We’ve gotten more stories of success from readers and listeners this year than ever before, and we’re going to be sharing as many of them as possible. That said, today’s story from Clint Campbell is a long one, but well worth that length. Clint put in some serious work on public land and it resulted in filling his tag with what would be his biggest deer, first public land deer and first buck with a bow! Talk about checking a lot off the list. Read on for a terrific story and a good bit of inspiration! – MK
By Clint Campbell
As I sit in the camper here in Ohio to write this post, I’ve still not quite processed what I experienced on this trip. I should be in the timber filming my buddies while they hunt today, but I want to try to capture my thoughts and emotions while things are still relatively fresh in mind and soul.
This year, I experienced the rut like I never have before. It was like watching a hunting TV show unfold in front of me every sit. Bucks grunting and squaring off to do battle and bucks chasing does and thrashing trees was a daily spectacle. I had several close encounters, complete with a blown opportunity with a shooter, the day before I cut my hunt short with a great Ohio public land 10 point I couldn’t pass up. I was intending to grind it out for 10 days, but tagged out on day 4.
The question I kept getting asked at camp was “how did you find unpressured deer in a known big buck county on Ohio public ground?” I’m no better a hunter than anyone reading this, but have followed the advice that I’ve picked up from magazines, podcasts, books, and other hunters. Through trial and error I’ve learned what works for me. I planned, read my maps, did a “boots on the ground scout” in September, and stayed away from corn and bean fields that I thought would draw hunters and pressure. In the end, I went to a leeward ridge top—a piece of goat rock that was as at times impassable with brush and green briars. No sane person would climb through this terrain to hunt as it presented as an area with low deer density. But during my summer scouting I noticed sign from years past that painted a different picture and solidified my resolve to make this my Ohio hunting spot.
On my first hunting day in the timber (Thursday), I scouted for the freshest sign I could find and set up nearby. This would be the final puzzle piece combined with the preseason work I had done. I’d like to say it was a smooth assent to the tree I had picked out during my summer scouting, however, my GPS failed as I entered the timber and left me feeling a little vulnerable in the big woods with little navigation support. I improvised and used my high vantage point to keep eyes on the river as a guide. I had mentally prepared for a 10 day rut grind of all day sits, logging long hours and anticipating few deer sightings and was hoping my GPS failure wasn’t a sign of things to come. But the fresh sign, habitat, and terrain told me if I put in my time in the stand, this spot could be magical.
I found a climbable tree (barely climbable with a gnarly bend in it which made for some dicey climbs in the dark), climbed to 20 feet and found my perch. I was pretty well covered in brush with few shooting lanes. If you’ve ever heard me talk about shooting lanes versus cover, I prefer to be covered up. This location kept me well concealed with more than enough break up. Shooting lanes were minimal, but strategic with where I thought I was likely to see movement. By the time I had located a tree and got set up, I had only 3 hours of daylight left. I finished out the sit but didn’t see anything during the evening hours. I left everything hanging in the tree and locked my climber to the bottom of the tree to make my ascent lighter and more efficient the next morning.
Friday was my the first full day of hunting. It was a 25 minute drive from camp to my entrance point. In an effort to be as scent free as possible I’d run my ozone machine in the truck on the way there, then wipe down with field wipes while getting dressed on the tailgate of my truck. (This was on top of my scent free showers and scent free clothes storage.) This made for some rude awakenings in the early hours of the cold morning. I was just glad no one drove by to see a nearly naked man standing on his tailgate at 4 a.m.! I’d then hike to my stand through brush and briars in only my base layers to keep from getting overheated.
I got to the stand well before daylight. Just as day broke I had an encounter with a heavy horned 5- point. He’d be a regular visitor over the next few days. I had him come in to 7 yards. This was a great test as my cover and scent control was excellent and gave me confidence that I was well concealed. I saw deer activity that evening with a small buck and doe passing through, both deer walked directly under my stand—I could hear the doe chewing on green briar as she passed. My biggest takeaway from Friday was the knowledge that deer in this area were moving naturally and experiencing zero pressure. I knew if I didn’t make a mistake, they’d never know I was there.
The Saturday morning fog was dense as I drove the river to the base of the ridge. I reached for my headlamp to begin my routine of changing into my hunting clothes on my tailgate. I had put new batteries in the headlamp right before I left for the Ohio trip, but, of course, on a day when I really needed it, my headlamp failed. I finished dressing with the tailgate light and wasn’t sure how I’d use my iPhone light, carry my bow, and hold my GPS at the same time. Since I was hunting public land, I didn’t use any trail markers as I didn’t want to tip anyone off to where I might be hunting, so I relied on my GPS to follow the same trail as the previous days. However, without my headlamp, I didn’t have enough hands to hold everything and the dense fog made it nearly impossible to see any landmarks I’d use to navigate. Again, the unfamiliarity of the big woods and lack of light left me feeling a little vulnerable. I managed to make my way through the briar and brush to find my stand with little visibility. I was hoping the hunting this day would be better than my hike to the stand.
Daylight broke with a visit from the heavy horned 5-point, but activity slowed until the afternoon. At 4 p.m., I had two deer approach from the northeast, which was to the right and slightly behind my stand. It was a nice, dry afternoon and I could hear the leaves crunching for 30 minutes as they approached. The thick brush wouldn’t let me get a visual on either deer until I finally caught the movement of legs to my right. At the same time, the second deer was getting closer and coming from over my right shoulder. I was standing now looking into the brush behind me when out of nowhere appeared the rack of a shooter 8- point. He stopped, thrashed a tree for 5 minutes and picked up the trail of the doe he was following, which I could now clearly see as she was moving out in front of me. The doe eventually passed through one of my only shooting lanes at 33 yards. I was hoping the 8 point would follow. He was following her exact route, but ultimately angled down the ridge passing further below me behind a wall of brush.
Once the 8-point was just out of eyesight I grunted to see if I could get him to move in my direction. The body language of every buck I encountered told me grunting would work in this area. He immediately stopped and began thrashing a small tree 50 yards in front of me, putting on quite a show. Once the tree stopped shaking I heard nothing…not a sound. I waited 10 minutes and determined he had turned his attention again to the doe he was following, but thought I’d give one last grunt and maybe change his mind. I usually survey my surroundings before calling to make sure I don’t spook anything that may have snuck in on me, but this time my enthusiasm caused me to rush. The buck was getting ready to step into my shooting lane to the left as I grunted a second time. He was at only 23 yards, but got startled and took off. I blew a chance at tagging out with a nice shooter 8. I had worked the scenario the best I could until the final moment. My impatience got the better of me, and I failed to execute the small, yet critical detail of observing before calling.
I couldn’t believe I had blown this opportunity. This entire scenario played out over the course of 40 minutes. I had been preparing for this hunt for the better part of a year and was certainly a little down. The 8-point was a great buck and with my limited shooting lanes, I wasn’t sure if I’d get another shot opportunity during this trip. However, I reminded myself of what I had just watched and how fortunate I was to witness the rut unfold in front of me. My spirits quickly lifted and I chose to climb out of my stand a little before 5 to avoid getting covered up with deer and having to navigate down the ridge in the dark without my headlamp.
Every morning had been foggy to this point with a heavy dew on the leaves, making the timber extremely quiet. With dry conditions, I could clearly hear approaching deer this morning. Sunday’s hunt began with a bang. I bought a new headlamp and my GPS was working, so I had my first clean ascent to the stand! I had a buck grunt behind me just prior to daylight and I responded with a grunt and waited. Shortly after my response, I could hear movement behind me from the southwest. The first buck to arrive was another shooter 8—a different buck than the day before with shorter G2’s but wider. He was working his way toward my stand, but hung up in the brush behind me. I wasn’t sure why until I saw a young 4-point appear from the brush in the opposite direction. They had a stand off, pounding the ground with their front hooves. I thought there was going to be a fight, but the 4-point thought better and lowered his head, ducking into the brush to avoid conflict. At this point, the shooter 8 was puffed up. He thrashed a tree and followed the young 4-point to make sure he received the message.
A few minutes had gone by and I heard another grunt and some rustling in the leaves to the southeast. I grunted and my heavy horned 5-point came running through the brush. He strutted behind me for a few minutes with his hair bristled. He took out his frustrations on a tree as he looked to defend his turf. He continued to posture for a few minutes and then eventually made his way into the brush behind my stand. All of this occurred by 9 a.m.
The afternoon was slow, with only a handful of squirrels to provide entertainment. I had gotten over the blown opportunity from the day before and was really in awe of the deer activity I had been watching every day. I decided that even if I ate the tag, this had been the best deer hunting I’d ever experienced.
As I waited for more movement, I surveyed my surroundings. Directly to my north was a drainage cut where rain runoff over the years had created a saddle, that ran to the base of the ridge. It was filled with green briar that effectively made a wall that hid the terrain on the other side. This was filled with downed trees, more green briars and high stem count brush and saplings, which were great for daytime bedding. I’m usually not a fan of blind calling, however, every buck I had grunted at the past three days responded aggressively. With that said, I let out a tending grunt to see if anything nearby would respond. I immediately heard the leaves rustle just across the drainage cut. I couldn’t see what was moving, but whatever it was, it was coming on a string. I stood up in my stand. The direction from which the deer was traveling was unclear, but it sounded as if it would come through a pinch point that crosses the top of the drainage cut. I ranged the tree near the pinch point one last time…23 yards. All of a sudden, I saw antlers emerge through the pinch point—more antlers than I’d ever seen in the woods—and knew immediately it was a shooter. I don’t even recall drawing my bow. The next moment I recalled was me at full draw. He was initially behind a few branches and needed to step forward about 3 yards into my shooting lane. The shooting lane was between two branches with about a 3 foot wide opening. I held at full draw and he stepped into my shooting lane, quartering hard to me. I mouth bleated to stop him, and settled my 20 yard pin just above the vitals behind his right shoulder and released the arrow on the biggest deer I’ve ever personally seen in the timber!
I watched the arrow make impact through my site, just like I had practiced at the range, the buck mule kicked, bounced off a tree, and leaped over the drainage cut disappearing into the brush. Right away I noticed there was a large blood splatter on the tree he bounced off, which told me all I needed to know—I had just arrowed a big buck. I listened to him crash through the brush as he ran down the ridge. I was praying to hear him crash. After about 30 seconds, I heard two loud exhales and a crash. I tried to gather myself and replayed the scenario in my head. I felt like I put a good shot on him, but from the time I grunted until the time I released the arrow only about 30 seconds had passed.
I immediately texted my buddies “Holy shit! I just hit a big one!” As badly as I wanted to find this deer, I knew I should stay in my stand and give it some time. After an hour, which felt like an eternity, I finally climbed down to look for blood. Right away I found the trail and within 30 minutes, beneath an oak tree, laid the 10-point Ohio bruiser! The next few hours were a flurry of activity and didn’t leave time for much reflection until now.
This was my first trip to Ohio, my first buck on public land, my biggest buck, and my first buck taken with a bow. I’ve harvested previous bucks with a rifle and a few does with my bow, and sure, there are bigger deer out there (he gross scored 125). But this deer is more than just a successful harvest. He’s the culmination of lessons learned in the deer woods that will likely stick with me as long as the memory of this hunt does. On this trip I’ve been humbled by nature and failure, only to push forward with positivity and perseverance. This buck taught to me to trust my instincts and to put in the preseason work, even when others aren’t watching. On this trip, I watched up-close, a deer’s most intimate moment of being, the rut, and am grateful they allowed me to be an active participant in their world and not just an observer. The journey to this moment was long and challenging, but in the end, provided me the best deer hunting experience of my life.
– Clint Campbell, truthfromthestand.com