By Dennis L. Dahlke
Despite being shot at twice, this mature buck refused to leave his core area.
This hunt began three years ago in east-central Kansas. It was late September as I lay on a pond dam glassing an oak ridge. At just about sundown, I spotted a mature buck looking my way. I put out a trail camera but failed to get any shooter bucks on it.
The next year, in 2010, I got pictures of an 11-pointer that I began to hunt in early October. I had numerous photos of him at different locations, but failed to see him until mid-November, when he presented a 20-yard shot. By then, he had broken off his P1 and P2, so I let him walk. I found one shed of his sheds in the same area in early February, so I knew he hadn’t been taken by another hunter.
I started working on that buck in early July of last year. I put out mineral blocks, protein pellets and cameras in five different locations. I began getting pictures of a shooter buck at three of them.
First I thought it was a different buck. But after comparing photos and the shed, I realized it was the same deer, but with six additional points.
Since I was getting photos of him on three cameras, I thought it would be easy to take him. I began bowhunting in September and made sure to hunt during every cold front, always with the right wind. He was showing up two or three times a week at any of the three locations, most often during shooting light, both mornings and evenings.
My favorite setup was best with a north wind. I had hunted it many times, yet by mid-October I still hadn’t seen the buck. It was like he could read my mind and knew not to show up when I was going to be there.
The weatherman predicted a north wind again on Nov. 3, so I headed back to my favorite stand.
I started thinking about leaving at about 6 p.m. I would have done so, but the does were feeding on acorns below me, and I didn’t want to spook them.
I continued to watch them and noticed they kept looking back to the edge of the field. I looked that way and saw the 17-pointer working a scrape.
It was an anxious time, waiting to see if the buck would come into bow range before shooting light ran out. But it wasn’t long before he made his way into one of my shooting lanes.
I placed my pin just behind his shoulder and let go. When the buck ran off, I noticed the arrow flopping high from his opposite side. I decided to wait until morning to look for him.
It was a long night, and I couldn’t help wondering why I had shot so high.
The next morning, I decided to shoot my bow before heading out after the buck. I discovered a bit of rust on my quiver bracket was causing a creaking noise when I shot.
I filmed the hunt, and after examining the video in slow motion, I realized the arrow went where it was supposed to, but the buck dropped about 10 inches before it hit.
Based on the video and the lack of a blood trail, I concluded the buck was not fatally hit — and that I had blown a perfect opportunity on an awesome buck.
My melancholy didn’t last long, however. Upon checking my trail cameras at about 11 a.m., imagine my surprise to see he had been at spot number two at 8:10 and 8:40 that very morning.
After several more hunts, I hadn’t seen him or got any photos at my favorite spot where I had taken the shot. He continued to show up at the other two, and he seemed no worse for wear.
The buck was back to his mind-reading ways and never showed up while I hunted my two other setups, so I figured it was time to change things up. I opted to hunt a fourth location I hadn’t visited since early October.
On Nov. 11, at about 6 a.m., he appeared right in front of me like a ghost. I didn’t see him coming in; he was just there.
I turned on the camera and waited until he got nearly broadside. As I drew my bow, he turned and looked right at me. I got buck fever like never before and pulled the shot high right, missing completely.
The buck ran into the valley below me and snorted as if to say, “That’s twice that you blew it!”
I was totally beaten and left with zero confidence. I began to question everything about my hunt preparations and decided there would be no more coffee before a hunt. I also practiced, working on concentrating and on creating a slow, step-by-step progression into a slow trigger pull. I also decided I needed a new stand setup near location number two. I spent two hours after a morning hunt setting up a new stand.
The next day, my hunting partner, Joe, starting getting his first photos of the buck. It was much earlier than Joe had gotten pictures the year before, and I think the buck moved because I had dirtied up the area setting up the new treestand, not to mention shooting at him twice.
I decided to try the new stand on the morning of Nov. 18. It had been about six days since I set it up, so I thought things might have settled down.
The best movement in that area seems to be between 7:15 and 8:45 a.m. Starting about the usual time, I saw a 1½-year-old buck, three does and a dozen turkeys, but it was pretty dead by 8:30.
Then, about 40 yards through the tree limbs, a mature buck walked into view, stopped and stared toward my stand.
Don’t move! Game On! I thought.
Several minutes later, he moved 10 yards closer, still staring at me. Minutes passed, and the buck turned and went north and out of sight. I couldn’t tell if it was the 17-pointer because of the brush, but it was a shooter all right.
That evening, I set up a ground blind near spot number three along a trail the buck used only occasionally. I figured if he was being extra cautious, the buck might start using some of the less-worn trails.
Not long after settling into the blind, a doe walked by with the 17-pointer in tow. Although the video camera was on the correct shooting lane, I opted not to fool with turning it on. I needed to concentrate on the shot and stay calm.
This time, everything went as it should and my arrow zipped through both lungs and exited the far side!
Four hours later, Joe, who had left a note that he had gone home, returned to help track the buck through the cedar thicket.
I let Joe take up the trail while I followed with the video camera, dropping pieces of toilet paper on each spot of blood.
After about 60 yards, we found the buck. He was huge, and I was thrilled to see he hadn’t broken any tines.
I don’t think many people get three chances at the same buck.
I am very fortunate and realize how blessed I am to have experienced such an amazing turn of events.
Looking back on all the clues, I believe I was hunting the buck’s core area, which is why I got so many chances.
My neighbor had a few nighttime photos of the buck, and Joe had only two or three. Also, 98 percent of my photos were in the daytime. Plus, even with all the pressure I put on him, he remained in the same general vicinity.
Every day and every hunt is a learning experience. I won’t likely encounter another mature buck that uses a 40-acre area so exclusively, but if every buck was the same, hunting wouldn’t be so fun.
I will continue to put out cameras and mineral blocks on the 320 acres I hunt and try to go head to head with another mature buck. Whether I get him or not, I win every time.
Editor’s note: Dennis had his buck measured for the Buckmasters Trophy Records book, and its composite score, which includes spread, was 180 7/8 inches.
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This article was published in the October 2012 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.