Not very many does, if any, are in estrus, but the big mature bucks know it is just a matter of time. Those bucks will come out of hiding to cruise food sources checking for does. It is this propensity to travel that makes them more vulnerable.
We saw a buck on Halloween night that came out of the thicket into a grassy field. He was a giant main frame 5 x 5 with several stickers and a drop tine. We had a decoy out but the buck could not see it from his position on the opposite side of the field. There was a slight rise in the terrain that kept him from getting a visual on Bucky Junior. More often than not, if a mature buck cannot see the source of the rattling or calling he will be reluctant to come any closer. This buck was no different. He stayed on the opposite side of the field, visited a scrape or two and cruised out of sight.
During the previous week one of Joel’s hunters had seen a giant deer in this area. It played a role in selecting this spot to hunt. We assumed it was this same deer, Joel had not seen this buck prior to my hunting this location.
The next day we returned to the same tree but repositioned the decoy so it would be more easily seen if the buck returned again. It worked. The buck spotted the decoy after I grunted and snort-wheezed at him. His body language told me he was interested.
Before the buck had taken more than a few steps, a 130 class deer came out 30 yards from him. It took his attention away from our decoy. The buck we were after changed direction and started toward the other buck. With his ears back and dominant posturing, he proceeded to walk that other buck out of the field and into the timber. He never did come back out. Once they focus on something else like that, you pretty much lose your opportunity to bring them into the decoy.
We were scheduled to leave the next morning, but knowing this buck was without a doe and on his feet, we decided to stay a couple more days. Unfortunately we did not see him again. We had other hunts on the agenda so we decided to leave Ohio, and return for the muzzleloader season. While I was engaged in our other hunts, that buck was always in the back of my mind. It was a long agonizing wait, hoping the buck made it through to December.
Finally the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day arrived and we headed back to the Ohio farm with my Thompson/Center in hand. I was banking on the idea that if the buck survived the rut and never got killed during the other hunting seasons, he would be back in his home core area during that late muzzleloader season. He had been living in this thicket just prior to the rut so that told me it was most likely his home base and the most likely spot for him to be in late season.
On that first morning back in Ohio I opted not to hunt because I didn’t want to go in during the morning darkness and chance bumping him. If he was there and we spooked him my chances of seeing him during daylight hours would be next to none. Plus, I did not want to tempt myself by hunting in another area and end up having to decide to pass a big 150-class, or better, buck. Joel has a well-managed operation and the chance of this exact scenario playing out was too real. I wanted to give myself a first chance at this big deer before I started hunting mornings.
We got into the same tree at 2:30 in the afternoon. About 30 minutes before shooting light was over the buck I was after came out way across field. He was 400 to 500 yards away to the northwest of us with another buck. I didn’t think I would get a shot at him because he had a long way to come to get within range. The buck he was with picked his head up and started walking in our direction. The big buck saw his buddy leaving and fell in behind him. They crossed the draw and came out into the field where we had seen him while bow hunting earlier in the year.
The buck made his way across the field to within 125 yards. I knew my T/C Encore Pro Hunter Muzzleloader was capable of making this shot. We did not have a decoy out this time as we were focusing on feeding patterns.
I made sure to have a rock solid rest by screwing an EZ Hanger in the tree for a rest. With all the smoke following the shot I could not tell if it was a solid hit. The buck ran about 130 yards and disappeared into the timber. My son Tim was in a different tree filming the hunt, he had a different viewpoint. He assured me the hit was lethal. Although I felt good about the shot it is always stressful when you don’t see the animal go down. But Tim was right. The buck fell just out of sight in the edge of the timber.
This hunt will always hold a special place in my heart because it is my 4th 200-class buck and Tim was there with me to film the entire story. It was an encore performance with my T/C Encore.