February 02, 2022 9 min read
By: Derrick Starke, Man Over Beast and Trophyline Ambassador
This year I made it my goal to hunt as hard as I could with the hopes of putting myself in a close encounter situation with a big mature whitetail. That meant putting in the work scouting, practicing, and, most importantly, putting in the time in the tree!
One location that I knew could be the perfect setting for such an encounter was on my friend’s farm in Indiana. I was fortunate enough to hunt this spot during the magical first week of November. From experience hunting this farm over the past 3 years, I knew the combination of hunting peak rut in this spot would be a recipe for a mature buck encounter. Each year I have hunted this farm, I have had great encounters or success, and year 3 three didn’t disappoint!
The first year I hunted the farm, I took a docile approach and hunted the fringes to avoid over pressuring the cover. This was more of an observational hunt by design, and I learned a great deal about the terrain and deer traffic patterns. I ended up passing on some small bucks, and I had a close encounter with a beautiful three-and-a-half-year-old buck that almost committed to a grunt-snort wheeze call sequence. After this experience, I went back to the drawing board, and I resolved to become slightly more aggressive in year two.
For my second year hunting this farm, I once again took a cautious approach during the initial days to see if the deer followed the same patterns that I had observed the year before. After confirming the patterns, I set up on the east end of a ditch row where it met with a thicket that the deer were using as bedding. With a north wind it was a great setup. The deer hugged the ditch row to go on the downwind side of the bedding area. In early November, the wind predominantly blows from the south and southeast directions, causing the bucks to travel on the north (downwind) side of the bedding area checking for does in estrus. The first afternoon of my trip I made a move after the morning hunt because the wind was switching to the south. I took my Trophyline saddle, mission platform, and single-step sticks about one hundred and fifty yards to the south of my first set up and hung on the edge of a ridge where a swale came out of the bottom of the bedding area.
On the morning of day three, I sneaked in from the downwind side of the bedding area about an hour before daybreak. The wind was calm and walking in the woods was loud, like walking on eggshells. I took my time and tried to adjust my disturbance to sound like a deer walking, a few steps at a time with stopping for a few seconds. After reaching my tree, I set up nice and quietly, one of the advantages of using a saddle system. I had deer all around me in the dark all morning. Once the sun came up, some does were feeding in the cut cornfield, and a one-and-a-half-year-old 8 point was working my direction. He started to make a rub and kept looking into the bottom of the bedding area. As I shifted my attention to him, I caught a glimpse of a big buck getting up out of his bed sixty yards away from me (he had been bedded there all morning). After a grueling hour of watching that buck slowly feed his way up the swale, he worked his way my direction and finally presented me with a twenty-yard shot. I double-lunged him and watched him drop seventy yards from me.
Year three was also very exciting, and, once again, I set the goal to put myself in the close vicinity of a mature buck. To make the most of the first week of November, my dad and I drove down two weeks prior for a day to put up some trail cameras and look for deer sign. When I returned on November 5th, the first trail cam card I checked captured a giant just a few days prior.
This was my first year hunting out of the Covert Lite tree saddle, and let me tell you that thing is comfortable. My hunting strategy for the first week of November mostly includes all-day sits. For that, you need the added comfort of a great saddle and platform with plenty of room to roam. Knowing my kit would see me through a few full days of setting in the saddle, I comfortably settled in for what I knew could be a hunt that would require a lot of time and patience.
For the first day, I snuck into the same area, and I set up in arguably one of the best trees on the property for the forecasted south wind that would sustain “safe” all-day hunting. Day one started slowly with a coyote trotting through first thing in the morning. Noon rolled around and I had a nice two-and-a-half-year-old ten-point read the script. He came right down the edge of the ridge past me broadside at fifteen yards checking for does. Two hours later I had a young five-point do the same thing. The strategy was vetted, now I just needed to put in the time…
For day two, I chose the same spot with the same setup. There was no movement all morning. Between noon and one o’clock I had a giant come out of the bedding area about eighty yards away, but he was heading west/southwest tracking a doe. About an hour later, a small buck pushed a doe right past me grunting nonstop right on her tail. That was the last deer I saw on day two.
On day three, during hours twenty-four through thirty-six in the saddle I didn’t see any deer. I had lots of stuff running through my mind. Should I move spots? Are the deer here? Maybe there is too much corn over here or maybe they changed their patterns. Should I go to a different property? But, I knew from past hunts that this was where I needed to be. I knew if I kept hunting hard, sooner or later a shooter would walk by checking for does. I just had to make sure I was there when it happened. On day four, I knew I would be spending hours thirty-seven through forty-eight in the saddle, and I felt super optimistic. This day was the one-year anniversary of shooting my big Indiana buck the previous year. At 8:15 am my brother called me and said he shot a decent eight point. After celebrating on the phone and congratulating him because he watched him fall, I grabbed my call and let out four loud doe bleats. About ten minutes passed and I thought about doing a rattling sequence. Just as I was about to rattle, I heard a twig snap behind me to the east/southeast. I slowly turned my head and there he was forty yards away walking down the edge of the ridge heading my direction! I grabbed my bow and started recording. He stopped for a few seconds and turned and headed right for me. As each step fell beneath him he got closer and closer. I didn’t even have time to see exactly how big he was. I just knew he was a shooter. He continued to close the distance between us, and he was starting to veer off to the west a little which was going to put him broadside at seven or eight yards. He had one small tree to get past, so I set the camera up to shoot him once he stepped out from behind it. As he moved behind that tree, I clipped my release onto my bow. In that transition, he caught some of my movement and stopped dead in his tracks to look up at me. I froze, trying not to move a muscle. I even tried not to blink and risk him seeing my eyelids. Ten seconds of him standing there like that felt like ten minutes. He looked me up and down trying to figure out what exactly I was before he slowly turned around and started to walk back in the direction that he came from. I took the opportunity while he was turning to draw back my bow and get settled in on him. It was so thick that I only had one football-sized hole to shoot through, and, once he reached that point, I let the arrow fly. The hit and reaction looked good. He gave me the mule kick and took off through the bedding area. I was pumped! I cannot explain the feeling of excitement that my plan had worked out, that all the time I spent in the tree had paid off, and all the prep work and scouting had come down to this crucial moment when my eyes locked on this mature buck. The feeling was overwhelming, and I was so excited to get down and check my arrow.
I knew that I needed to wait at least an hour because I didn’t see him fall. so I spent that time texting and calling people telling them the news. Surprisingly that hour flew by. As I climbed down my tree the excitement began to overtake me again. It was finally time to see how the blood looked and possibly start tracking this magnificent animal.
The arrow was buried into the ground about four inches and was covered with “good-looking” blood. After about five yards, I saw my the first blood and it looked good. It was time to start tracking. After following good blood for about one hundred yards, I lost the trail. Luckily, my brother Nick already had his deer loaded and asked if I wanted him to come over and help track. We searched for the trail in all directions for about thirty minutes before I told him to stay at last blood and I would get back in my tree and make sure we were searching in the right area.
Once I climbed back up, I realized we needed to search further west. After crawling through the bedding area for forty yards or so we found the trail. The blood had slowed down and was becoming harder to find. The buck made it to the field and was walking along the ditch row. We followed his trail for another hundred yards before we lost blood again. It had now been about two hours since the shot and I was sure it was a lung hit because of the way the blood looked initially.
I was starting to get a sick feeling in my stomach. If you have ever been in this situation you know exactly what I am talking about. I spent the next thirty minutes grid searching the ditch row for blood or a dead deer. My brother decided to grid search the field heading toward the ditch row further to the south. As I was searching, I began to feel defeated, like the lowest of the lows in this situation. Suddenly, I hear Nick say “hey, dead buck right here”.
I couldn’t believe it! I went from feeling the lowest of the lows to the highest of the highs! I ran all the way across the field to see this magnificent animal that I had harvested laying just ten yards inside of the other ditch row.
As I wrapped my hands around his antlers I could not believe what was before my eyes. He was a mainframe eight-point with two stickers on his left side and mass all through his main beams. Just an absolutely beautiful animal. He weighed 205 pounds field dressed and gross scored one hundred thirty-six and four-eighths 136 4/8 inches!
The celebration had begun but was about to get even better. My hunting party had two bucks down and one to go. My Dad was still hunting hard and about an hour before dark was able to call in a nice ten point and make a great shot on him. He went about seventy yards and piled up in the field. We got the call, hopped in the side-by-side, and headed over to that property to give dad a hand.
After all the picture taking, celebrating, and storytelling, it was time to get to work skinning, cutting up meat, and caping out the deer heads to take back to Michigan. What an incredible hunt this was, and I couldn’t be more thankful to be in the woods with my family. This is truly a memory that I will never forget.
Derrick Starke, Michigan Resident is a Trophyline ambassador and co host at Man Over Beast. Have a great story? Share them here and we will be in contact for a feature!
May 05, 2022 1 min read