By Cody Altizer:

Every year, for the last 7 years, I’ve begun each hunting season with a list of goals.  Half of them are personal, and the other half are for our hunting club (made up of my dad, my brother, and me), but I take responsibility for everything.  They’re pretty much the same every year: harvest a doe and buck with my bow; harvest a 4-year-old buck with any weapon. And for the club:  harvest a predetermined amount of does, harvest 2 mature bucks, capture daytime trail camera images of mature bucks, etc.  These are very realistic goals and most of the time we meet the majority of them (it’s hard to kill multiple 4 year old bucks every year, but we try), but I also set another very personal goal, almost a challenge, that I haven’t achieved in the last 7 years I’ve been trying.

That goal has been to locate, target, and kill a specific mature buck.  Every year since 2007 I’ve come close.  In 2007 I captured trail camera photos in early November of a buck we would later call The Dark Knight.  I saw him November 10th harassing does just out of range of my muzzleloader, and I couldn’t get a shot.  Two weeks later, while filming my brother, we saw him again, but he gave us the slip.

In 2008 I put a bullet through the brisket of a buck named the Hulk at 100 yards from a stand I hung specifically for him after capturing him on trail camera just days prior.  I never found him.  2009 was a wash year due to our property being logged during the hunting season, and 2010 was spent in the fall hunting whitetails in Illinois.

In 2011 I killed one of my wish list bucks, a 127” 11 pointer, but 2 weeks prior my brother killed Clyde, a 150” 15 pointer and the number 1 buck on my wish list, and a deer I pushed myself to near exhaustion for while hunting.  And finally, you surely remember my pursuit and close encounters last year with Maverick.  As you can tell, it’s a recurring theme every year.  Close, but no cigar.

The story of for this year’s target buck actually began July 26th of last year.  I had gotten several daytime pictures of a big-bodied 8 pointer at one of our mineral stations, and remember specifically getting excited about two things, his body size, and the fact that he was comfortable spending significant time at our mineral stations during daytime hours.  I immediately texted my closest deer hunting buddy, Willie Urish, and said,” First big buck of the year on cam! Not huge, but a nice 8. Would make a great bow buck!”

But, unfortunately, his rack didn’t have any characteristics that would allow me to easily identify him during the hunting season.  He was a buck I hoped to cross paths with that hunting season, but wasn’t going to target him exclusively.

Jump ahead a couple months to November 30th, 2011.  Aside from Maverick, it had been a pretty slow season hunting mature bucks.  I hunted relatively hard throughout November, but by the end of the month my expectations were pretty low.  The wind and weather was great for the stand I was going to hunt that morning, but with the rutting activity and my confidence shrinking daily I decided to sleep in.  That morning, 20 yards from the Lone Wolf stand I should have been sitting in, this 4-year-old buck walked right up the skid trail.

 My DLC Covert captured three images of him that day, but I never saw him from stand or got him on trail camera again the rest of the season.  He was a good buck, but I pegged him as a lucky roamer who had survived the gun seasons, and didn’t think he was a resident deer.  I didn’t think twice that it could have been the same buck from the summer.

 Guns n’ Roses

 This past winter, I remember listening to Paradise City by Guns n’ Roses, my favorite song from my all time favorite band. I was in mid-sentence of convincing my brother that GN’R was not only the greatest band in the history of rock and roll, but that Paradise City was the ultimate rock song.  It had it all; great lyrics, killer guitar, and amazing vocals.  Then it hit me, I had just thought of the name of the next buck I was going to kill.

I immediately conceded my debate and told my brother, “The next big buck we get on trail camera, I’m going to call Paradise City and I’m going to kill him with my bow.  But he’s got to be a GREAT buck, and he’s got to have it all.  He’s got to be at least 4 years old, at least 10 points, tall, heavy, and wide, and he’s got to be bigger than Clyde.  I’m saving Paradise City for a special deer.”

 A Buck Needs a Name

Fast forward to this summer.  It had been an extremely slow summer for my trail cameras through mid-July.  Black bears had broken two of my cameras, and the mature bucks certainly didn’t welcome a logging crew that was 5 months late getting set up.  I had a flight booked to document a 7-day hunting safari in Africa on July 18th, and decided to check my cameras the day before I left to satisfy my whitetail fix while I was gone, simply hoping for the best.

I first went to one of our mineral sites that historically produce the most images of mature bucks during the summer.  Out of habit, I always start at the back and scroll through a handful of photos on my Covert trail camera.  The LCD screen is a great feature, but it usually has to be a nighttime shot of a buck close to the camera to actually distinguish if it’s a deer of good size and age, because the screen is so small.  Not necessary this time.

I quickly scrolled through the final 100 or so images on the camera, but immediately stopped when I had a daylight photo of a tall set of velvet antlers with his head down at the mineral station 7 yards from the camera.  A shot of adrenaline raced through my body, I gave a couple quick fist pumps, and flipped through several more photos of the buck before swapping cards, freshening the mineral site and running through the woods throwing haymakers like I’d just recorded the last out of the world series.  I had gotten big deer on camera before, but for some reason this deer got me worked up like none other.

After quickly checking the other cameras I rushed home and checked the card to find a 4 or 5-year-old buck that I guessed would fill out into the lower 140s posing in front of the camera.  I sent my brother 9 text messages in a span of about 5 minutes.  “One definite shooter on trail cam.” “Will be a 140.”  “Definite 140. Tall, clean and heavy.” “Definitely going to be a 10.” “Going to call him Paradise City.”

Lightning Strikes Twice

Words literally cannot explain the excitement and optimism I felt getting those trail camera photos of Paradise City.  Bigger deer have lived on our property, but, for whatever reason, he was different.  But as excited as I was, I didn’t think I’d see Paradise City until late September / early October on trail camera again at the earliest.

It’s a strange phenomenon, but every summer during the 2nd and 3rd week of July my trail cameras get lit up with mature bucks at our mineral sites for a few days, and then disappear; but we’ll always see those same deer during the fall.  It’s almost as if they take a vacation from their summer pattern to stop in on their fall area to make sure it’s as good or better than they left it, then return to their summer ground.  It happens every year and always fascinates me.

Nevertheless, when I got home from Africa I was still excited to check the same camera to see if Paradise City had decided to come back.  I had very low expectations, but was still hopeful.  When I got to the mineral site I walked up to the camera, took a deep breath, and said, “Here we go..”

Like last time I started from the back and worked my forward, a few new bucks had showed up, but no Paradise City.  I kept scrolling and was 400 images in when my stomach jumped.  There he stood, a heavy 10 pointer facing front and center in front of the camera.  It was Paradise City.

I immediately swapped cards, threw out some minerals (no idea how much, it could have been half the bucket) and ran through the woods back to the ATV.  I still had 4 cameras to check, 4 mineral sites to freshen, and a treestand that needed straps replaced before I could check the card.  I was painfully anxious and impatient, and I remember praying repeatedly while replacing the straps, “God, please don’t let me fall.  I need to calm down and I need your help to do that.”  I couldn’t wait to get look at the photos.

By the time I had gotten home I had already sent my brother and Willie who now knew about Paradise City’s existence, a combined 20 or so text messages that he was back in the area, but I hadn’t yet checked the photos.

Once I got home I found Paradise City’s sequence of images and e-mailed the best shots to my brother, my Dad and Willie.  They were nighttime shots (just before sunrise), but based on how he accessed and left the site, I now know where he beds, and have an idea where he’s hanging out at night.

After sending off the best photos I still had 1400 pictures to sift through.  I quickly started going through them hoping to see pictures of another shooter that may have shown up, but was pleasantly surprised when I saw another batch of pictures of Paradise City! This sequence of shots were taken 3 days prior to his last visit, and were during the daytime and he accessed and left the site the exact same way.  He stayed for exactly 30 minutes during each visit, allowing me to get every angle possible of his perfect rack.

After studying the trail camera images from this summer, and sifting back through all my photos from 2012, I was able to first identify Paradise City as the buck from last hunting curious.  Fueled by the latest revelation in the story, I started to closely study trail camera pictures from that summer to see if I got lucky.  It didn’t take long to see that Paradise City was the buck captured at the mineral station!

The Hunt Begins

It’s been a week since I checked my cameras, and it will be at least another week before I check them again.  I honestly don’t expect for Paradise City to show up again, just because so much of a whitetail’s world is starting to quickly change, but I’ll obviously be hoping for the best.

However, I’m very hopeful and optimistic for this coming hunting season.  Obviously there are no guarantees, but as of now I have three things going in my favor.  For one, it appears Paradise City is a resident deer.  Of course, this doesn’t necessarily translate to him being as visible during the hunting season, but I know where he beds, and that is an important piece to the puzzle.  We’ll also have more food on our property than ever before this fall, and all of our food plots, and the does that feed in them, as well as all of my stands, are downwind of his bedding area.

Secondly, he’s very comfortable visiting our property during the daylight as evidence by the daylight photos last year, as well as this year.  Additionally, his last 2 visits this summer, he’s spent exactly 30 minutes at the site during the daylight. That tells me he feels comfortable and safe.

Finally, in all the pictures I’ve gotten of Paradise City, he’s been with a 2 year old 8 pointer.  Bucks group up in the summer, no big deal, right?   Well, no, but during each of Paradise City’s visits, he doesn’t let that 2 year old even get close to the minerals.  In fact, there are several shots of him posturing to intimidate the 2 year old.  This tells me he’s dominant, and a buck’s thirst for dominance makes him very vulnerable during the hunting season.

Conclusion

It’s no secret that I’m more excited about hunting Paradise City than any other deer I’ve hunted my life just by this post.  I just wrote a 2,200 word blog based off several trail camera photos, and a brief history with the deer. I may not kill him.  My dad might kill, or my brother, or my neighbor.  Heck, I might not even see him again.  The odds are overwhelmingly poor, but I wanted to put myself out there, share with you this story and take responsibility for all that happens between me and this animal.  Why, you ask?

Because every now and again a hunter crosses paths with a deer with which he shares an indescribable bond, connection, and story.  The relationship is built around respect for the other; however, one lives to hunt, the other to survive.    Regardless of outcome, the best justice the hunter can give the animal is to relentlessly hunt him.  Instinct versus instinct.

See you in the woods, Paradise City.

– Cody Altizer, CodyAltizerPhotography.com