If you enjoyed Episodes #62 and #159 of the Wired To Hunt Podcast with John Eberhart, you’re in for a treat. Over recent months, 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
In February 2001 a good friend and occasional hunting partner asked me if I was going to apply for an Iowa bowhunting license, to which I responded no. He had never hunted whitetails out-of-state and really wanted to go so he easily talked me into applying as partners and in July we received our non-resident permits.
I had bowhunted in Iowa twice before by myself and took good bucks each time. Hunting in a state with minimal hunting pressure compared to what I was used to in Michigan is quite different. The mature buck to doe ratio is much higher and there is rarely any sign of other bowhunters.
With lots of mature bucks and nearly zero hunting pressure the 3 ½ year and older bucks are much more receptive to responding to rattling, decoys, calling, and scents and they also move much more during daylight hours than they do back home. They also do not focus much of their attention on what is above them in the trees. They will look up if they notice movement or something out of place, but if you stay motionless they usually put their head back down and continue on with whatever they were doing.
Upon receiving my first permit back in 1997, I called the county seat of three different counties that had several rivers running through them and ordered plat books from each. Barring bad weather, by mid-November the crops are usually down which force the deer into the river bottoms or any other cover that may be available making them much more congregated and vulnerable.
The downside of mid-November is the peak of the rut is still in full swing and most dominant bucks are with hot does. By the 20th however the peak rut is beginning to wind down and the deer are in a post rut activity level which is not as good for bowhunting as the pre-rut, but it’s better than the peak rut because mature bucks at this time have to go out and search for late estrus does which makes them more vulnerable.
At the time plat books cost between $12.00 and $15.00 each and to my pleasant surprise each of them had names, addresses, and phone numbers of the property owners in them. After about 30 phone calls asking for free hunting permission, I received permission from three landowners that owned over 2,000 acres between them. It must be mentioned that I asked for hunting permission for only myself, and that the first two times hunting in Iowa I went alone. I am quite sure that the more people you ask permission for, the less likely you are to get it.
My plan was to always leave Michigan on our opening day of gun season. This allowed me to take full advantage of Michigan’s pre-rut and early rut periods in an attempt to fill my two buck tags with my bow, which has always been my top priority.
In 1999 and in 2001 I received permission on the same three properties and in 2001 was allowed to bring another hunter. One of the property owners and I had hit it off really well and when we went to his house he insisted that I use his 16 foot flat bottom boat to get to a nearly 400 acre island of which he owned over half of. He asked me not to mention his name so I will not, but he and his entire family are without question one of the nicest families I’ve ever met.
He took us over to the island the first day and showed us where he had several gun blinds set up and walked us through the rest of his portion of the island. The island is composed of standing timber and blowdowns with areas of tall marsh grasses mixed in. All the deer that inhabit the island during the day cross the river at night to feed in crop fields. We set up two trees on the island and two on another piece of property the first day.
The next morning we hunted the island and even though we were unsuccessful, it was an awesome hunt. We both had several bucks within easy shooting range and I rattled in a six, a three, and a large ten point and they all came in at different times. The 10 point was the only one that came in to the doe decoy I had set up, and while he was nice it was early and I decided to pass on him.
The third day we scouted the island some more and I found the primary scrape area for the south half of the island. This scrape area was much larger than what I was used to seeing in Michigan. It was about 70 yards long and 30 yards wide with approximately 15 active scrapes and many large rubs scattered within its boundaries. Towards the south end of this primary area was the only tree suitable for hunting and it was located such that nearly every deer that passed through the area would be within shooting distance. Tall weeds, scattered brush and short Osage orange trees made up most of the area.
That evening I hunted my original tree on the island and about an hour and a half before dark I did an aggressive rattling sequence and before I could put my bag away a large perfectly symmetrical eight point came in, but not close enough for a shot. I had pulled the decoy and now wished it was still up.
He cautiously passed by and disappeared into some brush next to a small waterhole 50 yards to the north of me. Disappointed, I made two loud grunts to try and entice him back, but it did no good. My mind was now set on one of us taking that awesome eight point.
Within 30 minutes I heard a commotion coming in my direction from the other side of the waterhole. A doe and her fawns came into view and were being followed by a nice ten point. This was a different ten point than the one I had seen the first morning. The big eight point must have been bedded nearby and heard the commotion because he stepped out of the brush and cut the ten point off from the doe. With only five yards distance between them they just stared at each other with their ears laid back and shoulders humped.
This was awesome, I had the doe nearly under my tree and two big bucks ready to duke it out only 40 yards away, which is out of my comfort shooting range. My imagination was running wild, I was going to watch a good fight and then shoot the bigger bodied and larger racked eight point when he came over to check out the doe. Wrong! As soon as the eight point took one step towards the ten point, he ran about 50 yards off and stopped. Then the big eight scent checked the ground where the doe had passed through and decided she wasn’t ready and then turned around and went back in the direction he came from. Amazing how they can tell if a does ready by taking such a quick sniff.
The ten point then came back over to the doe. I drew on him and then let up, I wanted the eight point. I pulled the steps as I descended the tree after dark as there was a better tree 40 yards away that offered a more secure route for a big buck to transition through and that secure route is the route the eight point had traveled down.
The next morning I was back in the primary scrape area and had the same ten point from the previous evening come in and work a licking branch over a scrape 40 yards to the north of me. He then proceeded to pass within ten yards, and again I passed. Other than a group of 5 does and fawns moving through the area on three different occasions that morning, the rest of the morning was uneventful. The does in that group definitely had a reason to keep passing through this primary scrape area, but he never showed up.
That afternoon we set up the tree where I’d seen the eight point the evening before. In his spot, my friend rattled in two bucks and had deer around him all evening, but no shooters. Other than a six point that was rattled in just prior to dark my evening was empty as well.
For the forth day in a row the alarm went off at 3:00 AM. Even though it was starting to get difficult to get out of bed we were excited when we checked the weather, it was 25 degrees and clear. This was the first sub 40 degree morning we had and the 25 horse Yamaha outboard engine knew it. After spending 20 minutes trying to start the outboard we pulled the plugs and cleaned them, then it started. It was a good thing that we like to be in our trees an hour and a half before first light or we would have been going in after daylight.
We went to the same trees we had been in the prior evening and I had even left my sling, bow, and quiver in the tree all night, which saved me a little set up time. A four point came in to my only rattling sequence right at daybreak. After that rattling sequence I thought to myself that I had made a drastic mistake. The eight point had come in to a rattling sequence on a previous hunt, and when he didn’t see any other deer he cautiously moved out of the area. Now I am sitting in his home turf taking a chance of spooking him with a rattling sequence. Not smart, especially without a decoy for a visual.
Fortunately the eight point must not have been within hearing distance. At 7:45 a large set of antlers came into view at the north end of his primary area. As the buck moved towards me through the tall weeds and small trees I recognized him as the eight point. He stopped to work the same scrape the ten point was standing over the morning before.
The big guy then started sparring with the overhanging branches rubbing his forehead and preorbital glands all over the licking branches. After several minutes he started to move directly towards me on the exact same course the ten point had. When he was at a distance of 15 yards and he stopped under an Osage orange tree and looked right up at me in my 25 foot perch. I thought it was all over, but this was Iowa not Michigan. Within a few moments he lowered his head and kept coming down the main runway to the east of my tree.
My ScentLok suit worked again as the big eight was passing directly downwind of me at a distance of ten yards. Once he was past and slightly quartering away, I drew my Golden Eagle bow and made a soft vocal doe “matt” to stop him. I launched the Carbon Express 300 arrow and it went in slightly behind his shoulder.
I watched as he ran 45 yards back towards the scrape he had been working and stopped. All I could see were his long tines through the brush. Within seconds his body began teetering back and forth and then he tipped over.
It was an awesome feeling to pursue and take such a beautiful animal. He was the biggest 8 point I had ever taken and he dressed out at 222 pounds after hanging 2 days. Out of state self-hunts like this require some due diligence and homework, but they sure are an inexpensive way of taking big bucks of a caliber that typically don’t exist in many areas of the country.
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.