If you enjoyed Episodes #62 and #159 of the Wired To Hunt Podcast with John Eberhart, you’re in for a treat. Over recent weeks, 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
My bowhunting season in 1983 had been relatively uneventful and it was time to switch gears and head to southern Michigan to hunt with something with a bit more range – my T/C Renegade .54 caliber, side lock, pumpkin throwing muzzleloader with a William’s peep sight. I loved this gun and had taken some good bucks with it including a state record in 1981.
The plan was to hunt public land for the first three days of season and then head home. After three days of gun season on public land in Michigan’s Zone 3, most of the deer have buried themselves in a swamp and don’t move during daylight anyway.
As is the case with most public lands in southern Michigan, this area was comprised of rolling hills with mature timber on the high grounds and cattail marshes, swamps and tall weed fields in the low grounds. There were literally hundreds of acres of dense security cover that deer in this area could bed in, but most of them were accessible with knee high rubber boots and during gun season, hunters would be back in those areas.
My plan was to hunt the opener on a long ridge about three quarters a mile from the parking lot in a two mile by two mile section and then hunt days two and three on the same small island within the cattail marsh where I took my state record buck in 1981, as it got better after opening day.
The ridge had a lot of mature white and red oaks and the acorns they dropped were the primary daytime browse as the closest crop fields the deer went to at night were about a mile and a half away. The end of the ridge dropped off into the cattail marsh and on either side of the ridge were swampy and marshy areas with interspersed brush. Because Michigan’s gun opener is smack dab in the peak of the rut, the ridge was not only a browsing area for does, it was also a frenzy area for searching and chasing bucks because of all the security cover on the sides.
I got back to my makeshift ground blind located at the base of an oak on the highest point of the ridge about an hour and a half before dawn and after clearing all the leaves and debris to the bare dirt, hunkered down for the day. I’d hunted here several times in previous seasons and took a big half rack 8 point the previous year from the same spot on opening morning.
From about half an hour before dawn until daybreak I would occasionally hear deer moving past me on the ridge and to the sides through the wet marshy areas as the onslaught of distant flashlights moved in and staked their ground between me and the parking lot.
At daylight the shotgun and muzzleloader shots began ringing out as if a war was ensuing. There were few times in the first hour and a half of light where more than 30 seconds would pass between the sounds of gunfire someplace within my several miles hearing distance and it was times like this that kept pushing my interest in gun hunting farther away. All I could think of was how in the world do deer survive through this, they should be extinct. When you really think about it, whitetails are the most evasive and amazing creatures because if as many hunters were allowed to openly hunt bear or elk as they do whitetails, they would definitely be wiped out.
On public land most hunters back then were targeting any legal antlered buck and most had doe permits and even though I couldn’t imagine any age class or sex of deer casually browsing with all the surrounding gunfire, they were. In the first two hours I had several does and fawns at different times and a 6 point come up on the ridge and feed on acorns as if it were just another day. Eventually, and casually, they walked over the ridge into one of the adjoining bedding areas.
By 9:30 it began quieting down and so did the deer movements. At around 11:45 I heard a deer moving through the marsh and brush to the side of the ridge and once out it began moving up the side of the ridge through the dry leaves. It was coming with a steady cadence making me think it was a buck in search and not a doe browsing, so I stood up and moved into a ready position using the tree as my shooting stick to hold the gun steady.
As the deer topped the ridge at about 80 yards a set of large, dark heavy antlers came into view and then his body appeared and it was huge. It was a good thing I had the tree as a solid rest because off hand, with my adrenaline pumping, the outcome may have been different.
He was quartering hard at me as he was steadily moving across the ridge with his nose to the ground. His route would put him much closer and broadside in just a few moments, so I waited. When he got straight broadside I took the shot and as like every other deer I’d shot with that black powder gun, I couldn’t see anything through the lingering smoke.
Within a couple seconds however, I saw him go back over the ridge from exactly where he had come and heard him go into the marsh. I hadn’t seen any flashlights in that direction prior to daylight nor heard any human noises down there afterward it so I felt pretty comfortable waiting for a while before searching.
Shooting a deer with an old round ball and patch is totally different than with a jacketed sabot bullet from a modern in-line muzzleloader using modern powders. Round balls had a lot of tin in them to hold their shape and the tin made them hard and they didn’t expand. Guns didn’t have the velocity they do now either and shooting a deer with a muzzleloader was like pushing a round dowel rod through them and typically the blood trails were pretty lame.
I waited for an hour before not being able to stand it anymore. Looking down into the marsh from where he went over the ridge, I couldn’t see anything. The blood trail down the ridge was sparse but not too difficult to follow on the yellow maple and poplar and brown oak leaves and when I got to the light beige marsh grass it was even easier to follow.
I didn’t go far before seeing him lying dead in the weeds up ahead. WOW, what a massive rack of bone. He had 10 points and they were heavy and he carried his mass to the end of each beam and point. It was by far the heaviest set of antlers I’d ever seen and his body fit his antlers as it was huge as well. He went about 100 yards into the marsh before expiring which meant he covered about 230 yards total, which is a long distance to cover after having a .54 caliber ball pass through both lungs.
Aging deer back then wasn’t done much but nearly all of his back teeth were ground down to the jawline. He weighed in at 220 pounds dressed and was big and unique enough for an appearance on the Michigan Outdoors big buck night show with Fred Trost.
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.