For many years, the majority of the bucks with the largest antlers that were bagged by hunters in Michigan were killed with firearms; either centerfire rifles and shotguns or muzzleloaders. More recently, bowhunters have taken their share of big antlered bucks. It makes sense.
Bowhunters have always had a longer season than gun hunters and mature whitetails have always been more vulnerable to hunters during the days leading up to November 15, but what has tipped the odds in the favor of today’s bowhunters of bagging bragging size bucks is they are more knowledgeable than ever before and have better equipment than ever before. The improvement in equipment applies to bowhunters using vertical bows as well as crossbows.
Equipment alone isn’t enough to make hunters more effective, but that combined with knowledge and experience is.
That’s why, for the first time in Michigan’s deer hunting history, all of the top end bucks bagged during 2014 seasons were tagged by bowhunters, according to Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM). By top end bucks I mean those that qualify for entry in all time national records maintained by the Boone & Crockett Club. Typical-antlered bucks must net a minimum of 170 and nontypicals 195 to meet that criteria.
Four bucks that fall into that category, three typicals and one nontypical, were entered in state records from last fall. Chris Evenhouse from Three Rivers collected the state’s highest scoring buck of 2014 in St. Joseph County, an 18-point nontypical that nets 196 2/8. Scott Hunter arrowed the highest scoring typical in Branch County, an 11-pointer that nets 172.
Two more typicals were collected during archery season by Jacob Rizkaliah from Wayne and Garrett Shembarger from Niles. Jacob got a 12-pointer in Washtenaw County that netted 170 6/8 and Garrett nailed another 11-point in Berrien County that scored 170 1/8.
It was the evening of October 21 when Evenhouse got his monster nontypical. He and hunting partner Paul Kruger had plenty of trail camera photos of the buck, enabling them to figure out where the whitetail was spending most of its time. The deer was living in a 35-acre tract of woods surrounded by large crop fields in all directions.
They first tried to ambush the buck on October 6, but ended up spooking the animal, so decided to give the area a break until the 21st. Chris’ tree stand was on the edge of a thick bedding area and Paul was posted about 200 yards away. Due to the presence of crunchy leaves, Chris sneaked into his stand as quietly as possible.
Evenhouse had only been in his stand for about 10 minutes when he saw the buck they were after stand up from where he was bedded in thick grass. When the whitetail moved out, Chris originally thought the deer was headed toward Paul, but then he saw it coming toward him.
“When he was 20 yards from me, he passed behind a tree and I drew my bow, anticipating him stepping into my shooting lane,” Evenhouse explained. “Instead, he stopped one step short of giving me the perfect shot and remained there. He stood there and just stared motionless for at least a minute while I held my bow at full draw.
“I could barely keep my bow held back for that long and thought I was going to have to let down. Finally, I noticed there was a small opening to his vitals and decided to try and make the shot. I released the arrow, but, to my horror, the buck took two bounds and stopped dead in his tracks. That’s when I realized I had shot right over his back.”
Fortunately, the buck didn’t know what happened and eventually turned back to go in the direction he was originally headed. Chris got another arrow tipped with a G5 Montec Broadhead on the string of his 65-pound pull Mathews Creed Bow and made that one count at a distance of 30 yards. The buck was estimated to be 5 ½ years old and had a dressed weight of about 210 pounds.
Last fall marked the second year that Scott Hunter from Tecumseh was trying for the 11-point Booner that he finally got during the first week of November. During 2013, the buck had 12 points, with one of them being a 4-inch drop tine. The whitetail failed to grow a drop tine on his rack during 2014.
“To make sure there would be mature bucks on that property, we didn’t hunt it for four years,” Hunter said. Scott normally hunts with his son.
Scott arrowed the buck from a tree stand in a funnel between bedding areas. He shot the buck had a distance of 17 yards. It ran 30 yards and fell over.
“The buck had been doing a lot of fighting,” Scott said. “The left side of his head was scarred up and he was blind in his left eye. The deer also had a stab wound from an antler in the armpit area of his right front leg. The wound was four inches deep.”
The deer’s dressed weight was only 170 pounds, but it had an estimated age of 5 1/2. Scott shot the whitetail with a 60-pound pull Bow Tech Assassin Bow and 2-blade expandable G5 Broadhead.
It was 11:15 a.m. on November 13 when Jacob Rizkaliah connected on his 12-pointer. The night before the 13th, Jacob hung a stand in a different part of the property that had not yet been hunted that turned the tables in his favor. About 10:15 a.m., the bowhunter had a shot at a trophy 10-pointer that he passed up because one of its tines was broken. The fact that Jacob knew the bigger buck was in the area contributed to his decision to let the 10-pointer walk.
An hour later, the bigger buck crossed a river while in pursuit of a doe. With the use of a grunt call, Rizkaliah lured the bruiser to within 25 yards for a shot with his 71-pound pull Bow Tech Experience bow. A fixed-blade 100-grain G5 broadhead brought the buck down. Jacob said the deer was aged at 3 ½ years old. Its dressed weight was 183 pounds and its live weight would have exceeded 200 pounds.
The Booner that Garrett Shembarger nailed on the evening of October 30 was his first buck with bow and arrow. Garrett’s sister had seen the buck earlier in the day while bowhunting and she described the deer as “a horse” due to its large size. The trophy whitetail was chasing does near the tree stand Shembarger occupied that evening. He eventually got a 37-yard shot at the deer with his Bow Tech Assassin Bow, scoring a fatal hit with a 2-blade Rage Broadhead.
Two reasons why gun hunters most likely did not collect any Boone & Crockett caliber bucks during 2014 is standing cornfields remained over much of the state while firearms season was underway and deep snows in the northern UP prevented hunter access to some areas where booners were known to be in gun season. I saw trail camera photos taken on November 16 of at least one UP Booner from a stand that a hunter was not able to get to.