Whitetail Weekly, Top 5 Deer Hunts of the Season

Last year around this time I came up with the idea to do a "Top 5" entry detailing my 5 favorite hunts of the season.  It was a fun entry to put together and seemed to spark some conversation as well so I decided I would do it again this year.  I remember it being difficult to pick my top 5 last year but I think it was even tougher this time around.  We had a great season and I had several great encounters and exciting sits this year. If you remember back to last years entry (found here: http://www.michigan-sportsman.com/forum/blog.php?b=428) I talked a bit about how when referring to a hunt the term "successful" doesn't always have to mean harvesting an animal.  There are a lot of different things that make a hunt a success and when you look through this years list of hunts you will see that theme ringing true once again. My 2011 season was a pretty fun ride and while there were a few low points mixed in along the way their was also a lot of excitement as well.   Come along as I take you through the top 5 highlights from a great year. --5--  (October 14th)  We had pushed our UP bow camp up one week on the calendar this year and that small change really made a difference.  We found ourselves sitting around camp in shorts and t-shirts as the temps climbed up into the 80's at times.  It certainly wasn't the type of weather you hope for when going hunting and the unseasonably warm temps had really slowed deer movement down as well.  I was doing my best to stay positive but as sit after sit came up empty I was starting to lose the faith.  I had a spot that I felt would be good but in my first few sits I had been skunked once and caught in a thunderstorm the other time.  As I got ready to head out for the last hunt of the trip I decided to give that spot one more shot.  I hadn't seen a deer while on stand all week long but was hoping for a little last sit luck. About an hour before dark I noticed a brown spot on the hill over my left shoulder and after a peak through the binoculars I could see it was a deer.  Finally!!  A little excitement for a change.  The deer turned out to be a small buck and after about 30 minutes he had worked his way under my tree and was now out in front of me.  He was just a small fork horn but I was loving every second of the encounter.  I had waited all week to see a deer and now finally I was being rewarded.  He stayed around for about 45 minutes or so before wandering off into the thick brush below me.  The encounter didn't quite make up for all the other empty sits from the week but it sure took some of the sting out and reminded me that even when it seems like things aren't going your way it only takes one encounter to get you back in it again. --4--  (November 11th)  This morning the winds were coming out of the W/SW which works perfectly for a stand we call The Intersection.  This stand didn't get hung until late October and had only been hunted one evening so far this season.  I was excited to get in there for the first morning sit and slipped in early and got set up.  We had gotten just a light dusting of snow over night but it really made a difference in how the woods looked when the sun finally rose.  There was just enough snow to make the ground white and it seemed like I could see so much better with that white background.  Things were calm and quiet till around 9 o'clock when a few button bucks worked out of the cedars and traveled down the run that passed 15 yds to the west of the tree.  They had no idea I was there and never spooked or got nervous as they disappeared off to the north.

Pinchy tempted me but I decided to let him pass hoping he would make it through the season and be around in 2012.

About 45 minutes later I noticed a doe in the thick bedding cover to the west of the stand in an area we call The Finger.  Just as I started to think "it's odd to see a doe all alone this time of year" I caught a glimpse of a deer behind her.  It was a decent buck and I recognized him right away, he was the buck we call Pinchy.  He slowly followed behind her over to the corner of the cedars and The Finger.  Then as she started to head into the cedars he redirected her back to the north a bit.  That worked out well for me because bringing her north would bring her closer to me and I knew he would be right behind her. I hadn't yet made my mind up as to whether or not Pinchy was a buck I wanted to harvest if I got the chance.  He was a decent buck but we had several better on camera this year and while I definitely wouldn't be ashamed or embarrassed of Pinchy I was really hoping to take one of the bigger bucks.
The doe worked behind me at about 22 or so yards and Pinchy started to follow.  He was a bit off of her path and was closer to 30 yds away as he approached.  There was a small shot opportunity available but I decided to let him pass.  I wasn't going to force the issue and I hoped that perhaps my patience would pay off in the form of a better opportunity at a good buck.  I got a few puzzled looks for letting Pinchy pass but in the end I was happy with my decision.  It was a great encounter and I was very pleased with the outcome.
 --3--  (October 22nd and 23rd)  I am going to combine two sits into one highlight since they fit very well together.  On the morning of the 22nd I was in a stand overlooking our new Plateau Plot.  At first light I had seen a good buck on the north edge of the plot about 80yds away from the stand.  It was a buck we call Big 8 and he stayed in that same spot for 5 minutes or so before turning and heading back west towards the bedding area.  Shortly after he left the field I tried a little light rattling to see if I could get his attention and maybe draw him back out to the plot.  I have never had much luck rattling but figured I didn't have a whole lot to lose at that point so why not.
I did a short session of light rattling and just as I finished up a deer came flying out into the plot.  My heart skipped a beat as my first thoughts were that it was Big 8 but once I saw the deer I realized it was a small 3 point.  The young buck must have been feeling pretty tough that morning because he came across the plot to the base of my tree and began looking around for somebody to beat up.  He stayed for a few minutes until he began to realize he may have been fooled.  He gave me several beautiful shot opportunities and I just kept thinking "why couldn't you have been Big 8!!"

I was hoping to rattle in this buck, who we called Big 8, instead of the small buck that ended up showing up.

Having had success the morning before with the rattling antlers I decided to try them again on the morning of October 23rd.  This time I was in a stand on the north side of the Plateau Plot close to where Big 8 had been standing the morning before.  I did two easy rattling sessions and just as I was setting the rattling antlers down I saw a head pop out of the grass to my right.  It was a buck we called Whacky and he, Pinchy and two smaller bucks had come to the west end of the plot and were looking for the two bucks making all the racket.  They slowly circled south of the the plot and eventually popped out well off to my left and scanned the entire plot.  Unable to find the bucks they had heard they headed off into the woods. Prior to this weekend I had never had any luck with the rattling antlers and now on two consecutive mornings I had rattled in 5 total bucks.  I couldn't believe it.  When the guys on TV do it they always talk about how exciting it is to have a deer come in to a rattling sequence and now I could finally agree with them.  Having those deer come in like they did was awesome and it made for two great hunts. --2--  (November 24th, Thanksgiving Day)  A wonderful meal consisting of all the traditional dishes had left me lazy and tired.  I was struggling to stay awake on the couch and debating if dragging myself out into the woods was more of a workout than I wanted to undertake right now.  Eventually my father in law and I managed to pull ourselves off our behinds and head out to the woods.  Despite my best efforts to stay awake I spent much of the first 45 minutes of the hunt with my eyes closed.  As it got closer to dark I forced myself to stay awake and hoped that something would show up to help me stay alert. With only about 10 minutes of shooting light left I noticed something moving out in the field.  A group of does and fawns had appeared out in the canola field and a few of the does looked to be good sized deer.  I grabbed the range finder and they were 175yds out.  With light fading fast and decent breeze blowing I wasn't about to take that long of a shot.  It appeared that they were angling towards me and another quick check with the range finder confirmed that thought.  It was now a race against time.  Would they get within my comfort zone before shooting light expired?

My 2011 doe weighed in at just under 125lbs dressed, that's the heaviest doe we've taken off our property.

They continued towards me but were moving off to my right a bit as well.  The natural ground blind I was in isn't set up to shoot in that direction so I had to take action.  I grabbed my shooting sticks and slipped out of the blind slowly crawling/sliding about 10 yds off to right to get set up for a clear shot. As the lead doe appeared I knew I was going to have to shoot quickly.  I put the crosshairs on her and as soon as they were steady I squeezed the trigger.  The doe dropped right in her tracks and the others headed out of the field.  As I went back to the blind to grab my gear I checked my phone, there was one minute to go before legal shooting light expired.  It had literally come down to the last minute but I was able to get the job done.  I was a very thankful hunter as the last light in the Thanksgiving Day sky faded away.   Before we get to my #1 hunt of the year I want to touch on something.  I mentioned earlier that to me having a successful hunt doesn't have to include harvesting an animal.  While I think a lot of people would agree with me on that, I'm not sure how many would consider this following hunt to be a success.  I know that I definitely do but I may be in the minority on this one. --1--  (October 1st)  I had waited all summer for this morning and since mid July there had been one buck that was occupying most of my daydreams.  His name was Corners and while he was actually not the number one buck size wise on our list (we had one buck above him) he was the one with which we had the most history and he was the one I wanted. As the season opened I was in a stand along the river that sits in a natural funnel area.  This area has produced for us in the past but can be hit or miss thanks to the cows that we share our property with.  This morning the cows were nowhere to be found and I was looking forward to what would hopefully be a good start to the season. I had gotten a text from my brother in law saying that he had shot a doe and just as I finished congratulating him I caught movement over my right shoulder.  There were two deer working across the pasture through the natural funnel and heading towards me.  I caught a glimpse of antler on the lead deer as he stepped through a small opening and as I reached for my bow a thought popped into my head.  The glimpse of antler that I had seen reminded me of a particular deer, it couldn't be...could it?  Before I could really think about it the deer stepped into another opening and there he was, Corners.  The deer I had dreamt about all summer long was now heading right to my stand less than an hour into the season.

A view similar to this is what I saw as Corners approached my stand on October 1st.

He came closer and closer and finally stepped into an opening about 10yds from my tree.  I was at full draw and settled the pin behind his shoulder.  I rested my finger on the trigger of my release and took a split second to make sure everything was right.  Just as I was about to release the shot he stepped forward out of the opening.  If he kept going straight he would be in the open again at about 18yds and quartering away.  Instead he turned and walked straight away from me.  When he finally turned broadside again I guessed him to be about 40yds.  I held my 35yd pin a bit high and let the arrow go. With the arrow about halfway to him Corners instinctively dropped to run off and as he did so my arrow sailed a few inches over his back.  He ran about 40yds and stopped, looking around to see what had happened before slowly walking off.  I knew immediately it was a clean miss and when I retrieved my arrow my thoughts were confirmed. You may wonder how missing a buck like that, a buck that would have been my biggest ever taken, can be my best hunt of the year.  There is no doubt that the hunt would have been better if it ended with me harvesting the deer but even with it turning out the way it did it was still an awesome hunt.  Corners had come to be a symbol for us, a sign that we were making our property better and that the work and effort we have put in is paying off.  Knowing that he was around and being skilled (and lucky) enough to get within bow range of him was an awesome feeling and this hunt was one that I will remember for a long, long time.

Corners will forever be "the one that got away". I may not have been able to harvest him but I certainly learned a thing or two from him.

Corners ended up being shot by our neighbor later in the year, he scored 128 inches, weighed 180lbs dressed and was aged at 4.5 years old.  Hearing that was a bit hard knowing that I had a chance to harvest him myself but it was awesome to know that I had seen and outsmarted a mature buck.  Hopefully the next time I am in a similar situation I will be able to seal the deal.   There you have it, my top 5 hunts from the 2011 season!  It was a great year and while I wish some things could have worked out differently I have to say that overall the season really exceeded what we had expected.  It seems like the last few years have just gotten better and better and we hope that trend will continue into the 2012 season.  Maybe next year my top 5 will include some pictures of me with a nice big buck but even if it doesn't I'm sure I will still have no trouble coming up with plenty of good hunts for the list. Take care, and thanks for reading!!!

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