Opening week of the Kentucky bow season is in the books, and it’s been another great week of bowhunting velvet bucks to kick off the fall season. We were back in camp with Will and Michelle Brantley, of Brantley Outdoors, for the 2021 Realtree Bow Camp. The annual camp finds a handful of outdoor writers scrambling to try and drop the string on velvet bucks in the first week of September before they transition from velvet antlers to polished bone.
In the previous year, during the 2020 Realtree Bow Camp, I had the chance to kill the largest-bodied buck I’ve ever seen while hunting. He had a tank for a belly and a funky rack on one side. He was just the kind of buck I like – old, ugly, and a buck most other hunters tend to let walk. I shot the buck on the first afternoon of the season while sitting a stand hung on an oak ridge in the timber.
Opening day of the 2021 season found our crew hanging out around camp for the first half of the day. We don’t hunt the mornings on the first couple days of the season in hopes of maximizing the afternoon hunt, when the best opportunities arise.
After sleeping in and eating a late breakfast, the crew spent time checking equipment, warming up on the archery range, and checking out new gear that would be put to the test while on the hunt.
I’m shooting the Mathews V3 this season, and for this hunt, I had the V3 31 model in Realtree camo. It’s an incredible bow that sets up fast and easy, and in true Mathews fashion, shoots super smooth.
I spent a little time on the range warming up, confirming confidence, and knocking off the jitters before heading in to lunch.
Before heading out for the opening afternoon hunt, we dined on some fine food cooked up by Michael Pendley and his son, Potroast. Pendley is the host of Realtree’s Timber2Table wild game blog. He posts weekly recipes on some great grub he’s figured out over many seasons of chasing game. We ate like kings all week thanks to the Pendleys and Michelle Brantley.
The first afternoon hunt of the season delivered plenty of action with deer and turkey hanging out around the deer blind I was hunting. I had 3 small bucks come by and hang out in bow range most of the night, but the big boys never showed up.
Brantley showed me several pictures of a wide, short-tined 7 pointer that was consistently showing up on a trail camera in the area. He was a mature deer that never seemed to produce much for head gear over the years and didn’t show much sign of participating in the rut. I’ve never been one to pass on a solid cull buck, so this buck quickly became my target buck for the week.
On the afternoon of Day 2, I climbed back in the same deer blind as the evening before. The blind was surrounded by food plots and some well-placed corn, just 25 yards away.
I had been in the blind a little over an hour when a doe and her fawn popped out and began to feed across the food plot to my left. A few minutes later, another doe walked out from the far side of the plot. The deer fed around on the greens for a while before making their way up to the corn.
At 6:15, the short-tined 7 pointer stepped out on the far end of the food plot 100 yards away. His wide rack was the first thing that caught my eye. He stood at the edge of the timber for several minutes as he scanned the field. A moment later he began to feed up the food plot toward the lone doe to my right.
After feeding across the lower plot, the buck began to make his way in my direction toward the other deer feeding on corn. Realizing things were about to go down, I reached over and grabbed my bow and prepared for the shot.
When the buck walked up to 25 yards and squared up for the shot, I drew my bow and settled the pin in the crease. When the string dropped, the arrow smacked hard, and the buck whirled around in a fast retreat down the hill.
The shot looked good, but the penetration wasn’t great. The buck cleared the field 75 yards away and headed into the timber. A moment later, I heard what I hoped was the buck crashing in the timber.
With a trembling heart and shaking hands, I did my best to come down off the adrenaline rush that was rolling through my body.
Buck or doe, the first deer of the year always takes me to the point of nearly passing out. The adrenaline rush is enough to kill a man! I took a few minutes to settle down, gather my gear, and send a message to the crew back at camp.
After letting the other guys know what had just transpired, I grabbed my gear and quietly slipped away from the field and back down to the pond to meet up with Michelle at the Polaris Ranger. Michelle may not be the head guide for the camp, but she certainly handles things around camp like a boss. And she’s a heck of a blood tracker, too. After giving the deer some time, we made our way back up to the food plot to pick up the trail.
We picked up the blood trail a short ways from where impact occurred and made our way towards the timber. We were a hundred yards into a spotty blood trail and beginning to second guess things when the blood began to flow. A moment later, Michelle slapped me on the arm and pointed into the ditch. My buck made it 150 yards and crashed into a small ravine. Hugs and high-fives took place before we called the other guys with the news.
I spent the next day butchering meat and shooting photos around camp before heading back to the woods in hopes of punching my doe tag. With a family of six, I never turn down the opportunity to fill out the YETI cooler with a little extra meat.
Fortunately, 10 minutes after I climbed into the stand, a lone doe came slipping up the ridge through the timber. The doe got right for the shot, and I punched my rangefinder to confirm she was standing 25 yards away.
My shot dropped the doe in her tracks, bringing my west Kentucky bow hunt to an early end.
It was another great week chasing velvet in Kentucky. Hunting camp always delivers on the chance to catch up with old friends and make some new friends along the way. A big thanks to Will and Michelle Brantley, Ryan McCafferty, and the Realtree crew.