Hunters ‘Instinct’

Category: article

 Dec 15th, 2014 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Dec 15th, 2014 at 12:00 AM

It was Nov. 12 at 3:47PM when I realized something had to change.

Here’s the scenario: It’s the middle of the rut in Illinois, a cold front is ushering in fast, and there is standing corn all around this perfect funnel between two doe bedding areas. My stand is a hunter’s dream and the conditions could not be scripted any better in a Hollywood movie.
What did I do?

I made a seemingly drastic decision to get down from my stand.

It was two years ago when my best friend and long-time hunting partner, Mike Hutchinson, and I found this piece of public property in Illinois. Aside from the land his family owned, we finally had some other areas to hunt and spread out.

I already had my bow buck on the ground that year so I was filming Mike trying to lay down a giant. The 2012 rut was coming to an end and we had a strong north wind. We had exhausted our primary spots so I decided to check out a new area.

After about 3 hours of deliberation, we decided to spend a November 7th evening in uncharted territory. As we snuck down the creek bed to get into what seemed to be an impossible area to hunt, we spooked up a giant 13 pointer with a spread as wide as Kim Kardashian’s butt (seriously, it was). 

We stood there amazed and deflated at the same time. As we pressed on to go hang a set, we looked up the hill to see three bucks chasing does all over the hillside! The camera was flipped on immediately to capture this as we felt we would never see it again. Was this a deer paradise? Why had we not checked this area out before?

I’ll tell you why. The only place for a stand was at the bottom of two hillsides in a creek bed running East/West. In these places, the wind swirls and you get busted pretty much every time. We knew this going in and the only way to hunt it effectively was with a stiff North wind, or so we thought.

We were able to hang the set after a 60 yard encounter with a 160 class 10 point while watching bucks chasing does on the far hillside as we climbed the tree. That night there was one buck who stood out among the giants; he featured an injured ear, massive G2’s and G3’s, but was obviously a younger animal. At that time I estimated him at 2.5 years of age. Long story short, we would go on to have several encounters with him that year and named him “Floppy” for his injured ear.

We never had any trail cam pics of him in 2012 but had tons of video footage from our hunts. From this we thought we had a ‘game plan’ in 2013… but deer hunting is a very humbling sport.

‘Floppy’ on the trail camera

All we got was one trail camera sequence right under our stand at the tail end of the rut.  His main beams were strong and he still had the exact rack shape but it was higher and his ear wasn’t as flopped over as before.

Through countless hours of researching deer behavior in the woods, and reading everything I could from the man himself, Dr. Grant Woods, I determined that he changed his domain when he was 3.5 years old. There were other older bucks in the area that I believed pushed him out. 

I was very hopeful in 2014 we would get back on him in the same area we saw him consistently in 2012.

Mike and I set out 12 trail cameras during the summer around all the areas we have permission to hunt and got ONE trail camera video. It is amazing how with just one glimpse of an animal your hopes soar, and you start having dreams of harvesting that animal. That’s right, I said it… I have dreams of harvesting giant bucks I’m chasing and I’m not ashamed to admit it. They’re haunting dreams and I know I’m not alone with this. One scouts and checks trail cams constantly to try and put a pattern together but when all the information one has is so spread out, how does one seal the deal?

It’s a daunting task that consumes the hunter in any of us.

As the 2014 season rolled on, we had yet to see a 4.5 year old during daylight hours. We began to wonder what we were doing wrong.

The answer was, absolutely nothing.

In our area of Illinois, there is not much cover at all except for creek bottoms and the occasional block of timber that deer rarely use. The reason they don’t use these stretches of timber is because they’re dominated by an immense coyote population that seems to do nothing but grow larger.

This is an example where scouting pays off and one stays away from those areas to focus on other pinch points and funnels. In an area where cover is scarce, but crop fields such as corn are plentiful, where do you think the deer hide? Exactly right! In the corn.

This year we had thousands of acres of standing corn late into the season around our best hunting areas, which made conditions extremely tough. Big bucks rarely move during the day and when they do it’s within a diameter of maybe a couple hundred yards. Combine this with the warm temperatures we were seeing during the prime days of the rut, and you have a recipe for failure.

Mike and I usually have 9 solid days of bow hunting together every year. This year was completely different. Mike just had a newborn baby and was strapped for time because of his immense workload. I had just started a new job on October 1st and was traveling extensively.

 The three days of vacation they gave me were going to be used right before Thanksgiving so I could hunt the entire 9 day gun season in WI with my Dad. All that said, that left me with 4 days to hunt the rut, Nov.7-10.

November 10th is my birthday and as the deer and weather continued to be uncooperative, I made a choice and decided to work on my birthday. Looking at the forecast there was a strong cold front that was going to hit midday on Nov. 12th and I was praying for the weatherman to be right, just this once!

I went into work on that Monday, a day I had off originally from working weekends down in FL, and announced I would like to take my comp day on the 12th. I had to fly to Alabama for an event at 6:30 am on the 13th so if I put a buck down, it was going to be a super long night.
Now the stage is set.

Its November 12th, it’s a stiff west wind, its cold, the deer are moving, and I’m in my #1 stand. I got in the stand at 2PM to catch any early movement and check the trail camera by me. There were 20 pictures and most were does being chased by small bucks.

Where was HE?

No signs of Floppy at all, not even rubs or scrapes in the area. As I sat there looking up and down this funnel and into the corn, I started to experience what can only be described as an ‘itch’. It was an itch I couldn’t scratch and it was eating at me.
It was the itch to move stands.

My common sense told me to gut it out as it was already 3:13PM with only about an hour and a half of daylight left. If I moved stands I would most likely spook deer getting into the spot I was thinking about. Besides, this was an area with a ton of deer traffic and at any moment Floppy could show up.

As I was going over all the information I knew about this deer, the itch got the best of me and I impulsively threw down my quiver, lowered my bow, packed up my camera equipment and raced back to my truck to change stands.

It was 3:47, the day was getting away from me, and I was changing stands. Stupid? No. Crazy? Yes! But was it really?

As I quietly slipped down the creek bed checking the bottom field, I could see one doe in front of my stand about 300 yards away. I stayed tight to the creek bed and only slightly bumped her off the field. Tail down, just walking cautiously off the field. Perfect. I climbed into the stand and had my camera gear and bow set by 4:16PM. I had about 45 minutes of daylight left to make something happen.

As I stared at the timber fingers waiting for something to happen, some movement to the west caught my eye. I looked down the fence row to see a dark blob coming out of the tall grass where I had JUST walked by. I grabbed my Vortex binoculars to get a better look and instantly I knew it was Floppy. He was in the exact same spot I first saw him more than two years ago. My first reaction was to get the camera rolling. He was no more than 200 yards away at this point and my mind was racing.

My thoughts went back and forth about putting the camera in the right place where he was going to walk or keeping it on him. Should I grab my Bear Empire now? Should I just say “to hell with filming” him and get the job done?

Luckily he stopped to eat a little bit at the picked corn field allowing a moment to gather my wits about me. As he continued to follow the fence line instead of travel north to the timber, I knew it was going to happen.

 I just had to make a good shot.

Floppy quickly made his way to my stand, so I moved around the camera arm to the single shooting lane available and clipped into my string loop. Drawing back on him as if it were a natural reflex, I stopped him, and let the Victory Arrow do its job.

The Victory is the same exact arrow I’ve used on my last three bow bucks in IL, and it flew perfectly into the boiler room.

He ran out to 90 yards and just stood there. He was bleeding heavily and was standing there hunched up, fighting to not go down. He slowly made his way to the tree line and bedded down. As I watched his head fall, I knew I had just completed the long and tiring two year saga for the very buck I had dreams about, and many more than I’d like to admit.

I was in shock and so excited, but I needed to keep my head on straight. I left all my gear in the stand, took my camera, and backed out to give him some time. I had been texting Mike what was going on and finally could give him a call as he was chomping at the bit to talk about it.

When he asked me, “How in the world do you ‘get it done’ like this every year?!”
I replied:

“Hunter’s instinct man…moving at the last minute just felt right.”

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