Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 30: My chance at a MA Public Land Pope and Young

Today was my day, I jumped a deer halfway down the cart rd to my stand, so I picked up my pace as walking was quiet and I wanted to scoot away from him to not spook him too hard knowing it was still dark and I had a bank to hide me only 10 yards away...I heard only two bounds then silence and it was headed towards my stand. I got settled by 6:30 am and started grilling the brook crossing I expected that deer to come from at some point. At 7 am, surprise, there's a dark body moving through the young hemlocks across the brook and I stood up and grabbed my bow knowing this was all going to happen quickly. Big woods bucks are incredible, you can honestly never underestimate the strength and will power of these bastards. At 7 am I shot a minimum 130" buck (could easily be in the 140's) with my bow at 30 yards. He was at least an 8 pt but honestly I saw rack for 2 seconds before I decided he was a shooter and had to range the tree ahead of him and prep for the shot, it all happened in less than a minute between spotting him at 45 yds and shooting him at 30 yds as he was about to walk out of my last shooting lane headed to the community scrape my camera is overlooking and has been catching some serious bucks at since Nov 1st. After the shot the buck bounded twice back towards the brook, looked at his body (which I immediately registered in my head as possibly assessing his wound) and then he walked off just like he came in, sneaking away at a slow pace, definitely no signs of injury but he was in the thick stuff quick and even in my binos I only got a couple small glimpses of him sneaking away. As luck would have it the nock didn't go off, first time for my Nocturnals, so I have no clue where I hit it and didn't even know at first if I hit it other than that sound I know so well of punching the rib cage. I waited 30 minutes before getting down to find out what happened. When I got to the spot I saw the fletched half of my arrow with some blood, fat and hair all over it up to my 4" wrap. 10 ft away was the broad head half of my arrow, also covered in similar blood, fat and hair. Now I know I hit him, and I saw no blood or hair in that first 10 ft. As I carefully and quietly started tracking back to the brook where he first bounded to, my mood changed instantly. As I picked my head up looking ahead of the fresh tracks, I spotted a huge pool of blood. I jumped over to it and saw blood everywhere, an easy 12" wide blood trail heading off where he snuck away. I immediately felt a sense of relief. Despite not knowing where I hit the buck you only see blood trails like this when you heart shot or double lung a deer... Right? I walked down the blood highway with no effort for 50 yds, was satisfied I nailed him, and then decided to back out both to get some help dragging him out and to play it extra safe, he's a big buck, its early, no need to press on. I arrived with my buddy at 9:30 am, plenty of time I thought for a deer that was spilling blood like a stuck pig and that brought me confidence that we were going to walk up on him very quickly. Nope. We tracked him about .4 miles from 9:30 am to 11:00 am, losing blood about 4 times due to drops getting smaller in size, the ground being crazy saturated and barely showing tracks, never mind the fact that every drop of blood that hit the ground hit a puddle in the leaves and was immediately watered down, and low and behold, we jumped him. I can't blame the conditions really, but they didn't help at all, the ground was soaked, saturated and fresh tracks looked 3 days old and fresh blood was either pink water or a sliver of red on the outside of a small puddle of blood on a leaf. He never bedded down, only walked steadily as if he never knew he was hit, but at 11:00 am, we approached a super thick laurel patch and despite him taking the easy path the whole way, he had no choice but to dive into the laurel. Apparently he thought that was a perfect spot to watch his back trail as we got only 30 ft away from him and jumped him out of the laurel thicket. Now I knew we were in trouble. We never found a bed in the thicket, and the bound marks and fresh tracks in the mud on the other side of the thick laurel had us thinking it wasn't even him we jumped. I stayed on his tracks and found a leaf with a pink puddle of water on it, it was him, and we were still on him. We regrouped and decided we had to press this deer. Not the normal approach I'd take, I'm a patient hunter and I always back out if it looks sketchy, but we've followed him this far, he showed signs of being hit real hard, and the rain was only going to get worse today so why would we back out now? I was able to get back on his tracks, find some small wet spots of blood to assure us we were on the right path, but the blood was getting thinner, less consistent and all I could do is hope and pray inside my head for him to go down. About 100 yds after jumping him and .6 miles overall, I found 5 drops of blood where he went up a small slope following a run, continuing to take the easy path onto a small oak flat 40 yds across, and then we lost him in the sea of tracks and feed sign. I followed the main run that crossed the oak flat, we back tracked over and over following every run and every set of tracks that left that flat, but there was no more blood. If it were dry the tracks and scuffs and specs of blood would have given us a chance, but the wet landscape had us washed up. All I have left for hope is that he is headed into more open woods that narrow down between the steep hillside to the east and the swamp to the left, neither of which he attempted to venture into, taking the easy path along the landscape the whole .6 miles we tracked him. Tomorrow I venture out with my father and 2 of our friends to grid and body search the narrow corridor he was headed for which spans another 1/2 mile north to south before the road and only about 300 yards between the swamp and steep hillside. I am confident he is dead by now and I'm hoping the steady rain held him down tonight so he can die in his bed. The question will be whether he is truly mortally wounded and lies within that last 1/2 mile stretch, but I have not lost hope that we can still stumble on him tomorrow. Wish us luck. Our chances are as slim as can be but I feel like I will be rewarded for the stupid amount of time I've spent hunting this season dedicating my time to the chase that consumes my life and daily thoughts. If I don't find him tomorrow I'll dedicate Friday, and probably Saturday to searching for this buck. I owe to him, I owe it to myself, and I owe it to my family whom I've left at home (despite their constant support) for hours on end since September as I've pursued my passion for Massachusetts mature bucks.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

November 11th was the day, the rut should be peaking this week.

Friday the 11th was a big day for me and numerous rut reports flooded in from some friends too.  Driving to my area in the morning I encountered a giant 160 class 10 point in the road that was frantically trying to find his way into the woods as he was pinned outside a fence.  My driving up to him only made him freak out more, but he found a way out of the road finally, awesome buck cruising alone.  My hopes were high, what a sight to see, now if I could only encounter a deer like that in the woods that'd be great.  As I sat in my tree stand Friday morning in anticipation of a deer crunching in through the extra dry and crunchy leaves, my buddy was blowing up my phone about an encounter he had with 5 bucks chasing a doe by him in the morning and he missed a shot at one of the bucks.  Minutes later he had another doe come by and another buck come in from behind him.  "Finally, its on" I thought, now when are my deer going to get moving?  Suddenly at around 8:30 am I heard the unmistakable sound of deer crashing through the woods in front of me in the clear cut.  I stood up and grabbed my bow immediately not know if they were coming at me or by me or where they'd pop out in the thick cut.  With so many roads crossing near my stand, they could fly down any of them and be on me in a hurry.  As I heard the crashing moving right to left in the thicket, out popped the doe in a full sprint across a long logging road lane in front of me at about 80 yards.  I starred at that exact spot as I heard the buck grunt and come crashing behind, out jumps Bullwinkle in a full sprint only 20 yards behind her, here we go.  The doe took him on a long run along the soft ridge in front of me zig-zagging through the thick cut.  Its amazing how gracefully a 200+ lb wide racked buck can easily keep up with a doe darting around even in the thick woods.  As they raced around in the thicket I was flipping my can call over and over again trying to pull the doe to me while she ran scared and suddenly they went up the hill and out of sight.  I could still hear the faint sounds of crashing but my heart began to sink as I thought they were gone.  Then the doe cam crashing back over the hill right down a cart road that leads right to my stand, but then she turned off, no buck in sight though.  I pulled up my binoculars to check her out, maybe the chasing kicked up another doe?  I saw her tail at half mast, a sign she's in heat, so where is Bullwinkle?  As I scanned left only 20 yards behind the doe there he was, standing there, nose in the air starring right in my direction where the bleats came from.  The doe was now calm and so was he and he began tending her, keeping a safe 20 yards between them but he'd move up every time she took a step or two.  I watched both of them in my binoculars for over 15 minutes as they barely made it 10 yards in that time.  While the doe began feeding, Bullwinkle starred in my direction looking for the source of the grunts and bleats the whole time, but he wasn't leaving her and she wasn't even interested in the calls one bit.  They worked left to right, slightly angling my way, there was a chance they'd end up in my shooting lane 40-50 yards out, a shot I'm prepared to take if the situation is right.  I practice all year at long distances not only to make the short shots easier, but in the event a big buck comes by at a distance and I have a clear shot, I don't want to waste that rare MA encounter, I want to be able to make the shot confidently.  They eventually got behind some white pines blocking my view of the hillside they were slowly working along, and they never came out.  I was hoping they bedded there as I know doe's have come off that hillside and down by my stand per my trail camera, but I think at the end of the day, the crazy high winds that picked up not 30 minutes after I lost sight of them strapped them down for the day.  I sat all day in the cold 20 mph winds and 30-40 mph gusts blew me around in my tree, just in case they popped out again.  They either bedded there or made a 90 degree turn and went further back in the clear cut where I know Bullwinkle spends most of his time.  I went back in there  Saturday morning with hopes he'd still be tending her or that other bucks discovered his catch and would be moving her around giving me a crack at Bullwinkle, but the bedding area was quiet.  I watched a bob cat hunt mice and squirrels for about an hour, he struck out multiple times on both, was cool to watch.  At around 8:15 am I heard fast foot steps coming at me and as I stood up a 4 point on a half trot came cruising by me through two shooting lanes at 30 yards, he was on a mission.  Later that afternoon in the same stand I had a deer cruise out of the bedding area on a good pace but it was 5 pm and too dark to see what it was.  It didn't come down by my stand like my camera has showed so often, instead it stayed up on the hillside about 60 yards out.  Not a bad two days in the big woods considering I saw ZERO deer Tuesday through Thursday, I'm hoping this is the week as the rut should be in full swing the next few days.  Hopefully the mild weather doesn't strap them down too much.  On another note, I checked a few cameras today while I was unable to hunt (I hate Sunday's in MA) and got a couple new big bucks on a community scrape that's in a natural terrain funnel that connects two huge pieces of woods.  One of the bucks on Friday 11/11 when all hell broke loose, was a nice 10 point at 10:38 am!  I also discovered an awesome 8 pt with super mass and long tines with a real right rack and gnarley bases.  Looks like I have some new bucks in some new woods to track back to their home range and start planning to hunt them.  I also marked a couple climber trees, this spot is too good to ignore the rest of this season, I'll have to try it a couple days at least.  Good luck the next two weeks to those who will out for what I think is the best two weeks of the MA bow season!  I'll be out there almost every day, here we go, it could happen.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

November 8: Time to peak

So here we are, November 8th, and I've heard of about 2 or 3 mature bucks being seen, and only one was chasing.  The weather has been solid, not as cold as it could be, but comfortable enough for these deer to be moving, so what's going on?  This is actually normal for zone 6 based on my last 8 years of intel in that area, things don't seem to really pick up until November 9th-ish.  So I hope that is true because otherwise I'm at a loss for ideas why I haven't even been seeing young bucks wandering around.  My target bucks area has been cold for sign since the flurry of scrapes happened the last week of October.  Other than 6 pack, who showed up on one of my cams on 10/27 the day of the afternoon snow, I have not seen any of the 7 bucks on my cams that resided in Bullwinkle's territory all summer, including his bachelor mates.  My theory is this:  Bullwinkle has pushed his younger competitors out of his territory.  Is this 100% accurate?  Probably not, but given that I run 7 cameras and 6 tree stands in his core area, all I've got on camera in the last 3 weeks is Bullwinkle and some doe's.  On Friday 11/4 around 8:30 am I saw 3 doe's scootin' up the mountain with no buck in tow, they weren't looking over their shoulder but they also weren't being cautious and feeding.  The next morning at 5:30 am my wifi cam sent me pics of a doe and fawn feeding alone heading back to bed and on Sunday morning I had two doe's on another nearby camera heading back to bed before light and coming out the same way after dark.  This provides evidence of two important points in my opinion: 1.  They are being sneaky and stealth and trying to avoid being chased around (even though they are not being chased and the young bucks in the area are no where to be seen by me or my cams) and 2. They are clearly not in heat yet being grouped up still and still hanging with their fawns, but they are definitely restless because I haven't seen doe's or got pics of doe's in a couple weeks, hopefully this means things are about to heat up.  As for my boy, my latest updates are two close calls, as close as it gets in the big woods without actually seeing or shooting my buck.  On Friday 11/4 I checked one of my cams mid day to find out Bullwinkle had gone back to bed a couple hours before it got light and I quickly went back to my Jeep to gear up and get in the stand for the remainder of the afternoon having a perfect wind for the afternoon with hopes he'd retrace his steps that evening or come down like 6 Pack did opening week (pic below).  He never showed, probably as expected, but it left me with some confidence that he was still using his core area and still going by my stand that has great entry and is near flawless with the right wind.  However, things remained slow overall for me not having seen deer with my own eyes since opening week other than the three doe's that morning.  Today I sat that stand in the morning, saw nothing and then decided (since the wind finally switched south) to go to the north end of his territory to a stand I have only been to the morning of opening day.  While there was little sign to speak of on the way in per usual with my recent hunts, Bullwinkle was the only picture on my camera, and boy did it get my emotions mixed up.  On Halloween night, while I was sitting only 200 yards away, Bullwinkle went the other way and visited one of my stands an hour before dark!  While I am somewhat heart broken, I am also totally rejuvenated.  My only two pics of him at this stand (and the cam only tells part of the story as usual) have been with plenty of shooting light and he looks cool as a cucumber moping around eating acorns with full confidence that he owns the area and the doe's aren't worth chasing yet.  I'm going back to that stand the next couple days with high hopes.  Its thick, 300 degrees of laurel around me, acorns everywhere, still falling today actually, and I know he beds close when he's in there, it's only a matter of time before we cross paths, hopefully it plays out just like Halloween night but with me in my stand at full draw.  More to come on this game of cat and mouse...

Going back to bed nice and early on the south end of his territory, too bad he didn't come out that night!!

Trick or treating at my stand while I was only 200 yards away at another stand.  Cat and mouse...

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Nov. 3rd first sighting

So I was supposed to be working today, but.... I saw that a weather front was moving in and that the day was calling for rain starting around 10am. With that info in mind I added a day to my hunting vacation. Night time lows were only going to be around 50 degrees but I hoped that the weather would keep them moving. I got into a stand that I have hunted a little already, its a big Laurel patch that I have had numerous bucks visiting. There are a lot of acorns in the piece which I think is holding some does (although I have had zero pics of does on my cameras lately). Regardless, the winds were predicted to be almost nothing out of the southeast which sets up nice for this spot.
   I got into the stand at about 6am, it was warm but comfortable as I waited for daylight. Winds early on were light and steady, but as daylight approached it really died down and they were almost nonexistent except for a few moments here and there where it might have picked up to 2 or 3mph. I was worried with the low pressure and light winds that my scent might be an issue so I took out a can of Buck Bomb "Doe P" and sprayed the branches and brush around me. I wasn't trying to use it as an attractant but more as a cover in the event a deer showed up and the wind swirled.
    At about 7:20am I heard the sound of approaching footsteps, the problem was they were approaching from almost directly behind me. An even bigger problem is that behind me is a sea of Mountain Laurel that is so thick that there is no way I could shoot through it. At about 20 yds I picked up movement, it was a big 7 pointer that I have had pictures of. He was walking steadily with his nose up in the air. He appeared to have caught the smell of the buck bomb and was checking it out. At 10 yds he cut my track and stopped (as i mentioned there is absolutely no way to shoot into this stuff). He stuck his nose in the air and I could hear him sniffing the wind. Moments later he bounded a few yards further into the thick stuff and began to blow at me like it was his job. I am not sure if he caught my wind or picked up my boot track (either is possible), either way he didn't like it. He proceeded to make a 50 yd circle around me, blowing almost every step of the way. Without exaggeration he probably blew 100 times before he was finally gone. At one point he was probably 200yds away and still blowing at me.
    Well, at least it wasn't a wasted day and I really couldn't have got much closer to a deer without killing it. I knew the buck well and knew that he was a likely target in that area. So its always good to know that I had a plan and in some ways that plan came together. Luckily for me that buck wasn't even on the list of bucks I "really" wanted to kill...but I would have been happy to if he gave me the opportunity.