earlier.
"He was staring right at me at six yards," Tom recalled. "I think the deer saw my tonsils when my jaw dropped open in awe. But if there's one thing I've learned about ground-blind hunting, it's that deer often will calm down if you don't make any sudden movements. We stared at each other for about 10 seconds before the buck finally put his head down and started walking. With no time for buck fever to take over, I went on autopilot."
The does had scampered away when they saw the buck coming, and Tom couldn't believe how easy this was going to be.
"I had to resist the urge to draw on him right away when he looked down," Tom said.
"You just can't get away with that in a ground blind. I've found that the best way to draw on deer from a ground blind is to draw at about the same pace as the deer is walking. It's kind of like when you are walking down the street and a person off to your side is moving slowly, you don't really notice him. But if the person jumps up and down you'll catch that movement every time."
As the buck passed behind one of the corner posts of the ground blind, Tom slowly drew.
"The buck didn't notice me," he said. "I was at full draw on the biggest deer I'd ever seen and decided to quickly scan around me to make sure that my limbs were clear of the blind and that my bowstring wouldn't hit anything when I released. But I'd just completed the quick double-check and got my eye back in the peep when the buck suddenly trotted off in the direction of the apparently hot doe."
Nearly in shock, Tom watched as the buck headed straight away.
"I wanted to scream," Tom said, "but I let out a loud bawl instead, challenging the buck."
"In my 35 years of hunting, I have only heard that noise three times," Tom confided. "It isn't a wheeze or grunt. If you've ever heard a farmer grab a calf by the tail and drag it back into a pen, you've heard the sound I made. When I did that, the buck stopped and did a 90-degree turn at about 28 yards to see the pipsqueak who was challenging him.
Twenty-eight yards is a long shot for me, but it was all instinct. I let the arrow go and watched my Lumenok arc right into what I thought was his heart. He bolted and made his way into some thick brush and I lost him. I stuck my head out of the blind and listened for him
Tom silently slipped out of his ground blind and quickly walked back to the house to tell his wife what had just happened.
"Karen walked up to me and asked if I was all right," he said. "I was pale and shaking, and she thought I might be having a heart attack. I told her I had just shot the biggest buck of my life!"
After rounding up two of his friends and his daughter, Kelly, Tom went back in the woods, feeling pretty good about the shot.
"We got to the spot where I'd shot him and found my arrow," he said. "There wasn't a lot of blood on it, and determining penetration level was difficult, so I called my friend Danny over to have him look at the arrow. I was panicking. The shot wasn't that far, and I thought not getting a complete pass-through seemed a little strange."
Danny was ahead of the rest of the gang, and as he came over to look at the arrow, he crossed the deer's path. "Tom, get over here and look at this," he called.
When Tom got to his friend, Danny pointed to a 15-inch pool of blood a good two feet to the right side of the buck's heavy tracks. Every couple of feet, another pool was found.
"Still, I wasn't happy until we found him dead 40 yards later," Tom confided.
Knees shaking, Tom just kept circling the fallen giant in disbelief. Tom's day had finally come! The buck later measured 1757„8 green and netted 169 typical inches.
"Again, I'm not a numbers guy," Tom reminded me. "But I guess I didn't realize how truly big this guy was until I looked in the Pope and Young record book for 2007 entries and it would have made the top 10. No one really knew this buck was around, because he was almost completely nocturnal. This is heavily hunted land around here. Still, that big buck found a way to survive 5½ years. Never underestimate what might be living unseen in your own backyard!"
The author owns an advertising agency that focuses on hunting and fishing clients and writes for a number of regional and national magazines. He lives in Richfield, Wisconsin, with his wife, Lisa, and sons Hunter and Blake. Tom Schneider is the owner of the Heater Body Suit. For a how-it's-made video tour of the Heater Body Suit factory, go to www.bowhunter.com.
Author's Notes: Tom killed his Wisconsin buck 100 yards from his back door. The 28-yard shot was the longest he'd ever taken at a deer. His equipment included a Mathews DXT set at 55 lbs. and Rage 2-blade mechanical broadheads.
Tom Schneider, owner of the Heater Body Suit, said that although he wasn't wearing a Suit, he had one with him just in case. "Most people think it is just for when it's 10 below zero," he said. "I almost always dress light and throw the Suit on my back just in case.
Why should I be even a little chilly. The more you use the Heater Body Suit, the more comfortable you'll be at putting it on, wearing it, and shooting with it on."