I love hunting stories, especially when they include a few learning tips. The story of how I took a 4.5 year old 12 point buck is an exciting story with some tips included. Here is the story of the buck I called, and still call, “Crabby”.
My Dad and I had hunted the property the year before and were chasing a buck we nicknamed, “The Elk”. He was a giant, probably close to 180”. I saw him once out of range and in brush. We never got another picture of him after that gun season, so often the case. The next year a buck with a wide rack, large gut and unbelievably huge neck showed up. He had a slight drop tine off the end of his beam which made it look like a crab claw. I started calling him “Crabby”. I was soon to find out that the name matched him in more ways than one.
Heading in to our second year we had a better grasp of the property. Off season scouting was key in locating the main bedding area on the 40 acres. The problem was, it was at the absolute far end of the property. That and we were hunting “ridge country”. So getting back there without every deer in the area spotting us was problematic to say the least. The deer love to bed high and play the thermals during the day. They could see and smell anything going through the valleys. I was sure either the “Elk” or “Crabby” bedded back there, but was hoping our stands in between the bedding area and food would lead to an opportunity. So we didn’t put a stand near the bedding area. There was no good approach to hunt that area.
A few weeks in to the season we got a few pics of “Crabby” in the dark. He wasn’t close to our stands in daylight, that’s a problem with a wise old buck. However, our friend Sally who granted us hunting permission said she saw him “way in back”. I knew that meant close to the bedding area. She had a routine of riding her 4 wheeler all the way back while having her dog walk beside her. It was their daily, “walk”.
After hearing that she saw him in daylight we decided to put a stand right next to the bedding area. We took a hang-on stand and a stick ladder, and found a few scrapes in the area that looked like a deer bathroom. There was more “deer waste” in there than I could believe. But the strange part, very few noticeable trails. They were walking around browsing or bedding. I knew this spot would be key during the rut. So we put the stand up, cleared a few small shooting lanes and got out.
As the rut started my Dad got a crack at him. But not where I had thought. Crabby had fallen in love and chased a doe, in daylight, past one of our transition stands. My Dad was sitting in between the bedding area and the fields that were off the property. It was a brushy area that funneled deer on their way to feed. Unfortunately the shot was off and Crabby lived another day.
I felt terrible for my Dad but he was in good spirits. He told me he was happy to have seen a big buck and happy it was a clean miss. A nice reminder of what we are out there for, the memories and enjoying the outdoors, not just the harvest. However, I knew that meant it would be tough to catch him that far from “home” again. I started trying to figure out how to get back to the bedding area without ruining the area the bed was in.
Change in Plans
Finally I decided to ask Sally if I could use her four wheeler to get back there. I would only wear my base layer, pack the rest of my clothes in a scent free bag, and ride back like she did when walking the dog. When I parked I would get dressed and spray down, then walk the last 150 yards. She said I could and showed me where the keys were.
I first hunted that “bedding stand” a few days before Halloween and was not disappointed. I used the four wheeler and snuck to the stand. I saw deer within 5 minutes of sitting down and they were not spooked, perfect. I saw deer after deer that first day but nothing huge. I thought it would be just a matter of time but also knew I couldn’t over hunt it. I had the next week off so promised myself I would only hunt it during certain wind directions, never when they could smell me from their main bedding area no matter how tempting it was.
The second hunt was just as good as the first. The thing that stuck out to me about that hunt was broken racks. I saw two 2.5 year old bucks with racks snapped off near the base of their main beams. Something big was cleaning house. I thought of the huge neck on Crabby and knew he was using that to not just spar, but snap beams off of smaller buck’s racks. Crabby dude, big dude.
Another couple days went by without me hunting the stand, wrong wind. Finally on November 4th the wind was right. I was tired, had hunted other stands from sun up to sun down for 5 straight days. I overslept, never heard my alarm. I got to the stand at 9 a.m., very upset with myself. However, soon after sitting down a small doe went by. I had gotten in quiet at least that was a good sign.
The doe was browsing and stopped and looked back. I heard a very deep grunt and knew a mature buck was coming to check her out. She ran and the buck circled and caught up with her, his body was huge but I couldn’t see the rack. They ran over the lip of the ridge, then circled below me out of sight.
I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Was that it? I couldn’t have shot him with a rifle, way too thick. Around 1:30 I decided to eat lunch. I scarfed down a sandwich, took a drink of water and decided I might as well grunt a bit. So I did 5 fast grunts, then a bleat, then 5 more quick grunts with a “buck growl” at the end. Immediately after setting my grunt in my pocket I heard a deer coming. I grabbed my bow and turned towards the sound.
It was Crabby. He did not like that another buck was in the bedding area, at all. His ears were pinned back and he was walking stiff legged. The problem was he was coming straight at me. I didn’t move and let him walk by my tree at 2 yards. I will never forget looking down at him, seeing how huge his body was and at the same time realizing I didn’t have a shot. I kept as calm as I could and realized where he was going. As soon as he was on the other side of the tree I swung to my left and drew my bow, I would shoot him going away.
I stood there holding my bow at full draw for what seemed like forever. He was in thick cover, I had no shot. I did have one at 25 yards if he kept going that direction. I got lucky, he did and stepped into my 25 yard shooting lane. I grunted with my mouth to stop him and let the arrow fly. It happened so fast that I didn’t see where my arrow hit. I just remember saying to myself, “Aim, aim, aim” and the release going off.
I waited and then called my buddy, he said to get out of there for a bit. I had shot at 1:40 p.m. so I had time before dark. I then called my Dad, he was on his way already to sit for the night. I told him not to come in to the woods and said I would meet him by the parking spot. When I got down I snuck to the spot Crabby had been standing when I shot. The arrow was buried in the leaves with blood on it, a pass through and a good sign.
We sat up by the trucks, or my Dad did. He calmly read the paper as I paced and replayed the shot in my head over and over and over again. I kept asking him questions we didn’t have the answers to and he kept reading, ha. After a few hours we decided to head in and look for the buck. We hopped on the four wheelers and headed back.
We took the same approach I had when hunting the stand. The game plan was to have him head one direction so he could see further and cut the buck off if he was still alive, I would follow the trail.
I found my arrow, picked it up and knew he was hit hard. I looked at the direction he had gone and didn’t see blood for the first 10 yards or so. After that, it was all over the place. I slowly walked over a slight lip and looked down, he hadn’t gone 30 yards. I couldn’t see where he lay from my tree stand but there he was. My first feeling was relief, I never want to wound a deer. It happens, but I now knew he had been taken cleanly and didn’t go far.
I told my Dad to come over and went to look at the buck. The horns were big but his body was what will always stand out in my head. He ended up weighing just over 200 lbs field dressed. Keep in mind he had been running for weeks on end prior to when I shot him and had lost weight. His neck was enormous. It measured over 28” at the top of the white patch on the neck. We would later find out the taxidermist had to order the “Alberta/Canadian” whitetail mold for him. His inside spread was 20”, he had the slight drop tine on one end and a sticker point off of the base of his left beam. I’m not big on scoring bucks but he was in the mid 140s prior to any deductions.
My Dad took a bunch of pictures and we kept staring at the body. It was the biggest deer either of us had taken and we were both speechless. A great moment and there is nobody else I would rather have shared it with.
Looking back at that hunt a few key things happened. First, we needed to find the main bedding area on that property. It could be on your property or the neighbors, but it is there somewhere. It really helped connect the dots as to what the deer were doing there. Second, the approach was key. We hadn’t been hunting too far back due to knowing we would spook everything getting there. The same thing probably happened with the neighboring hunters, the bedding area was right next to the neighboring property and they bow hunted too. The 4 wheeler was what made it happen. If Sally hadn’t been using it to walk the dog I doubt it would have worked.
So in conclusion, be creative when chasing those older bucks. They have seen it all by the time they get to that age. Use what is there against them, in this case it was Sally using the land. Also, approach them a different way if what you are doing isn’t working. One of my favorite quotes comes from Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Stop the insanity, try a different approach this fall!
Have fun and be safe!