By Mark Kenyon

Blessed. Thankful. Overjoyed. It’s hard to find all the right words to describe my feelings coming off the conclusion of my November rut vacation.

One week ago, my rut marathon finally came to a close. 19 days of uninterupted, nearly non-stop, in the treestand action chasing whitetails. And differently than has been the last few years, I’m ending this rut with a head held high and a big smile on my face.

Over the last couple seasons I’ve embarked on a November rut “marathon” of sorts with sky high expectations and boundless determination, only to return home stressed, depressed and utterly frustrated. I found myself stressing more and more about my lack of “success”, and it was squeezing the fun right out of hunting. But this year I promised myself it would be different. I couldn’t guarantee that my hunting “success” would change, but I could keep myself focused on enjoying my time in the woods, being appreciative of the little things and not letting stress get to me. Hunting is supposed to be fun, and this year I would get back to that. So with that in mind, I went into the 2012 season with a new mindset and I carried that with me into my November rut vacation.

That vacation began on November 1st and I immediately headed in to hunt my best stand location, in an area of one of my properties that I had saved until this point of the year. The results were two incredible hunts on that night and the following morning. The evening of November 1st was one of the most incredible hunts I’ve ever experienced, as I encountered 11 bucks and probably 30-40 doe in just a 3 hour sit. The highlight of the evening was a true brawl between two mature Michigan bucks about 100 yards from my treestand, it truly was a sight to behold.

The next morning the action continued with a close call with the Big 8 from the night before and lots of chasing from various other bucks. It was an amazing start to my vacation, and it concluded a series of five hunts in Michigan (starting the weekend before) where I encountered 4 different mature bucks. By far my best series of hunts in Michigan in my life.

From there though the good times kept rolling, as I hopped in the truck and headed to Iowa. There in the Land of Giants I enjoyed some of the most unbelievable hunting of my life.

As many of you know, I had the opportunity to kill the best buck of my life  and that in itself made the trip an incredible success. But even after that, I was able to see and experience some unbelievable hunts while sticking around to film my pal Ross. I saw more bucks over 140″ in a two day span from a tree than I think I’ve seen in my entire life hunting. Of all the encounters, watching a mature 140 class 9 pointer bristle up and posture with a possible “Booner” for an all out brawl was one I’ll never forget. The excitement I felt as Ross released his arrow in that moment still gives me goose bumps. Those six days I spent in Iowa will go down as probably the most fun I’ve ever experienced hunting. Between the buck I shot, the many other incredible encounters I had, and the good times with friends,  it was truly a dream come true.

That said, upon returning home from Iowa I still had a good week and a half of hunting ahead of me and I planned on trying my darnedest to close the deal on a good Michigan buck before my vacaction was through. The first couple days back were warm and windy, so I stayed out of my best spots and saw mostly just young bucks and does. But on Monday the 12th, a major cold front moved through and I knew it was time to move into my “money” stand.

Over the course of the next 3 days I spent every hour of daylight in the tree, hunting back in my best areas hoping to catch a rutting buck. I ended up seeing a ton of deer and a lot of great rutting activity, most importantly though I encountered three mature bucks – one on each day. Unfortunately, each encounter ended with the buck walking out of my life. My first close call on Monday was blown when I made the mother of all calling mistakes, by mistakenly using the wrong part of my grunt call to make a “snort wheeze”. If you didn’t already feel the full story on that one, check out The Rut Diaries – Days 8-12 to feel my full pain.

The following day I called in a great 9 pointer from the swamp and had him cross a bean field walking on a string all the way to me. But as most big bucks do, he circled down wind just out of range and got my scent. Big buck gone.

Now after seeing the two big bucks from the past two days come from the swamp, as well as a mature 8 pointer a week before, and many many other does and young bucks – I decided I needed to make a move. So I moved a portable into the edge of the swamp to hunt my last day in Michigan before the gun season began. Of course, 4 hours into my sit I watched a nice 8 pointer walk 20 yards past the stand I hunted the last two days, while I sat in my new location cursing my bad luck. My Michigan rut bowhunting ended on a frustrating note.

But from there I was headed up North to spend the last 4 days of my vacation in Northern Michigan at our family deer camp. Over those four days we didn’t see a whole lot of deer, in fact I think I only saw 5 total. But the great times spent with family and friends were well worth my time. There’s nothing like deer camp and it was the perfect way to close out my hunting vacation and a great way to ease my way back into the real world.

So here I am now, one week removed from the most epic hunting adventure of my life and I’m not sure that it’s all soaked in yet. Over that 19 day stretch I truly was immersed in hunting non-stop. I woke up, hunted, slept and then did it all over again. Coming off that kind of routine isn’t an easy adjustment. The first morning that I didn’t have to wake up at 4:00 AM was a little unnerving. In fact, I think I jolted awake before daylight, looked at my clock and nearly panicked – before finally realizing I didn’t need to be up and in the woods already. The “post-rut jitters” continued, as I walked through my kitchen periodically, peering through the windows and obsessively searched the back fields for cruising bucks or feeding does. But slowly my “hunt mode” faded away and I began to re-adjust to life. And over that time this past week, I’ve been able to reflect a bit more on the events that took place this November.

After plenty of thought, I come back to the same realization time and time again. I truly was blessed beyond measure.

I have hunted for over 20 years in Michigan, and never once have I had a two week period in my home state so filled with close calls, big bucks, and endless deer sightings.

Over the past three or four years in which I’ve exclusively targeted mature bucks, I’ve traveled to some of the best “big buck” states in the country and time and again come back disappointed in my expereinces and with no buck tag filled. But not this year. This year I returned home from Iowa with a full smile and a dream come true.

And that’s what this 2012 rut vacation really was. A dream come true. I headed into the year with a goal of enjoying my time and not letting “hunting success” or lack there-of get to me. And with that mindset and the Good Lord ‘s help, I ended up having the most fun and success I’ve ever enjoyed in a season.

My rut marathon has come to a close and was truly a dream come true. Now I sit here today…Blessed. Thankful. Overjoyed.