In Part One of this two-part series you met Andy May, DIY whitetail extraordinaire – if you haven’t read that yet click here to do that first. Now, to illustrate the tactics and concepts he discussed in Part One, here is the story of his 2017 Michigan whitetail buck. It’s a great buck and a great story. – Joe Elsinger
Q: This profile would not be complete without discussing the latest mature buck you killed in a heavily pressured area in Michigan. You mentioned to me that you killed this deer in October at last light, 100 yards from another hunter, as he got up from his bed. Please take us through your multi-year quest for that deer.
A: 2016 in Michigan was a pretty devastating year for bucks being killed. In 2016 I had located the most deer 3.5 years or older that I had ever seen in Michigan across the multiple areas that I hunt. It was shaping up to be the best year ever. I ended up killing a really good buck here in Michigan, but subsequently every single buck besides two that I knew of through scouting and sightings had been killed or poached. Going into 2017 those were the only two bucks that I was after. One I felt like I had a very good chance to kill and the other one I estimated my chances at slim to none due to the area and hunting pressure surrounding him (ironically this was the buck I ended up killing).
I first located this buck that I eventually killed two years ago. I estimated him at four-years-old then as he had a huge body and a fairly good rack for Michigan buck (approximately 135 inches). He lived in the most pressured area of all the areas I hunt in Michigan. It’s not a large property and other hunters have permission. The other hunters are there almost every day all season but just sit the same spots repeatedly.
Andy’s buck in 2015
In 2015 I scouted hard in the off-season to find a spot that I thought I could kill this buck. I found a primary scrape area that had really good access and was far enough away from other hunters that I thought it was worth some time. I waited until late October to first hunt the property and a trail cam picture revealed that the buck I was after had shown only one time in daylight prior to then and it was on October 25, 2015 in the evening. I noted the day, time, wind direction, temperature, moon phase, etc. I returned about five days later only to find evidence of another hunter right where I wanted to set up.
I sat a few other locations over the next two weeks unsuccessfully and never did lay eyes on the buck I was after.
Post-season scouting revealed the buck had survived, which I found almost unbelievable given the area. The surrounding pressure in this area was absolutely ridiculous. Just about every driveway has one or more vehicles in it all over in the surrounding area during hunting season. In the off-season I scouted for a new location to hunt the buck away from the other hunters. I tried hard to locate the bed but my findings concluded that he was bedding off the property and really only was using the area a couple times during the season it seemed. The October 25 photo was the only indication of daylight activity.
I found an area closer to the direction he seemed to be traveling from that could only be described as magical. It was the area that every hunter dreams of finding. It was a scrape cluster in thick cover next to a couple white oaks that just felt perfect. I was super confident that this was the spot that I was going to kill the buck but access wasn’t great, in fact it was downright risky but it looked like a north wind would work.
Again in 2016 I waited until that late October time frame to hunt the buck as this was when he showed the most activity the year prior. Finally, the weather channel indicated I had the north wind I needed. Ironically upon checking my trail cameras on my way in the buck had once again showed himself in daylight almost to the day as the year prior – October 24th 2016.
Andy’s buck in 2016
When I got up in the tree I started testing the wind with my milkweed and noticed that the opening in the woods was creating a severe swirling effect. The wind was blowing from out of the north hitting an opening and then circling back from the south and blowing back the way it came from. Essentially the swirling effect was making the wind dead wrong for the spot I had picked out. I hoped for the best and sat it out.
Close to ending time I heard footsteps heading my direction from where the buck had come from in the trail cam pictures. I heard his footsteps stop, a long pause of silence, and then a loud snort and a very large bodied deer bounding away. I had blown it! The buck was using that area to enter the property and the swirling winds were making it impossible for me to hunt him at that location. Again I hunted it a few more times over the next week or two with the same north wind and I had the same swirling results. It just couldn’t be hunted and I had to abandon a spot with unbelievable buck sign when everything about it told me this was the place to be. On my last time hunting this new spot I arrived at my tree again to find evidence of another hunter right there. This was really starting to get frustrating. I called it quits for the year.
Again, post-season scouting revealed somehow the buck had survived despite the heavy pressure in the area. Again I scouted to find an area where I might be able to catch this buck in daylight while still trying to avoid other hunters. I was running out of room and options and it seemed hopeless.
I scouted around and found a great set-up on a travel route exiting an area where deer sometimes retreated to from the hunting pressure. I poured over aerial maps and studied trail camera photos. The buck was always entering the property from one direction and I finally pinpointed what I believed to be his bedding area.
There was a rub line that was very subtle going through this area and one scrape. I guessed that if the buck was bedding where I thought he was, this was the closest I could get to his bed, about 120 yards. There was someone else’s set-up only 30 yards away and another one 100 yards away. I prepped the tree and this time I left no sign that would indicate I was hunting this area. I feared that the other hunters would again move in on me.
Fast forward to hunting season 2017. I patiently waited most of October until that historical time frame he had shown he was most active in this area (October 24, 2016 and October 25, 2015). A gift from the hunting gods presented me with a significant cold front hitting precisely on the day that this buck had moved in daylight the two years prior. I had the perfect wind, the perfect weather, and the perfect timing to kill this buck.
When I arrived at the property the afternoon of October 25 there were other hunters’ vehicles already there. I knew where they were sitting so it did not matter. I snuck to my stand and when I climbed up over the next hour I watched a parade of hunters’ filter into the surrounding areas for the evening hunt. This buck was literally surrounded by hunters. I texted my best friend that if this buck did move in daylight he would have to come my way because he had several hunters up wind of him if he was bedded where I thought he was. The evening unfolded without much action until just before last light. I was glassing the point where I thought the buck might be laying and all of the sudden I see two legs in the timber. I watched closely as the buck emerged. He looked like Bullwinkle and it was game on. The buck stood there for what seemed like eternity drinking in all the surrounding scents. The wind shifted slightly in various directions and he undoubtedly got a full scale report of what was in the surrounding area…well almost a full scale report. My wind never touched him! He slowly made his way in my direction. He was now within bow range and going right along the travel route with the faint rub line. I let my arrow fly and it caught both lungs. I heard him run back toward his bed and hit the ground. Finally, his story had ended.
An estimated six-year-old buck was down in an area that I don’t ever see two year-olds and I could hardly believe it. The hunt topped off with two of my very best buddies coming for the recovery. I just felt so honored to have the opportunity to hunt a buck like that in an area where the odds were stacked against him so heavily.
Click here to read Part One of Andy May’s profile. Or click here to read the rest of our DIY Deer Hunter Profiles.