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
This was likely the strangest kill I’d ever had because it all happened in four days.
It was October 12th, 2001 and I was driving southwest down an interstate highway for a 9:00 AM morning appointment at Lunker’s, which was a large independent sporting goods retailer in southern Michigan. As always during season, my attention was partially focused on driving and primarily on looking out the window for deer. At 7:48 (I looked at my watch) I noticed a large deer with its head down moving south along the fence that bordered the northbound lane highway from the private ground to the east. The fencerow had a lot of tall weeds and brush along it and I just happened to be looking as he passed through a gap in the brush.
Instinctively I laid on the horn to get it to raise its head and to my pleasant surprise it was a very nice buck, sometimes timing is everything. I wished I had my fish finder with a GPS so I could just hit the mark waypoint button, but my mini-van isn’t equipped for that so I wrote down the number of the next mile marker and made a mental note to see about acquiring permission to bowhunt on my way back through.
A Public Land Surprise
It was near noon when I returned and took the exit about half a mile north of where I saw the buck. I stopped at the stop sign at the end of the exit ramp and casually turned to the east with every intention of driving around the section looking for a house that would appear to belong to that property, knock on their door for permission, and be refused. After all that is the typical mantra in Michigan so I was accustomed to it, but you never know until you ask.
Within 200 yards from turning off the ramp I had to take a second look before I could believe my eyes. There were state land signs all along the south side of the road which is the property I saw the buck on. To say the least, I was shocked, because there is very little public land in that area. I’d hunted on 13 different parcels of public land on the other side of the state and up north, but never on the west side of the state.
During season I always carry a freelance fanny pack full of steps so I can prepare a new location for my harness, so now all I had to do was look and bear my mini-van to the right to locate one of the guard railed off, state public land parking areas. Almost exactly straight across the section from where I saw the buck along the highway was a parking lot and I couldn’t help but notice how muddy and in disarray the parking area was from so much hunting traffic. There were two trucks in the lot, but being a believer that you never know what to expect until you check it out I put on my loaded freelance fanny pack, grabbed a long bladed camp hand saw and an extension saw and took off through the woods.
Thank god there are no ATVs allowed beyond the parking lot as only halfway through the mile deep section, the sign of human activity dwindled dramatically. I saw several stands within that first half mile of the parking lot, but saw none across the section as I approached the highway.
Sometimes I wonder in circumstances like this why so many hunters don’t venture very deep into a mere one mile section of basic timber. Also, why do so many hunters avoid hunting near a main road or highway when the first hundred yards along them can be such hot spots because they are overlooked by others? Mature bucks are phenomenal at locating voids in hunter activity and making them permanent daytime security haunts.
Hunters will hunt along a lane or two-track through the woods, but will shy away from major automobile traffic zones assuming the traffic spooks the deer. This assumption is false and allows bucks to grow to maturity. Deer grow accustom to the sounds of constant traffic and if there is adequate cover will take up daytime residency very close to major highways. I’ve taken several book bucks within short distances of roads and highways.
With the mile long march back to where I spotted the buck behind me, I began walking along the brush lined fence the buck was traveling down in the morning. After covering less than 100 yards the big buck from the morning stood up in a small patch of tall weeds, looked at me for a mili-moment and then casually bounded off into the nearby timber. He was a nice 8 point and the small patch of weeds he was bedded in was surrounded by some red brush and was right next to the fence not forty yards from the busy expressway.
A quick inspection revealed a lot of white belly hair in the bed and the weeds were matted down, so this was his main bedding location for this time of season. It was obvious that even though I was on public land in a very heavily pressured public land area, no hunters had walked along this fencerow. There were no trees big enough to hunt from and a ground blind would have been visible from the highway, so I headed to the nearby timber in hopes of locating his route with some signposts along it. I didn’t walk 150 yards before finding “the spot”. From the tree I chose to prepare there were seventeen rubs and ten scrapes within shooting distance. This was likely the most active primary scrape area I’d ever seen so early in the season and I almost felt like I was cheating as this was unfolding way too easily for public land.
The tree I chose was only eight inches in diameter at the twenty eight foot height I would hunt at, but it was the only tree within shooting distance of all the scrapes and with my sling, and tree works. On short-term hunts, which this would definitely be, I always set up in the middle of the destination area, not on a singular route leading to it.
This location had every key sign I look for. It had a rub line leading to it from the highway, it was a primary scrape area, it was a staging area due to its location next to an area of oaks to the north that were loaded with and dropping acorns, there was a dense bedding area to the south, believe it or not the security of the freeway to the west and one mile of relatively open and vulnerable mature hardwoods to the east which made this more secure area perfect for daytime activity.
The First Hunt
My first opportunity to hunt this location was four days later on the evening of October 16th. I didn’t know how the weather might affect movements as there were wind gusts up to 25mph and it was raining. I’d had great success taking mature bucks in the rain, but not so much during high winds. However my old school thought that you can’t kill something if you’re not there and that you should never allow the weather to dictate whether or not you hunt, would be mantra for the evening.
Not surprising, with the weather conditions, the parking lot was empty when I got there. During the last 100 yards to the tree I drug a real tarsal gland that I had saved from the previous year, behind me. I then strategically placed it fifteen yards from my tree over one of the scrapes in which I wouldn’t have to move much to take a shot.
I was settled into my sling at 3:30 pm and the first few hours were uneventful. At 6:30 I decided to do a loud rattle sequence, even though it couldn’t be heard from very far due to the heavy winds. Within five minutes a nice 2 ½ year old eight point came into view and with the noise the wind was making when blowing through the weeds and branches, he cautiously moved to within fifteen yards looking for the fighting bucks. When he got directly downwind of the tarsal gland he froze briefly and then spooked and ran back where he’d came from. I guess he didn’t like the smell of the full rut tarsal gland and I was certainly OK with that because he wasn’t the dominant buck I was after.
In fact it’s normal protocol for does and non-dominant bucks in an area to spook from a real tarsal cut from a peak rut dominant buck, however when the dominant buck in the area smells it, now that’s a totally different reaction which has always been positive.
Darkness was starting to settle in as seven does and fawns walked into the scrape area and a downwind button buck’s curiosity got the best of him and he went directly to the tarsal gland to inspect the odor. He was pretty funny to watch as he would take a sniff and then look at mom as though he just found something that she should come over and check out. He did this several times, but mom never gave him the slightest interest. I thought it was unusual that none of the three does paid any attention to the tarsal gland. As mentioned, usually does will spook from buck tarsal glands unless there in estrus and with their fawns with them, they were obviously not in estrus.
The Shot Opportunity
Within a few minutes I heard a buck grunting and he was coming from the direction of the highway. It was the big 8 point and he had the doe’s attention. When he came within sight they scattered to my downwind side and he went after the lead doe. For the umpteenth time in the past 5 years I was glad to be wearing a properly cared for ScentLok suit because the buck was suddenly twenty yards directly downwind of me.
I immediately drew my Golden Eagle Evolution bow and released the Carbon Express arrow. Bet you’re expecting me to say I hit him perfectly? Not, I shot right over his back. Yep, a total miss, never touched him! Though in a mild state of shock that I missed a twenty yard broadside shot I quickly nocked another arrow.
The buck took three bounds and stopped about 30 yards away and because of the wind and rain I don’t think he knew what happened. The does ran totally out of sight, but he just stood there trying to figure out what made the noise. Now that he was paying attention to his surroundings he winded the tarsal gland and immediately started walking curiously towards it.
When he got to the 15 yard tarsal he sniffed it and I took my second shot (you already know the bow and arrow brands). The second time was a charm and my arrow passed through right behind his shoulder and he didn’t go far before making the unmistakable sound of crashing to the ground while running at full throttle. The tarsal did its job by luring the 18 inch inside spread 8 point back to me after a complete miss.
This public land buck’s core bedding area and staging area were both within a short distance of a major highway and I can only assume that none of the hunters in the area scouted the area or they definitely would have found it. The circumstances that lead to this buck were unusual, but certainly reinforced several beliefs. Mature bucks have no qualms about residing in very close proximity to any area of security cover devoid of human intrusions and they are very comfortable moving during daylight hours during inclement weather conditions.
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.