17 DAYS IN OCTOBER
For 17 days in October I went to the Stan Potts School of Whitetail Explorer and witnessed firsthand how to figure out mature bucks, move in and kill one with a crossbow, from the ground, without a blind.
Granted, I’ve been married to Stan Potts for 25 years, so I’ve learned a thing or two about hunting big bucks, but these past few days were a real eye opener; a true lesson in whitetail wisdom, both his, and theirs.
It started with a plan that changed daily. The fluidity of the plan was what made it work. Close attention to the wind, of course, coupled with the ongoing harvest of crops were major factors in decision making. Familiarity with the overall deer movement, trail camera pictures and people patterns tipped the scale in selecting the next hunting location.
The plan was ultimately made possible by our ability to move quickly and quietly.
I was filming Stan’s hunt for North American Whitetail TV and Whitetail Explorer TV (no pressure) and was glad we would be hunting from the ground. To be honest I didn’t relish the idea of attempting to climb into treestands (hung by much younger guys who can still climb trees like monkeys) haul all my camera gear up and down, lock in camera arms and position three cameras for every set. I do however, love the extra challenge of shooting video while being eye to eye with all the deer at close range, plus the footage is awesome when shot from that angle. Normally I run three camera angles right from my tripod. The main camera (Canon XHA1) and two point of view wide angle cameras (Tactacam and Spypoint XCEL 2) stay in place for every set, and are easy to get to with very little movement.
Stan decided to only hunt afternoons because the deer were still on a predictable feeding pattern. He didn’t want to mash too close to bedding areas this early in the season.
Here’s a quick rundown of what took place and what we learned from each encounter that influenced the plan for the next day.
We started out with a conventional idea; hunt from a ground blind that had been sitting on a food source for several days. A standing crop of corn surrounded a waterway where the farmer had planted a late strip of beans to fill in an area lost to flooding. The beans were still fairly new, so they were greener than any beans in the area, which was drawing bucks to the spot. Trail camera pictures confirmed this. It rained that first day and I was glad to be in the blind. My video camera gear doesn’t work well in wet weather. Although we saw one deer on that first day, the big shooters stayed away.
Terry Potts manages all the trail cameras and keeps a close eye on the WHEX (Whitetail Explorer) lease in Logan County. He told Stan that the crops on the 181 field were out. (Stan killed a big buck that grossed 181 inches on this field last year). Stan decided to move to this area, knowing the tremendous draw a freshly picked cornfield has on whitetail movement.
We started out near one of their in-place ladder stands and sure enough a big shooter buck came out on the opposite side of the field.
We moved to the opposite side of the field where we saw the shooter come out in the corner. We set up under a big cottonwood tree that enabled us to hide in a dark patch of vegetation at its base. A nice 3 ½ year old 10 pointer came out. Not what we were looking for.
Conditions were still good for this location so we tucked back into the spot that afternoon. One small buck showed up in the middle of the field.
It was Saturday, opening day of youth deer season. Because the kids can hunt with firearms we needed to wear orange. It was windy and the moon was full. We heard a lot of weekend activity and noise from nearby houses. No deer came to the 181 field while we hunted.
Stan decided to change locations. We moved to the Dead End Road cornfield. Terry had pictures of a buck he named Lobster Claw. We got to see him at close range. Although his rack is tremendous, Stan decided this was a young deer and needed another year to reach his potential.
We returned to the Dead End Road cornfield. Lobster Claw returned to the field. Another giant buck named Roadkill also showed up. Terry had an encounter with this buck earlier and because of his proximity to the road Terry opted not to shoot. Hence the buck was christened Roadkill. This giant buck came to within 65 yards us. The bucks worked scrapes and some minor sparring ensued.
Again, we opted for the Dead End Road cornfield. How could you not go back there with those two bucks showing up in daylight? Lobster came out again. Another big old buck named Sausage also showed up. He has a small rack but a massive body. The field was full of deer, several does and small bucks.
I nearly had a heart attack when I heard Stan whisper, “There’s a big buck coming this way from the CRP, he’s a Booner!” As I scrambled to find him and get footage the big buck walked out into the field. It was one of those deer that you don’t need to look at more than a split second to know he’s a Boone. The big buck bristled up and stiff-legged his way around to all the other bucks (except one) showing off his massive rack, displaying his dominance. He was quickly named Sidewinder for this display. He did not challenge Sausage. Although Sidewinder’s rack dwarfed Sausage’s antlers, Sausage still outweighed him by a few pounds and was not a buck to be messed with this early in the game. Stan didn’t really want to burn a tag on him, but he did need to be culled from the herd.
From now on we are committed to the Dead End Road cornfield. We decided to set up near the place where Sidewinder had appeared. We put the decoy out for the first time, based on his behavior. If he returned, maybe he would challenge the Dave Smith Decoy buck.
A couple does made eyes with the decoy, circling it and checking it out. Small bucks came out in the northwest corner where we had been sitting the previous day.
As always we are playing the wind. If it comes out of the north, we sit on the south side of the field. If it comes from the south, we sit on the north side of the field. It begins to get comical (and frustrating) from here on out. If we sit one side, the deer come out on the other side. We are playing chess, thinking, watching and moving accordingly, ruled by the wind.
The giant named Roadkill came out on the opposite side of the field where we were the day before. We cannot sit there when the wind is wrong or it’s over. We just have to stay patient. It is torture to watch him work a scrape and meander his way behind us going to another freshly picked cornfield where we do not have permission to hunt. To add insult to injury he walks between our truck and our side by side Polaris UTV tucked into the brush.
We return to the northwest corner, tucked into the brush, waiting to see which buck will show. By now we are learning that many of the bucks step out into the field near a big community scrape on the west side. They all seem to want to visit it or make their own nearby.
Sure enough Lobster Claw, Roadkill and a new buck named Nine Lives make their appearance along with about a 140 inch 10 pointer. They and several does are all out in the field with plenty of daylight left. We are filled with anticipation because they could easily get within range of the Ten Point crossbow.
Unfortunately for us, the folks in the farmhouse nearby are hosting a Halloween party and guests are arriving noisily. The deer are used to traffic at the house but not this much traffic. And not this much noise. It’s more than they can take. The field clears in an instant at 5:45 pm.
The weather warms up a bit. Not many deer come out. A doe spooks, runs into the timber blowing. No shooters appear.
We decide to return to the northwest corner and try the decoy. A button buck falls in love with the decoy. Several does are in the field. Lobster Claw makes an appearance. Something spooks a doe out in the middle of the field and every deer runs off again, at 5:45 pm. It’s warm and windy. Does come back out later, but no shooters.
A small fawn comes to the decoy. There are does and small bucks in the field. A mature skank-racked 8-point buck comes out. He is a ginormous bodied buck but not much up top, maybe 125 if lucky. Does spook over something and clear the field. Later they return with the skank. Nine Lives appears at the community scrape but won’t come out of the dark timber.
Does and small bucks come out. We have the decoy out. Nine Lives comes out at the community scrape. Stan rattles at him. We hold our breath, hoping. He looks at the decoy, but does not come. He slowly ambles away, walking right past where we sat on the south side. Once again, we could not sit there because he would have smelled us in that location with this wind. Did I mention, frustrating?
By now, Stan has had all he can take, plus he has learned the buck’s pattern. He decides to make a move. We will either kill one of the shooters or blow up the whole field by mashing in so close to the community scrape. But it’s been 16 days! Let’s do this.
A perfect spot is located south of the scrape and we have the north wind we have been waiting for. I tuck into the brush as Stan cuts and places additional limbs to hide us. Luckily the leaves are still on the trees so we make a great natural ground blind and settle in to wait. We are going to be close to the action, eye to eye with wary does, barely able to blink. We are fortunate to be hidden by a big bramble of vegetation between the scrape and our location, but it also blocks our view of the deer’s approach from the timber. They will step out with little warning.
Does move into the field. They are close. A spike steps out exactly where we anticipate one of the shooters to emerge. Smooth sailing. All is going as planned. We just need to wait.
A young 8 pointer comes out in the northwest corner, yes, right in front of where we had been sitting. It’s making scrapes and is soon joined by Lobster Claw.
Stan always says to play the odds and it usually works. The percentage of deer that have stepped out south of us near the CRP field, has been extremely low. But as luck would have it, a deer begins to stomp downwind of us. The spike gets curious, walks over to see what’s going on and gets downwind of us. He spooks and blows, causing a big old doe to get curious and come over to see what is going on. She acts goofy for 10 minutes, walking in circles and doesn’t completely spook until the third time she walks within 7 yards of us.
We can imagine one of the shooter bucks frozen in the timber on the other side of the bramble bush watching her, refusing to come out of the cover into the field where Stan can get a shot. Big bucks know these things.
We are going back to the same spot, playing the odds. Hopefully no deer come out downwind of us.
By now we have learned when there is a north wind the bucks come out in the northwest corner. But we cannot sit there with this wind or they will smell us. Roadkill comes out on the north side. Then Lobster Claw joins him. They are making scrapes all along the north side of the field over 100 yards away. All we can do is watch.
I was busy filming Lobster Claw when suddenly a big buck steps into the frame of my camera, and he’s close. I panned left to pick him up and hear Stan comment about the buck. He looks him over closely and decides to shoot him. It’s a big old management buck. In fact, it may be one of the biggest bodied deer I have ever seen alive. Thankfully the buck has no idea we are there. He turns and begins to walk within range. Stan is using his rangefinder, clicking off the yardage. When the buck gets to 52 yards, Stan grunts at him to stop him.
I watch the Nokturnal knock streak through the air. The Muzzy buries into the buck’s right shoulder and penetrates into vitals, a perfect hit. The buck whirls and runs back toward the northwest corner.
We are both ecstatic. After 17 days the plan to stay fluid and move with the wind and the deer activity finally worked.
And thank the Lord I remembered to focus and punch record! So the hunt will air on Whitetail Explorer and North American Whitetail TV on Sportsman Channel next season.