Stop me if you have heard this before, “We are currently living in the golden age of deer hunting.” Yes, we certainly are. Whitetail populations are in abundance and thriving thanks to conservation minded hunters while the species is the healthiest it has ever been. Coinciding with this golden age is the drive to harvest the biggest deer out there and I’m just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to this accusation. While I am thankful for any deer that I kill, I live for hunting big, old, mature whitetails. This is the first blog post, in a series of many, which I will chronicle my efforts of harvesting a buck from a particular area of my property which is famous for producing monster deer.
My number 1 target this fall. While he certainly sports a nice rack, his body size is what gets me pumped!
A Bottom Buck, as I will refer to them hence forth, is a buck that lives on the Southern half of my hunting property in Western Virginia. The area these bucks call home is composed of steep ridges and ravines, with subtle draws and saddles which the bucks use to cruise between bedding and feeding areas looking for does during the rut. The extreme contours of the land are the primary reason that the deer that live here are difficult to kill and thus grow so old. However, after a couple years of studying harvest data, I am convinced that Bottom Deer possess genes superior to those of the rest of the deer on my property. Let’s take a quick look at the data.
This past fall I harvested what I thought was a mature doe from the Bottoms. I was elated when I sent an arrow through both of her lungs at 13 yards. Trail camera photos I had of her told me she was at least 5 years old just based on body size alone. However, upon jawbone removal I found her to only be a 2 year old! Rarely do I wrongly age a whitetail, however, I was ready to admit my mistake, but what really blew me away was when we put her on the scales. An average 2 year old doe from our property field dresses at 74 pounds. The doe I harvested last fall field dressed at 95 pounds!
A classic Bottom Doe: big, old and with a long snout. This particular doe has been showing up on my trail camera for years and I would be nearly as excited to harvest her as I would a Bottom Buck this fall.
Harvest data and trail camera photos provide interesting insight on Bottom Bucks as well. My dad has been fortunate enough to harvest a couple 4 year old Bottom Bucks by rifle the last couple years which have averaged a field dressed weight of 140 pounds. Bucks of the same age class taken from other sections of the property consistently dress out at 120 pounds, a 20 pound difference. Trail camera pictures of Bottom Bucks and does over the years offer evidence of a different, perhaps superior gene pool, as Bottom Bucks have more mass and does have longer snouts and appear to cycle 4-6 days before others. Conversely, bucks from other sections of the property generally have greater spreads but shorter tines and less mass, and the does cycle after Bottom Does, weigh less and birth their fawns later. Unfortunately, I do not have scientific or proven research to prove my claims, however, harvest data and trail cameras certainly present interesting information.
Whether or not I have deer of two different gene pools on my property is uncertain. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure, these deer are extremely hard to kill. The topography alone presents an extreme challenge; couple that with mature deer and you’ve got your work cut out for you. Last fall I feel I made great strides in harvesting a Bottom Buck. As mentioned before, I harvested a Bottom Doe. A poor mast year and a logging crew that moved in October 1 may have made for a difficult 2009, but it could prove to be a blessing in disguise this coming fall. The logging crew was busy cutting down the mature oaks filled acorns it seemed and those still standing didn’t have any acorns at all. On a property that is 90% oak/hickory timber, good mast years make hunting a lot easier. Regardless, I hung a stand on a small clear cut in the Bottoms hoping that the deer would find refuge from the loggers and food in the form of American Beechnuts, greenbrier, sumac and wild rose. The clear cut provided several sightings, but more importantly revealed a small patch of timber to the west of the clear cut the deer were traveling through to get from their feeding areas at night to their midday bedding areas. I made an adjustment, moved my set and harvested the aforementioned doe in early November.
This Bottom Buck earned the nickname Hulk. With a thick, powerful neck and big body, he fits the description of a Bottom buck perfectly.
I thought for sure I would catch a buck traveling through that strip of timber during the rut but to no avail. It wasn’t until after the season did I discover my mistake. I had initially thought that any west wind would allow me to hunt the stand I had hung in the Bottoms, but I was wrong. Going through my daily hunting log after the season I noticed the majority of my deer sightings were on cool, clear mornings with a rising thermal and either West Northwest or West wind. In fact, the day I harvested my doe I had a West wind, rising thermal and saw several other deer as well. Since the prevailing wind direction of my area is Northwest, I discovered I had been hunting the Bottoms with a swirling thermal! The Northwest wind was blowing down the ridge I was hunting, while the thermal was trying to rise, creating a disaster of a hunting scenario.
Last year was the first year I aggressively hunted the Bottoms with a bow. I feel I came away with beneficial information to perhaps harvest a Bottom buck this fall. Preparations have already begun; as I hung the stand June 19th in the same tree I harvested the doe last year. I chose a young poplar 13 yards off a trail in the small strip of timber connecting the bedding and feeding areas. Later this month, I’ll sow in nearly two acres of oats and clover 200 yards to the west of my stand. This will increase doe activity in the Bottoms during the rut and the idea is to get more bucks cruising through the strip of timber looking for does. Ideally, the does will feed in the food plots at night and work their way back through the timber to bed in the morning. The rising thermal is crucial to take my scent up the ridge into an open power line, making this stand strictly a morning spot. I likely won’t the Bottoms until the last week of October when the bucks really start to cruise. Hopefully this will add the element of complete surprise to my spot.
Now all I need is late October, a West wind and rising thermal, and a 125”+ buck and I’ll have harvested my first Bottom Buck. A little luck will likely prove beneficial as well. Stay tuned throughout the summer for updates on the food plots, a blog on how I plan to create the perfect rut set-up and any trail camera pictures I may get of an elusive Bottom Buck.
I'll leave you with the Bottom Doe I harvested last fall. She was extremely difficult to harvest (and drag out, look at that belly!) making her a genuine trophy!