By Cody Altizer

It’s December 2nd as I write this blog post.  My family and I are putting up Christmas decorations inside the house and christening the outside with sparkling lights.  It’s cold, the air is dry.  It’s the late season.  It seems like forever ago that I shot a coyote in Illinois.  It seems like forever and a day ago when I shot Momma, the Teenage Doe.  I saw some good deer during the rut, but not what I was expecting and the mature bucks had their way with me.  I know, I’m complaining.  What to do, what to do?  Reminisce about the successes of last year!

I won’t go in to too much detail, but my brother and I both got our 2011 bucks back from the taxidermist recently, and we were psyched about the results.

2011 was easily the best season we have ever enjoyed on my family’s hunting property.  On November 12th, my brother shot the number 1 buck on my wish list, a buck named Clyde.  Clyde first showed up on our trail cameras in the winter of 2011 in our food plots.  He had a long, sweeping right main beam and a small cluster of points on his right side, and likely would have scored in the mid 120s as a 3 year old in 2010.  He broke off a couple of points during the 2010 season though, and in fact, my brother passed on him that fall because he had a busted up rack.

I usually don’t get many trail camera photos of mature bucks on my property during the summer, so I wasn’t expecting my cameras to be filled to the rim with photos of Clyde, but he did show up once in mid-June at one of our mineral stations.  The kickers off his right G3 told us it was him.  Unfortunately, though, he didn’t show up on any of our cameras the rest of the summer.  I wasn’t too worried, however, because our food plots were flourishing, and I was sure he’d move back in during the fall.

Right on cue Clyde emerged from the timber into our clover food plot the night of September 30th, 2010.  It was the first cold snap of the fall, and Clyde was photographed several times in the food plot feeding and running off the other bucks.  He was an old, mature, dominant buck that I figured would score in the low 140s.

Throughout the month of October I exhausted myself trying to catch up with Clyde.  Our trail cameras captured several photos of him, but I just needed him to make a mistake.  He’d show up on a mock scrape here, while I was hunting a stand over there, and vice versa.  He was almost completely nocturnal as we had photos of him getting back in his bedding area around 6:00 am.  I was essentially hunting a ghost.

After a slow start to November last year (full moon, high winds, rain, and warm temperatures were my excuses last year), we finally got a nice cold, hard frost on the morning of November 12th.  That’s all it took to keep Clyde on his feet a little too long going back to his bedding area.  My brother made a perfect 50 yard shot on Clyde a little after daybreak and just like that the legendary buck was dead.

We took several hundred harvest photos of Clyde that day, and green scored him at 148 6/8” as main frame 10 pointer with 5 kickers.  He weighed 220 pounds, making him a monster of a deer for Virginia.  He was a legendary buck in every sense of the word and a deer that my entire family is very proud of.

The woods certainly FELT quite a bit emptier after my brother killed Clyde, but that wasn’t at all what happened.  The day Clyde was killed it was like someone flipped a switch and opened the flood gates.  Prior to my brother harvesting Clyde, Clyde was really the only mature buck we knew was regularly using our property, we just didn’t know how much.  However, after Clyde was killed we started seeing more mature bucks from stand, and wandering bucks showing up on our trail cameras.  That only proved that Clyde was the dominant buck on our property, and once he was gone, both physically and chemically, other bucks saw it as an opportunity to move in and set up shop.

Second to Clyde on my 2011 wish list was a buck I had nicknamed High n’ Tight (HNT).  He was actually Clyde’s running mate after the 2010 hunting season and showed up in the food plots with Clyde every night that following winter.   Where there was one, there was the other.

However, once the hunting season rolled around I became so fixated on Clyde that I honestly completely forgot about HNT.  That all changed on the morning of November 25th.  I’m not sure if it was the hundreds of hours I had spent in a Lone Wolf trying to kill Clyde with my bow, or a belly full of Thanksgiving dinner, but I was extra tired that morning and decided to head to one of our permanent tree stands with my rifle.  Daylight had just broke when I noticed an autumn olive bush walking towards me some 150 yards in my shooting lane.  “Wait a minute,” I thought, “that bush is moving.”  I quickly threw up my binoculars and saw a nice set of antlers making it’s way to my stand, but the deer’s body wasn’t very big.

However, as quickly as the buck appeared, he disappeared.  It was still pretty dark out, and he dissolved into the thick brush and timber, but the trail he was on would lead him right in front of my stand at 60 yards.  I still couldn’t find him in the timber, though.  Finally, I wised up and put down my binoculars and let my ears find him for me.  I was able to pinpoint his location much more quickly this time and found him in my Leupolds just long enough to determine he was a great buck, but still didn’t have the biggest body.  I had a decision to make.  Do I shoot this buck or let him walk?  It had been a long season, and I decided I was going to take the shot if he presented it to me.

Once he got into my shooting lane I stopped him with a loud bleat and pulled the trigger on my rifle.  The buck buckled up hard, and I knew I made a good hit, but he took off down the ridge and I didn’t see him go down.  My brother quickly arrived at the scene and we found good blood at the point of impact.

A quick but suspenseful blood trail led me right to him.  He had died just where I lost sight of him.  I looked at him and was happy I had decided to take the shot.  He wasn’t a giant buck, but he was a good three year old and I ran numbers through my head and guessed him to score close to 120 inches.  However, when I gave him a second look over I immediately noticed it was HNT!  My brother filmed the recovery, and he caught my entire reaction.  It was priceless.  It was so cool to be surprised by a buck with which I had some history with.  The perfect ending to the perfect morning!

I had high hopes that the 2012 season would rival that of the 2011 season, and while that hasn’t been the case (so far), looking back at the 2011 season does remind me just how fortunate I am to have experienced such an awesome hunting season.  It only adds more fuel to the fire to get out there and put down a mature buck during the late season this year!

– Cody Altizer