Each November for the last 10 years or so, I spend four or five days in Hillsdale County hunting some of most beautiful farmland in Michigan with my buddy Jude. We stay with his aunt and uncle at their dairy farm and hunt a couple different areas owned by his family. We usually try to get in two or three days of bow hunting before hunting the gun opener, while also catching up on our lives and retelling hunting and fishing stories that we have shared together over the past 25 years.
This year, our “deer camp” started on November 11, arriving in the evening after our two hour drive from my home. We don’t use trail cams on this farm, or hunt this land before our mid-November trip, but we have a good idea of where the deer move and we can always count on seeing a decent buck or two and plenty of does.
The first morning we put our climbers in our favorite spots and each of us passed on a couple small bucks, we are not trophy hunters but usually look for a decent eight point or a fat doe for the freezer. After getting busted by a mature doe that morning, I decided to move my climber stand for the afternoon hunt to a spot just off a cut bean field about 20 yards inside a woods that looked down on a river bottom thicket. I had confidence in this spot because the prior year I hunted this same tree and shot a nice 9 point, but hit him too high and only caught one lung. After tracking him most of the night and the following morning, we lost the blood trail and never recovered him. The rest of the evening passed without seeing a deer, but I decided to give the spot another try the next day.
The next morning, November 13, I set up early in the same tree, facing south toward the river bottom where I expected to see some rutting activity. A crisp clear morning was warming up quickly with the sun, but still no action. At round 7:30 am I looked over my right shoulder and behind me stood a monster buck about 75 yards away. He was in a small grassy opening surrounded by wild raspberries just inside the woods with his nose in the air and the sun glistening on his antlers. I didn’t have to use my binoculars, I knew he was big, so I slowly started to stand up and position my Mathews Z7 for a potential shot.
I figured he was going to head down to the river bottom and into the thick stuff, so I could only hope that he angled his way toward me close enough for shot. Instead, he cautiously began working his way east along the inside edge of the woods, checking the wind blowing up from the river, and rubbing his nose and antlers on any branch along his path that was leading him directly behind me. I continued to try to position myself with my face and body stuck against my tree as he approached, trying to stay calm and not look at his rack. I had to make a decision, take a shot at him slightly quartering toward me before he had a chance to scent me, or wait for him to pass behind my tree so I could draw without spooking him and get a quartering away shot before he got directly downwind…I decided on the latter.
As I lifted my bow to clear my broadhead and arrow from scraping against my tree to get the right side of it, I realized my safety rope was wrapped around my neck and in my way, I had to choose again…spin all around to my left to untangle myself or try to unhook my rope quietly. At this time he was directly behind my tree and stopped, he knew something wasn’t right. He had scented the path that I walked in on two and half hours earlier with all my scentlok clothing, rubber boots and scent killer spray.
A little panic started to set in, I had no shot at this time and he was spooky. I used my tree to conceal me as best as possible as I got my safety rope unclipped. After 10 or 20 seconds of him trying to evaluate the situation and concluding that something wasn’t right in his world, he spooked and took off from the direction he came from. Everything fell apart instantly and I thought I had blown my opportunity. All I could do was give a couple mouth grunts to try and stop him while I swung my bow back to the left side of my tree that I was facing.
Amazingly, he stopped in his tracks from my desperation grunts, but all I could see of him was his front shoulder in a 12 inch opening between some trees at what I guessed to be about 30 yards away. I quickly drew back my bow, anchored, put my single pin sight that was set for 20 yards a little high and behind his shoulder and released as soon as I had the pin in my peep sight. I still remember clearly my lighted Lumenok arrow in flight and disappearing into both of his lungs. As a bow hunter, you know a million things can go wrong in a situation like this, but I knew right then that I was lucky enough to have enough go right to kill this buck.
He took off and after about 50 yards slowed to a wobbly walk and disappeared behind some trees. I kept staring but couldn’t see him on the ground, but also didn’t see him leave the spot where I last saw him. This is when buck fever started to set in and I started shaking uncontrollably. I was almost positive he was down, but couldn’t see him to be 100 percent sure until I laid my hands on him.
I gathered myself enough to text Jude, telling him that I thought I had just killed the biggest buck I have ever seen while hunting. By this time it was about 7:40 am, so he told me to stay in my stand because “it was early and bucks were moving!” I agreed I would hold out as long as possible, but I knew I wouldn’t last long. It took almost a half hour to calm myself, and then started my climb down the tree to see for sure that he was dead.
I walked right to where I saw him last and there he was. There was no ground shrinkage; he was wide and tall with big thick brow tines with one of them split and couple stickers at the base, a total of 13 points. After a quick prayer to the hunting gods, I reflected on my 30 years of deer of hunting and how lucky I was to finally get an opportunity at a deer like this with my bow. After texting some photos to Jude and letting him know I was ready to celebrate, he let me know that he was going to sit until 10:30. I was so pumped up
that I didn’t know what to do, so
I headed to the truck to enjoy a couple cold ones by myself while I watched the rest of the sun rise
over the woods, and then called
my family to tell my story. This
was an incredible morning that I
will replay in my mind for many years to come.
After the 60 day drying period, my buck grossed 176 ¾ total inches with a net P&Y/B&C Typical score of 161 3/8, by far exceeding anything I had previously shot or ever imagined shooting.