The glory days of whitetail hunting are upon us. Early generations cultivated land to feed their families, while today we plant fields to grow and kill giant deer. But make no mistake: Wall-hanger whitetails still ain’t a dime a dozen. I waited 16 years for the opportunity to tag a heavy-antlered Minnesota buck.
Getting It Done At The Farm
I spent the months leading up to bow season establishing mineral licks, setting up scouting cameras, trimming shooting lanes and monitoring deer activity at my family’s century farm, known simply as “The Farm.” It’s a partially wooded 80-acre flat rectangle with native grasses spread throughout. The bulk of the interior consists of an open field that a local guy leases to make hay for his horses.
The Farm isn’t the biggest or most promising chunk of land to try and kill a big buck, but for sentimental reasons I’m on a personal mission to make it happen. It’s where my family set up shop more than 100 years ago when they emigrated from Sweden. Today, just a few steps from the collapsed barn, you’ll stumble into a garage—that was the homestead where they toughed out the subzero winters and sweat-drenched summers.
My great uncle—and hunting mentor—is the last man to steadfastly hold the torch of our family’s legacy. He’s the sole occupant of The Farm. His lifestyle is founded on rural traditions of common sense and simplicity. In my throw-away generation of quick fixes and rapid results, his way of life is one I’ve learned to respect and admire. He carries that same approach into the whitetail woods. His conclusive interpretation of whitetails after decades of pursing them: “They’re awfully damn careful.”
Sometimes it seems he’s stuck in his ways, but considering his track record of full freezers, punched tags and trophies on the wall, it’s easy to understand why. I’ve learned a great deal from him about deer and deer hunting, so I guess you could say I’ve become stuck in his ways, too. However, every hunter’s recipe for success is unique, and over the years I’ve added a few fresh ingredients of my own.
Archery opener arrived with a south wind, forcing me to a stand that’s positioned along a travel corridor on the north side of The Farm. It’s a productive spot for November gun season, but I had no idea if deer were using it now—in September. I was dying to check my Plotwatcher scouting cam that I had set up just 2 weeks before season. The sun warmed me as squawking sandhill cranes soared above, a rooster pheasant landed within sight and a distant gobbler sounded off, but no deer showed up. I reviewed the Plotwatcher clips back at the house during my midmorning break and saw nothing but waving blades of grass. It was a dead zone.
Honing-In On A Hotspot
I woke from an afternoon snooze and checked the ScoutLook wind forecast to begin planning for my evening hunt. The south wind wasn’t going anywhere. Not good. I joined my great-uncle at the kitchen table—a quaint place where countless funerals have been planned for whitetails. “I’ve got a stand on the southeast side of the pond at The Winter Farm,” he said. “That stand can be alright for a south wind.” The Winter Farm is his personal property that he purchased decades ago, just a few miles away from The Farm. I’ve killed several deer there during gun season, but hadn’t spent any time there with a bow. “There seem to be a fair number of tracks at the pond,” he said with some added encouragement. “I could take you over there and show you where the stand is.”
My heart was set on shooting a buck at The Farm to add a page in our family’s history book, but hope alone doesn’t kill deer. The wind wasn’t right for any of the stands, and I knew the deer were spending most of their time at the lush green soybeans down the road. So, when a man of few words and years of experience spoke up with a recommendation, I had to jump on it.
We drove to The Winter Farm just hours before my sit. He led me to his rock-solid, homemade portable stand positioned strategically in a small strip of woods along the edge of the pond. Because of the summer drought, all but a puddle of water remained. Looking at the ground, I couldn’t believe my eyes: Almost every square inch of the rich, black dirt was trampled with deer tracks. I quickly set up a scouting cam on a fallen tree overlooking the waterhole and snuck back to the truck.
I got down to business when we returned to home base. I shot my bow, showered in scent-eliminating soap and drove back to The Winter Farm wearing just my skivvies. My great-uncle believes in playing the wind—not new-fangled scent control. I’m certain he secretly questions my rituals and chuckles to himself, but he does it with silent respect. I parked a fair distance away from my stand, taking every possible precaution to reduce the chances of spooking wary whitetails. I dressed outside my car, rolled in the grass and sprayed each layer of clothing with Scent Killer.
As sunset fell upon the pond, does and fawns intruded from every direction—despite the consistent south wind. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, a few does scattered in alarm and stood like statues in the tall grass surrounding the pond. They’re awfully damn careful. The fawns chased each other around while a single doe continued her calm drink at the water. Just whitetails being whitetails. Darkness fell and I slipped out, slightly disappointed about the buck-less night.
Adjusting For Action
On the second morning I proceeded with my normal prep routine and crept out to a ground blind on the south side of the cut hayfield at The Farm. The wind had switched and was blowing from the north. I put out a doe decoy 15 yards from the blind with three turkey decoys mixed in for added realism, but saw nothing all morning. The small patches of clover on our green field were no match for the delicious soybean leaves just a short stroll away down the block. The Farm simply wasn’t happening.
After another healthy midday snooze, I made my way back to the kitchen drawing board. There sat my great-uncle, as if he was awaiting my arrival to design another mission. That’s what we did. We discussed the wind change and, unexpectedly, his advice was to return to the pond stand at The Winter Farm. “You think it’ll still be good with a north wind?” I questioned. “Yeah, they seem to travel from several directions there,” he responded. “It should be alright.”
A Buck For The Books
There I was again, rolling in the grass at The Winter Farm with high hopes. The prior evening I was sweating on stand—no good—so I removed one layer of clothing and hit the trail. Scattered rain showers were in the forecast, but “scattered” is code for “unpredictable.” I reached the stand, sprayed a full bottle of buck urine on the surrounding vegetation and settled in. It started drizzling on and off. This could be good, I thought. Anything to get deer moving before nighttime during early September is welcomed.
The wind blew in gentle gusts from the northwest. Shortly after settling in, I pulled out my smartphone to check the ScentCone Wind Map in my ScoutLook app and get a rain update. The rain was supposed to intensify and the wind would switch to a northeast. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and put my phone away.
An 8-pointer stepped out from across the pond. Immediately, I grabbed my bow, nocked an arrow and reached for my rangefinder. 40 yards. The buck stood broadside, feeding on the tall green grass. I dialed my single-pin sight to 40 yards, knowing full well that I’d never attempt a shot at that distance. He fed along the edge of the woods and the grass, never taking a step closer. I ranged a spot at 35 yards and moved my pin again. He’s calm and broadside. I can make the shot at 35, I thought. Suddenly, from behind the 2 1/2-year-old, out stepped a wide-racked buck that made my heart skip a beat. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
My great-uncle’s voice echoed in my head: “I've seen quite a few tremendous bucks, but most I've seen only once. They're awfully damn careful." I had to make this moment count.
The buck cautiously sniffed the air, absorbing and analyzing every scent detail through his paranoid nostrils. His marvelous rack swung around as he scanned the surroundings for any threats. He continued, step by step, directly to where the swamp grass met the black dirt of the dry pond bed. I had already ranged that exact spot at 30 yards—a shot completely in my comfort zone. My sight pin was dialed to 30 and my string was heavy before he stepped into the kill zone.
It was just me, this long-awaited moment and the type of mental, emotional and physical clarity that can only be found at full draw.
I held for at least 2 minutes, but he failed to turn broadside as he stuffed his face with grass. I was forced to let down while remaining calm and collected. He began to move his front leg ever so slightly and I drew again. He turned broadside and, without hesitation, I delivered a Striker to his boiler room.
The other buck dashed into the woods. My buck zigzagged through the tall grass in death-bound confusion, stopped just inside the edge of the woods and … I thought he would drop, but he ran off. The wind blocked any customary crashing noise that would indicate his fatal fall.
After a short personal reflection about what had just transpired, I fell apart. Shaking uncontrollably, I called another respected hunting mentor to share the news. We constructed a post-shot review and he relieved my doubts about the lethality of the shot. During our conversation the rain started to intensify, so I urgently dialed my great-uncle and he rushed to the scene. To lose this blood trail would be my worst nightmare.
“There it is,” my great-uncle said as he kneeled down to pull my blood-soaked arrow from the ground. I explained to him that I had ranged the shot distance at exactly 30 yards. He questioned how I could have possibly found time to utilize the rangefinder. From there, we followed a steady flow of blood into the woods as the sun began to fade. We methodically followed every speck of red when … “Give me a hug,” I said looking at my great-uncle with an ear-to-ear grin. “What, do you see him?” he asked with a confused look on his face. “Yep!” I responded in total elation.
We paid homage to the handsome buck, loaded his heavy body on my great-uncle’s self-built game cart and wheeled him back to a waiting pickup truck.
Back at The Farm that evening, we sat—as two generations of hunters—sipping home-brewed rye liqueur and toasting to our collaborative success. An awfully damn careful whitetail hung outside on a meat pole, proving that time-tested wisdom combined with modern magic can be a deadly formula.