We’ve shared some great reader success stories this year on Wired To Hunt, and today we’ve got one of the best. Jason Crighton hunted harder than ever this season, and it paid off in a big way. Here’s his story. Please join me in congratulating Jason! – MK
By Jason Crighton
Pennsylvania hunting is a unique kind of hunting. It is built on tradition and slow to change. Muzzleloader season is for flintlocks only and Sunday hunting is forbidden. The bucks are small (compared to hunting shows), antler restrictions vary around the state, and there are very few leases to hunt on. Ask PA hunters if they will shell out $500-$2000 to hunt on a lease and you will most likely hear a “NO WAY IN HELL!”
That being said, we still have our share of diehard hunters; especially whitetail hunters. After a brief respite from growing up a diehard whitetail hunter, due to college and then coaching high school baseball, I have rekindled my love for hunting. This is especially so for archery season. To me, there is nothing better than the days spent on the side of a tree, trying desperately for an encounter within 30 yards. Trying to outsmart a whitetail buck is one of the most difficult tasks of my life, but one of the top three I enjoy.
The previous two years were bittersweet for me. I had an encounter with a shooter each year but had missed both times. In 2012, a buck walked within 18 yards, but I didn’t account for the branch of a crabapple tree between the buck and I. 2013 gave me a chance at a HUGE PA big timber buck, a no doubt mountable buck for our Deer Camp. I knew he was a massive buck when I first saw him 100 yards out. At 50 yards I started my camera. At 40 yards I drew back. At 30 yards, parallel to my stand, he ducked my arrow. I swear his chest touched the ground. I couldn’t believe it…he would forever be known to me as Lucky. I was determined that if I got a chance at him again, I wouldn’t miss.
2014 marked the year that I would spend the most time in the woods during my short 16 years of hunting. It had been four years since I shot a buck, and I had to rid myself of this bad juju. I found new properties to hunt, scouted, checked my trail cams, scouted, planted food plots, scouted….scouted more, and prepped my stand locations. Everything was set for an early season kill. I had two nice PA bucks on my trail cam and had seen both while scouting. We had grown so close, that I named them Bruiser (he was the mature buck running things in that area) and Bishop (he had 2 drop tines that made his antlers look like crosses). This was it! They were patterned, and I knew one of them was mine during the first week of the season.
Anticipation and anxiousness soon gave way to my family tradition: Deer Camp. If PA hunting is built on tradition and slow to change, my family takes it another 20 steps farther. It is understood that if you hunt in my family, you will hunt every available Saturday in the big woods of Deer Camp. The 60 plus acres that we have owned for over 40 years has produced a large number of bucks. However, most of these bucks looked like they came from Three-Mile Island or the Island of Misfit Toys.
That first day yielded very few deer, even less bucks, and certainly not any legal bucks. This wasn’t a surprise for Deer Camp, and I wasn’t disappointed because I knew what was waiting for me on my properties back home: Bruiser and Bishop. Due to my job as a high school teacher, I only get to hunt in the evenings. I decided I would take full advantage of the 3:00 dismissal time and hunt almost every evening because, there is no equalizer like time in the woods. However, when I got back to my home properties, Nothing … Not just no encounters, NOTHING! Not a single deer in the area where I KNEW I HAD SEEN deer while I scouted.
By the time I found where the deer had changed their movements to, it was the “October Lull”, and daytime movements in the evening were limited. My season continued this way for weeks. Encounters with nonlegal bucks during the week on my properties at home and encounters with even smaller bucks at Deer Camp. It was at this time that I realized that both Bruiser and Bishop vanished from my trail cams. Things had to changed…
As soon as the rut started to kick in, I found out that Bishop was taken on the first day of archery season. He was taken on a neighboring property, merely 70 yards from my original stand location. He walked right past my trail cam on his way to that hunter. I was devastated, but that same day I found out Bishop was no longer in play, Bruiser showed up on my trail cam! I even got a glimpse of Bruiser while hunting, just out of range. Things were starting to fall into place.
During the last two weeks of the rut, I took off both Fridays. I decided to use that first Friday to hunt up at Deer Camp because that was what was expected of me. After that windy November 7th, Friday hunt only netted one legal buck, a basket six that appeared crossed 60 yards from my stand; I had amassed a total of 88 hours in the stand. By far the most time I have ever put in for a season. Hard hunting…that’s what this was.
On a whim, I decided to heed my grandfather’s advice. He had seen a couple big PA bucks come out of a thicket where I had seen the basket six go into the day before. It was time for me to abandon my lock on stand. Early Saturday morning, well before light, I found a suitable tree 20 yards from the thicket, placed some scent out, and climbed 20 feet up. I was able to overlook a bench at the end of a point. This location wasn’t far from my rifle stand, so I knew that any buck movement would be closer to the late morning hours.
At 8:00 am a couple does came within 30 yards of the stand. I told myself, “Just a little longer and the bucks will be cruising.” All the best action of my season started just after 9:00 am. A half rack fork walked out of the thicket and in front my climber at 25 yards. Just 10 minutes later, a small spike cruised out of the thicket, nose to the ground, 10 yards behind me. Things were starting to pick up. I knew it was just a matter of time.
At 9:50 AM, between a group of mature pine trees on the edge of the bench, I saw the PA big timber rack of a lifetime coming straight towards me. This HAD to be Lucky. This was redemption. I had already ranged a couple markers around me and expected him to walk just beyond a stump that was exactly 20 yards from my stand. As he approached my stand, he started to turn to my right. As he ducked behind a thick group of saplings, I drew back and waited for him to walk into a natural shooting lane. I stopped him right behind that 20 yard stump, buried my pin behind his shoulder, and let my Rage broadhead do the rest of the work.
As he ran away towards the thicket, I could see more blood with every step! I drilled him! After running about 40 yards, he stopped just inside the thicket, swayed side to side, then slowly walked into the thicket. I can’t describe with words the feeling that came over me. I celebrated so much that I almost fell out of my climber!
I knew it was a good hit and that I would be dragging him back to Deer Camp. Without hesitation, I lowered my field pack and bow and walked (more like ran) back to camp to take off the layers of a cold November hunt. I told my dad about what had just happened, and he offered to come with me. It was an hour later when we got back to my stand. I ranged the spot where I had shot him: 23.3 yards. We started looking for blood. Since it wasn’t a pass through shot, there wasn’t much at the start, but as we got closer to the thicket, the spots were getting bigger and brighter red…double lung for sure.
As we entered the thicket, the trail dried up. My heart started to sink. I couldn’t understand how we couldn’t find blood when I had been so sure of my shot. As we trailed the torn up leaves through the small thicket, there he was. Just 60 yards from my stand, there he laid, my redemption! Excitement and celebration ensued as my dad took pictures and I grinned from ear to ear. My Hoyt Charger and Rage broadheads had done their job. I had done my job.
As it turns out, this wasn’t Lucky. I saw him on our property the next morning, driving home with my new trophy in the bed of my truck. There he stood, looking bigger and more majestic than ever. People can’t tell the difference. It’s still a really good buck for the PA big timber. Turns out, this year’s buck was the biggest buck taken in over 40 years of hunting at Deer Camp. It made all those long sits in the stand worthwhile…all 92 hours and 23 minutes (I counted). And, of course, there’s always next year; Lucky could still be around!
– Jason Crighton