Ryan is one of our newest HuntBlog pro staffers and also one of our most eager to learn about all aspects of the hunt including the characteristics of the Whitetail deer, the fine art of bow hunting and the tactics needed to be a successful whitetail bow hunter. After every hunt Ryan is the one guy on our team who can be counted on to stay back and listen to all the stories of the hunt until the last embers have burned down on the campfire. It’s one thing to be a good listener but this combined with his investigative nature has quickly turned him into a successful hunter. He treats every hunt as a learning experience and he never stops asking questions of the other hunters on our team. Finally he does an excellent job of employing these learnings to the field and enjoys sharing his own encounters with the guys in hunt camp.
The 2016 fall hunt was to be Ryan’s second full season of deer hunting and he was eager to put what he had learned the previous fall to the test. Last year he had several close encounters but with no success. I remember talking to him the night before our 2016 HuntBlog weekend and I could feel the excitement in his voice as he asked me numerous “what if” and situational questions. I answered every question the best I could but concluded our talk with … “you know Ryan pretty much every Whitetail encounter you have will be different and for the most part you learn more from the deer you don’t shoot than the one that you do” so take in everything and make a mental note of what did and didn’t work.
As luck would have it we were blessed with excellent weather on the first weekend of November and the rut was in full swing. We had six of our team members in the bush for the entire weekend and saw 34 deer. We managed to harvest two Bucks and a Doe from three different public land tracts spread across the Middlesex counties near London Ontario. Ryan’s hunt however was by far the most exciting of all of us. During the first two mornings Ryan was definitely the busiest of all of us as he had the opportunity to take 3 shots at three different deer. This was amazing in itself as most bow hunters are happy to get one shot in an entire season. Unfortunately for Ryan something came between him and success on each of these chances. On the first two opportunities he had some unseen twigs between him and the deer resulting in two deflections and two misses. The third was just a clear case of “buck fever” on a nice 8 pt which lead to a shaky aim and a dead pine tree. His misfortune quickly made him the butt of most of the jokes in the camp. One in particular was the renaming of the stands he was hunting that were formerly known as the “killing stand”. These were now being dubbed by the other pro staffers as the “shooting stand”. Ryan is a good sport and he laughed harder than all of us at the jokes but deep down I am sure the frustration was mounting.
To his credit perseverance paid off late in the morning on the second day of the hunt when he was finally able to harvest a very nice doe on his fourth opportunity. When Ryan radioed the group that he had shot a nice Doe we were all very excited for him. The end result of our team weekend bow hunt was a very successful hunt on three different public land parcels.
One parcel in particular that weekend proved to be something out of this world when it came to deer sightings as we saw 26 different deer over a short two day period. This is a very large parcel of land and it comprises some of the dirtiest, thickest and most difficult bush to access that our team hunts during the season. For these same reasons it has also been our most productive area over the last five years. Adding to the difficulty is that this WMU has several shotgun and muzzleloader seasons that split up the bow season into 3 separate seasons and as anyone who has bow hunted after the orange army knows, this generally results in the deer getting pushed pretty hard and they usually move out of the area altogether.
This at least is what we thought had happened in years gone by. We talked about this at length after last season but after scouring through google and topo maps of the area we came to the conclusion that the deer couldn’t have just vanished, perhaps they had gone nocturnal or better yet they may have just taken up residence in the thickest part of the swamp. With that thought in mind we made a conscious decision in the spring to scout out locations deeper into the interior of this bush. We made a point of venturing into spots where only a whitetail and a dedicated hunter would dare to venture and this proved to be very productive. The only drawback to hunting these snarly areas was that most of our prime stand locations would require a 40 to 60 minute walk to access them and in some cases required the hunter to either wear or carry in waders for crossing creeks and navigating through swampy areas.
Dragging a big deer out would also be an issue but we decided we would deal with that when the time came. On the positive side we knew that few public land hunters would try to access these spots. Further scouting revealed a great deal of good deer sign and from the number of runways we found, we quickly realized we may have located the home stomping grounds of several mature bucks. We completed our assessment by placing several trail cameras throughout the area and over the summer our suspicions were confirmed with pictures of some very nice bucks in velvet.
Fast forward now to December 2nd and on this hunt only Ryan, James Mather and I were able to hunt. A second Muzzleloader season had just ended and James who hunts the property more than any of us was still having doubts about the deer being around. He works in the area and commented that when he drove by that week he had seen a lot of hunters in and around the area. For this reason we decided to hunt a different area in the morning and although we saw a couple of deer and lots of sign, I couldn’t help but think we should be at the other location.
The three of us had a lengthy discussion about this over lunch and I kept pushing the fact that I felt we should be hunting the thick stuff. Eventually we came to an agreement and off we went to hunt the swamp. When we got there I was pleased to see that one of the fields bordering the bush still contained cut corn and because we had missed a mature buck there earlier in November, I told the guys that the “old man” was going to hunt the food source and let the young guys make the trek into the thick stuff. As this story unfolds this would prove to be a great decision on all accounts. By 2:00 pm I was setup on the ground in a brush pile at pinch point with the cut corn in front of me. Before settling in I had quickly scouted the perimeter of the field and confirmed to Ryan and James that based on the number of fresh tracks I found, we most certainly had plenty of deer still in the area. James also confirmed them finding fresh scrapes and rubs on the way into their stand locations so we were all on high alert.
The guys had packed in their climbing stands and managed to slowly and quietly work their way into one of the thickest areas of the bush and were now set up about 150 yds apart. With gusting and swirling winds we knew there was a good chance of getting winded but having worked so hard to get into our spots it was a chance we would have to take. Around 3:45 pm I received a text message from James saying they had just had two Does walk between him and Ryan but unfortunately no shot was offered. I was about to respond to James text when 3 Does made their way into the corn field approximately 250 yds away. Unfortunately they fed away from me and moved out of sight.
Although a big buck was the primary goal, we had also agreed to take a mature Doe if the opportunity presented itself. Around 4:20 pm I received another text from James saying that they had just seen two more Doe’s take the same path between them as the others but again they were out of range. Time was ticking and although we were excited about the number of deer we had all seen, we were also getting anxious because we were starting to lose valuable daylight. At 4:40 pm I suddenly felt my phone vibrate with several text messages in a row. I scrambled to grab my phone and read a text message from James indicating that Ryan had just shot at a huge buck. Just at this instance I looked up into the field to see four more Does followed by a nice 8 pt Buck. This time they were working their way towards me so I quickly texted James to see if Ryan’s Buck was down. James texted right back with “I certainly hope so because I just passed on two nice does at 20 yds”.
I waited patiently as the deer in the field worked their way to me. It was James to confirm that Ryan’s Buck was down and it was a monster! The good news was the Buck had dropped within 20 yds of where Ryan had shot at him. The bad news was, that they had taken my advice and set up in the thickest, dirtiest part of the bush and the drag out was going to be something of a nightmare!
The plan was for Ryan to meet me at the trucks where we would unload our gear and make our way back to James who was going to gut the deer. We were both two miles away from the truck so this took a while and by the time we got to the trucks we were already tired and overheated. Fortunately the adrenaline from the hunt and the excitement in Ryan’s voice and face made this a hardship that was easy to overcome. Together we made our way back to James and Ryan’s trophy. By the time we got back to the “killing stand”, James had the Buck gutted and we were ready to start transporting him back, but not before we took a few pictures, exchanged a few more congratulatory hugs and listened to Ryan’s story.
According to Ryan the Buck had come in from the opposite direction that the Does had come from but was walking on the same trail. Unfortunately it looked like he was also going to stay well out of range but he turned and started to head towards Ryan. As he approached, Ryan got a glimpse of his hardware and quickly realized that this was a bruiser of a Buck. With fading light the Buck approached to 55 yds then stopped in some thick cover. Ryan waited patiently for him to move forward and offer him a clear shot but the Buck slowly turned back and it looked like he was going to walk off. Ryan shoots an Excalibur and knows the importance of target shooting so he had often practiced this 55 yd shot and was confident in making it under controlled conditions. However, blurred branches caused by fading light and the nervousness caused by a trophy Buck standing broadside behind them was far from controlled conditions.
Things were also happening a lot faster than Ryan expected so when the Buck gave him a small window of opportunity he took it. Unfortunately the bolt clipped a branch on its way to the target and deflected off line. He watched as the buck jumped a couple of times and then stopped. He then looked around and it appeared as though he had no idea what had just happened. Unfortunately before Ryan could re-cock his bow he walked off. All this time James had heard Ryan shoot and had been texting him for an update.
Ryan reached for his phone and was about to phone James when he heard a branch snap to his left. He looked up and there was the same 9 pt coming back towards him on a slightly different trail this time and this was going to offer a closer shot. Ryan quickly reached in his pocket for his cocking aid which was in a tangled mess. Somehow in his fumbling excitement he managed to unravel it and attempted to re-cock his bow. His movement however alerted the Buck who stopped and gazed in Ryan’s direction. He continued to cock his bow and as the string engaged it made a “click”.
The Buck took notice of the noise and began to move his head around searching for where it had come from. At this point Ryan was hesitant to even move but he remembered some advice he had heard from some of the older guys that if you move nice and slow you can sometimes get away with it as long as you are high enough in the tree. Ryan was 20 feet high in the tree and figured it was now or never so he slowly turned and reached for another bolt from his quiver. He slid the bolt in and turned to look at the Buck. They immediately locked eyes and Ryan realized the Buck had made him and the stare down was on. Ryan stood motionless as the Buck moved his head up and down in an attempt to get Ryan to move but he wisely didn’t budge.
For a brief second the Buck let his guard down and dropped his head. With one swift movement Ryan was able to lift his bow and center the crosshairs of his scope on his vitals. As he looked through the scope he still had branch issues and needed the Buck to take a couple of steps before he would have a shooting window. With his phone vibrating in his pocket the Buck took the two fatal steps he needed to take and Ryan released the bolt. The bolt found its mark between the branches but struck the Buck a bit high. Fortunately the Buck dropped on the spot signaling a spine shot. Ryan quickly reloaded and administered a lethal lung shot and his trophy Buck quickly expired. He shakenly climbed down out of the stand and immediately called James back to explain the three shots and describe what the heck had just gone on? After a long discussion we could only think that the reason the Buck came back was that maybe one of the Does that had passed by earlier may have still been in estrus.
We stood for a few more minutes longer looking down in awe of this beautiful beast but now the work was about to begin. I have to say I felt pretty helpless as the two young guys struggled to drag the 225 lb Buck the two miles back to the truck. The drag was made worse by having to cross two small creeks and trying not to drag the deer through the dirty water. It’s nice to be young and strong and I give these guys credit as they managed to lift and carry this huge bodied deer across both creeks. For the rest of the drag I remember feeling like a dogsledder chanting encouragement to his team.
The HuntBlog crew enjoy getting together often to tell past hunt stories around the camp fire but this is truly one that will be repeated over and over again. Many hunters like ourselves don’t always have the luxury of hunting private land so our suggestion to you is simple, in heavily hunted areas go where other hunters will not. The Buck was a heavy beamed 9 pt with some junk around the base of his brow tines. We green scored him at 155 2/8” Gross with an impressive 23 3/8” inside spread and he weighed 225 lbs. Plans are to have him rescored when the drying period is over and Ryan has decided on a Euro Mount from Advanced Taxidermy.
Story by Greg Mather