My buddy Tyson paged me the other day and when I found a pay phone and called him back he said, “What’s up with the blog? You said there would be more this year, but I haven’t seen anything in a while.” He’s right. We depart for Siren Best Western four weeks from today and I haven’t lived up to my promise. It’s time for another tall tale from the woods. Today I’m going to revisit “the one that got away.” If you know me, you know the story. It’s a good lesson for those who don’t know it.
Ten years ago this year I shot the best buck of my deer hunting life. A 12-point buck who presented a usable shooting angle for about one second. That’s all I needed. I don’t know what he scored on the Crockett & Tubbs scale. In case you’re eager to correct me, I’m aware that it’s called Boone & Crockett, but I like Tubbs better than Boone, so there. Shout out to Philip Michael Thomas. It’s not like the bucks that I see the professionals on TV shoot, but for an average dude like me who gets to hunt deer for 4-5 days a year, it’s a monster. That buck changed me. Before then anything with antlers was enough to sate me. Since then I’ve been chasing more of the same, or better. I’ve passed on bucks that I would’ve killed immediately in my teens or twenties.
My strategy has changed over the years as well. I’ve probably been watching way too much Midwest Whitetail and reading too much Field & Stream. I used to roll out of bed, throw on my gear and hit the woods. I’d sit in a deer stand whittling sticks, eating sunflower seeds, talking on the walkie talkie, farting, etc. and I’d still shoot a buck most years. Now that I had what I considered a “trophy” buck I wondered, if I can shoot a deer this nice while I’m half-assing it, what could I get if I was imitating what the guys on TV are doing? I started washing all of my clothes in scent free detergent and sealing them in bags or containers. I wash myself in soap that’s called Scent Destroyer or something equally ridiculous. I spray myself down with unscented spray before I hit the woods. If I’m feeling particularly saucy I’ll go with a fresh earth or acorn scent. I have fake antlers for rattling and a grunt call for…you guessed it: grunting. I’ve made mock scrapes. I’ve dragged a rag soaked in doe piss behind my boots. I’ve used “buck bombs” whatever the hell that even means. I’ve sprayed Nose Jammer, which is product that’s supposed to mask your own scent, but I question how it actually helps because it sort of smells like candy. My favorite has to be Tink’s #69 spray because I’m sure when they were inventing their “fuckable doe” scent it was a total coincidence that they already had exactly 68 other scents on the market.
My point is, I was willing to try anything. Before you judge me or call me ignorant, know that I’m not doing all of these things at the same time. I have a strong belief that if you’re doing any or all of this stuff wrong you’re actually harming your hunt and you’re better off doing nothing at all. If I’m covering my corner of the woods in a “doe in rut” scent that bucks have never smelled and I’m doing it two weeks after the actual rut, I have to think I’m doing myself more harm than good. That has to spook deer, right? If you happen to be a deer and you’re reading this, please tell me if I’m right.
All of this extra work I was doing added up to fewer deer sightings than before. That might say more about a decline in the deer population in our area than my technique or strategy. According to Uncle Ron there have always been peaks and valleys hunting that land, and right now might just be in one of those valleys. Ultimately, I don’t think any of the stuff I’ve done has made much difference. Here’s what I know: Get your ass in your stand early, stay there, shut up, don’t move, and pay attention. Good things will happen.
In November of 2013 I was at my peak of experimentation with different deer attaractant methods. That was the year I dragged the doe piss rag behind my boot. I read somewhere that you should not drag the piss rag all the way to your stand. Not sure why, but I read it. and the person who wrote it must know more than I do. When we got to the top of the hill on the walk in I untied the rag from my boot and stuffed it in a tree. Tyson was walking in with me and we’ve been laughing about it ever since. We were picturing deer from all over Polk County smelling that rag in the tree and coming to hump the tree. We thought for sure when we walked back to camp at the end of that day we’d find a circle of bucks around that tree just hammering on it. That, or all of the bark would be rubbed off of the tree and it would just be bare wood. Unfortunately(?) neither happened.
The opening day hunt that year was uneventful. So was the next morning. We were staying at the Blacksmith Shop that year and we had to check out of the motel by 11:00 AM. This was a rule that was strictly enforced. If you were still there at 11:00 Chad might show up and sleep in your bed. We knew we could only hunt until about 10:00 so we had to make the most of it. At about 8:30 that morning I glassed two bucks a couple hundred yards to the southeast moving away from me creeping across a swamp. The trees were too thick and I couldn’t get a clean look, so shooting was not an option. There wasn’t time to sit and wait for something to happen. I summoned Tyson to my stand with an idea. I would creep through the woods just north of them, try to get out in front of them, and scare them back toward my stand where Tyson would be waiting for them. it was the longest of longshots, but after a quiet morning, and with only about 90 minutes left, we needed a hail mary.
Tyson climbed the stand and took his position. I made my way east along the north edge of the swamp. I moved slowly and stopped frequently behind trees. When I got as far east as I could I started heading south west back toward where I saw the bucks and I stated making a lot of noise. I was hoping that I had gotten further east than the deer and that I might get them to do a 180 and head back to Tyson. However, I never saw the two bucks again. If they changed direction, I wasn’t aware. After 45 minutes of creeping around the woods looking for the antlered duo I had circled back to the stand.
We were done. The 2013 deer hunt in Polk County was over. Tyson came down from the stand and we talked for a few minutes. I normally wouldn’t be that loud in the woods, but our hunt was over. I had the piss rag from the previous day with me and I untied it from the rope and hung it from one of the cross beams on my stand. After several minutes of discussion and general noisemaking, Tyson went back to his stand to gather his things so we could leave. I leaned my gun against a tree so I could climb up and grab my bag.
At this time I was also doing a lot of video recording of my hunts. I spotted my camera lying on top of my open bag and decided I’d do a quick recap of the hunt. For about two minutes I stood with my camera and vocally recapped the day’s hunt. I leaned down to put my camera in the bag and when I stood back up I saw something out of the corner of my eye. A deer coming from the south. Not just any deer. This was a big buck. Maybe the biggest I’ve ever seen. Somehow he hasn’t spotted me. I slowly dropped down to hide myself behind the wall of my stand and I looked to the corner for my gun.
It wasn’t there.
I leaned my gun against a tree on the ground. I NEVER leave my gun when I’m hunting. I also NEVER climb my stand with my gun loaded. When I was on the ground I thought, “I’m just going up there to get my bag. I don’t need go through all the trouble of unloading it. I’ll just leave it here.” How could I possibly see a shooter in the minute or two I’m up there? We hadn’t seen anything all morning and we were making a ton of noise. It didn’t matter. There he was walking around in front of me. He wasn’t just there, he was giving me what would’ve been one of the easiest shots of my life. I knelt down and had four thoughts:
- Could I jump down and get my gun quickly enough to shoot him before he spots me and runs away? No. I would break several bones in the process.
- What chance would I have if I threw my knife at him? Pretty slim, and I’d almost certainly lose my knife. I like that knife. There wasn’t enough upside in that plan to try.
- Did I bring a pistol? No. I never bring a pistol. I only have a .22 anyway, and you can’t hunt deer with it.
- When Luke Skywalker was hanging upside down in the wampa’s cave on Hoth he didn’t know for sure that he possessed the Jedi power to control the force. Maybe I’ll find out the same thing Luke did. If I concentrate hard enough, could I get my gun to float back up to me? I actually tried. The gun shook for a moment, but never left the ground.
I did the next best thing I could think of. I grabbed my walkie talkie and whispered furiously to Tyson. “GET OVER HERE. THERE’S A HUGE BUCK AND I DON’T HAVE MY GUN.” Tyson was going to try to creep over and get in to shooting range. I would sit and watch.
As long as I was just watching, I might as well grab my camera and document it. Here’s the footage:
You saw what happened. The leaves were crisp that morning and he heard Tyson long before Tyson could see him. He was gone. As soon as he was out of sight I slid down the ladder and grabbed my gun. I was distraught. We tried everything to bring that buck back, but he was long gone. It was a long, quiet drive home from deer camp that year. When I told people my story they mostly laughed at me. When I actually showed them the video they went from laughing to saying, “Oh no!” I may never see a buck that nice again. I sure haven’t since.
That year Chelsee took the kids to Madison for Thanksgiving. She wanted to go Black Friday shopping with her cousin and I had to work on Friday so I stayed home. I was so upset over what happened that I woke up at 2:00 AM on Thanksgiving morning and drove by myself four and a half hours back to the hunting land just for four hours of hunting. I had a Scion xB and no idea how I’d haul that deer back if I got him. I was thinking I’d find a way to slide him up the hood and windshield, then tie him to the roof. I would’ve been thrilled to have to solve that problem. It didn’t matter. I never saw a thing. I got back in my car and made it back to my parents’ house in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
I never saw that buck again. In fact, I’ve only seen a couple of bucks since, and they have been babies. Here’s the question that lingers in my head: Did he smell the piss rag after I untied it. Did un-knotting that rag release some scent and that buck came up looking for it? I’ll never know for sure, but it’s the kind of question that will eternally leave me wondering whether or not I should continue trying different tactics like that. What else could’ve attracted that buck after Tyson and I had made all that noise and I had left my scent everywhere?
The next year I tried more of the same, but with no luck. Over the past couple years I’ve mostly given up on those gimmicks and am back to what I used to do. I still wash my clothes in scent free detergent because why not? I’m going to wash my clothes anyway. Might as well take the scent away and leave them sealed up until the hunt. It’s no extra work. I still spray my clothes to kill scent before I go in to the woods. It’s easy and I have to believe it helps. I’ve given up on the doe scents, the grunt, and the antlers. I still don’t believe they make enough difference to be worth the money or the trouble. I’ll always wonder, though…
Check back with me in a few weeks. ‘ll be back out in the woods in exactly 30 days. By then Tyson will likely talk me in to #69 spray or some other disgusting odor to release in the woods. We seem to bring out the worst in each other that way. One of us will read something and we won’t be able to resist. No matter what we do, I promise you this: I will have my gun this time.