If you enjoyed Episodes #62 and #159 of the Wired To Hunt Podcast with John Eberhart, you’re in for a treat. Over recent weeks, we’ve been sharing a number of John’s successful kill stories here on Wired To Hunt and today we’re back with another. This week John is sharing an in-depth review of his 2011 Michigan hunting season, a season defined by adversity and a well earned punched tag in the end. John’s detailed description of his hunts and plans offer a rare chance to get into the mind of one of the most seasoned and successful DIY bowhunters in the country. Take this opportunity to really process what he does and why he does it. Enjoy. – MK
By John Eberhart
For the average hunter that doesn’t own or lease a lot of ground, Michigan tops the statistical list of toughest states to take a mature buck. Even with that, I love hunting in Michigan because it is the only state I’ve ever hunted that presented a serious challenge, and of course, there are many other eastern, northeastern and southern states that share similar hunting pressure issues.
I’ve often felt that the bucks I’ve taken in states like Kansas and Iowa were freebies. Personal antler criterias have been the only thing keeping me from a 100% bowhunting success rate as compared to my actual 89% success rate.
Early-Mid 2011 Season
During the early season in 2011 at home I saw only one eight point buck that I would have taken had he offered the opportunity, or should I say taken advantage of the opportunities offered.
On a late October evening hunt near a large primary scrape area the eight point came in and worked the farthest scrape which put him a bit outside my comfortable shooting distance.
Two evenings later I went in early with a freelance pack and set up 18 yards from the scrape he had worked in a beech tree which still held most of its leaves for concealment cover. There were three natural openings from the beech so I didn’t have to deal with shooting lanes.
Just before dark I saw him cruising through the timber on the downwind side of the scrapes and scent checked them. He wasn’t going to come in on his own so I made a couple vocal doe “matts” and he turned and headed towards the scrapes. At seven yards he stopped broadside, I found a small opening and drew my bow and put my pin on his chest – but it was too dark to tell if there were any small branches or saplings in the way. So I let up in hopes he would move forward into one of the clear openings.
He did move into the opening but immediately turned and walked straight away and I will not take that shot. To make things mentally worse, the next morning I hunted the same tree and the seven yard shot I passed on was wide open.
Our third encounter should have been the clincher had I not been in a rush. This apple tree location had an active scrape lined runway passing next to it which ran along the edge of the timber to the larger scrape area I had been hunting.
Perched an hour and a half prior to first light with the intent of sitting until at least 10:00 AM, by 9:00 AM I thought of all the work I had sitting on my desk at home and decided to leave early. While on the ground untying the rope from my bow, I heard something in the leaves to my left and looked up to see the eight point rapidly moving towards me down the scrape lined runway. I stepped behind the tree, finished untying the rope, knocked an arrow and waited for my opportunity to step out and shoot.
He passed by within three yards without detecting me, but when he stopped in my shooting lane at a whopping eight yards, he caught my body movement leaning from behind the tree to take the shot. As most seasoned hunters from pressured areas know, we don’t have the luxury of hunting in fantasy land as seen so often on TV and videos and instead of standing there and wondering what I was, he immediately turned inside out and ran full throttle through the woods.
I knew that as often as this buck was moving during daylight hours that his days would be numbered during gun season and he was taken on opening morning on a neighboring property.
Michigan’s gun season found me in Kansas bowhunting and my son Jon and I both took good bucks and the cold reality was that I was facing a Michigan bow season without taking a buck.
The Late Season Strategy
Knowing the likelihood of taking a good buck in Michigan after gun season was close to zero, I still reloaded my mini-van with gear more appropriate for snow and cold weather as I was certainly going to try.
On the evening of December 4th I went to a place near home that I hadn’t hunted since 2009. This location consists of a rectangular patch of timber surrounded by picked crop fields on three sides with an interstate highway on the other. I rarely hunt this location because it’s mostly mature timber devoid of understory, but there is some heavy undergrowth at one end with a few apple trees interspersed throughout.
This woodlot gets gun hunted the first couple days, because that’s all it takes to run the deer completely out and into a nearby swamp which I can’t hunt. Back in 2005 I prepped two trees for my harness, one amongst the apple trees and the other, a mature white oak, along a small patch of brush that protruded maybe 25 yards out into what was now a picked corn field.
If there were any deer in this timber they would likely be bedded in the heavy understudy amongst the apple trees, so hunting there on an evening hunt was out of the question. Any apples or acorns would be long gone by this late in the season, but even though the finger of brush protruding into the field was small, it acted as a natural funnel into the crop field. I could also enter the oak by crossing the field without spooking anything, so I headed to the oak.
The Final Hunt
There were a few rubs on the perimeter brush and two inactive scrapes under the low hanging branches of the oak. After two summers of growth, there were some new sprouts I had to cut while ascending the tree but I was surprised to find my shooting lanes still open enough for a shot.
Not a movement until just before dark when a lone doe passed under the oak and continued into the picked cornfield. Within a few minutes I caught some movement in the timber. He wasn’t coming my direction so I made a few loud vocal doe “mats” to get him to stop and pay attention. Once stopped, one more “matt” was all it took for him to change course and while not directly at me, head towards the cornfield.
As he moved I kept making vocal “matts” but he held his course without looking in my direction and was in the field before stopping to look around. Through the leafless brush I could just make out the doe on the opposite side of the protrusion of brush, so he couldn’t see her.
Now that I had his complete attention, another vocal “matt” caused him to turn and walk into the brush where I was waiting for him. At a distance of 12 yards and broadside I came to full draw and made one last “matt” to stop him. He was not in a shooting lane but was in what looked to be a small opening. The brief thought of what happened early in the season came to mind as I released my Maxima Hunter 300 arrow from my Mathews Conquest bow. It was too dark to see the hit.
Once on the ground I looked for my arrow and blood and found neither. While standing at the shot site, I shined up into the tree and noticed a couple very small branches between where the buck was standing and where I was perched that possibly could have deflected the arrow a bit.
I walked in the direction the buck ran for about 20 yards and still found no blood or arrow. The weather was cold and with no blood or arrow to confirm penetration, and having never seen any signs of coyotes in the area, I decided to play it safe and come back in the morning.
The next morning I found the beautiful little 10 point 60 yards out into the picked cornfield so he had only went 80 yards before expiring. The hit was perfect and the arrow passed through both lungs but stopped against the opposite shoulder.
The only down-side was that a pack of coyotes did go through that section overnight and pretty much did my venison in. I tagged him, managed to scavenge a portion of each loin, then ringed his neck with my knife and twisted off his head. When I got home and cut off his antlers the only thing I could think of concerning a picture was taking one holding his antlers on top of my Delta full body target.
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, where you’ll also find information about his new whitetail workshops.