If you enjoyed Episodes #62 and #159 of the Wired To Hunt Podcast with John Eberhart, you’re in for a treat. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be continuing to share a number of John’s successful kill stories here on Wired To Hunt. Today John shares the story of his 2016 Halloween buck he killed in Michigan and an important lesson he learned along the way. – MK
By John Eberhart
Talk about a humbling experience! I’ve written three instructional bowhunting books, published hundreds of articles in regional and national magazines, produced four instructional bowhunting DVD’s, given bowhunting seminars all across the Midwest, done many podcasts, and then turned around and abandoned a Recovery 101 major sticking point. Due to my own stupidity I allowed a buck to spoil as the result of an extremely dumb recovery effort.
Here’s how the entire scenario played out:
Having worked out every day from January through the first of September for the past 30 years to stay in shape for the rigors of bowhunting, my 65 year old body just isn’t what it used to be and just prior to the 2016 season I lowered the poundage on my Mathew’s Conquest bow to 55 lbs, switched to lighter Maxima Red 250 arrows and switched from Rocket Sidewinder 1 ½ inch cut 100 grain mechanical heads to G-5’s 3-blade 1 1/8″ cut 100 grain fixed blade Striker heads. This new set-up just felt much more comfortable and controllable and with today’s bow and equipment technology, it’s well more than necessary for taking whitetails.
My pre-season speed tours of my existing early season hunting locations left me a little puzzled because there were no acorns or apples on any of those types of trees I was set-up next to. Of the 11 mast and/or fruit trees I have locations set-up, in the past there had always been at least several of them that were bearing food.
Wherever there’s a shortage of natural mast and fruit, bait and food plot hunters have the advantage as mature deer are much more apt to visit their destination sites due a lack of natural food sources within the confines of secluded security cover.
I don’t bait and I’ve never owned or leased property so I’ve never had the opportunity to plant or hunt over a food plot, so not having any natural mast or fruit to draw deer in for the early part of the season when deer are in a bedding to feeding pattern was going to be an issue for me, but it is what it is.
At three of the eleven locations however there were active scrapes and I can only speculate that because they had offered natural food during previous seasons, or they were also where different terrain features converged, they were perennial primary scrape areas.
On October 3rd, at one of the scrape locations next to a white oak, I had what looked to be a heavy, tall tined 8 point pass downwind through some tall weeds to scent check the scrapes at 37 yards and broadside, and while I don’t know exactly why, I passed on the shot.
On Halloween evening I was back on the same property but at a different scrape area next to an apple tree with about a 25 yard buffer of tall weeds and brush that separate it from a standing cornfield. At around 6:50 the big guy came in from directly downwind, walked directly at me to one of the scrapes, pawed it a few times, scent marked the licking branch, sparred with the overhead branches and then proceeded forward and passed within three yards of the base of my tree never offering me anything other than a straight on and directly below me shot, which I passed on.
I would have taken a going away shot through the stomach/liver had it been presented, but at food bearing trees I only clear shooting lanes to the destination area beneath the tree where they feed, which is also where the scrapes were. To my backside I leave the concealment cover.
As it was getting dark I heard a deer running through the timber towards me as if being chased. It was a doe and she passed right under the apple tree and through my shooting lane. Within moments I heard a low pitched grunt and knew whatever buck it was would pass through the same lane.
It was the big 8 and when he hit the scrape that he had previously worked, he stopped perfectly broadside at 12 yards. I was already at full draw and had expected to make a vocal doe bleat to stop him, but didn’t have to and took the shot. The light was low enough that I couldn’t see where the arrow hit him and then watched as he ran full throttle for about 60 yards through some tall weeds and brush towards a wet swampy area.
Once down, I found the working half of my arrow right where I had hit him and it was covered in thick coagulated blood. Not knowing exactly where I hit him though and feeling comfortable about the lack of coyotes in this particular area, I left and came back about 10:00 AM in the morning so as not to screw it up for any other hunters on the property.
It rained that night so there was no blood trail, so then I did the most novice thing I’ve done in years.
Because the leaves were dry the previous evening, there was brush along his exit route, and I saw him running at full throttle for 60 yards and never heard him crash beyond that point, I began a grid search about 20 yards beyond the point of where I last saw him. Huge mistake and you can guess the rest.
After grid searching every inch of the swamp and the nearby standing cornfield to no avail, depression set in. Trying to tell myself that he was likely still alive didn’t work because the thick coagulated blood on the arrow meant that it had passed through a major blood pumping artery or vital organ. Also two of the blades on the head were chipped up so I knew they had hit ribs and there was no way with him standing broadside that I didn’t hit something vital.
I did the entire searching process over again and this time grid searched perpendicular to the first grid search just in case something may have been missed. Nope, nothing and I went home to sulk. As you guys know, opportunities at good bucks in Michigan are rarities and not to capitalize is extremely depressing.
On November 1st I went back to the same tree to see if the scrapes were active, and they were not only active, there was a third scrape opened within four feet of the other two. Could he possibly have survived and would it be possible that he would be working scrapes again so soon?
There was another apple-less tree about 100 yards farther down the edge of the standing cornfield and I have a location set up next to it as well, so I thought I would check it out to see if there was any new activity there as it usually has a few scrapes by it when it bears apples.
It just so happens that the buck had went in that direction and low and behold when I was about 25 yards from the apple tree, something to my left caught my eye and there he was in the tall weeds not 10 yards farther than where I last saw him after the shot.
I’ve written many recovery articles and have chapters in each of my books on recovering whitetails and in every instance it’s spelled out very clearly to watch a deer until out of sight and if you have to perform a grid search due to a lack of blood, begin the search at the exact location you last saw the deer. It sure seems like a guy should pay attention to his own very specific instructions.
While ecstatic that I found him, I was very disappointed that the meat on a deer of this caliber had to be wasted as I hunt just as much for the meat as I do the challenge. After tagging the big 10 point (had stickers on both brows) I caped him out and cut off his antlers.
I had the owner of the property with me and he said deer get hit on the road all the time and that the meat never goes to waste as the small animals will eat it. He also said that I could take a doe during the late bow season if I needed the meat. He was just trying to make me feel good, and it worked a little.
The 10 point will gross around 143 inches and by the way, the G-5 Striker passed perfectly through both lungs.
– John Eberhart
Editors note: John Eberhart is an accomplished bow-hunter that specializes in heavily pressured areas with 29 bucks listed in CBM’s record book from 19 different properties in 10 different counties. John produced a 3 volume instructional DVD series titled “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails” and co-authored the books, “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails”, “Precision Bowhunting”, and “Bowhunting Whitetails the Eberhart Way”. They are available at: www.deer-john.net