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 and today we’re back with another. 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
Depending on the weather, sitting relatively motionless in a tree from 1.5 hours before daybreak until after dark can be a gut wrenching test of self-discipline and want. That’s likely the reason the least hunted phase of the day is midday between 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM. My personal rut phase bowhunting kill statistics show that I’ve spent less than 15% of my rut phase hunting time on stand during midday, yet 35% of the mature bucks I’ve taken during the rut phases have been during that 5 hour midday period.
In areas receiving heavy consequential hunting pressure, where no matter the weapon, most deer hunters are targeting any legal antlered buck and those with doe permits target baldies, it’s rare for a buck to reach 3 ½ years of age. This kill story is about one of those rare creatures.
Detailing The Property
During the 9 years I had permission on this 80 acre parcel, there were other hunters that I never met that had permission as well. On the south end of the property there’s some low swamp ground and north of that is a woodlot with dense understory, and as it went north it narrowed into a tight pinch point of high ground with a lake on the east side. North of the funnel it dropped down into some mature timber with extremely dense understory comprised mostly of briars and autumn olive bushes.
The timber then made a gradual uphill incline and north of the timberline was a large crop field. About halfway down the timberline edge was a 60 yard wide draw of low timber ground that protruded well into the crop field.
No matter what crops were planted, there were always scrapes and rubs along their perimeters and as usual that’s where the other hunters hung their stands. I guess they just watched a lot of the misleading TV shows and videos and thought they could replicate the personalities and have similar results. They obviously weren’t aware how actual consequential hunting pressure affects a mature bucks daytime movement habits and I was OK with that.
I’ve always been attracted to draws that protrude into crop fields as they are there because they’re too low or too wet for the farmer to plant. In either instance, vegetation grows faster and taller in low ground because it holds more moisture and because the vegetation is denser it’s a more secure area for mature bucks to transition through.
I remember being excited when I first saw and scouted the draw. It was dry, the ground cover was dense with autumn olive and briars, there were scrapes and rubs along both sides and a primary scrape area at its point.
For the first two seasons I had four locations prepared for my sling. One at the end of the draw within shooting distance of the scrape area, one in the middle of the draw where it met the timber, one down in the timber south of the crop field, and the other was in the pinch point between the two stands of timber near the lake. I forgot to mention, the pinch point by the lake also had three apple trees with scrapes and rubs around them and I set up in a tree that allowed a shot to each.
The 1995 Encounter
1995 was my 3rd season on the property and one thing I noticed was some of the rubs in the area were unique in that they were higher than normal and the rubbed area was severely frayed with double gouges on each side of center. The buck was definitely older and taller, and my best guess was that he had heavy pearling, stickers near his antler bases, or had forked brow tines.
That year the field was in standing corn and there was a primary scrape area along its perimeter on the north edge of the timber. While I never hunt short or picked corn crop field edges in Michigan, I definitely will hunt a field edge while the field is in standing corn. However I stayed away from the scrapes because I was certain the other hunters pre-season scouting ventures would cause any mature buck to avoid it during daylight. Their stands were also so low and exposed that there was no way they were not getting picked by a mature deer.
Due to a wet fall the corn stood well into November due to the high moisture in it. In late October during a hard rain, which is perfect for in-season scouting, and since I hadn’t been back to the draw since February, I went in to re-check it for signposts, new summer growth and see if the other hunters had set anything up.
Nobody had been down the draw since me in the spring and with it now being surrounded by a sea of tall security cover in the form of standing corn, the likelihood of a daytime visit to the point was very possible. After trimming a little new summer growth vegetation, I looked around and thought, all I had to do now was be here when it happened.
It was about noon when I headed back and all I could think about was getting out of my soaking wet cold clothing. Hurriedly walking the edge of the draw and corn in the still torrential downpour, when I hit the timberline and turned right around the corner of the cornfield I came to an abrupt halt. Not forty yards down the corns edge was a huge buck working a licking branch and the scrape below it in the pouring rain.
Within a millisecond his peripheral vision picked up my body silhouette and we stared at each other for what seemed like minutes but probably was not more than a few seconds. I was certain he would exit into the standing corn a couple yards in front of him, but instead he wheeled and bounded through the narrow buffer of weeds into the timber.
He was a big animal and with the downward force of each landing during his exit, water jarred in every direction from his soaked coat. Its unforgettable moments like those that add to the mystique of bowhunting. To my best judgment he had ten typical points, unmistakable tall forked brow tines, and good mass.
On this property, I pursued only this buck the remainder of the 95 and all of the 96 season and despite not seeing him again, he continued to leave his unmistakable rubs and work scrapes in the same places each year.
The 1997 Season
On November 5th 1997 with the weather forecast calling for an all-day drizzle of light rain I planned an all-day sit along a rub line that was obviously traveled by Mr. Forked Brow Tine. After sitting motionless in the dark for an hour and a half, as daylight broke I could make out two scrapes along the same runway as the rubs.
After sitting all day without seeing a single deer, as it was getting dark I caught a movement. Sneaking through some dense brush about thirty yards away was a big doe and she was panting and moving rapidly as if trying to escape a pursuer. Not far behind her was the phantom buck and this would be our first encounter in a hunting situation and only the second encounter in four seasons of seeing his signposts.
Moving his antlers from side to side in a manner to allow them to pass through the dense brush, he smoothly slithered through the brush in rapid pursuit of the hot doe. The brush was so dense and it was just too dark to find a hole in which to shoot through so he passed without incident.
Although near darkness, I could still make out his forked brows and many tines protruding from each main beam. However the tines appeared shorter, the spread narrower, and his antler mass seemed much greater than when sighted in 95. While his antlers were more impressive in a different way they led me to believe he was past his prime and beginning to decline.
November 11th was my next visit to the area. It was a cold crisp overcast morning and my plan was to hunt until at least noon in the apple tree primary scrape area. The closest apple tree still had apples and shortly after daybreak two does and three fawns came in to munch a few before heading to the marsh to the south to bed. Not much later twin six points did the same.
There was a front moving in and between 10:00 and 10:30 AM it dumped nearly 2 inches of damp snow on what was bare ground. What happened next nearly caused me to cut my hunt short.
A man in jeans, plaid jacket, leather boots and toting a bow appeared and was walking right at me from the timber to the north. I had no idea if he had permission and was about to find out. At about 5 yards distance I quietly got his attention and asked him who he was and who granted him permission. He didn’t know the name of the property owner and said he was turned around which I knew wasn’t true, so I told him to leave.
Taking the path of least resistance, he exited right down my main shooting lane leaving his human scent ribbon in each footprint via his breathable leather boots. If an opportunity arose in that lane a shot would have to be taken before his footprints were crossed. Moist snow holds scent extremely well as any rabbit hunter who hunts behind dogs can testify. Though extremely disappointed I decided to stick it out until at least noon.
Just before noon I noticed a large deer moving towards me through the snow covered brush. He was moving from the marsh towards the timber which was exactly opposite of what the previous deer had done. I had begun using ScentLok garments that season and while concerned about it functioning properly, this was going to test it because he was coming in from directly downwind.
While weaving through the brush the loose snow fell from every branch the deer’s body rubbed against. Passing through a small opening I instantly recognized his massive headgear and as he neared and I readied myself, his many points, large forked brows and mass were unmistakable. His current course would pass him through the shooting lane the hunter walked less than an hour earlier. I drew my 62 pound Golden Eagle Evolution just prior to him entering the lane and the instant his chest was exposed I vocally blatted to stop his determined pace. He abruptly halted just a few steps before cutting the plaid hunters boot prints and he was a mere ten yards away and broadside.
I opened my fingers to release the feathered Carbon Express arrow tipped with a Rocket Sidewinder head and watched as it disappeared perfectly into the crease of his shoulder. In an instant flash of survival instinct he bolted, ran full tilt about fifty yards and fell. He struggled to get back up, fell again and expired.
I think if there were one of those pole climbing contests going on, I could have beat any of them with my tree departure time. Lifting his head from the tall weeds I began counting points, what a buck! He had 12 typical points with large forked brows making him a 14 point. His beams were thick and his spread was narrow. It was obvious upon opening his mouth that he was an old buck because his teeth were severely worn.
I had known of and hunted this buck for several seasons, yet it was only the third time I’d seen him, twice while hunting and once while scouting. What’s extremely interesting is that our first encounter was at straight up noon during a driving rain storm, our second was while pursuing a doe at dusk while raining, and the third was at noon just after a heavy snow squall.
This buck survived many years in a highly pressured area by primarily only moving during the security of darkness. When he did move during daylight he had learned when, where and under what weather conditions to do so to avoid hunters. In all those years he had remained as true to his survival instinct lessons as his testosterone levels would allow, as sex was to blame for his demise.
The lessons I took from this remarkable buck reconfirmed to never be comfortable with status quo morning and evening hunting practices, and secondly, to never allow weather conditions to influence when I hunt. These lessons have been engrained in my hunting strategy when hunting heavily pressured areas and have proven effective on many other occasions.
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.