Today’s W2H reader success story comes from Jake Ehlinger, an accomplished whitetail habitat consultant and big buck hunter, who’s hard work on his Michigan property led to this great buck. His success is a testament to the results you can see when you put in the effort to improve your property. Please join me in congratulating Jake on this terrific Michigan whitetail! – MK
By Jake Ehlinger
My 2012 archery season got off to a later start than normal this year because I was in northern Ontario hunting Moose with my bow. I left the last week of September and did not return home until late evening of October 10th. After cleaning all my clothes and running them through my scent control system I was finally able to occasionally get in a tree during mid to late October on my small 67 acre northwest Lenawee county, MI farm. I quickly saw and passed a few younger 1-1/2 & 2-1/2 year old bucks and plenty of antlerless deer.
I’ve been a big habitat improvement guy for over three decades here on my small farm and because of my tenacious spirit in managing habitat and the deer herd, passing younger bucks and does I’ve been able to consistently harvest mature bucks and does on my small property over the past 10-15 years.
I plant plenty of food plots; work hard on improving my bedding areas through hinge cuttings, TSI and a number of other out of the box techniques that most land owners and hunters simply will not put that kind of time and effort in. But these improvements are why my small Lenawee county farm becomes my little slice of Iowa one or two weeks of the year during the rut.
That being the case, I always look forward to the days that surround Halloween as my official kick-off to start hunting my better stands for target bucks. This year we had very high winds blow for a few days before and including October 31st.
I watch the weather constantly at this time of year and knew I would have to hold off for the major front to pass, the wind speeds and gust were going to settle down and the direction would allow me to enter one of my favorite stands on the evening of November 2nd.
This location did not just happen…I built it; 30 years ago this location was nothing but an ag field and thin swamp edge; there was no food, no bedding areas and not near enough security cover for a mature buck of 3-1/2 years or older to use this travel corridor during daylight.
I put a plan together many years ago, planting conifers, hardwoods, hard & soft mast trees that were all connected to some incredible bedding areas that I created, I had either hinge cut or planted. Then did all the detail work in cutting travel corridors, setting up hundreds of mock scrapes, setting a high ladder stand in a double burr oak, including a manicured access trail that allowed for very quiet and screened entry. I knew that at this time of the year mature bucks bedded close to the transition route and I had to do everything right to be successful.
During my shower and scent free preparation that I go though each and every time I hunt I was pretty excited to be able to hunt this particular stand. The temps were in the low 40’s, winds were light from the southwest and I had been getting daylight trail cam photos of a hit list buck I knew very well. I had grown this buck here on my farm watching him grow up to a mid-130’s ten-point
I had hundreds of photos of this buck from early spring through this mid-September, but once I got back from Ontario I had few photos of him and like so many mature bucks here in Michigan he had changed his habits and movement patterns. I was lucky enough to go with my gut and move a few cameras around the last 10 days of October and re-located the good looking ten-point.
So as I slowly walked to my stand my mind was full of anticipation and optimism. Just a few hours earlier in the day I had helped my good friend Jim Brauker with his stupendous 8-point he took in the early morning, what a great time we shared, with me taking photos, assisting weighing him and just basking in the glow of the success of a good hunting friend.
Being able to share hunting success and with friends that you’ve done lots of habitat work, spent plenty of hours planning his best tree and hunting options with over the years and build a successful neighborhood co-op is hard to put into words. Any of you that share in the companionship and the ups and downs of the rut know how it feels, I was so happy for Jim’s success and I knew my time was coming….I could “feel” it as I took my last few steps like a still hunter into my stand.
I got into my stand about 3:45 pm, I always take camera equipment along with me, video & SLR’s, so after getting all my equipment in place, camera arm set and video ready to go, I sat back and did my final wind check with my “puff bottle” and a few strands of milk weed floaters to make sure my scent was going just as I expected.
Things were perfect I thought, I’m here early and once this sun goes down I know I’m going to see some good deer movement through this proven travel corridor. I had not been on stand long at all; my arrow on my bow and ready for maybe 10-15 min’s when I saw the first buck of the afternoon make his way from the north just as I expected he would be traveling. I flipped on my video camera and started taking video of this younger 8-point that was probably a 2-1/2 year old.
I was adjusting my video camera and fighting with the bright sun to see the buck in the view finder when out of the corner of my right eye walked in my target 10-point I was hoping I’d see here tonight. So I just left my video camera running on record and made sure it was pointed in the area I would hopefully get my shot, he was at this point 10-12 yards away feeding on acorns acting like an early season buck.
I now had to slowly & carefully reach with my left hand and get my bow off the hanger, clip on my release and prepare for my shot all the while I had two bucks close out in front of me. I did however manage to pull it all off even in this bright sunlight. My shot opportunity came quick I drew on him and he stopped with a small tree covering his vitals, so after a minute or so I let my bow down.
Anyone that has done this while 20 feet up with four sets of eyes watching knows the uneasiness of it all as it unfolds in front of you. The buck was moving south as the younger buck was working a few of my licking branches looking directly in my direction.
I drew again and the younger buck picked up the movement, he just made a small stare in my direction, the ten point noticed and turned around and his body language told me he was leaving, I had one opening, I was afraid to attempt to stop him with a mouth grunt because he was already on alert and very close.
I put the pin behind his shoulder and hit my trigger release; due to his walking pace I hit him far back. It was a complete pass through; he quickly ran from there and was out of sight in seconds. I watched intently in the thick willows and brush I had planted years before and could see the occasional tail twirl.
I then turned my video camera to my face and did a short take on what had just happened. I felt uneasy about the shot, I had already convinced myself that I was staying till dark, slip out quietly and coming back in the morning. I knew from previous experiences with liver/paunch hit deer you give plenty of time.
I looked back over to where I had last seen him or at least his tail flickering and what did I see but his antlers wobble and then go to the ground. Did I just see what I saw? I had a tough time believing it. I thought maybe he did just go down, but I’m sure he’s still alive and I’m still waiting till morning.
I watched a few does and fawns move through and about ½ hour before sun down another nice 2-1/2 year old came from the north, as you can expect I was spending much of my time looking to the area I last saw his antlers and there is that young buck nosing around and checking out something in that area. Eventually the young buck walked less than 5 yards past my stand as he continued on his travels.
So now I am feeling even better, I thought gosh is he lying right there 50 yards away dead or maybe he’s still alive and that young buck knows better than to get too close to that buck. The thoughts and emotions that go through your mind during something like this made the time pass quickly.
I climbed down once it was dark; I look for my arrow and find it quickly stuck in the ground covered in red blood. Now I was very optimistic that I would find this buck. So with my flashlight in hand I decided I would follow where I saw him run, right down my “scrape ally” and just see what I can see, there was little sign but I wasn’t surprised because of the far back hit.
I walked maybe twenty yards or so and still no visible signs of blood, but I did find large globs of what I would call saliva on the leaves. So just on a whim I very quietly snuck to the last place I thought I saw him and when I shined my flashlight there he lay dead and had been more than likely when I saw him go down 3-5 minutes after I shot him.
What a great feeling seeing his white belly and thick main beams rising up from the ground, all the ups and downs didn’t matter anymore, the feeling of accomplishment and respect for the buck engulfed my sole.
I quickly called my friend Jim and told him the news…he said “you mean I have to get all dirty again” and I answered “yep you sure do”! He came over shortly; we drove my tractor up to within 30 yards from where he laid. We took some photos and video and then took him up to my barn. We hoisted him onto my deer hanger and he tipped the scales at 225 live weight.
What a day November 2nd became, Jim and I both took our best bucks on our small farms in Lenawee County. We each managed to capture our first video bow kills on the same day 1-1/2 miles apart, and another one of our habitat and hunting friends scored on a great 8-point as well, this day will always have a special meaning to me.
Jake Ehlinger is the owner of HabitatSolutions360.com a land management consulting business now in its tenth year. His 67 acre property received the QDMA “Legacy” land certification in February of 2013.