For 7 years Russ Van Zoeren of Twin Lake, Michigan, had traveled to Kansas to bowhunt on public land. November 10 on the 8th year, he fired his first arrow.

After a heat wave with temps in the 80s, storms and a cold front crashed through the night of the 9th. The mercury plummeted into 30s and a northwest wind of 25 shook the leaves off the trees.

Next morning at 8:15, a buck stepped out of a fence row and marched down the same trail Russ had walked on to his tree stand. His brow tines were huge and forked! At 13 yards the giant stopped to smell a scrape that Russ had doctored with hot-doe scent.

The arrow was perfect and the deer didn’t run far.

The 6 ½-year-old animal dressed out at 200 pounds, on the light side for a fully mature Kansas buck. But there was nothing little about that massive rack, which grossed 238 6/8 and netted 229 1/8 non-typical.

Lessons To Learn:

  • You can shoot a monster on public land if you do your research, pick a good area with light pressure (priority number one), hunt hard during November, and be persistent and patient. Remember, Russ waited 8 years to fire one arrow, but man it was worth it.
  • As I have blogged many times before, the day after a cold front whips through an area and drops the temperature 20-30 degrees or more is one of the best times to hunt. You’ll have to deal with moderate to high winds for a day or two on the backside of the front, but the big boys will move, especially when they’re hunting does in early November.
  • Sweat the details, especially when it comes to scent control. Russ wore Scent-Lok and rubber boots, and he sprayed with an odor-killer. Had he not been vigilant about his scent, the monster might have smelled his stench on the trail and spooked or melted off in the brush.
  • It never hurts to dump some fresh doe pee in a scrape near your stand. If it works only once a season and stops an awesome buck like Russ’ for a close bowshot, isn’t it worth $15 and the effort?

Rhode Island Record Buck

Steve Ponte of Newport, Rhode Island, watched a bachelor’s gang of six come and go from woods to a hay field most everyday last August. One buck stood out as the dominant dude. Steve figured him at 150 P&Y points, a shooter anywhere and a true giant for the smallest state in the Nation.

Poof, the whole gang disappeared in September.

Steve hung tough and kept hunting for weeks. The day after Thanksgiving, he snuck to a stand around 2:30 p.m. He sat down quickly, readied his gear, nocked an arrow, hung up his bow, and even hooked his release to the string. His stand was low, maybe 15 feet. Steve knew he had keep movement to an absolute minimum to keep from spooking any deer that walked close.

He sat like a stone until 4 p.m., when he caught a flash near a stream. He turned his head slowly—a tall-racked buck was close, wading in the water up to his chest. Steve had all of 3 seconds to react. When the buck’s head went behind a fat tree, he stood, plucked his bow off the hanger, and came to full draw in one motion.

The buck popped out the other side of the tree, still coming in. But then he six-sensed something amiss, as big deer are wont to do. The 10-pointer stopped, slowly back-peddled into the stream, and started walking away. Steve had a brief quartering-away shot at 30 yards and he took it. He heard a sickening plop–gut shot?

The buck splashed up the stream and jumped into some cattails. Steve marked the last place he saw him, beside a large swamp oak. He settled down and rethought things. He glassed for his arrow and found it sticking in the stream bank.

He snuck down and checked the arrow. Clean as a whistle, washed by the water. Steve walked upstream and found big footprints in the mud and then splotches of blood.

Doubting the shot now, Steve backed out and gave it a long time. When he returned to the last blood drops, he tracked 20 yards further, looked up and saw a massive rack tilting up in the air!

The shot had been better than he thought. The arrow had entered behind the last rib, pierced the liver and one lung, and exited the off front shoulder.

The whole time, from when Steve had first seen the buck in the steam until when he found him in the oak leaves the next day, he never realized it was the same giant that he had glassed many times earlier in August, but that he hadn’t seen since.

The rack was bigger than Steve had predicted, too. It grossed 176 and netted 166 6/8, one of the biggest bucks ever shot in Rhode Island.

Lessons To Learn:

  • That Steve “lost” that buck from September through Thanksgiving is not all that surprising. Biologists say many bucks go through a “fall shift” of several hundred acres as they move from summer to winter range. The monster likely moved a little ways off Steve’s lease and then came back through in late November, probably looking for a last doe. By hanging tough and hunting hard for weeks, Steve finally got him.
  • Steve was smart to consider his low 15-foot stand and tweak his moves or lack thereof to it. Every setup is different and requires you to react a bit differently when a buck walks into range.
  • Steve stayed cool yet made the bold decision to shoot when he had a split-second chance at the buck quartering away—fantastic! I never want anybody to take a risky bowshot, but too many hunters are tentative and let a big deer get away. Take him if you can.
  • One-lunged deer can go a long way, though this one punched through the liver didn’t. Still, Steve did the right thing by backing out and giving it time.

Scrape-Crazy Iowa Brute

One Saturday morning Kaleb Kisky got up early, pulled on his camo and went bowhunting with his dad, Don, on their Iowa farm. Dawn broke, and it wasn’t long before they heard pop, pop, pop in the leaves. A 10-pointer walked stiff-legged toward their tree stands, paused to rip a scrape and turned broadside at 15 yards. Kaleb drew his bow and sailed an arrow inches over the deer’s back.

The buck hopped off but to Kaleb’s amazement he started circling back toward the scrape! The kid nocked another arrow, took a deep breath and center-punched the lungs this time. The buck fell within 15 yards, and Don caught all the action on video.

Lessons to Learn:

  • Kaleb hunted just the right scrape. A University of Georgia study showed that bucks hit some scrapes time and time again, and let other scrapes go cold. Your job is to find and hunt one of the hot ones. A good rule of thumb: If you watch a scrape several days in a row but don’t many deer, move to a different set of scrapes on a nearby ridge or in a creek bottom. The bucks may be more active there.
  • If you miss a buck with either a broadhead or a bullet, chill. If the deer didn’t see you, he was stunned and didn’t really know what happened–it might have been a stick cracking, a limb falling, thunder…Sometimes a missed buck will settle down, come back and give you a second shot. Be ready to redeem yourself.

Hard-Luck Indiana Booner

A few years ago, Christopher Thomas had a rough month of November. He lost all his personal belongings in a fire, and he lost one of his best friends. To top it off, Chris went out to his west-central Indiana hunting spot on Nov. 19 and found that some slime bag had ripped off his ladder stand.

Chris needed some time to hunt and clear his head, so he said to heck with it and plopped down beside a tree close to where his stand had been. Soon a gang of drive hunters traipsed through the area! What else could go wrong?

Chris hung tough and a group of does came along at midday, followed by giant. Chris rolled him with a slug and couldn’t believe how his luck had changed—the buck scored 198 3/8 non-typical.

Way to go Chris, you deserved it man.

Lessons To Learn:

  • A lot of things can and do go wrong in the woods. Don’t give up, but hang tough. You’ve got only a week or so to hunt the rut each year, so make the most of it.
  • When people encroach on your spot, you naturally want to get up and leave. That’s not always smart in the rut, because bucks are not on any sort of pattern. You never know when and where a monster will come along. If you’re in a good spot with good sign, stick tight once other hunters have left.
  • Chris’ titan is proof that the middle of the day in the rut can be hot. Stay out there!

5-Minute Canadian Giant

Georgia hunter Brian Wilson traveled thousands of miles to northern Saskatchewan to spend a week in the land of the giants. On November 6, five minutes into his ground-blind hunt, Brian smoked a fantastic 13-pointer with heavy mass and stickers. The gnarly, black-beamed stud grossed 185!

Lessons To Learn:

  • It can happen that quickly when you’re hunting the rut anywhere in North America. Be ready.
  • Kudos to Brian for pulling the trigger 5 days into a 6-day, $6,000 hunt. That is not an easy thing to do, especially in a place like Saskatchewan where you always think a bigger buck might be coming. But then if a 185” monster walked out in front of you, what would you do? If it’s a buck you like, no matter the score, shoot man—don’t wait for a bigger one that you probably won’t ever see.

Iowa Same Stand Double

Brian LaRue cut out of work early one November 22. The rut was still on in Winneshiek Co., Iowa, and he was pumped. Brian sneaked toward his favorite stand in a walnut tree, even though the northwest wind would be wrong there. But when he got to the stand bingo! The wind was straight west, okay for deer movement in the area, so he climbed up. He looked down and noticed a big, fresh rub at the base of his stand.

Brain spotted a thick 8-pointer dogging a couple of does. Two small bucks came by. Soon another deer moved behind the little guys–maybe the 8-point pig circling back? No, this deer was smaller bodied, but his rack was bigger. Lord, it was the 200-inch giant that Brain had seen a couple of times the year before!

The monster skulked toward Brian’s stand, stopped 60 yards out, and mauled a tree. Brian used the break to ready his bow and calm his nerves. The brute stopped rubbing and bore for the walnut, curving off to the side, sliding by at a tough angle. Brian panned with the deer, leaned out and around the tree and let an arrow fly. Brian is convinced the deer was going for the rub below the stand when he killed him at 4:22 p.m.

Tale of the tape: The 22-pointer’s rack had a 30-inch outside spread, gross-scored 237 2/8 and netted of 221 4/8. Brian figures the buck was 4½ and weighed 165 pounds. Sometimes due to weird genetics mature bucks don’t weigh all that much. Plus, this brute had shed some pounds chasing and breeding does for the last few weeks.

On November 21 the next year, Brian left work and went back to the same walnut stand. Around 4:15 p.m. he spotted a couple of does. He caught a flash—a shooter bore for the girls! Just then a fork-horn walked under the walnut tree—the big boy turned and beelined for the little guy. Brian cut him off with an arrow, almost to the minute of when he had killed his 221-inch monster the year before. This buck was smaller—20 inches wide and 160-class!

Lessons To learn:

  • The wind at your truck might blow, say, out of the north, but a half-mile away at your best stand it might be northwest or west or whatever, depending on how the terrain and cover affect the breeze and thermals there. So what you think is a bad wind might be okay. Sneak in and check it out, especially when the rut is kicking and you know there’s smoking buck sign in a spot.
  • If it’s warm in early November and turns cold later on, you’ll see more mature bucks on their feet in daylight in the last-ditch trolling phase than you did earlier in the rut.
  • Some stands like Brian’s walnut tree are in just the right spot where you’ll see and get shots at big bucks year after year. Keep quiet and guard those stands with your life. Don’t over-hunt them too early in the fall. Wait until the rut is on, then move in and go for it hard.
  • You can’t expect to kill a big buck year after year if you’re not out in the timber in a good stand a lot. Try to get a job like Brian’s, with a company that will let you cut out early many afternoons from November 1 through 22, the rut window when 90 percent of the world-class bucks are killed across North America each fall. Heck, that is probably the best lesson of all!