Hunt Blog Weekend 2017
For the past four years the Hunt Blog team has got together for a group bow hunt during the first weekend of November in Southwestern Ontario. We typically hunt this weekend because it is the last weekend before the shotgun season opens in our area and weather permitting, it usually coincides with the start of the rut in our area making for some great action.
Our hunts take place on three different public land properties and as any hunter who hunts these public access areas knows, it can be very challenging. Team member James is the organizer of these hunts and lives in close enough proximity to all of these properties which he scouts all year long. He runs nine trail cameras and spends many hours during the months leading up to the hunt with boots on the ground.
This year was no exception and several weeks prior to the hunt James began circulating trail camera pics to the team of some very nice bucks and numerous mature does. Once James figures he has the deer patterned its time to start trimming out existing stand locations and prepping new ones. For the most part the group hunts from portable climbers but we do have several permanent ladder stands in place that produce deer year after year. As we have stated in the past all the team members love their venison and the deer population in our area is very high so we never hesitate to take a nice doe or two should the opportunity present itself. We are meat hunters not trophy hunters but that being said we have taken some very nice bucks from these properties over the years.
We were very excited for this year’s hunt because it was going to be the first year that our entire team of seven hunters was going to be able to make it so we decided to use a family cottage about 40 minutes from our hunting properties as our home base. We welcomed the 40 minute drive in the morning as an opportunity to talk about the previous days hunt and strategize for the one we were about to embark on. Coming up with a strategy in advance of the hunt is key to our success but the beauty of using climber stands is it allows the guys the flexibility to make adjustments in stand locations due to changing weather, changing wind directions and observed deer movement from the previous day.
This year day one of the hunt took place on a rainy Thursday afternoon at a place we call “The Swamp”. This is a large property with a mixture of hardwoods, pines and some swampy wet areas surrounded by agricultural lands. Although we have had some past success on our opening hunts, we generally see this first hunt as more of an observation outing to gain a handle on where the deer are moving, feeding and bedding. For this reason we try to spread out our stand locations throughout the property to maximize our chances of locating the deer. Such was the case with this hunt and we weren’t set up in the stands more than half an hour when reports started to circulate over the airwaves of several deer being sighted at various different locations including several bucks seen chasing does. This was good news as it looked like we had once again timed our hunt to coincide with the start of the rut.
The first afternoon/evening hunt concluded with eight different deer being spotted including 3 mature bucks, one missed shot on a young buck and several disappointing close calls. With heightened excitement we headed to the cottage to dry out our gear, share with one another what we had observed and strategize for the upcoming all-day Friday hunt. The forecast was for the rain to subside over night which it did and the temperature was to drop to 5 degrees Celsius with light NW winds which were the perfect conditions for this property. Further group discussions of seeing numerous bucks chasing does confirmed in our minds that the rut was in full swing so we all agreed that we would stay in the stands until noon, break for a short lunch and then head back in by 1:00 pm. With a long day in front of us it was early lights out and up and at it at 4:00 am.
On Friday we woke to a perfect morning with clear star filled skies, colder temperatures and light winds. As we drove to the property my son James and I discussed that with the rut in full swing and the weather having cleared the deer would probably have been out all night long chasing and feeding. Sure enough not 5 km from our property our thoughts were confirmed by the sad sight of a road killed doe that had been hit sometime during the night.
We reached the bush and gathered for a brief discussion with the other guys to confirm that we would go with our previous nights plan for the older guys to setup in the ladder stands and the younger team members would make the trek into the bush with their climbers and setup on known deer runways leading to bedding areas. As daylight broke the bush awakened with the sounds of birds, turkey’s gobbling and squirrels scurrying in the leaves all around us.
Fifteen minutes into the hunt my phone vibrated and it was my son James texting me to report he had just missed a beautiful 9 point at 18 yards! I could read and feel the disappointment in his words as he explained that he was just starting to film his morning dialogue for the hunt when this bruiser surprised him and came quietly walking in from behind him at first light. A rookie mistake by a seasoned hunter for sure but it happens to all of us sooner or later. Adding insult to injury he did get the shot on film and some short footage of this great buck running off unscathed. Later when reviewing the video it appeared that in his excitement and attempt to get the shot on film, he rushed his shot and missed low!
We broke for lunch at noon as planned and the disappointment on the face of James was clear as the skies above us! We had all seen deer that morning and when we added up the tally we had missed 4 excellent opportunities and seen a total of 10 deer between us. After gathering our composure we licked our wounds, or lack there of, and headed back into the stands.
Unfortunately the disappointment continued as two of the guys had deer standing right under their stands when they returned and couldn’t get a shot. I remember sitting in my stand that afternoon and thinking “what the heck was going on” because these guys can all shoot! I also remember thinking to myself just give me a shot. There was a brief lull in the action and then around 2:30 pm the bush came alive again and my phone buzzed with numerous text messages from other guys about deer being spotted but no shots. Finally at 3:00 pm I got a text from my son indicating that John who has never shot a deer in the 6 years he has been hunting had hit a buck that ran off.
Around 4:00 pm John climbed down out of his stand and found his bolt that had a bit of white hair, a bit of blood and some fatty tissues on it. Not a good sign as it indicated either a low shot or a shot in the rear but after a brief search John was able to find some blood and was tracking it.
An hour later James called me to tell me that John was still on blood and that he had found several spots with pooled blood where the buck had stood or bedded briefly. From the description of the shot and the amount of blood John was finding I advised James to tell John to stop tracking the buck because he was pushing it and with the fading light the deer had the advantage. The temperature was supposed to drop overnight so we agreed that if not pushed any further the buck may stiffen up and lie down for the night and hopefully we could find it in the morning.
Obviously we were concerned about coyotes finding it first but it was a chance we would have to take so John marked the last blood spot.
We all gathered back at the trucks disappointed at the opportunities missed but none of us more upset than John after wounding his first deer. After listening to his story we all agreed that there was a chance he might find the deer in the morning and so we decided to leave it overnight. I told John back at the cottage that he certainly wasn’t the first hunter to wound the first deer he ever shot at and we were all very impressed at the great tracking job he had done with very little blood to follow. We assured him that he had done the right thing by backing out and I had a good feeling for him. I imagine he wasn’t alone with his sleepless night because I know that the guys that had also missed were equally disappointed with their results.
The next morning we headed back out under cold clear skies and as James and I drove along we couldn’t help but discuss our disappointment with the previous days poor shooting. I tried hard to keep James positive but after two close encounters and uncharacteristic misses he was feeling pretty low. When he dropped me off I assured him that today would be different and with the number of sightings we were having things were bound to change. James agreed and in we went for our Saturday morning hunt.
I had a very long walk into the stand so I took my time getting in and in doing so I couldn’t help notice that several of the existing scrapes had been touched up over night and one of the rubs on the way in had been absolutely torn up by what had to be a decent buck. About twenty yards from my stand my headlamp caught the glowing eyes of a deer not more that 15 yards from my stand! With a loud snort wheeze the buck took flight and I remember thinking to myself “here we go again with the bad luck!”
I climbed up in my stand and as darkness lifted I realized that the buck had been sniffing the scent pad I had placed out the day before. My stand was tactfully located on a convergence of 3 heavily travelled deer runways at the end of a ATV trail that skirted the bush and opened into a cut corn field. A perfect setup for intercepting deer moving from there nightly feeding area back to their beds.
Fifteen minutes into the hunt I looked down the trail where I had walked in and spotted a big bodied buck with his nose down following the trail I walked in on. In anticipation of this I had earlier sprayed my boots with Tinks Doe in Heat before I got on the trail and it had obviously worked. I grabbed my Excalibur and slowly got it into position as the 9 point continued to walk towards me. At 30 yds he stopped and checked the wind but I knew I had the advantage. He licked his nose several times and then looked right at the scent pads I had hanging in the trees 15 yards directly in front of him. I calmly watched as he started to move off the trail in their direction but after a few steps he suddenly stopped.
I raised my bow and put my crosshairs on him. I had him ranged at 30 yards and he was standing broadside but there was a lot of branches crossing in front of his vitals. I was convinced he was going to walk over to my scent pads so I passed on this questionable shot in anticipation of a clear one. He took two more steps forward and I thought game on and took off the safety but just as I did, he decided to turn to his left and started walking away from me. He continued on this path and never gave me a shot. I shook my head in disappointment but with one wounded deer to follow up on already, I was certainly not going to take the chance on wounding another by shooting through some brush.
I lowered my bow and hung it in the tree beside me and was just about to text James and tell him what had just happened when he sent me a text to say Jimmy had just harvested a 4 point. I quickly called James and told him what had just gone down at my location and we both agreed that now that Jimmy had broken the ice it was “game on” and our luck was about to change. Little did we know how true that statement would be when not 5 minutes later I got a call from Pierre that he had just shot a nice doe at 15 yds and it was down right in front of him. I congratulated him and told him to stay put and continue hunting as we still had tags to fill.
With everything that was going on I had totally forgot about the wounded deer from the night before until now so I called James to let him know about Pierre’s success. I knew James would be excited but when he answered his phone he was more excited than I had expected. Apparently while all this had been going on John had gone back to where he left the blood trail from the evening before, found more blood and walked up on the 6 point. It was bedded down and when it got up to move off he dropped it on the spot.
We both commented that we couldn’t believe what had already transpired and it was only 9:00 am. John’s buck was going to be a long drag out of the bush so James and Ryan were going to help him with that. Jimmy had recovered his buck and was in the process of field dressing it so I told James that Herb and I would go and give Pierre a hand with his doe. I ended my call from James and was about to call Pierre when he called me instead.
I told him to hang tight as the group now had three deer down so he should continue to hunt until Herb and I got over to assist him. It was at this point that he started to laugh and asked me how many doe tags we had. I told him we still had one more and he said “not any more!” I thought he was joking but he wasn’t. He had just shot another nice doe at 12 yds that walked into his lane and he had put that one down too.
It was at that point that I called James and we made the call then and there to stop the hunt even though we still had a couple buck tags left. With 4 deer on the ground we had a lot of work ahead of us and we wanted to get them back to camp and start butchering. That afternoon and evening was spent hauling deer out of the bush, butchering deer and celebrating our success and joking even harder at our not so successful encounters.