Today we’ve got a great reader/listener success story from Zac Hudson, who put one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned as a deer hunter into action and had success because of it. What’s that lesson? The importance of hunting smarter, rather than just harder. Congrats Zac! – MK
By Zac Hudson
“As much as I love to talk, especially about deer hunting, keeping this somewhat concise will be a challenge, but I’ll do my best.
I’m an emergency medicine resident and bow-hunting fanatic that is originally from Missouri, but my training has led me to spend four years in Ohio. My first year hunting in Ohio I hunted public ground and was fortunate enough to harvest an archery doe, but I spent the majority of my late October and early November efforts back at home at my Missouri farm.
However, this year I was fortunate enough to gain access (through a relative of a colleague) to an agriculture farm about an hour from where I live in Ohio. The farm is intermixed with large agriculture, buffer strips, timber patches, and a nice creek bottom. From the moment I was permitted access I was determined to do things right. I shed hunted the farm with moderate success and had very productive winter scouting. I started hanging trail cameras over multiple Trophy Rocks in May and quickly amassed thousands of pictures of numerous different bucks, including five bucks I would come to consider my “target bucks”. I had a summer velvet encounter with the buck that I eventually harvested, but I did not get summer pictures of this particular buck. He would become known as Zuerlein (named after the St. Louis Ram’s kicker, Greg Zuerlein, due to his long, field goal post, brow tines).
Fast forwarding to mid-October, this buck would become the most daylight active target buck on the farm and I got numerous trail cam video clips of him at multiple different mock scrape sites.
As late October rolled in, I knew it was getting close to time to put all of my efforts into harvesting this particular buck. I’ve always been a “volume hunter” and have prided myself on my work ethic and belief that if I spent enough time in the woods that I would have success. This mentality led to a good number of harvests, but did not lead to consistently harvesting mature whitetails. I decided that this year I would focus more on scouting, gaining intel, and waiting until the time was right to strike; I would hunt smarter, not harder. The advantages to this approach of hunting were mentioned by Mark on the Wired To Hunt Podcast in multiple episodes leading up to this season and he reinforced my motivation to be much more selective when choosing when and where to hunt and how to access a site.
The Initial Encounter
I’ve always heard to pick the brains of the local farmers and landowners to gain information on the most recent deer movement in a given area, but coming from a hunting situation where I was one of the landowners and the terrain was big timber country with limited agriculture, this didn’t apply to me. But when I was told by the landowner that he was going to be harvesting corn along the south creek bottom on the evening of October 23rd I decided to sit on a north/south running fence line between a 10 acre grown up field of saplings, shoulder high weeds, and thorn bushes to my east and a 30 acre corn field (which they would be harvesting) to my west. Within 10 minutes of the combines leaving the field, about 5 minutes before the end of shooting light, I spotted a buck to my east in the tall brush and he quartered in front of me crossing the fence line into the cut corn about 80 yards to my north. When I got my binoculars on him, I realized it was none other than Zuerlein! He proceeded to mosey into the middle of the cut corn, completely ignoring my grunt calls and snort wheeze. I was so fixated watching him that I did not realize that another smaller buck had come out of the creek bottom to the south and minutes later that buck and Zuerlein sparred and chased each other around in the distance until I lost light.
The “Surgical Strike”
Due to the fact that I knew where my target buck was bedding and that he was exhibiting daytime behavior I was extremely tempted to go back to that set the next day, but that is not what my approach was going to be this year. The wind that day was wrong (from the west and directly into the bedding brush from my set) and it was warmer than the prior day. So I stayed home (it helped that I was also sick with the flu haha, but I had already decided to not hunt before I got sick). However, the following day, October 25th, the time was right. As Mark would say, the conditions were perfect for a “surgical strike” on this buck (no medical pun intended). Since my encounter two days earlier, the temperature had dropped 20 degrees, the barometric pressure had risen above 30, the moon phase was right, and the wind was perfect, out of the east.
With my wife as my witness, this was the first hunt of the year (out of 10 hunts) that I mounted my new camcorder to my bow and that I took a bag full of skinning knives and gutting supplies. That’s how confident I was in this particular set, with the right conditions, and with this active of a buck that I would at least get an opportunity at a shot. On my way into the set, I found a sag in the barbed wire fencing and it was clear that this was likely the spot that the buck had crossed the fence to my north two nights earlier. Unfortunately, there was no tree even close to large enough to hang my Lone Wolf near that crossing, so I doused my boots in doe estrous and walked the 80 yards south to my stand site.
The first few hours of the hunt were uneventful. At 6:25pm, to my complete surprise, there stood Zuerlein at 30 yards with his nose to the ground heading south down the fence line towards my stand. I never saw him come out of the brushy field as he did two nights earlier, but it’s easy to miss a deer walking through that type of cover. I can only assume he crossed the fence line to my north in a similar spot as previously witnessed. As to whether he was following the scent of my doe estrous trail or simply walking the edge of the fence line to the creek, we’ll never know, and honestly, its doesn’t matter. Somehow, I managed to remember to hit record, but as you can see in the video (click here to watch), while fumbling with my camera I released my arrow rest and my arrow fell out of the rest making a loud “clank, clank, clank, clank, clank.”
At this point, the buck was staring up at me only 8 feet off of the ground (which was literally the best tree option in this entire buffer strip) and I thought the hunt was over. Amazingly, seconds later he continued to head my way and this is when he becomes apparent on video. He stopped at 18 yards and I was able to place a lethal shot on the buck. He ran about 100 yards and incredibly stood there for 8 minutes hardly taking a step (this was edited out of the video) before gingerly easing into the uncut corn. I gave the deer 1.5 hours to expire and summoned the generous farmer for help tracking and hopefully dragging. We found my arrow right inside of the uncut corn and Zuerlein was found 50 yards down the blood trail near the edge of the creek. Upon gutting the deer, it was confirmed that he had been hit in both lungs so it was absolutely amazing the toughness that this creature displayed.
The number of hunting lessons I have learned from Wired To Hunt readings and podcasts are countless and all hold immense value. But for this deer season, and this particular buck, the lesson to be learned is to hunt smarter, not harder.
Abraham Lincoln said it best, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
– Zac Hudson