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How to Turn a Bad Hunt Around

How to Turn a Bad Hunt Around (When the Hunt Goes Sour on Trophy Whitetail Bucks) 4277 words

My 2008 Whitetail Goal

The 2008 Missouri Archery Season opened on September 15. As a Missouri resident with access to Iowa whitetail deer hunting ground as well it’s always my goal to put 3 record book whitetail deer on the wall in one year. In Missouri a whitetail hunter may take one buck with a bow before gun season or Mid November, and one buck during gun season or after gun season with a bow or muzzleloader.

The Iowa whitetail deerhunting firearms season is in early December where I access the greatest ground in the United State of America for trophy whitetails. I don’t care where your at and what you think you have you haven’t hunted trophy whitetail until you hunt Zone 5 of Iowa with a credible outfitter. It is all that Pike County, Illinois and Buffalo County used to be before all the outfitters arrived. Iowa whitetail deerhunting terrain is isolated and desolate, almost uncivilized and holds the most Boone and Crockett whitetail deer in the United States of American by far over any other state.

Thus my goal is to put down an archery buck before the Missouri gun season. Harvest a trophy whitetail buck during the Missouri gun season, and then head to Iowa to collect buck #3 during Iowa’s whitetail deer firearms season in Zone 5. Remember its not enough to hunt Iowa you must hunt Zone 5 or your simply not exposing yourself to true trophy whitetail deer hunting that Iowa has to offer. It is Zone 5 that is rewriting the Boone and Crockett Record Books.

Deer #1 Down for the Count

The most difficult of all three trophy whitetail harvests is always the archery buck. Whitetail deer must be closer and more skill have to be employed to harvest an archery buck than with gun. This can be proven on the mere premise that the whitetail deer has to be at less than 40 yards to harvest whereas with a rifle or shotgun the whitetail deer can be from 100 to 500 yards during the right shooting conditions. On September 15th I began the Missouri Archery Season with the sighting of several shooter bucks. On the 16th I repositioned my stand and was in to hunt on the 17th of September. On that second hunt I drove an arrow through the heart of a 145 inch drop tine buck which thrilled me to death. Why? I had taken the most difficult buck of the three buck goal. Upcoming hunts would be the easiest of the three whitetails to harvest, thus I could see the perfect whitetail deer season in sight.

Missouri Firearms Buck Goes Sour

I can’t even recall the last time I didn’t take a trophy buck with a gun during the Missouri firearms season thus I began to count my chickens before the eggs hatched. Missouri simply offers some of the best rut rifle hunting that is available for whitetail deer. Its harder to fail than succeed during the Missouri Firearms Season……literally. My thought was that I would certainly harvest a 150 plus whitetail buck during the peak of the rut with rifle in Missouri, leaving only the Iowa whitetail buck to harvest which is like shooting ducks of a pond. Things began to go sour when November rolled around. 16 of the first 18 days of November in Missouri held winds that exceeded 20 miles per hour. A couple years ago a did a study over the course of 1726 hunts discovering that in the Midwest whitetail activity is decreased in the Midwest by 68% when winds exceed 15 mph, and trophy buck activity is decreased by 81% during times when winds exceed 15 mph. My CERTAIN Missouri gun buck turned into an empty tag leaving me very frustrated to say the least. I sat for 10 days in treetops that were swaying in the wind waiting on a whitetail deer that never came. Thus the harvest of buck #2 was unsuccessful due to weather conditions. For example in 2008 Missouri received record amounts of rainfall which have been unequalled since 1993, and wind speeds were also record highs during the rut which shut whitetail deer down. This literally put me in a situation wherein I would not be able to take my 2nd Missouri buck unless harvested with bow in late December or early January which is near impossible, and if accomplished must be done in the coldest most cruel environmental conditions available during the year in Missouri. Therefore, short of a miracle, buck #2 of Missouri will probably not occur for me.

Once the Missouri gun season ended I began to prepare for my Iowa whitetail deer gun hunt. Since Iowa whitetail deer hunting is the best state in the nation by far regarding the population of trophy whitetail deer I was still “siked” that Iowa whitetail deer hunting would produce positive results allowing me take a 2nd trophy buck in 2008. To top the loss of a firearms whitetail deer in Missouri I began to prepare for an Iowa deerhunt that was beginning to look like a damn mess to say the least. Almost a year prior on Christmas day of 2007 I opened a long narrow box which was wrapped by Santa and held a Super Black Eagle Bennelli Slug Gun equipped with a $1200 Swarvorski Scope. Since Christmas of 2007 I have been drooling over the chance to take what is potentially the world’s greatest slug gun to the best State in the Nation for trophy whitetail deer in 2008………Iowa Whitetail Deer hunting.

Gun Problems

Four days before having to leave to prepare for the Iowa whitetail deerhunt I began shooting the Super Black Eagle with the super scope anticipating I would be taking the worlds greatest slug gun to Iowa in hopes of taking a Boone and Crockett Buck. As I began to shoot the gun I could not hold a group of bullets less than 12 inches. I noticed the scope was loose so I went to the gun store and had the scope loc-tited and set stationary and headed back to the gun range. Within 10 minutes the recoil from the shotgun began popping the screws out of the scope bracket into mid air. Again the scope was off. It was then I learned I had a 1 pound 6 ounce scope atop the gun which was intercepting most of the recoil thus kicking the screws out of the scope. I then headed to my gun store and put a 13 ounce scope on the wonderful gun with 5 different kinds of slugs. Still I couldn’t hold a group of less than 12 inches. Suddenly my awesome slug gun was useless and I was down to my Thompson Center Triumph with Zeiss scope. This was a disadvantage as I had only shot a muzzleloader one time before in my entire life. Now I ran the risk of worrying about misfires and only having one shot in Iowa at my dream buck with an unfamiliar weapon.

The good news was the Thompson Center was holding a one inch group at one hundred yards and was performing like a champ. I headed for my Iowa deer hunt a week early to scout for sign to hang my treestands on the hottest locations available. The day I headed to Iowa a 3 inch snowfall occurred. This literally prevented me from seeing clean ground without snow on it so that I could read whitetail deer sign accurately. My Iowa whitetail deer hunt was now without my super slug gun, and minimizing my ability to read whitetail deer sign with a blanket of snow. Sick to my stomach I sat in the lodge wondering what was to become of my sour grapes. Still in the back of my mind I knew the Iowa farm was holding several huge animals, two of which were over 200 inches according to the landowner. My thinking was one might even be the new world record, of course that may be a bit of an exaggeration.

Scouting Difficulties

On 12-1 I headed out to read the whitetail deer sign on the Iowa farm in Zone 5 to hang three climbing treestands in the three best places I could possibly find. Knowing Iowa whitetail deer hunting is the greatest in the world my hopes where still high, however this year I had a bigger plan that was unraveling as each minute passed. In years past I have always said that the hunt industry surrounding whitetail deer has set unrealistic expectations surrounding the harvest of Boone and Crockett Whitetail Deer. Provided weather conditions are good for hunting I will only release a bullet at a Iowa whitetail deer I believe comes close to Boone and Crockett. With gun difficulties, inability to scout whitetail deer to the maximum extent, and poor weather conditions I had my work cut out for me. With the odds stacked against me I had full expectations I would attempt to harvest the biggest whitetail deer of my life with a gun I was only semi familiar with.

Knowing the key to consistently harvesting big whitetails lies in the quality of ground you hunt and the hours you put in with good hunt equipment I would simply have to do the best with the hand dealt to me. This took me back to the basics. Scouting. Great whitetail hunters scout throughout the season. 6 days prior to the season or on 12-1-2008 I headed out to the Iowa farm and began to creep around like a native American in search of three dependable locations to hang my climbing treestands for the ambush of a monster whitetail buck.

The first small block of woods I came to was only about 40 acres of the 700 acre farm. Inside the timber I discovered three rubs on trees that were literally larger than two telephone poles put together. The trees weren’t just scratched up with tines but literally stripped like small saplings, however no fresh tracks lied in the snow inside this draw. I have hunted big rubs before and crashed and burned so I decided to vacate the area and move onto the only foodplot planted on the farm. On the edge of the clover field I hung a climbing treestand and thought to myself, “This is where I will spend evening hunts only so I don’t disturb whitetail deer on the foodplot during the AM hours.” Many hunters make the mistake of crossing or walking across the very food source they are hunting in the hours of darkness proceeding their morning hunt. Don’t disturb feeding areas prior to daylight or you defeat your purpose. This was not a fancy treestand setup and didn’t require a bunch of scouting on my behalf but food in cold bitter Iowa in December has to be one location that you cover without a doubt. Several average rubs and good runs were coming into the foodplot but no sign of the big 200 inch whitetail deer was present.

Next I moved to the Southern end of the farm, and accessed a cedar thicket bordered on all sides by knarly little saplings and chest high grass which was holding a lot of whitetail deer sign in the snow covered ground. I found the perfect tree but it was a pinoak which had limbs every foot or so. Setting the climbing treestand up on this site took literally 3 hours to do it right, but when I was done I was satisfied that this would be my opening morning setup unless something else was found on day two of scouting. Dozens of big cedar trees were rubbed in the thicket that proved many trophy whitetail deer were using the area. I always prefer to hunt an area that is holding a good amount of whitetail deer rather than do something crazy like hunting only one buck. Generally when you’ve found the herd you’ve also found your shooter bucks. I limblighted and orange taped the area and will stay out of it the next 6 days until Opening Morning of the Iowa Firearms Season. This area is so spooky I could see a giant Boone and Crockett Buck hit the ground here.

I vacated the area and returned to call the gunsmith in order to try and fix the slug gun I so badly want to use on Opening Day. The gunsmith told me its possible the end screw on the gun was not tight enough giving the barrel some play making a pattern of shooting impossible and to take a washrag and vise grips and tighten this down as tight as it could possibly be tightened. I will do so and see if it helps. If not I will be forced to use the
Thompson Center Muzzleloader. I want to say that Thompson Center makes the best muzzleloader in the hunt industry and in no way mean to defame or question the guns they produce, however being mechanically challenged I just prefer to use the shotgun with scope. Its easy to load and offered a backup shot in the even of a miss without reloading.

Never Give Up

Despite the “sour grapes” of the Missouri Rifle Season I’m literally so excited about the Iowa Firearms Season that I’m already having trouble sleeping at night at its still 6 days away. Iowa is simply home to the biggest whitetail deer in the nation and I know this is my greatest chance at hammering the buck of a lifetime. I could easily have gotten mad about not taking a Missouri Firearms Buck and gave up however that’s not my style. Winston Churchill one performed a college graduation ceremony wherein he walked up to the podium with thousands of people expecting a long winded speech full of wisdom. Churchill said three words and sat down, “Never Give Up.” With whitetail deer hunting this is so true. For every unsuccessful hunt you are one whitetail deer hunt closer to taking down a bruiser whitetail buck.

On Day 2 of scouting I was to meet my two friends and position their ground blinds for hunting as well as hang my third climbing treestand in a key location for interception of a trophy whitetail deer. I started the day by grabbing a nice breakfast while I got the oil changed on my truck. This would allow the early morning 20 degree temps to warm up a bit making my scouting adventure a little bit more pleasing. Immediately I began scouting the densest part of the property along an ole crp field near a black oak ridden creek bed. It was here I discovered an Ole Barn with some phenomenal whitetail deer sign. At this location I setup a ground blind for one of my two hunt companions. Later in the morning I snuck into an area where I had discovered the three biggest rubs of my life and sat up a ground blind for my other whitetail deer hunting partner. Now the gates surrounding the farm were closed 4 days before gun season with locations setup for all three members of my hunt group in Iowa. We would not return until opening day so the deer I had kicked up could settle down.

After the gates were shut I spoke to the neighboring farmer who told me of several bucks exceeding 160 inches that were working the very area we were hunting. My hopes began to rise. Now my only problem remaining that loomed in the back of my mind was my desire to shoot my new Bennilli Slug Gun over my Muzzleloader.

I did a quick load of laundry to assure all my hunt clothes were ready to go for opening morning and arranged my backpack as I am highly organized, borderline anal retentive when it comes to preparing for the hunt.

Gun Troubles Resolved

I returned to the shooting range and analyzed the Benilli Slug Shotgun. The gun is in 3 parts. The receiver, the stock, and the barrel. After the receiver and barrel and placed snugly into the stock then an end know is tightened to make sure the shotgun beds properly without having troubles of the barrel moving during shooting. I took an old sock and a pair of vise grips and tightened the end knob securing the receiver and the barrel as tightly as possible into the gun. The first couple shots were off the mark but with two adjustments I began to shoot two inch groups at 100 yards. My gun was back on track, my stands were hung with careful thorough scouting, my pack was organized, my clothes were clean, and I was a couple days ahead of schedule. Now the pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fit together. The “sour grapes” were beginning to ripen and my hunt problems were turning around. Similar to life sometimes as a hunter you just go through bad times and if you hang in there long enough things begin to come together. However now it was all coming to a “head”. Would I harvest a trophy animal, and would that whitetail deer be of Boone and Crockett Caliber.

Still in disbelief I had fixed the gun my last feat would be to reshoot the shotgun at the shooting range prior to opening day.

One valuable lesson I learned long ago is happiness as a whitetail hunter doesn’t always involved a kill. I have learned to enjoy the hunt even if I am unsuccessful in harvesting a trophy whitetail buck. Still though, while I can live with not tagging out it does knaw at your gut a little. I would try and concentrate on socializing with friends in camp and hope my week early arrival with resolution to many of my problems and careful scouting would pay off in the best State for big bucks in the nation…………….Iowa, Zone 5.

Which Treestand to Hunt ?

For two days I thought about whether to hunt the open timbered stand near the clover foodplot or go deep into the thick dense timbered stand I worked so hard to erect. Possibly the most important facet of hunting big whitetail deer is to find the areas which hold the densest thickets, evergreens, and protection from the elements of the winter that kill whitetail deer. You will need to move into these areas to get on big numbers of whitetail deer. No doubt. The nastier weather, colder temps, and the tougher environmental conditions get, the more dense cover whitetail deer will seek out. The good news is while this cover may sometimes be a tad difficult to access without being detected, once your in an area like this your on large amounts of deer. Why? Deer will lie together to keep warm. Look for evergreens, downed treetops, logged properties, thickets, etc. If you can find the dense cover next to the thriving post rut food source then you have both keys to drive the post rut trophy whitetail buck to the taxidermist. The dense cover requires one of two things from the whitetail deer hunter. If you’re just going to hunt the morning and the evening rather than all day you need only hunt on the outskirts of the dense cover. Now if you want to “man up” and hunt all day then get in deep hunt the dense cover from sunrise to sunset as you will literally be trapped in the area with them, and an early or late exit will blow deer out of the area. You can only blow deer out of an area so many times before they discontinue using that area. So hunt the outskirts or “man up”.

Haunt the best and densest area of the farm on all day hunts and you will be successful. It might be tough to do this but it is needed from you as a hunter. It will even be tougher if the first day or so you don’t see the buck you seek. But remember in dense cover in the right state he’s in there without a doubt. It’s literally a cat and mouse game. Hopefully you’re the cat. At least at the hunt’s end you can be proud knowing you waited it out and hunted like a soldier. Really this strategy should be employed during all rut and post rut hunts. As an outfitter in the Midwest for 13 years it’s the hunters that will sit in the thick stuff all day long day after day that kill the really big deer. At times in these conditions it will be difficult to concentrate and more difficult to stay optimistic while on stand. Gut it out. Remember you are not out there to see a bunch of deer but rather to harvest the whitetail deer of a lifetime. Think of all the monster whitetails you’ve kicked out of dense cover while rabbit hunting or even duck hunting swamps where you wouldn’t expect a big deer to be living. I’ve just seen too much, too many big bruisers twisting and turning their racks as they somehow maneuver through a wall of bramble, briar and vines.

When you position your stand in these dense areas you want to get high. The higher the stand the better because the more holes and pockets you can look down into from your perch. The better the odds that you might get a glimpse of the monster whitetail buck you seek. I recently went into a dense thicket like aforementioned just days ago. I observed the layout of the ground closely and saw the top of one mature pin oak that would let me have the best possible view of the entire messy dense area. Although it took me 3 hours to cut down the many thick hard pin oak limbs I set myself up for success. Sometimes you just have to go the extra mile to get in the right tree instead of just a tree.

Always remember this, “Major bucks know the places they can go to escape hunting pressure, and they return to these same places season after season.” I will choose to hunt the dense cover on opening morning and promise myself to stay in the stand no matter what happens for an all day hunt.

Opening Morning Iowa Firearm Season

At 3:45 AM the alarm clock sounded loudly but was a pleasing starting bell for the day. After downing a plate of eggs and sausage I headed for my treestand hung days before. At first light I sat perched atop my pin oak waiting for whitetails to come into my area. At first light deer began moving in on my position. The first animal I identified was a doe being followed by a 125 inch buck. I let the pair pass by as I wanted something more. Seconds late a big chocolate racked 8 point, another 130 inch deer, and a great yellow horned buck came to within 65 yards of my position. The best buck of the 3 stood under a pin oak heavily dressed with leaves. I could make out one side of the rack and knew it was a whitetail buck I would be proud to harvest. The buck just stood in the same place for what seemed like an eternity. Rather than waiting for a better shot I went ahead and rushed into the firing situation sounding off the 12 gauge cannon. The buck ran hard and fast through past my stand and into the cedar grove above me. I was shocked the buck didn’t pile up where I shot. I gave it a few minutes and got down to look for blood but could find none. Now I wasn’t happy. I climbed back up into the treestand and seconds later I knocked my gun off the holder and watched the $2000 shotgun and scope fall to the ground. Now I was upset. I climbed back down and decided maybe it was fate and that I needed to look for blood again while I was down as my gun was obviously not sighted in anymore. I looked much harder for blood and found some specks some 80 yards from my treestand. The blood never got heavier but led me slowly to the collection of a 150 inch 10 point that I was overjoyed with.

Meanwhile my two friends, Jerry and Todd shot off in the distance. Jerry took a great massive 139 inch 8 point with foot long tines and 5 inch mass.

Todd had shot at a 200 inch deer but missed the shot as his bullet deflected.

At the end of the day we talked about the fact my buck didn’t drop in his tracks. Todd explained to me that while I thought a 12 gauge slug gun had the knock down of a hire powered rifle and then some I was wrong. Energy or knockdown is equivalent to Velocity squared multiplies by mass. A shotgun might shoot 1500 feet per second while a rifle will shoot over 3000 feet per second. Thus the 12 gauge or muzzleloader doesn’t have the knockdown or penetration a rifle does.

Irregardless, a happy ending to the story presented itself except I was without the Missouri Firearms buck.

Again, “Never give up, and always strive to resolve your hunting problems as they resent themselves. Hunters that continue to persevere are successful while those that hang it up and chalk up bad years in superstition to being just that go home empty handed.

Darrin Bradley

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