My 2019 Season

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JoeRE
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My 2019 Season

Unread postby JoeRE » Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:09 pm

Sorry for the long read in advance, consider it a way for compensating for my lack of activity on here in the past year!

Looking back on this past deer season, I see three distinct chapters, each ironically with three hunts in them. Here’s the story.

Chapter 1
Going into the fall I was able to scout a lot more than I had the last couple years. By putting in the hours and the miles across a dozen or so pieces of public land here in Iowa I narrowed in on a handful of spots and a few bucks to target with my bow that seemed pretty high odds.

I found my share of buck sign while scouting, but it also gave me a chance to do some foraging – one walk in early September yielded a trifecta – puffball, chicken of the woods, and hen of the woods mushrooms!

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As a result of the scouting, I went into bow season optimistic about my chances at an early season buck. I made it into the woods with my bow twice in the first few days of October after specific deer….and didn’t see a single deer either sit. That is the reality when you are hunting older bucks – you won’t see much else on many hunts, because they can act and move so differently than other deer.

My third sit in bow season was the morning of October 12th. I slipped in to hunt a public land buck bedding area that I had known of for years. Safe morning access meant going across a few lesser hills then scaling a steep 200 foot bluff, part of it on my hands and knees.

I knew that most of the bedding was actually just across the fence on private land but the deer had to cross public land to come and go from food. It was on one end of a large ridge system. Further up the ridge were red oaks loaded with acorns.

In 2018, also a good red oak acorn year in that area, I had a trail camera set in this spot and got a couple nice bucks coming and going most frequently in early and mid-October and also the preferred weather conditions – hard westerly winds and cool weather.

I put a trail camera in this spot in August this year again, but had not checked it yet. All I knew going into this hunt was when I had hung the camera was that all the indicators were for a big buck to be there this year,

The morning of October 12th was a beautiful cool fall morning with a hard westerly wind, perfect for this sheltered bedding. I was set up slightly below the military crest of the ridge, where I knew historically the bucks liked to travel by several perennial rubs that marked the faintest hint of a trail, with the public land boundary about 30 yards behind me.

As I settled into my saddle, I made a boneheaded mistake that should have cost me big. I dropped the 5’ atrier (rope step) that I use to hang between climbing sticks, which allows me to get close to 20’ up with only three sticks. I needed to climb down to retrieve it, but decided not to. It felt like deer might be close and it was getting to grey light time by then. So I stayed put.

It was a beautiful morning even if the wind roared on the ridge top above me. Color was peaking in the hills, one of many reason I love hunting mid October….

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It has taken me years to understand some of the quirks when it comes to the wind and thermals in bluff country. One thing I have learned to use to my advantage is hunting fairly low on the leeward side of big bluffs with a strong wind over the top of the ridge. It creates an updraft, and such was the case this morning. The milkweed I dropped was consistently going UP, over my head. Nothing but the eagles could smell me that morning.

I was right about deer being close – right after shooting light a 2 year old 8 pointer picked his way up to me.

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The 8 stayed close to me for the next half hour – I saw a doe and fawn come through too. Then a little after sunup, with the 8 still in front of me, something made me glance to the side and I instantly went into kill mode at the sight of a wide heavy racked buck walking calmly toward me.

He was as low on the slope as he could go without rock climbing gear and would pass pretty close to the base of my tree. Everything was perfect – the tree was mostly between me and the buck, hiding me well, and he was approaching from left to right. I grabbed my bow and gradually rotated clockwise around the tree to keep him in the open as I slowly drew back. He was already close – I had not heard him in the wind until he was inside of 30 yards.

He was in the wide open but still sharply quartering toward me so I did not shoot. While I shoot a heavy, high FOC arrow with a COC broadhead to that will get sufficient penetration no matter what shot angle, the angle was so sharp I knew I might not hit both lungs, and that was definitely a reason not to shoot.

As the buck drew near the angle began to get better. I was an instant from deciding it was time to let the arrow go when in one motion the buck wheeled and began to run up the hillside away from me – drat! I am certain he smelled the atrier, only 30 feet away from him or so at the base of my tree. The air was rising 20’ in the air but it was likely pretty swirly right at ground level.

The sight of those wide heavy antlers bounding away is still etched into my mind. After a lot of trials by fire I have settled down in moments like that though - time slowed to the speed of molasses. I was still at full draw, generally tracking his movements up the slope in front of me. I knew the buck was spooked by human scent but he was also completely surprised and not sure where the danger was. He had to go up over the military crest right in front of me on the steep hillside, and I knew he just might stop and look over the crest before starting to move again, as big bucks so often do when their eyesight is obstructed.

And that is exactly what he did. He stopped about 5 yards shy of the 40 yard circle I had mentally painted around my tree, sharply quartering away. My 40 yard pin caught the bottom edge of his brisket – actually behind his last rib at that shot angle – and the arrow was gone. I am not sure how fast that shot went off, but it was fast – maybe a couple seconds. Very fast shots are something I practice. It’s not how I recommend shooting given a choice, but I practice fast shots for situations just like that.

The arrow hit where it was supposed to and the buck didn’t go far.

I recognized the deer when I walked up to him – he was one of the nice bucks last year on camera, but he absolutely had blown up into a massive 13 pointer with double forked G3s.

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Trail camera picture from 2018 below, about 20 yards from where I shot him almost exactly a year later in mid-October.

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I had him multiple times on camera this fall too leading up to the hunt. One of those all too rare situations where the hunt happened exactly like it was supposed to.

2019 pics:

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And that was the first chapter of my deer season. I didn’t have a clue what roller coaster lay ahead.


JoeRE
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby JoeRE » Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:10 pm

Chapter 2

I would love to skip over the second chapter, but doing that would do nothing other than maybe give my ego a little shelter and that is a pretty lame reason I have learned as I grow older.

Similar to the last few years, I also had a landowner bow tag that I used to hunt the few acres around my house that I own. It’s a completely different style of hunting than the hunt them down public land strategy. The hunting around my house is a wait and watch until something shows up and then be ready to move Right Now strategy.

In 2018 there was a really big main frame 8 that broke off half his rack I saw a few times on camera. This past summer I was pleased to see he was still alive and bigger than ever – super wide with tall brows, looking like a heart attack coming at you. That was definitely the only deer I was interested in.

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He was on camera only at night all through October into early November. I knew that should change once some of the numerous does came into heat. I hunted twice behind the house in different spots at the end of October and early November and saw some small bucks but not him.

The third hunt for the big main frame 8 point was the morning of November 10 on a rut cruising trail along a low ridge that I knew bucks liked to use thru the area. I got set up early and before shooting light what I think was the big boy came through following a doe. He was a hundred yards behind her though, and I thought the odds were good he would come back to check the doe bedding on the other side later. And that is what happened.

About 10AM I saw legs and a body of a mature buck coming back the other direction through the very thick brush. I grabbed my bow, and when he broke free of the thick stuff 20 yards away I knew it was Him. I was set up only 10’ off the ground in a really big tree in my saddle, the only spot I could really shoot from. He came nose to the ground and I drew. It was going to be a point blank shot as the trail – more like tunnel through the brush - was about 20’ from the tree and I was so low. He got almost broadside and then stopped and looked right at me, even though I thought I was well concealed with several big limbs around me. It was go time and took the shot – the problem was there were some leaves right against his shoulder. My arrow wasn’t going to deflect – they were just a few leaves and they were literally laying against him – but I could not see the crease of his shoulder. And I shot him too far forward, on that embarrassingly close shot. At least, that is what I think I did. The arrow hit with a heavy whack and the buck took off. I didn’t see the impact or the arrow in flight. The buck ran low and hard, like he was hit hard.

I was certain I would find him. Blood lasted a couple hundred yards to a bed that was lightly used. I found the last 10” of my arrow broken off – meaning there was close to 20” of arrow diagonally down through him. I got permission to search the surrounding farms and covered close to 1,000 acres multiple times in the following days. I am not one of those people who take losing a deer lightly. If you look for one day for a deer you have lost and then give up, you aren’t really looking at all in my opinion.

When we got light snows I followed coyote tracks around. I found a total of 3 dead deer doing that, no big 8. I think I walked around 30 miles total in the next few weeks looking for that. He vanished. As near as I can tell, I think he just took off cross country and died further away – miles. I think his core area was not far from where I shot him, so its strange that he didn’t end up there having tracked many big bucks back to their beds to die over the years, but in my experience deer with arrows still in them, and particularly with hits that are too far forward don’t stop and just go till they drop.

As near as I can tell I must have shot him too far forward, maybe front edge of the shoulders either just clipping lung or not hitting lung at all. The last deer I have lost with a bow was in 2013, and the one before that was 2004 I think. I take pride in being good at recovering animals, and to lose one makes me sick. I was done bow hunting for the year with that shot.

I made some mistakes with that shot and that hunt for sure. Some would say the shot was a mistake, I would say the fact that I didn’t aim in the right spot was the mistake. It was a stupidly easy shot. One of the things I have always struggled with as a bowhunter is to not concentrate on the closer shots and that reared its ugly head here. Put a buck out there at 30 yards and I have laser focus but park him under 10 and I get sloppy. Another mistake was to not have that spot trimmed out. I am so used to hunting public land where you can’t legally cut anything, I just never bothered to cut some branches before the season. I could have then set up higher and he would have been less likely to notice me at point blank range.

And that was the second chapter of my deer season. Not a good one.
JoeRE
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby JoeRE » Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:12 pm

Chapter 3
The third chapter of my season was late muzzleloader season which occurs from late December to Jan 10th in Iowa. It took me until then before I felt like hunting again anyway. My two brothers and I hunt a mix of public ground and several private farms late season – covering thousands of acres is necessary to find a good deer that time of year, unless you are fortunate enough to have a managed hunting estate of some kind.

There was one deer on one farm that we were hoping would make it through the year. The previous year he had been a monster half rack.

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We had heard hunters earlier in the year were after a “big one” on this farm and neighboring properties. No one had got him from what we heard, not for lack of trying – as we scouted around we noticed that the woods were filled with trail cameras, tree stands, and ground blinds.

From sighting him once, and seeing his tracks, the previous year, we had some ideas about this big buck though. We thought he had a tiny core area that he bedded in most of the time – maybe only 20 acres – we also knew how he slipped out of that core area when bumped on a SW wind.

My brothers and I tend to hunt wolfpack style, bumping bedding to each other late season. To call what we do deer drives is not accurate. We are often long distances from each other and move very precisely, letting the bucks go where they want to when bumped, a game of chess until there is a checkmate.

We had crappy weather for our style of hunting – warm and no snow for the most part. We hunted two days together and didn’t see a single decent buck. Such is late season, four out of five areas won’t have a decent buck on them. Then day three, December 30th, arrived.

The wind was right to hunt that big buck – SW. I slopped in the back door and set up watching that escape trail that crossed an extremely thick draw, overgrown with honeysuckle, multifloral rose, and cedar. I turned the power on my scope down as I knew I needed a wider angle to potentially take a fast shot in thick cover.

The wind was just right so as to allow the deer to angle sharply into it, as I see them do so often late season after weeks of gun hunter deer drives take place, but keep my scent just off. This was the route the buck had used to get out of the area last year with the same wind. My brothers slowly worked their way through the cover beyond me – a couple hour process.

A couple does came past me, and then a little while later I saw tines in the brush in front of me – a group of bucks. On top of one I saw a picket fence of points – it was him!

The wary old buck hung back and another very nice buck stepped into the open 70 yards away. I had a narrow gap that direction to the trail – 5 to 6 feet wide is all. In this photo, that I took as soon as I got set up, you can see the gap I had to shoot through to the trail, circled in blue.

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For 10 minutes, the bucks stood there. The lead buck was a great deer – 140 class – one I would have shot without hesitation in different circumstances. A couple other small bucks were with them too. But the buck that was behind him made him look small. I refused to try to thread a shot through the brush as the minute’s drug on – I told myself even if I didn’t get a shot at the big buck I was not going to regret not taking a bad shot like that.

Suddenly the standoff was over as the bucks whipped their heads around behind them and I knew they saw or heard my brother beyond them. One, two, three bucks moved through the gap at a trot moving right to left but the biggest held back. I am sure for years he had used other bucks as decoys, letting them go first in dangerous situations, likely some dying as a result to help him survive.

Finally I saw that wall of tines begin to move – Mu crosshairs caught him before the gap and followed. When he hit the gap I swung the gun as far forward as possible to lead the moving deer, and as I saw the tree on the left side of the gap approach my crosshairs I broke the trigger.

I was holding roughly point of shoulder on the fast trotting deer. As the recoil pushed the gun into my shoulder I remember an initial thought of horror – I was certain I waited a split second too long and shot the tree on the left side of the gap. I caught a glimpse of the buck moving fast off through the brush, maybe moving a little hurt like but I wasn’t sure.

I reloaded and moved up to the tree – you can see it in the photo, the one that bows out on the left side into the circle. No bullet mark. Well, I thought, if I didn’t hit the tree….I must have hit the deer behind it, because my crosshairs had been on him.

20 yards down the trail was blood. It looked bright red at first – then seemed to darken, like liver blood. I have rarely looked at blood that fresh, less than 5 minutes old, and seeing this now wonder that it might change colors as it cools. I followed the blood only a few yards and decided we needed to back out and give the buck time – sure looked like liver blood.

Two hours later, as freezing rain began to fall, I took up the blood trail as my brothers and my dad set up on likely escape routes around the next bunch of thick cover the buck had gone into. It turns out they were not needed – 10 minutes and 200 yards later later I found the buck dead and already stiff. I didn’t hold quite far enough forward on the shot, it was a liver hit. The liver was nearly blown in two by the hydrostatic shock – a testament to the Barnes bullets that I become a serious fan of, and apparently he bled to death very quickly.

What a buck. A 13 point typical, with unique low swooping main beams. A once in a lifetime looking deer…

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Interestingly, we first got trail camera photos of this deer back in 2016 in this area late season. I think he was 3 then which would make him 6 when I shot him.

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And that was the final chapter of my 2019 deer season. The freezer is full of meat, and I have memories that I will savor for years to come – and some that I wish I didn’t have. But if it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun.
JoeRE
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby JoeRE » Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:21 pm

I would add, and should have led with this, congratulations to all who had success this year. There is no way I will get through all the kill zone posts but have scrolled through a few and it is great to see the Beast living up to its reputation 8-)
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Dewey
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby Dewey » Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:45 pm

I just quickly scrolled thru and will read when I get home from work.

All I can say is WOW! :shock:

Congrats Joe. Awesome bucks. :clap:
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Jackson Marsh
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby Jackson Marsh » Wed Jan 08, 2020 4:10 pm

That was a fun read Joe. Congrats on a couple of dandy bucks. :clap: :clap: :clap:

It's a bummer about the wounded buck....but without the lows of bowhunting I'm not sure the highs would be as sweet. I doubt many guys would have put in that type of search effort. Hats off to you.

Were you able to hunt Wisconsin for a few days?

Congrats on a great season. :dance: :dance:
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jwilkstn
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby jwilkstn » Wed Jan 08, 2020 4:12 pm

Congratulations, Joe! Great season, despite the 2nd chapter not going to plan in the end. I always enjoy reading anything you are willing to share 8-)
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tbunao
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby tbunao » Wed Jan 08, 2020 4:40 pm

Congratulations on another great year Joe despite chapter 2. Your posts never disappoint.
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Lockdown
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby Lockdown » Wed Jan 08, 2020 4:52 pm

Glad to see you back on here, Joe. Congrats on another stellar season!
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greenhorndave
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby greenhorndave » Wed Jan 08, 2020 7:40 pm

Congrats! Great stuff.

That muzzy buck... wow. Super unique. :clap:
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby bigbucks1234 » Wed Jan 08, 2020 9:03 pm

The beast is a better place when your back on here Joe!!! Thanks for the write up and Congrats on your success!!!!!
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby hunting_dad » Wed Jan 08, 2020 9:31 pm

Congrats to you sir. Awesome write up and 2 great bucks!
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DaveT1963
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby DaveT1963 » Wed Jan 08, 2020 9:54 pm

Outstanding Joe, two awesome bucks. Was wondering how things were with you. Congrats!
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Motivated
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby Motivated » Wed Jan 08, 2020 11:06 pm

:clap: :clap: :clap: Wow! Thanks for taking us along for the ride!
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Muy Grande
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Re: My 2019 Season

Unread postby Muy Grande » Wed Jan 08, 2020 11:47 pm

Awesome!


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