By: Tom Lounsbury
Most hunters these jet age days have a bucket-list of far away adventures they would like to do, and of course I have mine. On my list there is red stag and wild boar hunting in Argentina, hunting various antelope in Africa and hunting desert mule deer in old Mexico. I had a wonderful opportunity for the Africa hunt last spring, but I had to pass because Africa’s hunting season is during our spring and summer and I had a good portion of our farm going into new conservation programs that required my presence (and labor).
I have no complaints either, because I fully appreciate my wife Ginny’s support in having most of our farm being on the “wild side” and we couldn’t afford to do that without being in various conservation programs. Although I didn’t make it to Africa, I was looking forward to local deer hunting here in the Thumb, a pastime I literally live for. If the truth be known is that if the only big game animal I ever hunted for the remainder of my days was local whitetails, I’ll die a happy man.
When it comes to hunting local bucks, I’ve become a bit picky for some time now and it is a purely personal matter that I do not impose on others. I tend to sort out what I consider as being “big” bucks (in my opinion) and it has absolutely nothing to do with the number of points or a score of the rack, which mean nothing to me. I’m looking for what I consider as an older deer and I go by body profile (I prefer a pot-belly and sway-back) and the mass of the rack, which should be on thick side. Generally speaking, due to the cover and hunting techniques I prefer, I usually don’t have a fully accurate idea of the number of points until I actually go to tag the buck.
I’ll also state here that if some other hunter shoots a buck I have passed on, it doesn’t bother me a bit because I made a personal choice and so did the other hunter, and what is considered a trophy is purely in the eyes of the beholder (any whitetail in my opinion, due to their instinctive wary nature, is a trophy). A distinct advantage I have over most other hunters which allows me to be picky is that I can deer hunt fulltime from start to finish during the various seasons, as well I have ground to hunt on, which wasn’t always the case. The majority of my local deer hunting up until more recent times was done on public land, and any private land opportunities was obtained by knocking on doors with my hat in my hands. I also used to have a real job which limited my time afield. So I’ll admit here folks, I wasn’t so picky at all back then.
I’ll also be real frank and honest in stating that if I don’t have venison in the freezer when things start coming to a close, that plump forkhorn I passed on before is very likely to end up hanging in the family deer tree. I’m not that picky, and above all I’m a devoted deer hunter who loves to eat venison.
My favorite whitetail hunting technique is using deer vocalizations to lure bucks (and at times, does) into range. I’ve been learning to do this by trial and error for over 30 years now, and all the bucks I have tagged in the last decade or so I have called in. The key is to know what vocalization to use during pre-rut, peak rut and post rut (and remembering there is another rut period in December). Like all calling, it doesn’t work all the time, but I have found that if it is the correct vocalization for a period of the rutting process, it doesn’t hurt to try anyway. When it does work, I can assure you that it is a moment which instantly gets the adrenaline flowing and there is nothing more thrilling then having a buck suddenly appear with his ears flat against his skull and back-hair sticking up, ready for a tussle.
The hardest time I have found to call bucks in is during the peak rut, when a majority of does are in estrus and with bucks in hot pursuit. I call it the period of bucks being “doed-up” and it is nearly impossible to call a buck away from a hot doe which in turn can get jealous of your calling efforts and lead the buck away. This was the case during the first week of the recent November firearms deer season, and even though I tried calling, it proved to be futile, until the second week.
I had 16 year old Kyle Schneeberger of Cass City with me for an evening hunt in a two-person ladder-stand when I spotted a very large buck I had named “Godzilla” step into the open, but well out of range. Since he was alone I attempted to call him in with my deep “lonely Marlene” doe call, and he responded, letting me know he might suddenly appear close by and I told Kyle to get ready, because Kyle was the shooter and I would have loved to have him bag Godzilla (seeing kids get into the action always works for me). However, a real doe stepped into the picture and led Godzilla away, as can happen.
With the knowledge Godzilla was possibly still in my neck of the woods, I was in that same ladder-stand the following morning well before daybreak and when the first rays of daylight lightened matters up, I began calling, something I would do off and on for over four hours straight, and never saw any deer whatsoever. Although a bit chilly, it was actually a beautiful morning with a clear blue sky and hardly any wind, which was ideal calling conditions, because bucks can clue in on it a ways out, and since I felt some bucks might be on the move with fewer does in estrus, one might eventually hear me and get interested.
I finally had to get the kinks out after sitting so long, and I stood up and stretched a bit and almost unloaded my T/C G2 Contender rifle (in .44 magnum) and lowered it down with the cord, but being the stubborn sort, I decided to sit down and call one more time. I was in the middle of “lonely Marlene” when motion at the edge of a big spruce next to me caught my peripheral to my right and slightly behind me. It was a large antler with an eyeball below it looking directly up at me. The buck then walked right up to the base of my ladder-stand while staring up at me, and was clearly confused as to how his possible hot date got up in the tree.
It wasn’t Godzilla, but a buck I was sure some other hunters had previously dubbed “Bullwinkle” due to his flat and somewhat palmated antlers. He wasn’t a spring chicken because he had the body profile and antler mass I was looking for and Godzilla got put on the back-burner right then. The problem was ever so slowly moving the rifle from the crook of my left arm to where I could shoot. I also slowly slid my feet back, because I would be shooting almost straight down and I didn’t want to blow of any toes off in the process.
Then a spike-horn busted into the scene and nearly rammed into Bullwinkle, a commotion which allowed me to shoulder my rifle, but Bullwinkle heard the metallic “click” when I cocked, which put the buck into immediate flight. He almost knocked the spike-horn over by turning into him, but then Bullwinkle banked to the left and I put the crosshair on his shoulder and touched the trigger, and a lot happened at the shot. Bullwinkle dropped on the spot as my gun snapped open and my cheek was hit with back pressure.
The spike-horn ran over to sniff Bullwinkle while I tried to remove a blackened and jammed cartridge case (no, it wasn’t a hot reload). Bullwinkle suddenly lurched back up and lumbered off with an obviously broken left shoulder and disappeared behind a spruce tree 60 yards away and I looked down to un-jam my gun. When I looked back up I saw the rear end and part of an antler of a large buck disappearing straight away, and assumed it was Bullwinkle departing in a hurry. Assumptions can sometimes mess matters up, and I had absolutely no blood trail and a frozen bare ground, and I ended up futilely searching in the wrong direction. I surmised I had only crippled the buck, which truly haunted me.
The fact is I had seen another large buck departing while Bullwinkle had banked back around unseen in the heavy cover and dropped dead 60 yards from my ladder-stand (if I had any idea of this, I would have brought a dog in to locate him). I recently found him while pheasant hunting which allowed closure to a mystery, although a hollow feeling remains. I tagged Bullwinkle and cut his head off. He is a unique 7-point with a 17 inch inside spread and was DNR aged as being 3 and a half years old. I sure wish I could have had the venison too.
After more than 50 years of deer hunting, that is the first time I have ever had a hunting arm breakdown at a critical time.