No deer is despised more than a tattle-tale.
Had it not been opening day of Ohio’s 2012 bow season, Brant McKenzie might’ve quit barely 15 or 20 minutes after sunrise. If he’d had a hand grenade, he might’ve hurled it at the small buck clearing its sinuses about 35 yards from the tree in which he was hiding.
The bowhunter was already a bit insecure over his choice of stand sites. He didn’t want to be inside the thicket where he suspected a huge buck was spending its days, but there wasn’t a tree big enough to climb around the perimeter.
He’d had misgivings about his plan of action, and now he was paying the price for ignoring his gut.
“About 7:45, a small buck came right to the base of my tree,” he said. “It started eating leaves near the bottom, and then suddenly looked up and busted me. I froze, but it ran off about 35 yards and began snorting, wheezing and stomping its feet.
“I thought for sure I wasn’t going to see anything else, but then two does sauntered through as if nothing was wrong. They eventually got real skittish, too, and it wasn’t long before they busted out of there,” he added.
Brant was still seething when, just a few minutes later, an enormous buck — the same one he’d been admiring on trail camera photographs, the very reason he was there — emerged from a nearby patch of honeysuckle.
Brant first glimpsed the buck in 2011. One time. But the image fueled his urge to go shed hunting the following winter, which was easy because there wasn’t very much snow.
A hunting buddy, Matt Frederick, found the right side of the distinctive buck’s rack in mid-March. Six more weeks of searching, however, couldn’t produce the left side.
Not that Brant needed more convincing that the buck was worthy of being a centerfold in a hunting magazine.
“In early July, I began setting out trail cameras and eventually collected photos of this buck in velvet,” he said. “The pictures were all taken near a thicket, which is why I deduced it was the deer’s parlor.
“To confirm my suspicion and to discover where it was entering and exiting the thicket, I moved my cameras. I wanted to pattern the deer, but that proved tougher than I thought it would be,” he added.
The buck rarely used the same trail twice, and it always passed by the various lenses at dusk or well after nightfall. The only good daytime pictures Brant retrieved came from a camera inside the thicket.
“By opening day, I had decided to just hang a stand inside the thicket – maybe a bad idea, but there seemed to be no better place on the 27-acre farm,” he said. “The thicket is mostly surrounded by crop fields.”
Before dawn on Sept. 29, Brant entered the far side of the thicket and crept to his tree. He normally would’ve accessed it by walking across one of the fields, but he thought that might interrupt the deer’s breakfast.
“I took my climber up about 23 feet,” he said. “My haul rope is 25 feet, so I stop when it draws tight to my gear on the ground. I was so far up that little tree, my slightest movement rattled the leaves.”
The stand overlooked two well used trails that wound through some honeysuckle.
The temperature was about 40 degrees, and the wind was slight.
When Brant saw the big buck emerge from the honeysuckle, it was only 14 yards from him.
“It raised its head and sniffed, or maybe looked at me. It sniffed a few times, and then looked where the does had gone,” he said. “When it turned its head, I stood and grabbed my bow.
“Its gaze snapped back to me again, as if it were daring me to move, but I didn’t,” Brant continued. “When it turned back toward the does, broadside to me at 13 yards, I took the shot.”
And the buck dropped on the spot.
“It was lying there with blood spurting from its nose. I wanted to believe I’d clipped a lung, but the way it was pawing the ground, it looked like I’d spined it,” Brant said.
“I was just sitting there, shaking in the tree, when it suddenly stood. I quickly nocked another arrow and buried it into the animal’s chest.
“The deer went back down and didn’t move at all for several seconds, but then it tried again to gain its feet. Determined that wasn’t going to happen, I launched a third arrow,” he said.
“The second and third arrows were less than a minute apart, and were probably wasted effort, but my state of mind was, This guy is NOT walking away from here, ever!”
When it was clear the buck was dead, Brant shakily called his buddies. He knew he needed help.
“Within half an hour, my friend, Matt Frederick, and my cousin, Cody Stapleton, arrived. It took all three of us to drag the buck out of the woods and to load it in the back of the truck,” he said.
“The trip home was short and sweet, and the number of people who gathered ’round to see it was unreal,” Brant continued. “There were more family members and friends than I thought I had!”
Brant decided it was way too warm to hang the animal in his garage that night, so he and his buddies took it to the newly opened Whitewater Outpost, a new place run by Jason Fury and Brad Moore. He knew they had a big walk-in cooler.
“One of the first people I wanted to call after taking this deer was my former taxidermist and very good friend, Russ Brewer, who’d died earlier in the year. Russ had mounted all my deer to that point.
“I wish I could’ve seen the look on his face when I walked in with this one,” he said.
John Gdula, who had once been recommended by Russ, wound up handling the taxidermy.
“John did an amazing job. He was also helpful in getting me a rough score, until I could meet up with someone from Buckmasters,” Brant said.
Hunter: Brant McKenzie
BTR Score: 201
– Photos Courtesy of Brant McKenzie
This article was published in the October 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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