This is the time of the year that I live for; bow season in Michigan, baby! Although I was as excited as a kid with a bag full of candy on Halloween, my expectations of seeing large numbers and large antlers on my trail cameras were met with the announcement from the DNR of a deadly disease called EHD, which was claiming the lives of thousands of deer in Southern Michigan. I actually found more than 12 dead deer in a river near one of my usual honey-holes that typically produced at least one shooter buck per year.
After hunting a few stands in the area near the deceased deer and seeing less than one deer per sit, I knew it was time to move and find an area with more promising signs. So, back to the lab I went to do some serious scouting and thinking about how and where I was going to find my 2012 Michigan buck.
Rewind the story to the end of September. As my wife, son, and I were heading back from the Hillsdale County Fair, a mature buck with a very large set of antlers almost plowed into the side of our car as we pulled into our driveway. We have a modest house on a whopping 8 acres of land and I have taken a couple deer over the years on it, but it’s mainly a hedge row overlooking a CRP field. Normally I wouldn’t give it much time, but after that encounter, I decided to at least hang a trail camera on my property and see if anything showed up.
In mid-October I was very excited and a bit surprised to learn that a large buck was living and showing up during daylight hours less than 200 yards from my house. I immediately hung a stand and waited for the perfect day to hunt. That weekend, my friend Bud and I had already planned to scout an area in Southern Ohio for a visit in mid-November, but in the back of my mind all I could think about was how homesick I was and how I wanted to get back and hunt for my backyard friend.
On the day of October 24 I made it a point to be on stand at 3 p.m. even though it was 78 degrees. I had been seeing does on the property just before dark while observing from the house and had a feeling he might show up. It was so warm and didn’t feel like hunting season to be honest, but as I sat and waited, a group of does showed up on cue right below the stand.
Shortly after 6 p.m., the 16-point appeared out of nowhere from the CRP and fed on some acorns 12 yards from me. For over 30 minutes he didn’t present a shot. I sat longer and longer, my muscles tightened up, and my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. I knew I couldn’t move – the does would have given away my location, and he would surely have run for the hills.
Finally, the does were distracted by something my neighbor was doing in his yard, and I took my chance. In that single moment, I willed my tense muscles to stand, and silently drew back as the buck moved into a thin shooting lane 14 yards away. I took the shot…and missed! The biggest buck of my life. Maybe I hit a limb, maybe I was nervous, who knows, but I missed him clean.
The buck trotted off and didn’t seem to be bothered or alarmed by the miss, but I’m pretty sure tears were dripping down my face. This would definitely be the largest buck of my hunting career and potentially the largest I would ever have the opportunity to harvest in my life.
I climbed down, walked the short trail to my house that night an angry and bitter man. I wanted to blame it on something, but I knew it was just the grief talking, and the blame lay mostly with me. I skipped dinner and socializing with my family, (sorry to the wife) and sat in the basement with a blank stare until about 2 a.m. To the non-hunter, this might sound dramatic, but I had a shot at the Holy Grail, the Halley’s Comet of trophies that you see once in a lifetime, and I missed. I could not be consoled.
The next day I got an email from my wife telling me that I needed to get right back in that same tree, and that maybe he didn’t have a clue what happened and that maybe, just maybe, he would come back.
Like all other good husbands, I always do exactly what my wife tells me to do. I climbed back up the tree in the afternoon of October 26 around 3 p.m. It was very windy and 80 degrees and I again questioned why I would hunt on such a day. At 6:40 I checked my watch to see how much longer I could wait it out, and looked up to see four does approaching my stand from the CRP field that I had overlooked for the last two days. I was certain the heat had gotten to me by then and I was imagining it, but I watched the large 16-point stand up out of the grass less than 50 yards from my stand. He had obviously been bedded down all day, and I walked right by him when I entered my stand.
The buck followed the does down a trail 18 yards from my stand and presented a perfect broadside shot, and this time my arrow and lighted nock found its mark. The 16-point weighed 212 pounds and boasted a 21.5 inch inside spread with a gross green score of 172. I guess sometimes the big’uns are in places even I can overlook! The season that started out dreary with the major deer die offs due to EHD, and marked by missed opportunity, had turned into the best deer season of my life.
The author hosts a weekly outdoor radio show on ESPN radio 1450 and online at Espnradio1450.com. The Jamie McKibbin Outdoor Show airs Saturday Mornings 10-11am.