contributed by Les Welch
After a 3 week stint in the Rocky Mountains I was finally able to hit the Whitetail woods of
in early October. I was scouting a large tract of big woods public land. I had narrowed down 3-4 areas I really wanted to take a close look at; on the aerial and topo maps. It was our early youth rifle hunt, but I knew I would be getting far enough off the road I wouldn’t have many, if any, distractions to my bowhunt. After miles and hours of walking and looking I started finding areas with good sign, actually some of the best sign I had ever seen for this early in the year. I was finding nice scrape lines leading from multiple bedding areas into heavy mast mature oak stands. Sign was good, and being a mile plus from the truck, there wasn’t any competition. Multiple sits in the area over the week-end had me seeing deer, but nothing I was ready to wrap my tag around. Wisconsin
The second week-end of October had me headed to my cabin in
, about a 3.5 hour drive. There are far less deer in this area, and the woods are big and unbroken. This makes for a different style of hunt; peace and solitude abound. The odds of seeing wolves are better then deer on most days! Essentially this was to be a scouting trip, with a little hunting mixed in. Late October in WI is my favorite time to hunt, the odds of being able to call/decoy mature bucks is not better any other time of the year, and that time was rapidly approaching. I knew what I had around home, but I needed to figure out which spot gave me the best opportunity to tag another Monster mature Whitetail. Over the course of the next two days I put on a lot of miles scouting many new areas, and many old areas that I had good luck in over the years. My elk hunting partner and good friend has a cabin about 10 miles as the crow flies, from mine. We met up at the local restaurant after hunting hours that Saturday night to compare notes. We were both finding the same thing, not a lot of deer sign, but lots of wolf and bear activity. Even one of my most productive areas over the years was pretty void of sign. This is the area where I harvested my buck last year. Sunday was also an unproductive day scouting. It’s getting to crunch time… Northern WI
|Les' Great 2011 Buck|
The third weekend of October I was able to get out on Sunday and I headed back to the area I found that first weekend of scouting. Amazing the changes those two weeks had made. The sign had dried up. The deer had switched food sources, leaving the acorns and feeding on maple leaves. Third week of October and I am back to burning boot leather, NOT what I was anticipating, but that is the name of the game when it comes to big woods public land Whitetail hunting. Adapt and overcome or be like the masses, unsuccessful.
Here we are approaching my favorite time of the year, the last week of October, and I’m not even sure where I will hunt for the weekend and the whole first week of November! Saturday morning I went into an area that I have hunted for many years, essentially it is a proven spot that gave me a chance at something cruising. I didn’t have any luck so I was back in the truck and headed for more scouting. I crossed off two more areas on the map and was headed to a 3rd when I started finding some sign. The farther I got in the better it looked. I was finding plenty of scrapes and some rubs. Things were finally starting to come together. I always have a map, compass, and GPS while scouting. I take plenty of notes, and mark waypoints. These I can cross reference later on a big map to get the “whole picture”. Looking at my map I had circled a pinch point about a ½ mile from the truck. Cross country I wasn’t far from it, so I headed that way to check it out. As I got closer the scrapes became more frequent and bigger. I was starting to pass scrapes every few yards. All of a sudden I broke out into the funnel and was amazed. In the 120 yard section there were at least 20 scrapes, many rubs, and deer scat everywhere. It was the best sign I had found in years. I knew I needed to hunt here, and I should do it now. Unfortunately I had a prior commitment that night and had to hunt closer to home. I have this same commitment on the same night every year. Prior to this year I had been in the stand Sunday before light and hunted all day, I had the same intentions this year. Age must be catching up with me, because I decided at 5am that sleep sounded better then hunting!!! Waking up at 10 am I was kicking my own backside for not “sucking it up” and getting in the tree. Looking back it is the best decision I could have made. So I was headed for my “hotspot” by 11. Weather was mild, around 38° and sunny. I had ¾ mile to walk so I dressed only in my
base layers. Everything else was packed into my pack. I strapped my climber and Heads up Decoy to the outside and was off. Sitka
Here is where I want to explain why I said that this is my favorite time of year hunting whitetails. As you know, guys always say they like the rut. In my neck of the woods I consider that from Nov. 3rd to Nov. 15th or so. This is when bucks are cruising, running does, and just being stupid. Yes if you are around deer it is an exciting hunt as you can see lots of animals, and lots of bucks. BUT if you aren’t around the deer it can feel pretty isolated, and even if you are seeing them more often then not it’s a game of being lucky and hunting in the right place, at the right time. The week prior though is a different story. Those big mature bucks are on their feet in their core areas, and they are callable! The decoy and grunt calls are the most important piece of gear in your pack this time of year.
After arriving in the area I had to alter my set-up a little due to the wind. Scouting the day before I had selected a tree that gave me the best set-up to play the wind and do some calling. The wind switched over night and I re-evaluated what I needed to do. Getting the tree picked it was time to position my HUD. I put him in front of me about 17 yards. I climbed the big Oak, and my feet were 31’ off the ground. I was set perfectly on the center of a small Hogback with the ground in front of me dropping and the decoy being about 8’ lower then the ground level of my tree. This was perfect. By facing the decoy I kept the Oak between myself and the direction I expected the deer to come from, help breaking up my outline. With the decoy set, bow hung, it was time to finish getting dressed. It didn’t take long for the birds and squirrels to resume their routine of tweeting, hauling acorns, and going about their business. 2.5 hours later it was time for my first rattling sequence. I turned and faced the tree and readied my shed antlers. After 3 minutes of sporadic antler crashing I slipped them back into my pack…I could feel the anticipation in my stomach building. The gross 170” class buck I killed last year succumbed to the same sequence I just went through, would history repeat? Within seconds it happened, my phone vibrated! I keep it in the breast pocket of my Fanatic Vest. In the calm, still woods, it made me jump. A good friend and his wife were also hunting. He was letting me know it had been slow all afternoon for them, two small bucks cruising was it. Texting him the reply that I hadn’t seen anything yet, I hear crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch….. I knew it immediately. It was that typical buck on the move walk. I knew he was heading for the fight he had just heard. It took mere seconds to pocket the phone, but in that time he had broken into the hardwoods. I reached for my bow and slid it off the hanger, at the same time swiveling 180° to pick him up again. By this point I could see he was already angling away from me and at a steady walk. I was grunting on the tube in my vest as I was re-hanging the bow. By the time I could really give it a good tone, he was out of sight and the leaves obscured any chance that he would hear it. Knowing the typical walk of a mature buck I knew he wouldn’t go more then 25 yards or so before stopping and listening, before resuming his walk. I grabbed the antlers from pack and smashed, ground, and twisted them together for a long enough period I knew I should have had at least two chances for him to stop and hear them. Reaching to drop them back in my pack I spotted him coming at a dead run, he was about 80 yards and closing FAST. Fortunately I was facing my bow and was able to slide it off easily. Ironically he stopped 30 yards away directly under the tree I had been planning on sitting in if the wind hadn’t changed. The set-up was perfect, he was still below the ridge rise and couldn’t see the “deer” he heard. With his ears flared to each side and licking his nose he started the heavy straight legged walk directly toward me. It still amazes me how these animals can pinpoint a sound. He heard that rattling from over 100 yards away and was now walking directly towards me at less then 30 yards. All I could do was face the tree and hope he gave an indication which side he would pass. If I picked wrong, he would likely survive. I knew he was a shooter with a lot of points, but had no idea exactly what was coming at me. At 8 yards he came to a small downed tree, he elected to circle it instead of jumping it. This enabled me to get to the left side of the tree, and it opened up his vision…he spotted the HUD buck now a mere 20 yards away. The ears laid back, hair bristled, and the sideways walk started. He was 4 yards from the base of my tree, in the wide open. Being fixated on the decoy, I knew I could get away with drawing. Settling in on him, I voice grunted him to a stop, as his head turned upwards our eyes locked and I touched the trigger. The arrow zipped through him; he looped 50 yards back and tipped over in plain sight. I was a wreck. As the arrow flashed through him I finally noticed the row of tines that lined his close main beam, as he ran off I seriously began to fall apart. I hung my bow up and sat down. I don’t drink, but the list of friends that I texted at that point had to think I was drunk. It was the most unreadable incoherent message I have ever seen. On my descent down the tree I was overly cautious as I knew that I was a mess. Once I was on the ground I called my dad and gave him GPS coordinates to where I was. My lifelong hunting partner would be waiting at my truck in an hour. I had 20 minutes of extra time to spend with the deer. Walking up to him as he lay motionless was bittersweet, awe-inspiring, and emotional all wrapped into one. I was able to sit beside him, lift his rack, give thanks for everything, and best of all just soak it in. This past weeks’ events at Sandy Hook have made me more appreciative of things in life and have me that much more excited to get my anxiously waiting 10 year old on his first hunt in a couple months. My thoughts and prayers to everyone involved in this senseless tragedy.
|2012 Buck with the HUD|
Just sitting here writing this and reliving the hunt brings back memories and gets my fingers shaking. This is why I do it. Happy Holidays to you all.