Bucks In Your Face…
Opening day of deer season found me on a fencerow in search of a monster 10-point I spotted during bow season. The morning was warm, winds somewhat stiff and low hanging slate gray clouds promised rain. The air was somewhat foggy as I peered through the morning darkness in search of the monster white rack. Gun shots to the north caught my attention and I turned to follow a doe and fawn as they dashed from a nearby woodlot for the safety of a standing corn field.
For some strange reason I felt like someone was watching me. You know, the kind of feeling you get when the hair raises on the back of your neck. I slowly turned to my left and less than 20 yards away stood the big buck I was hunting. I jolted with surprise and I could see the big boy had me pinned down. Years of photography and deer hunting experience taught me to remain motionless.
For several minutes we stared at each other but the silence was broken when the big buck made a loud snort, wheeled around and ran full speed straight away from me. I jerked the Ultimate Muzzleloader to my shoulder, settled the cross hair on the bouncing target but elected to not attempt a femoral artery shot on the running brute. Then, he stopped running, stood with his head straight up and I quickly rested the gun on a fence post for a 400 yard shot.
Through the scope I could see the deer was looking at a deer blind. To the side of the blind I could see orange and when the orange moved I lowered the powerful rifle and watched the big buck sprint across an 80 acre bean field, over the county road and disappear into the woods in the next mile section.
My heart sank because my trophy was gone. When you have a big buck at close range you get an adrenaline rush that sends blood rushing through your veins. But when the deer dashes for cover and you don’t stand a chance at a shot, your high hopes hit an all time low. You get a sick feeling; a bottomless pit quickly develops in your gut. Closer inspection with binoculars of the orange revealed a hunter on the adjoining property that was field dressing a small buck.
If he had any idea the size buck that was watching him in easy gun range, he would probably cut his own wrists. I laughed at the hunter, feeling better because at least I saw the brute. This anecdote brings up a good question: what should you do when a buck suddenly is looking directly at you?
Well, the answer is simple yet very complex. You see, in many ways deer are like people, some are very nervous and others are more relaxed. Put simply, some deer will allow you to draw your weapon and get off a shot while others dash off at the first glimpse of movement.
Another variable is the distance from the buck. If you are close, kissin’ close, you can forget a shot. Even a yearling buck will go bonkers if you move at close range. On the other hand, if the deer sees you and is at long distance you can slowly try to get a shot. I learned years ago with telephoto lens that deer far away feel much safer than deer that can see the killer look in your eye. Go ahead; feel free to attempt a shot if Mr. Buck is 100 yards away.
If you are busted at close range, I’m talking inside 40 yards; you might as well forget making any movement without devastating results. Keep in mind that a whitetail deer can detect movement 10-times better than the human eye. This translates into a no win scenario if you move when pinned-down by a wary buck.
You would think that with all the modern camouflage products, clothing, face masks and aids to conceal your human form that deer would ignore a well camouflaged hunter. Wrong! Bucks in the wild are almost impossible to fool and odds of getting off a killing shot diminish drastically if you are close.
One strategy that pays big dividends is to freeze, remain motionless and allow the deer to make the next move. Some bucks will snort and run, others seem to chill, turn slowly around and prance the opposite direction. Once in a great while deer will stare at you, then loose interest and look the opposite direction, which provides an excellent opportunity for a shot.
If your choice is to not move, try to relax and avoid any reflex movements. Do not stare at deer; they will pick up eye contact in a heart beat. Try to avoid blinking and relax your body and attempt to remain absolutely still. This requires a special mind set, you need to almost go into a transcendental state and ignore the presence of the critter nearby. Sounds easy but it can be a difficult task unless you are prepared to remain motionless, in a steady position and have control of your body.
I’ve been busted a zillion times by bucks when hunting with telephoto camera because I’m always trying to get closer for a perfect portrait shot. The more you move around deer the more frequently they pick up on you and wham. You are busted! So, I’ve learned how to relax, ignore them and often they will go about their business. I have also learned there is a big difference between city bucks, big woods deer, sanctuary bucks and wild bucks that are heavily hunted. Wild deer are a tough task, they are extra wary, allow no room for error. One glimpse of a human and they go into a defensive maneuver that sends them disappearing into the brush, never to be seen again. I call them “one shot artists” because I’m lucky to get one photograph before they pick up on me and disappear.
Some deer are somewhat tame. Inner city, urban varieties can be much easier to approach and photograph and the big bucks I chased in the Yellowstone National Park in Montana were like kids in a playground. I’d move and the deer would look at me and move, but not far. I’d stalk closer and they would stand for portraits, and then slip into the forest; only to allow me to sneak into camera range again. Photographing them was a fun game. They never seemed alarmed by my presence. The same is true for those mossy horned monsters that roam Michigan’s Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge.
For those interested in trophy bucks, my recommendation is to go to another state, any state like: OH, IN, IL IA. But it is my humble opinion that the bucks that roam in states with a low human population, bucks that are not heavily hunted are much easier to see and shoot, with camera, bow or gun, than Michigan bucks. I’m not saying they are stupid, but deer that are not pressured by hunters are less wary. I didn’t say the brutes I’ve downed in other states were a cake walk compared to Wolverine bucks, but in some ways they were easy targets. The trick to killing monster deer is you have to see them, get them in your sights and execute a clean shot. For me, the task was simple once I traveled to locations with less human interferences.
Nothing is worse for a deer hunter than to have a buck in his face. Being busted is humiliating and it seems unfair to hunters who spend long hours on stand, trying to spot a buck. There are varying degrees of being busted too. Sometimes a buck will slip into range, you see him, get ready for a perfect shot and WHAM. He smells you, picks up your boot tracks, gets your human scent and all of a sudden he has you identified as danger. In the blink of an eye you go from an easy shot to a situation where you can not get the sights on target without all hell breaking loose.
Most hunters can tell stories about being caught by surprise when a buck slips kissin’ close and catches the hunter off guard. More often than not, the hunter will try a snap shot but the instant he grabs the weapon the deer makes huge bounds and has safely disappeared into the underbrush. Some hunters refuse to admit while sitting on a stump cradling a .30-06 that they could not get a shot at a buck over their right shoulder that was close enough to hit with a rock. Ever have it happen to you?
On the other hand, under certain conditions you can get a shot at deer that have discovered you. Under some situations any cover that conceals your human form can act as a shield to detach the attention of deer. Swaying grass, moving corn stalks, snow, rain and fog can hide your outline, trick deer and allow you to move enough for a shot.
It is easy to tell when a buck has busted you. He will stop in his tracks, head is jerked high, ears cocked forward and eyes seem to penetrate through you like x-ray vision used by Superman. When a wary buck discovers a hunter on his home turf, he rivets all his attention on the intruder. Take a good look at the eyes of a mature buck that is having a stare down with a hunter and you can see a look of terror. In some cases you can see the whites of his eyes, as he turns and runs to safety. You see, for him it is a matter of life and death and he is poised to explode from the rush of adrenaline that sends him wheeling for cover.
Now that I think about it. Your chance of scoring on a buck that busted you is almost zero. But the thrill of a dandy rack kissin’ close is certainly exciting and the fun-filled experience will keep you coming back for more.