Disclaimer: Okay, let me preface this blog by stating that, like my previous blog, this blog is dedicated to another gun kill. Yes, obviously this is a bowhunting website, but I (and many of our other staff members as well) equally enjoy taking to the woods every fall with rifle and/or muzzleloader. After all, we are all hunters and we must support one another, regardless of choice of weapon. Disclaimer over, read on for the actual blog!
Quite frankly, this has been one of the slowest, most frustrating hunting seasons I have ever been a part of. I went into this season more prepared and more excited than I had ever gone into a previous season. Food plots were prepped and planted in the spring and maintained throughout the summer. Stands were hung during the dog days of summer, and my Mathews was shooting darts. I was ready to rock n’ roll!
Here is one of literally hundreds of photos I got of High n' Tight after the season last year. He certainly wasn't shy as a 2 year old, but it's funny how a whitetail wises up between their second and third birthday. During the spring, summer and fall, he became a ghost.
I had trail camera photos of two different bucks I was going to be on the lookout for. The first was a 4 year old buck we had decided to call Clyde. He was a mainframe 10, and the best we could tell from trail camera photos he would score close to 150 inches. The second buck, and quite honestly, the buck I thought I would have the best chance at shooting, was a buck nicknamed High n’ Tight. High n’ Tight was a frequent visitor to our food plots last winter as a 2 year old, and I was excited about hunting him this season as a 3 year old. His brow tines were high and tight (hence the nickname) and we had over 100 photos of him feeding in our food plots. He was so visible in our food plots and on trails to and from bedding areas, that I was sure I would get a crack at him early this season.
High n' Tight on his way back to bed in early February. I searched for hours on end for his sheds, but to no avail.
Unfortunately, as you may have read here, my season got off to a rocky start immediately. I regrouped after my opening day misfortune, and hunted relatively hard the entire month of October. As you may have read in my previous blog, I hunted mostly afternoons near food sources as to not pressure a certain buck I had my eyes on. As the month of October neared its end and November quickly approaching, I was excited about the thought of hunting rutting whitetails. I had plenty of food available on the property; the deer I would be hunting hadn’t been pressured, and rubs and scrapes and were popping up over night on trails leading to and from bedding areas. My goal this season was to hunt exclusively with my bow. I knew it would be tempting to swap the bow for my muzzleloader or rifle once their respective seasons came in, but I wanted, no, needed, to harvest a buck with my this year. It would be fantastic to harvest a 3 year old buck with my bow in the mountains I hunt, and I was going to be relentless in my pursuit of that goal.
By the time November rolled around, I was a lot like the bucks that were maxed out on testosterone at the same time, it was go time! Clyde had been captured several times on trail camera, but High n’ Tight was nowhere to be found. He was so visible during the winter, I simply couldn’t believe he just up and vanished. Was he poached during the summer? Did he establish a new home range? Had Clyde scared him completely out of the state of Virginia? I was pretty disappointed that the buck I thought I had the best chance of shooting had completely disappeared.
High n' Tight with his older brother, Clyde in January of this year. I actually didn't know it was Clyde until my brother shot him in early November. A small cut in his left ear let me know that it was in fact him in this photo.
Nevertheless, on November 1st I checked my Stealth Cam that was overlooking one of my mock scrapes on a field edge, and it revealed Clyde had visited just two days prior. The next day I took down my Lone Wolf Assault and sticks, packed it on my back and moved it a half mile east to the location of the mock scrape. The next morning I was 15 yards from that mock scrape and ready to arrow Clyde at 15 yards. That morning was an exciting morning to be on stand to say the least. I didn’t see Clyde, but I did see a handful of does and had a close encounter with another one of my target bucks, a tall racked 8 pointer I call Mr. Two Bits. I have quite a bit of history with Mr. Two Bits, including still photos and video footage of him in velvet in July, and a handful of trail camera photos of him throughout September and October. He walked out past me at 60 yards, but he busted me as I was trying to get my camera situated and get some footage of him. So close! I got down that morning optimistic about what the rest of the month would hold, but I was oblivious to the tough hunting I was about to endure.
In the following weeks I got served a huge dose of bowhunting reality. The weather for bowhunting the rut was simply terrible. The following weather pattern repeated itself for almost the entire month: three days of rain, a day of high winds, and then warming temperatures until the next storm system blew in bringing more rain. It was incredibly frustrating, but I kept hunting hard. In fact, I was hunting harder than ever. My Lone Wolf Sit and Climb and I got to be exceptionally close, and I took down and moved my Lone Wolf Assault at least 6 times during a span of 10 days when I thought the bucks would be rutting the hardest. My efforts were futile. The terrible weather partnered with a full moon in mid-November and forced me to go deer less on more hunts that I would care to admit. My brother shot Clyde on November the 12th with his muzzleloader, but that was the only buck activity we experienced the first couple weeks of November. Exhausted, I took a handful of days off from hunting to get a change of scenery, recharge my batteries and get re-focused for the second half of the month.
My Mathews Z7 Xtreme and Lone Wolf Assault and Sticks at the ready. I logged a lot of stand time with this combo during October and November.
My first hunt after my vacation from hunting was a lot like the first two weeks of November. Dumping rains kept me in bed the morning of November 17th, and I elected to get in my stand around noon to see if I could catch any bucks up on their feet before the high winds moved. At 12:45 I heard a deer running behind me to the east and quickly threw up my Leupold Acadia’s to see what causing the commotion. Shooter buck! I counted 10 points, good tine length and estimated the buck to score around 130 inches. Unfortunately, he was downwind of me and a little jittery with the blustery winds. I wanted so badly to throw him a couple of contact grunts to gauge his interest and aggressiveness, but thought better of it. Being downwind, he would pick me off in a heartbeat. Helpless, I spent the better part of 5 minutes glassing him out through my binoculars. I saw a good right main beam, and 4 tall tines shooting into the air. He was a great buck, but I had to watch him turn around and trot off in the direction from which he came. I’m not sure if he winded me, or was more interested in some does. Nevertheless, I settled back in and enjoyed another deerless afternoon.
I checked a trail camera on the way out that afternoon and was excited to find a lot of good deer, including a couple shooters moving through the area. I keep a running file of all the bucks I have gotten on trail camera over the years, and as I copied the new entries into the “Bucks” file, I couldn’t help but notice High n’ Tight. I had honestly forgotten about him because Clyde and Mr. Two Bits had stolen my attention the majority of the season. As I sifted through the 50 photos that I kept of him, I couldn’t help but smile. He was quite the clueless little two year old, who seemed to enjoy having his picture taken. He was never far from the camera and offered several good looks of his rack, almost as if to say, “Look at me, Cody! Just think of how big I will be next year!” I laughed to myself and shut off the computer.
This photo was snapped after I hung my Lone Wolf in some of the nastiest cover on our property. Warm temperatures and a full moon forced me to get right in the deer's bedroom.
My luck over the next week never improved. One hunt, I forgot my binoculars. The next, my safety harness. Yes, my safety harness. Don’t worry, I dropped my gear and made the long walk back to camp and put it on before returning to my stand. I simply couldn’t catch a break. The bad weather ensued, but I kept pushing on. I continued to move my stands trying to get closer to the bucks I was chasing. That plan, like my others, failed me. There were many instances where I would move my stand from location “a’ to location “b” only to have deer walking right by the tree where my stand was hung at location “a.” It got quite comical at times, but I couldn’t convince myself that I wasn’t going to catch a break sooner or later. Fortunately, it proved to be sooner.
The morning of November 26th found me perched in one of my favorite stands. In fact, it was in this stand that I shot my first deer ever when I was 6 years old. It was creatively called, “Cody’s Stand” and is a great stand to not only see deer from, but watch the woods wake up as the sun rises. About 8:00 the sun is high enough in the sky to just barely peak over the mountain to the South of me, and you can literally watch the sun rays shoot through the tall pines in front of the stand. The frost dances in the forest openings, and I have never seen a deer look so pretty in the sun when they cross a trail 60 yards in front of my stand. It's poetic.
Like always, I was in my stand over an hour before first light. With plenty of time to spare, I tightened up my safety harness (I remembered it this time) and took a nice nap. Getting up at 4:15 in the morning got harder and harder to do with each passing day during November, and these naps weren’t uncommon. I have an incredible internal clock, and wanted to sleep not a minute past 6:30. Sure enough, I woke up, checked my watch and it read 6:28. I was alive, refreshed and ready to hunt!
Sweet November had finally arrived! Unfortunately, the bucks didn't get the memo until later in the month.
It was a beautiful morning. It was cold, calm and clear. The sun had yet to rise, but there was enough light to make out my surroundings. I was situated halfway between 1 acre of clover, 1 acre of turnips and a known buck bedding area. The wind was out of the South. I was expecting to see deer working their way in front of me walking East to West (left to right) back to bed after feeding in the food plots the previous night. Right at 7:00 am I saw a flicker of movement about 100 yards to my south east. There is a painfully annoying autumn olive bush at that exact location that always looks like a deer moving with the breeze blows, so I assumed that was what caused my heart to skip a beat. Wait a minute, why is that autumn olive bush walking? Bam, it’s a deer. Up go my Leupold’s and I see a good buck coming my way. He stops and I have just a couple seconds to determine he has a great rack but wasn’t a big bodied deer. Just like that, he had disappeared into the timber and I lost him. He was coming from my turnip food plot, and I was confident he would walk the trail 60 yards right in front of my stand, but I had a decision to make. Is he a shooter? He had a beautiful set of antlers, but wasn’t a big bodied deer. I had to make up my mind. I decided, “If he takes this trail right in front of my stand, I am taking this deer!”
There was only one problem; I still couldn’t find him in the thick timber! I was looking frantically with my binoculars, but just couldn’t find him. Finally, I wised up and let my ears find him for me. I heard consistent footsteps and my eyes trusted my ears and I spotted him walking on the trail that would take him right in front of my stand. He was in a hurry to get back to his bed, so I quickly grabbed my rifle, waited for him to walk into my shooting lane and stopped him with a soft grunt. He threw his head up in my direction, and I settled the crosshairs right behind his shoulder. My rifle rang out, and I saw him buckle up hard before racing straight down below my stand. I knew he was hit, and hit hard, so I obviously started talking to myself, “That buck is hit hard, that buck is hit hard!” I had just lost sight of him when I thought I had heard and saw him fall, but I just couldn’t tell. I welcomed the shakes and adrenaline rush, removed my lucky orange beanie, stuffed it in my pocket, and took a deep breath.
I texted my brother and dad saying, “Just took a shot on a good buck. Think I made a good hit, didn’t see him go down.” My brother responded, “Can I come up?!” I replied, “Yes, but take your time. I held right on the heart and he buckled up pretty good, just didn’t see him go down.” I sent that text at 7:21, no more than 20 minutes later my brother was underneath my stand. He was just as excited as I was.
Persistence pays! I was finally able to catch up with High n' Tight the morning of November 25th.
I knew exactly where he was standing, so my brother and I went to recover my blood. There was blood all over the place at the point of impact. I’m surprised I didn’t break my brother’s hand when I gave him a fist pound and blurted, “That’s what I am talking about!” He now calls me Stan Potts, go figure.
I saw High n' Tight's right main beam a little over a week prior to me taking him. Having history with a buck you eventually end up harvesting is a sweet feeling!
We took our time following the trail, and as I peaked up over the small hill where I last saw him, there he lay. I saw a gorgeous right main beam with 4 tall tines, the same buck that slipped past me just a week before! I walked up to him, lifted his head, looked him over in admiration and was surprised yet again, it was High n’ Tight! The tall, sharp brow tines gave him away. I immediately looked up at my brother, who was filming the recovery, and just stared at him blankly. The buck that I thought I had the best chance at shooting this year, had evaded all 6 of my trail cameras, managed to hide from me all season despite my best efforts and nearly snuck by me again.
Meet High n' Tight, my biggest buck to date, and the deer I am most proud of!
My dad got down out of his stand early, met my brother and in the frosty timber where High n’ Tight fell, and we celebrated like only a father/son hunting team can. My brother graciously took a couple hundred photos of me and High n’ Tight, and we taped him out at 126 7/8”, my biggest buck to date, and quite frankly the buck I am most proud of. I hunt harder than the majority of the guys I know. The amount of time and effort I spend in preparation, hanging stands, trimming lanes, moving stands, mock scraping, food plotting, etc. is mind boggling, and it would have been easy for me to give in after the rough start to the season I endured and chalk it up to bad luck, but I stayed persistent, kept my nose to the grind stone just waiting for something good to happen, and it did. I’m still amazed at the irony with High n’ Tight. I had ran 6 trail cameras all summer and fall, hunted countless stands, moved those stands and moved them again trying to find this guy. All the while, he was feeding in the same food plot the night before I shot him that he was so visible in from January to March.
After countless hours of preparation, scouting and time in the stand, giving Thanks is the most appropriate way to honor and give respect to the animal.
This buck, and this hunting season really, also means a lot to me on an emotion level. My brother, and hunting partner, Damin, will be getting married next spring, and while we’ll still get hunt with each other, our brotherly relationship will take a back seat to him starting a family, as it should. My brother was right alongside me the majority of this hunting season, which to us began back in January, the day the 2010 season went out. We shed hunted together, planted the food plots together, hung and moved stands together and, like the previous 20 years of our lives, we were inseparable. It made for a special season that we each got to be in the woods when the other shot the biggest buck of his life. To add to the irony, High n’ Tight and Clyde actually grouped up and ran together after the 2010 season. Where there was one, there was the other. In the food plots, traveling on trails, they trusted each other. They were, ironically, inseparable. Just like my brother and I. Who would have thought that two lucky brothers would be so fortunate to harvest such awesome whitetails that were, in a very real sense, brothers as well?