When a giant whitetail generates serious competition, do the good guys even stand a chance?
Photo courtesy of Bruce Bosse.
It was the kind of scream you hear while watching a horror movie.
"It's him! It's Droptine!"
The monster in this particular movie was a nontypical whitetail buck that poked his head into the TV screen, glanced into the camera lens, and was gone in three seconds. Bruce Bosse's girlfriend, Jodi, was so excited to see the buck, the scream was an involuntary celebration at knowing the exceptional deer was back where he belonged.
This story began in 2005 when Jim Bosse, Bruce's father, was driving past one of his southeast North Dakota cornfields. There, in a drowned-out patch of corn, stood a big nontypical buck in full velvet, with a droptine. This was the kind of buck that makes you slam on the brakes.
"Over the rest of the summer we saw the buck quite often, usually in that same spot in the cornfield. We saw him along our shelterbelt quite regularly, too, and got some videotape of him," recalled Bruce, a 30-year-old whitetail fanatic turned bow-hunter.
Then, during the firearms season, Jim, his other son Jason, and hunting buddy Travis Paeper, who happens to be the county sheriff, were cruising down a gravel road when they spotted Droptine standing in a ditch. All three hunters had buck tags in their pockets -- and they all chose to let the big buck live!
"We could tell he was a young deer, and we wanted to give him a chance to grow," Jason said. "It's risky in this country, but if we shot him, we knew he wouldn't get bigger."
In an effort to expand hunting time and increase the challenge, these three hunting buddies had taken up bowhunting in 2004. Along with that, they began managing their property for quality deer, a difficult and sometimes impossible assignment in a prairie state with a long rifle season that starts at the peak of the rut. Still, the new bowhunters shot mostly does, letting the small bucks grow. And they began spending countless hours scouting for deer, planting trees for habitat, hunting for shed antlers, and showing restraint in their deer hunting.
While calling coyotes shortly after the end of the 2005 rifle season, the three hunters saw Droptine one more time. After that, the buck disappeared completely, and throughout the entire 2006 season, no one ever saw Droptine. The Bosses had planted soybeans in the field that held corn in 2005, and that may have influenced where the buck resided. Still, it's a testament to the astonishing ability of a mature whitetail to keep an ultra-low profile, even in open terrain with lots of human activity.
THEN, ON JUNE 10, 2007, Jason was cruising past the same field, which was planted in corn again, and there stood Droptine.
"He was standing in that same general area and the droptine on the left side was already visible," Jason said. "We got serious and put out a Wildlife Eye video camera to see if the buck was going to be hanging out in our shelterbelt again."
On July 7, on footage taken at night, Droptine made his exciting television debut that elicited Jodi's scream. Other evidence of the fruits of these three hunters' restraint showed up as well. Several very good bucks in the 150-class began to appear on videotapes, including more than 14 hours of footage of Droptine.
Excitement was building as the bow season drew closer. Then, around the first week in August, Bruce Bosse made what would turn out to be a serious mistake. He showed the video footage of Droptine to his neighbor.
This and other trail-camera photos got Bruce Bosse's family excited by proving that the exceptional buck was back where he belonged.
No big deal, he thought. We're neighbors, and this way, he'll know we'll be concentrating on hunting the buck.
The neighbor, who shall remain nameless, as will other participants in this story, owns a quarter of land adjacent to where the video footage was taken. When he immediately mowed down some of his cornfield and put out a pile of corn for bait, Bruce knew he and his companions had competition for the buck. He had no clue just how much competition was in store.
To clarify the record, baiting is legal in North Dakota. And, though it was probably poor manners from a North Dakotan's perspective, the neighbor had every legal right to try baiting the deer onto his property.
What happened next is much less tolerable -- at least from this writer's point of view. Unbeknown to Bruce, the neighbor began shopping Droptine around the country. Either directly or indirectly, he contacted a number of outdoor television shows and so-called professional hunters. The word was out on Droptine.
Shortly before the archery season opener, one well-known outdoor television production company offered to videotape Bruce Bosse arrowing the big buck.
"I didn't want any part of television," Bosse explained. "I just wanted to hunt the buck we'd been keeping track of for three years."
Through some off-handed comments, Bosse got word that someone -- it's not clear who -- was willing to pay him $10,000 to hunt the buck.
Again, Bosse refused.By now it was painfully obvious that Droptine was drawing a lot of attention -- and was creating some serious competition. The Bosses owned opposing quarters of that particular section of land, so they couldn't effectively protect Droptine.
"We knew we had to increase our chances of taking Droptine before someone else did," Bosse recalled. "I asked my brother and Travis to hunt opening day with me so at least one of us might kill the buck. We'd heard that up to nine hunters would be hunting the surrounding area, so we had no choice but to hunt more aggressively than we'd planned."
It turns out two television shows, one archery manufacturer, and several other high-profile hunters had "secured" the right to hunt adjoining property.
THAT BRINGS US TO OPENING DAY, August 31, 2007. It was a typical summer day in North Dakota -- 85 degrees and windy. Based on the buck's movement patterns, the south wind was totally wrong, but waiting
for the right wind wasn't an option.
The three dedicated whitetail hunters climbed into their treestands at 3:45 p.m., a full five hours before the end of legal shooting hours. The sun was hot and relentless, the breeze barely enough to evaporate beads of sweat. The mosquitoes weren't bad -- yet.
At 6:30 p.m., the competition showed up. Paeper watched an ATV drive right up to the ground blind in the cornfield on the other side of the shelterbelt he was in and drop off a couple hunters. At least one other hunter occupied another blind in that quarter. In the opposite quarter of that section, which was also planted in corn, another hunter hiked in from the road. They were surrounded!
At about 8 p.m., the wind slowed and mosquitoes welled up out of the grass like a toxic cloud, driving the cornfield hunter toward the road. Bruce Bosse watched in amusement as a 150-class buck sneaked around the fleeing hunter.
Then, sudden movement to the north caught his eye. It was Droptine! Trying to keep the mosquitoes at bay, the buck was constantly shaking his head and massive rack.
Droptine had been bedded in a small cattail slough to the north of Bosse's treestand, not far from a small waterhole. Now he was walking through the CRP grass, into the dying southerly breeze, straight toward Bosse.
"I wasn't expecting him to be bedded north of me," Bosse explained. "We thought he'd be in the shelterbelt to the south. To this day, I don't know why Droptine didn't wind me. Maybe he was too busy shaking off the mosquitoes.
"He was walking and still shaking his head when I ranged him at 28 yards. I drew while sitting down but decided to stand up slowly, still at full draw. Then I bleated with my mouth to stop him. My arrow hit him before he could turn his head to look my way," Bosse said.
"He took off running between the shelterbelt and the corn, then all was quiet. I tried to sit there for awhile but couldn't take it anymore, so I got down. My brother, Jason, was farther down the shelterbelt, but I didn't want to go that direction, so I hiked back to Travis and told him I'd shot the buck. When we met up with Jason after dark, he said the buck hadn't run past him, so we were confident he was down."
Bosse called another buddy, who came to help track. After a couple of hours, the team took up the trail and quickly found Droptine lying against some cornstalks. The shot had been perfect.
By the time they had loaded the huge nontypical buck into the truck and returned to Bosse's farmhouse, so many cars filled the driveway he couldn't get into his own yard.
"I'd say close to 100 friends and family had come to see Droptine. Most were happy for me, but my neighbor and a few of the pay hunters showed up to see the buck too. Needless to say, they weren't too happy the buck was dead," Bosse said with a grin. Showing amazing tolerance, Bosse has since patched things up with his neighbor.
Knowing that bucks like this generate rumors and jealousy, Bosse called the game warden and asked him to come and examine the buck and the kill site. By that time it was 10 p.m., so game warden Tim Phalen came the next morning. I interviewed Phalen, and he was confident the hunt went down as Bosse claimed it did.
"I just wanted to make sure no one could start any rumors. I've seen it happen whenever someone shoots a good buck, and I didn't want it to happen here," Bosse explained. (If you ever shoot the buck of lifetime, remember that advice.)
THIS IS A STORY of hunting justice. This young man, whose life revolves around whitetails, was able to beat the pros. He shunned the spotlight by refusing to let himself be videotaped for television. He turned his back on a chance at some serious money by not selling out the "hunting right" to the buck. Then, against the odds, Bosse made an aggressive move on this exceptional deer, held his composure, and made the shot -- on his own land.
But, wait, the story has one more twist.
"I've shot lots of does in my five years as a bowhunter but have been letting the smaller bucks grow on our land. Droptine was the first buck I've taken with a bow," Bosse admitted.
Bosse sought no recognition for himself and wouldn't even talk about the buck until it was officially scored. He didn't want anyone to think he was making unsubstantiated claims about the buck. I had to convince Bosse to let me write the story.
All who hear the story say the same thing. "I sure am glad that kid got the buck before the pros did!"
Though some might accuse me of being one of the "pros," a title I shun, I feel the same way. Had one of the pay-to-hunt bowhunters killed that buck, it would have been a travesty. Bruce Bosse earned that deer and deserved to claim him as his first bow-killed buck.
The good guys don't always finish last.
Author's Note:Bruce Bosse used a Mathew Switch-back, Carbon Express Maxima Hunter arrows, Thunderhead broadheads, Whis-ker Biscuit rest, and Cobra Sidewinder sight.