By Chris Eberhart
All of a sudden he was there. In typical big buck fashion I didn’t see him coming. He had already topped the ridge and was coming my way at about sixty yards. My tree was at a narrow spot on a long slope from a high oak covered ridge that funneled right into a thick bedding area. The bedding area consisted of a couple of odd folds in the terrain and was covered in thick brush, with some pockets of almost impenetrable autumn olive and buckthorn thickets. The corn was cut all around the island of woods and this funnel was the only route with cover to get to the bedding area. Nine heavily used deer trails crossed within shooting distance of my tree. Honestly, the funnel was tight enough that I was pretty sure that any buck headed towards the bedding would be shootable. My heartbeat ticked up a notch when I saw him, and I immediately reached for my bow, carefully swinging into position in my saddle for the shot I anticipated. The buck was on a runway that would bring him to within fifteen yards.
Nonchalantly, the buck walked a few more yards down the ridge. It was a bit after 2:00 pm and this was midday movement, when bucks often have some destination in mind, and move with determination. I knew at first glance he was big enough, and after that first glimpse I didn’t bother looking at his antlers. He wasn’t being overly cautious and this was happening in about textbook fashion. But suddenly he stopped and looked around. Instantly, my mind focused on the wind direction. The light breeze was blowing straight down the ridge to me, so that wasn’t the problem. For a second he just stood there checking the wind and scanning the ridge. With a quick flip of his tail he dropped his head and began thrashing a sapling. “Perfect,” I thought. The buck seemed totally at ease while working a couple saplings over at forty yards. He moved a bit here and there on the angle but mostly he was broadside, and presented several possible shots. It was a shot I could have perhaps made, but I am far more confident shooting at fifteen or twenty yards than I am at forty, and it was obvious that he was on his way. I took the opportunity to look closely at his rack. His main beams rose up high over his head and he was wide, probably over twenty inches, with short heavy tines. My guess was that he was at least a three year old, but probably a four year old buck, considering his huge bulky body. Patiently I waited.
As I expected, he finished up with his rubbing and started towards the bedding. But then, two or three steps further on, he suddenly turned and started across the ridge. Almost immediately he was in cover and although he was five yards closer there was no shot. About ten yards into the brush he took his time and rubbed another sapling. The entire woods was littered with rubs, probably a couple hundred. I watched him for a very long time as he worked a couple more trees, still thinking he would eventually move towards the bedding area and past my tree. To my chagrin however he eventually started walking away from me back up the ridge. He didn’t have any idea I was there. I tried a doe bleat to get his attention, but though he stopped to look for a second he for sure wasn’t rushing in. Slowly he vanished back over the ridge.
No problem. It was still early in the pre-rut, my spot was good, and this buck would be back. And indeed he did return that very evening, crossing the ridge out of range. I never saw him again despite a lot of time sitting in that funnel. It was a close encounter that went the buck’s way. This story basically sums up my season so far.
I have seen ten different mature bucks so far this season, four of them last week, which is a lot considering the places I have had to hunt this year. Every time a buck has shown himself it seems he has somehow either been just out of range, or just happened to take the alternate route to his destination. The last two mature bucks I saw were both following a hot doe across an open field about ninety yards away. One before that was working his way down a ridge when an Amish guy tried stalking across a fallow field with his crossbow. Needless to say the buck split. A couple more times bucks passed by at around sixty yards, and would not be coaxed by my attempts at calling. So far events just haven’t broken my way. That is hunting.
All you can do is keep on hunting and work hard to make those close encounters happen, and eventually one will go your way. Every season is different and in some years it may seem like you can’t do anything wrong. Those seasons are magic. Keep on hunting smart and every hour you spend on stand is an hour closer to that next mature buck. It’s a good thing that the bucks come away from most encounters unscathed. The challenge those bucks present is what makes bowhunting for them so attractive, right?
- Chris Eberhart, BowhuntingWildFood.com
If you want more great whitetail hunting information like this, check out Chris’ latest book, Bowhunting Whitetails The Eberhart Way