December 20, 2021
By Matt Palmquist
For the second year in a row, I had pictures of a heavy, tight-racked 6x6 whitetail with several extra character points. In the summer of 2019, I’d located the buck and hunted him hard. I had multiple close encounters that nearly ended with an arrow in his lungs, but it just wasn’t meant to be. It was mentally exhausting, but I was committed to doing the same thing in 2020 if that unique buck was still around.
Luckily, I got the confirmation I needed when the buck walked in front of my trail camera, triggering my obsession full bore again. In 2019, the buck frequented a mineral site I’d established, yielding lots of photos. However, in 2020 he followed the script of “the year we all want to forget,” and he rarely visited the mineral lick. He did give me just enough glimpses to keep my interest, but I was certain he was spending the majority of his time on a neighboring property. I scattered cameras across the small piece of property I was hunting in hopes of catching him doing something consistent, but my efforts proved futile.
Regardless, the buck was still there, and I was committed. I hung several new treestands, but the more I studied and hunted this buck, the more I was convinced I needed to hunt him from the ground. Enter my good buddy, Danny Farris. He has killed several great whitetails in “my backyard,” using a two-decoy setup from the ground, and in very open country. The setup consists of a 3-D buck decoy set up in front of the hunter, who has a doe decoy mounted to his bow that acts as both an attractant and a blind. My desire to use this tactic was twofold. For one, I knew it could work, and two, I was tired of Danny kicking butt while I struggled to punch a tag in my home state, and I wanted to steal some of that mojo!
I geared up for the ground assault, but that tactic is most effective during the rut, so I planned to be in a tree as much as possible leading up to November. The last week of October, the conditions were good to sneak into my stand near the mineral site. With cameras yielding few pictures, my expectations weren’t very high. However, in 2019 the buck had become very active in late October during the pre-rut, so anything was possible.
A short while into my sit, I caught a flash in the distance coming from the bedding area that I suspected the 6x6 called home. It was early in the evening, so I thought it unlikely that it would be him, but anticipation was high because it appeared to be a large-bodied deer. My first thought was confirmed when a small buck materialized across the creek, but a minute later there was more movement in the thick weeds. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the 6x6 emerged, headed toward the crossing in front of my stand, and I struggled to compose myself!
As the buck slowly approached, I reached for my camera rather than my bow, because my plan was to make the switch as he crossed the creek. The 6x6 followed the same path as the small buck did, to a small stick that protruded out of the weeds at the top of the creek bank. The buck scent-checked the stick and proceeded to put on a show — lip-curling for several minutes, making for some great photo ops. In hindsight, I probably should have picked up my bow instead. The buck stood at 40 yards, slightly quartering to, but I didn’t even think about shooting because I really thought he would come across the creek and give me a shot at 30 yards or less. On the ground, 40 yards doesn’t seem that far. But out of a treestand, 40 seems like a bomb to me. I didn’t want to chance wounding him, but when he walked off in the other direction, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t regret not sending an arrow his way.
The close encounter hurt even worse as November waned on. I deployed my ground attack once or twice with no luck and no sightings of the buck, or any mature bucks for that matter. Mid-November typically means bucks are locking down with a doe, and my plan was to emulate that with my decoys. I got set up under the cover of darkness in a location where I’d be visible to any cruising bucks.
Deer started to materialize in the gray morning light, including a large-bodied buck trailing a doe through a large flat on the neighboring property. I couldn’t tell which deer he was in the low light, but I knew he was a shooter and assumed by his antler shape it could be the 6x6.
I was watching them from my setup on a small knoll, when another big-bodied buck entered the scene. Both bucks postured-up, and I thought I was going to witness a major brawl, but the original buck must have been more than the intruder wanted to tackle, because they never locked antlers. They walked away through a large CRP field, disappearing over a hill and out of my life. I sat there thinking I may as well hang it up for the day, because two alpha bucks just went a mile in the wrong direction. I figured one of them had to be the 6x6 I was after, because I hadn’t got pictures of any other bomber bucks through my summer and fall scouting.
But I snapped out of my daze when another buck appeared out of the creekbottom, much closer to my setup. I couldn’t believe it — it was the 6x6 buck I’d been hunting! He was several hundred yards away but it was dead calm, so I snort-wheezed at him in hopes of getting him to investigate my decoys. The buck did focus his attention on me, but he didn’t react as expected. His attitude changed, and he knew something wasn’t right. The 6x6 didn’t spook bad, but he tucked his tail and trotted back into the creekbottom.
I hadn’t even had a close call on that hunt, but now my head was spinning and I was amped up for the rest of November! I was still committed to finishing my two-year saga with the 6x6, but the addition of two more bucks that appeared to be shooters definitely added to my excitement. If only I had had more light, or a spotting scope, to know what they were. Regardless of antler configuration, there was no doubt they were both older bucks with tanks for bodies.
Like most years, as the calendar moved deeper into November, I was running low on vacation time, so it was back to the day-to-day grind at work. I dreamed of being back in pursuit of the 6x6 and the new bucks. To make matters worse, I would be transferring to a new work location across the state and my first day was November 23, leaving me one weekend to hunt before moving. There was a lot of season left, and I already had plans in place to get back west to hunt if things didn’t pan out, but I sure felt like I was running out of time.
Saturday morning, the wind was good to try Danny’s decoy setup again. On my walk in, I decided to go for broke: I grabbed the 3-D decoy from my stash in the pasture and tromped into the core area the 6x6 had crossed through on his way to my stand in October. I wouldn’t be as visible to the deer, and I couldn’t see as far either, but I knew the deer moved through that area regularly. But being aggressive was worth the risk to me at that point in the season, especially given the circumstances.
There was pink in the eastern sky as I reached my destination and tucked into a patch of yucca. The spot didn’t conceal me well from the sides, but I felt good about deer approaching from the front. My confidence was soon shattered, however, when a small buck came unglued as he approached my setup. He didn’t run, but he blew at me repeatedly like the most annoying doe on the planet. He finally trotted off, leaving me dejected and silently cursing Mr. Farris!
I stayed put, but I felt it was pointless and was about to pull the plug when a buck snuck in from my left. It wasn’t the 6x6, but I immediately saw two big flyers coming off his back tine and knew he was a no-doubter. He cautiously approached the buck decoy, while eyeing the doe (me) with every step. As nervous as he was acting, I felt there was no way I could get drawn. But as he passed behind the buck decoy, I knew it was now or never. I eased to full draw, and to my surprise the buck stopped, looked right at me, and was none the wiser. So I settled my pin and let the arrow fly, and the big buck took it like a champ! I still can’t believe the turn of events.
My nerves were in overdrive after the shot, and I shakily tried to text family and friends, including my old pal Danny, who called me back immediately. The buck had accepted me as another deer and didn’t have a clue, just like Danny had told me would happen.
I have been a believer in decoys for a long time, but I wasn’t completely sold on the two-deer setup — until now. It took some failure before I finally found success, but I’m thankful I copied what has become Danny’s signature whitetail tactic in recent years.
Walking up to this buck was a treat. I had zero pictures of him prior to killing him, and he may have been one of the three mature bucks from the earlier hunt, but I have no way to be sure. While it wasn’t the 6x6, there was no way I’d ever pass up a buck like this. Just his heavy 10-point frame would have been enough, but adding in two long flyers and a split G-2 was a bonus. The 6x6 also had a split G-2, so it seems the “flyer buck” was a bit of a copycat as well!
The author is a regular Contributor who lives with his wife and kids in Council Grove, Kansas.
My equipment on this hunt included a Hoyt Carbon RX-4 Ultra, Gold Tip arrows, Lumenok lighted nocks, Bohning vanes and wraps, Muzzy Trocar broadheads, Vapor Trail Gen 7 rest, Spot Hogg sight, Scott release, TightSpot quiver, Kenetrek boots, and Zeiss optics.