Success Misses Something, Sets Course for New Traditions

The setting was magical and paid off countless dreams my imagination summoned for the last several months.

I was in my favorite tree on the west side of the Mississippi. The wind was ideal and delivered what this day’s forecast had predicted over the previous five days. The calendar corresponded to

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The author with his 2016 Midwestern Whitetail Success.

those supreme days of November that eons of history have shown to be premium for having a shot at a buck-of-a-lifetime.

And I did.

It was an amazing feeling – euphoric in every way. Through the hours of jubilation that followed, though, I was quick to realize that something was missing. I knew it immediately, and I’d be lying if I didn’t forget for a moment that this great tale would miss an important piece that all others of its kind had held over the last two-plus decades of bowhunting.

Immediately following a moment like this, I have a small checklist of folks to communicate with to follow along with a fruitful hunt’s conclusion. My dad was always position No. 1 on that list. On this successful day, one of the most memorable and enjoyable of my hunting career, he was not there.

He passed away nearly three years ago, but him following along via phone calls or text messages when I connected with a big buck was among some of the best parts of the journey. No matter which state I was hunting.

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Another view of the beautiful deer.

I think it was fun for him too. He often offered advice or positive reinforcement from afar, doing his part to feel like he was alongside me the way he was all those years tracking deer on our farm in Western New York.

I wiped away a few small tears selfishly wishing I could call him.

I knew I couldn’t reach him, but prayed he was following from afar this time too.

Don’t get me wrong. Being able to connect on a majestic Midwestern whitetail remains one of the best feelings a hunter could have. This time was no different.

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A magical day, only one thing was missing from making it even better.

I celebrated success with some of the dearest friends a deer dude could ask for – both in person and by phone. It was just missing some of the individual tradition that had for so long accompanied the joy.

Like all traditions, this one must change too. For me, I welcomed the updated version of celebrating with my own kids, who are still too young to hunt, but know the passion the outdoors has sowed in my soul. I look forward to their successes afield someday. Then, I hope to become part of their small checklist too.

Maybe even position No. 1!


How a :60 Sec Hunt Etched a Life Long Memory

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The Author and his prized ‘Bully 5.’

The actual hunt for this buck lasted all of: 60 seconds, but the memories made will last a lifetime. The morning of October 25, 2016 started as mine usually do – getting my kids out of the house and off to school. Except this morning, I didn’t have to continue on to work. Instead, I had taken the day off and had to head to one of my two hunting properties to retrieve a doe my son and I and hit the night before.

For this, I asked my Dad to tag along for some help and hunting companionship. Days like these are rare. Dad and I don’t have time to spend alone hunting like we did back in the glory days of my upbringing. Now it’s me and my wife who are raising children and teaching them the art of hunting and the respect for the great outdoors.

Once scooping Dad and hitting the road for school drop-off, I noticed an SUV pulled to the side of the road adjacent to our home property. I rolled down the window and could see the damage to the vehicle. The driver soon confirmed that he’d hit a deer, but wasn’t sure what it was or if the animal was fatally wounded. We exchanged pleasantries and continued on our way.

After dropping my son at school, Dad and I soon arrived at our property in Livingston County where I had shot the doe the night before. It took us approximately :30 minutes to locate the downed whitetail. However, upon walking up to the doe, I soon realized we weren’t the only ones who had discovered the kill. Coyotes had beaten us to the scene and had devoured the venison I was so looking forward to depositing into my freezer. Gosh, I dislike coyotes.

With a disappointing ending, Dad and I hopped back in the truck to return home. On our ride back I suggested to Dad that we do the ethical thing and check the area where the gentleman had struck the deer hours before to ensure the animal wasn’t laying in the brush suffering.  Dad agreed and we formulated our plan. Upon arriving back to our Ontario County property, I grabbed my bow and gear. Dad and I made the short walk through our property to the neighbor’s lawn where the man had told us the deer was seen flopping around after he’d struck it. We began searching the edge of the road and the perimeter of the lawn for any sign of the wounded deer. We didn’t see any evidence. No blood, hair or any other sign of a wounded animal.

Not sure what to do next, Dad suggested I grab my bow and stand at the end of a section of brush while he entered to continue the search. Our idea was; that if the wounded animal was to get up and try and escape the brush-lot I would at least see it or maybe even get a shot at the wounded animal. I agreed and headed over. I knocked an arrow and waited.

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The ‘Music Camp.’ The remnants of the old bandstand can be seen in this satellite image.

It’s important to note that this section of brush we call the ‘Music Camp’ is very familiar to Dad and me. We’ve hunted it our entire lives. The 4 acre swath got its name from the 1960’s when in its glory days the property’s former owner literally ran a music camp there. Kids would come from all over New York and points beyond to attend the camp. As of a few years ago, the old bandstand – including chairs and music stands still stood as they were left by the children decades ago. The camp is long gone and in fact resembles more of a jungle now as the brush is well above my head. The deer love it though and we love it, too because it acts as a deer sanctuary and allows them to escape the area’s heavy hunting pressure.

As I stood at the end of the brush lot and watched, I was reminded of some of the previous hunts Dad and I have shared in years prior. There was that big 8-pointer I had tagged with my muzzleloader back in the early 2000’s and the time I saw one of the biggest bucks of my youth, but choked when I shot a dogwood (tree) and not the deer.

And then it happened. I had glanced up to the north and I could see a large-bodied buck moving through the brush and headed to a clearing. Could the ‘Music Camp’ produce yet another magical memory? I was around 80 yards from the buck and needed to close the distance – and fast. I tucked my bow and arrow under my arm and began to run. As I edged closer and closer to the clearing, I glanced up to ensure the buck was still on his way. He was. I closed another 20 to 30 yards and waited. I could see the buck walking slowly through the brush – he was nearing the clearing and I knew the encounter was going to happen. I drew my Bowtech 101st Airborne and waited. At 22 yards, the buck stepped out of the brush. It was the moment of truth and in the game of hunting I was in the driver’s seat because the buck hadn’t detected my presence, but I had his.

I waited, aimed and let the Easton arrow fly. It was a true and perfect shot as I’d hit the buck right in the boiler. He spun and ran right back into the ‘Music Camp.’ I dropped to my knees and laughed. What the heck had just happened? Unreal!

I could hear Dad in the brush and he was making his way. He had no idea that I had shot or had even seen a deer. I grabbed my phone, clicked it on video and hit record:

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‘Bully 5’ (foreground) makes an appearance just hours prior to his face-to-face meeting with the author. Date and time clearly wrong in photo.

“I’m pulling out my phone to record this because no one in the world will believe what just happened,” I said. “What,” Dad said it a surprised look on his face. “A monster just walked out of the ‘Music Camp’ and I shot him at like 20-yards,” I relied. “You’re kidding me!” “Nope!” Dad and I started hugging and acting like all hunters do when we achieve success. Dad said to me he was just thinking that every few years he and I do something so stupid and end up shooting a nice buck. He was right and we had.

We decided to give the deer some time to expire and headed back to the house for a coffee and to reminisce on the morning’s events. On the way back to the house I decided to pop a card on a camera I have located not too far from the ‘Music Camp.’ I replaced the card and headed to the house. I popped the card in the computer and, as fate would have it, on this memory-filled Monday, there was he was. The buck I had just arrowed posed for that camera just hours prior. This was certainly cool and added to the hunt. He was a deer we had limited history with, but one I’d coined as the ‘Bully 5.’ This buck was a tank with a set of wacky antlers that only sported 5 points.

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Where the Bully landed.

Dad and I returned to the site of the shot and took up the blood trail. Some 80 yards later, we walked up on ‘Bully 5.’ He was down.

He was exactly what I thought he was – a fully mature Western New York bruiser of a buck. I was thrilled with him. After tagging ‘Bully 5,’ Dad snapped a few pictures to document the day. They turned out great, but the memories made will remain as vivid in my mind as the images captured.

As it turns out, we never did find any sign of that wounded deer – and ‘Bully 5’ didn’t have any injuries to him. So that mystery remains unsolved. I do owe that motorist a ‘thank you’ though. Had he not struck that deer with his car, Dad and I would have never done what we did.

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The Bully & The Bolt. The buck’s 170 lbs. field dressed weight proved to be too much for the author’s hanging system. #busted

‘Bully 5’ tipped the scale at 170 lbs. The big boy proved to be too much for one of my eye bolts as it snapped in half when I was hoisting him up.

What a blessed day in the deer woods of WNY.


NC Record Buck Killed: Davis Buck of Davidson County

Steven Davis killed one of those bucks that drive hunters across the country to settle into deer stands in the Midwest. For there is where so many whitetail monarchs roam the woods and plains.

Except instead of taking the deer in one of the heartland states of Iowa, Kansas or Illinois, Davis shot the nearly 190″ buck on his family land in Davidson County, NC. That’s not a typo!

Steven Davis with his Davidson County, NC, buck - one that will likely be the new No. 1 with archery in the state. (Photo borrowed from northcarolinasportsman.com)

Steven Davis with his Davidson County, NC, buck – one that will likely be the new No. 1 with archery in the state. (Photo borrowed from northcarolinasportsman.com)

According to an article on North Carolina Sportsman Davis had trail cam pictures of the giant and watched him on the hoof for four days before getting a crossbow bolt into him on Sept. 18.

The buck is likely headed to the top of the list of bucks killed with archery gear in North Carolina. He is a remarkable animal regardless of the state.

In addition to seeing the deer, he even had the opportunity to watch the buck shed his velvet.

What strikes me about this amazing opportunity for Davis is not only that he was able to shoot the deer, but how he enjoyed the excitement that came with actually pursuing him over several days. I’m not sure I would have been able to sleep during that time!

Also interesting is that several neighbors had photos of this buck dating back several years and as far away as five miles from where Davis shot the buck! What a great legend of a deer.

Congrats to Davis, who is a full-time firefighter for the city of Winston-Salem.


Roots of My Hunting Passion

Size 8 boots, and a lazy right eye after I’ve had just one drink too many.

My dad passed down a lot of traits from the branch extending above me on our oak-like family tree.

Some of those things came innately, while others were taught over time. I’m unequivocally grateful for all of them.

That said I’m not sure many of those direct descendant qualities from dad mean more to me than the passion for the outdoors.

My dad passed away March 23.

The "game wall" at my dad's shop is a reminder of his hunting passion. He's far right. The fellowship of family trumped the hunting later in his outdoor hobby

The “game wall” at my dad’s shop is a reminder of his hunting passion. He is far right. The fellowship of family trumped the hunting later in his outdoor hobby

I knew that my next post on AHuntersTales.com would be about him. And I knew it would be a while before I would be able to muster up the ability to write that post. It took a visit to Iowa with a couple dear friends, and hunting buddies, to help me realize that time had come.

In thinking about my dad, hunting typically finds its way into the reflection. It was a shared passion. I have probably taken it to greater extremes than he ever did, but only because he gave spark to ignite and, most importantly, encourage it.

I’m a parent now. And so often when you’re a parent, you want your children to be afforded opportunities that were better than those you received. Not true for hunting and me. When it comes to hunting I want to do things the same way my dad did with me. If that leads to my kids having a similar passion for the outdoors that I’ve enjoyed for three decades, that would suit me just fine.

The stories …

It was on our way home feeding our cattle one Wednesday evening over 20 years ago when my dad and I made the trip to Belmont Archery. I was 15 and had saved enough money to make most of the payment for a new bow. Dad, who shot league archery many years previous to that, waited patiently as we outfitted a new PSE Spirit. When it came time to pay for the bow, dad surprised me by footing the entire bill.

I thanked him with hours and hours of shooting that bow in our back yard.

The recovery of my first archery buck came a couple seasons later. After we bumped the buck, he thought we should back out of the woods. I was dumbfounded that we’d leave the woods before laying hands on that deer. It was another teachable moment that proved his decision to be absolutely correct. We returned together early the next morning to find the buck within a short walk of where we stopped the night before.

I remember calling my dad a short time after arrowing my biggest deer ever many years later. He wanted to hear all the details of the encounter and gave his counsel on how to approach the recovery. It’s funny, I’ve recovered more deer than he probably ever did, but still soaked up every bit of wisdom he’d share. Of course, that sentiment didn’t stop at hunting advice.

Speaking of deer recoveries, one of my favorites included my dad in 2000. I’d arrowed a nice 7-point on our farm during a weeklong vacation there from Virginia, where I’d lived at the time. Dad wasn’t too far removed from a scary massive stroke he’d suffered that fall. Soon after getting out of the hospital, he purchased a four-wheeler to help him get around a little easier.

I called dad from the stand after connecting on the deer. He was excited to join in the recovery and I was equally elated to have him there. After he arrived on the four-wheeler, we used it to help us navigate the big woods.

The 7-point was no match for dad's new 4-wheeler!

The 7-point was no match for dad’s new 4-wheeler!

It wasn’t long before the deer was strapped to the back of the four-wheeler with me and dad riding shotgun out of the woods. It was a great moment, one we were blessed to have after dealing with the aftermath of that stroke.

I’m thankful for so many of the recoveries he and I shared over the years. And I wasn’t always the successful hunter. There was the time very early in my hunting career when dad had shot a buck. He valued the opportunity to teach my brothers and me during those early years of our hunting.

On this particular hunt, he was stressing the importance of gun safety, more specifically not climbing out of a stand with a loaded gun. Shortly after he descended, he tripped and fell into a spring, thereby filling his unloaded shotgun with mud. Lesson learned!

Dad admiring my 2010 Illinois buck while on a visit to our house.

Dad admiring my 2010 Illinois buck while on a visit to our house.

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Dad ended up carrying my shotgun throughout the recovery, one that included him providing several blood tracking tips that soaked into my young hunting soul.

A voracious photo taker (I’m not sure any person has purchased more disposable cameras over time), dad played lead photographer for so many of those post-hunt field photos. I wish he was in more of them alongside me. I am fortunate that we were together in several though. After an introduction to trail cameras several years ago, he became just as passionate about getting photos of deer and bear by way of several cameras. He turned into my best long-distance scout!

As dad got older, he seemed less interested in the hunt itself. He was just as happy about the fellowship hunting camp brought with his family and friends.

Taken several years ago, no one at this table realized this would be the last time our entire immediate family (mom, dad, three sons) would share deer camp together.

Taken several years ago, no one at this table realized this would be the last time our entire immediate family (mom, dad, three sons) would share deer camp together.

That, too, is something that has rubbed off on me of late. I still love hunting, but I’ve come to learn that sharing the field with family and friends can be just as important.

Shortly after I killed my biggest buck in Illinois, I wrote a post-hunt recap on this very site. In it, I noted how thankful I was for my dad introducing me to hunting. I was sitting in a stand in Illinois the next day when my dad texted me that he liked the story. I explicitly recall asking if he read that part. He said he had and that he thought it was nice. I told him I meant it, and that I loved him.

Then, I teared up on the stand.

I knew dad became a frequent lurker of this site a while back. I hadn’t updated the blog in a while and he pointed that out during a phone conversation.

Dad and me with a buck we'd nicknamed Ol' Wide Boy, a mature 4-point. A too-rare occasion when dad was on the subject side for a photo!

Dad and me with a buck we’d nicknamed Ol’ Wide Boy, a mature 4-point. A too-rare occasion when dad was on the subject side for a photo!

He was right.

The truth is I wished I’d have posted more too. I have so many stories with dad that have gone untold, and I wish I’d used them to help him understand just how much I value those memories afield.

Those memories are very much like the rest of the traits he passed down. And I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything – not a single damn thing.

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The Illinois Whitetail Disaster

By Don Higgins
AHT Guest Commentary

I am blessed to have watched the whitetail herd in my part of Illinois rise from nothing to become the greatest whitetail herd on planet earth. As a kid running the creeks and woods of east-central Illinois we basically had no deer whatsoever. Seeing a deer track was newsworthy and announcing such a discovery was more likely to bring ridicule than belief.

Author Don Higgins with several Illinois giants from years of hunting the Land of Lincoln

Author Don Higgins with several Illinois giants

Then, slowly at first, the deer started to appear. When I shot my first buck back in 1979 I only knew of three men who had taken a deer and two of those were harvested down in southern Illinois.

Back in the early days Illinois was blessed with a couple of cutting edge whitetail biologist who were ahead of their time in their approach to state-wide whitetail management. Forest Loomis and Jack Calhoun micro-managed Illinois growing deer herd county by county utilizing county check stations manned by college students and started a new management approach that other states would soon adopt; either-sex hunting.

Up to this point, states that allowed deer hunting managed their seasons by larger zones or even state-wide and only allowed bucks to be harvested. Loomis and Calhoun put Illinois on the fast-track to whitetail stardom with their hands-on approach to managing Illinois most precious natural resource. These pioneer biologist deserve way more credit and recognition than they have been afforded.

Soon whitetails were at huntable populations in every Illinois county. Not only that but with the management approach of these cutting edge biologists, the state enjoyed a whitetail herd with great age structure and proper sex ratios. By the mid-1980s Illinois was home to a whitetail herd that would please any deer hunter. Monster bucks were present in suitable numbers in every county for those seeking the challenge while a growing population meant plenty of opportunities for the meat hunter as well. Illinois became the destination of choice for whitetail addicts from across the globe.

Then disaster hit. No, it didn’t hit with the force of a tornado that was obvious and clear to see. In fact many didn’t even realize anything happened. But it did. And it was bad. Loomis and Calhoun retired and some time following a new whitetail biologist was hired. Paul Shelton was a waterfowl biologist from Tennessee when IDNR director Brent Manning hired him to come to Illinois and oversee the greatest whitetail herd on earth. Shelton was noted for his “computer models for waterfowl management” and apparently the idea was that he could bring this experience to Illinois and use it on our beloved whitetail herd. The problem is that whitetails are not waterfowl and in the past 20 years Paul Shelton has yet to figure that out.

Today the Illinois deer herd is in serious trouble and Illinois deer hunters are finally seeing it. Most are blaming two straight years of massive deer die-offs from EHD as the culprit. They are only partially right. Today’s deer herd disaster is the result of 2 years of EHD and 20 years of bad management. The quality of Illinois deer herd has been slowly trending downward for some time but the casual deer hunter didn’t see it and most wouldn’t even acknowledge the possibility … until this year.

With a firearms season harvest that was down 25% statewide and archery harvest figures likely to mirror those of the gun seasons, eyes have been opened and voices raised. The thing is, most of those who are finally upset have no idea how bad things really are. The “harvest” may be down roughly 25% since last year but the “herd” is really down more like 70% in some areas. On top of that, if you compare this year’s firearms harvest to that of 2005, it is actually down 40%. If you think the deer hunting was off this year, mark my words, the worst is yet to come.

IDNR biologist Paul Shelton and his cohorts John Buhnerkempe and Tom Micetich are in over their heads and yet have never worked under a DNR director with the guts, motivation, desire or wisdom to rein them in and get them on track. Current director Marc Miller seems to be no different. Team Shelton has destroyed the great deer herd nurtured to life by Loomis and Calhoun, yet I am not sure if that fact is as sad as having a string of IDNR directors without the concern for Illinois deer herd to insist that the management of our deer herd get back on track. I find it frustrating and more than a bit odd that Illinois fish biologists do an awesome job of managing Illinois waters for quality fishing with well-designed regulations such as creel limits and size limits, yet our whitetail biologist manage our deer herd like high-school drop-outs using $1.99 Wal-Mart calculators.

I personally was at a meeting in Decatur a few years back where John Buhnerkempe was telling a group of hunters about the approach they take to manage Illinois deer herd. Buhnerkempe said that they simply look at the herd numbers at the beginning of the season and set a goal of how many of those deer they want to be killed by the end of the hunting season. He went on to explain that they don’t care how those deer are killed or which ones are killed, they just want to get the herd down to a specific number. I’m serious folks, that is Illinois’ whitetail management approach in a nutshell. No regard at all is given to setting regulations that will improve sex-ratios or age structure. Nope, just go out and kill X number of deer. What’s worse is they can’t even do this right as evidenced by this year’s dramatic drop in harvest. They are so slow to react to changes within the deer herd that calling them “reactive” rather than “proactive” is too kind. It takes them years to even address a problem and never really admit that there was a problem to begin with. Again, mark my words, we haven’t seen the worst yet.

This leaves us with the obvious question of “where do we go from here?” Personally I hold out almost no hope that we will ever again see a deer herd of the quality that we once had. I have heard a couple of older hunters note that we still have more deer today than we did in the early 1970s so we can turn things around and have a good deer herd again in a few years. Let me give you three reasons why this won’t happen.

First and foremost we had Loomis and Calhoun in charge in the early 1970s whereas today we have Shelton, Buhnerkempe and Micetich. The former were clearly cutting edge pioneers whereas I have seen absolutely nothing from the latter to hint that they even care about the resource that they are in charge of managing. On top of this IDNR director Marc Miller has shown me nothing to indicate that he will step in and insist that the ship be righted. Strike one.

Secondly we have a lot more deer hunters today than we had during the 1970s. I would venture to guess that we probably have 4 or 5 times as many deer hunters now as compared to then. That represents a lot more pressure on a resource that now needs to be expanded rather than simply maintained at current levels. On top of that we now have a younger generation of deer hunters who do not remember the days when we had so few deer that a hunter would typically go years between deer harvests. Most of today’s deer hunters have always hunted during a period when they could easily kill multiple deer each and every year. It won’t be easy, and will likely be impossible, to get this group to accept a more limited role as true conservationists. Strike two.

Finally, Illinois politics will never allow for the proper management of our whitetail deer herd. Besides the fact that hunters themselves cannot agree on what is best for the herd, we also have to throw in the wishes of groups like insurance companies who want all the deer gone and are willing to fork over the bucks (pun intended) to see that their opinion carries plenty of weight with politicians who make key decisions regarding the management of our deer herd.

Let’s face it, IDNR director Marc Miller is simply in his position because he was appointed to be there by Governor Quinn. It is no secret that Illinois politics is a dirty business and Marc Miller is really nothing more than a puppet whose strings are being pulled by someone else. Strike three.

In a perfect world the management of big game herds is left to qualified professionals. That is what created the Illinois deer herd that was truly the best deer herd on the planet. Loomis and Calhoun loved what they were doing and did so without politics tying their hands. The Shelton gang has clearly demonstrated that not only do they not know what they are doing with regards to deer management; they also don’t seem to care. Illinois politics is simply the final nail in the coffin.

Loomis and Calhoun left us the greatest whitetail herd of any state in the nation as their legacy. Now it’s Shelton and Millers turn to leave theirs. Just as decades later I remember and reminisce about Loomis and Calhoun, so too will others someday do the same with Shelton and Miller. Shelton created this disaster and this is clearly his legacy. IDNR director Marc Miller didn’t create this mess but he clearly came on board in time to turn it around. He didn’t. Instead he went along with status-quo and the wheels came completely off the bus under his watch. Shelton won’t do anything to right the ship, I am certain of this.

From what I have seen from Miller, I don’t really expect him to do anything significant enough to make a real difference either. Mark my words, we haven’t seen the worst. I just hope that 30 or 40 years from now someone remembers the names Shelton, Micetich and Buhnerkempe as the ones who destroyed the world’s greatest whitetail deer herd just as clearly as I remember Loomis and Calhoun as the ones who created it.

About the Author
Don Higgins is a freelance outdoor writer from Shelby County, Illinois who has had articles published in just about every major outdoor magazine. Don has also authored 2 books on hunting whitetails and operates Higgins Outdoors, a multi-faceted company specializing in wildlife habitat consultation and creation. He can be reached through his website – www.higginsoutdoors.com

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Sixteen Hours of Separation

Sixteen Hours of Separation

Sixteen Hours of Separation

Patience is defined as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

My wife can attest that I don’t always posses that distinct quality, but in the month of November my patience increases – at least in the deer woods.

Up until November 15, my deer season was going so-so. I had harvested several does with no luck at punching my tag on a Hit List buck.

As you read last week here on AHT, my father tagged our number one target deer in on October 31, which was enough for me to call the season a success…even if I had to eat a tag sandwich.

I hunted hard through the early part of November, burning over a week’s vacation in an effort to try and seal the deal on a shooter buck. As the days of November ticked by, so did my chances.

With the NYS firearms season opening on November 16, I headed in for my final sit of the 2013 archery season on the afternoon of the 15th.  I got to my stand early in the afternoon and by 4 p.m. I hadn’t seen a deer.

We called my buck 'No Tail' for obvious reasons [see above].

We called my buck ‘No-Tail’ for obvious reasons [see above].

“That’s it,” I thought to myself. And then I heard the distinct sound of a deer walking.

I looked down the ridge and to my amazement, a good buck was headed my way.

In disbelief, I grabbed my BowTech and prepared for the shot. As the buck walked, I came to full draw. At 18 yards, I stopped the buck with a soft bleat. I centered my pin on his chest and let the arrow fly. It was a center punch. BOOM (fist pump, fist pump)!

'No Tail' goes down.

‘No-Tail’ goes down.

The buck bounded over to an adjacent knoll and began to go down. As the buck expired I sat down to replay what the heck had just happened. In the final half hour of the season, I had closed the deal. Suddenly all of those hours I put in setting stands, checking cameras, and scouting all seemed worth it.

I called my Dad with the good news.  After filling out my tag and collecting my buck, I headed for home to show my Dad and my 6-year-old son. Both were proud.

In our celebration and discussion, we’d lost focus of the fact that the next morning was the opening of the firearms season.

'No Tail' Hero Pic.

‘No-Tail’ Hero Pic.


Still on cloud-nine from my archery kill, I racked my brain for ideas on where to go the morning.

In a hasty, yet fateful decision, I decided that I’d sit in make-shift ground blind the next morning.

There was one buck frequenting this area that I was interested in, but surely I thought he wouldn’t show himself on opening morning. I was wrong.

The one image I captured of the deer I came to know as 'The Bonus Buck.'

The one image I captured of the deer I came to know as ‘The Bonus Buck.’

As the sun rose, I was still replaying the happenings of the night before in my head. At around 7:30 I thought I could hear a deer walking in the swale in front of the blind. I came to my feet and couldn’t believe my eyes.

There standing 30 yards from me was the exact buck I was after. I grabbed my trusty old Remington 1100 20 ga., centered my crosshairs and fired. Game over. The buck went down immediately.

‘Seriously?’ I said to myself. ‘Seriously!’ I told myself. Unreal. My season had pivoted in a matter of 16 hours.

I texted my Dad four words: ‘Well, that plan worked.’

Father & Son bonding moment.

Father & Son bonding moment.

After yet another photo session with my son, I sat down with a cup of coffee and began to reflect. Several words came to my mind: Blessed, Fortunate, Family, Persistence, and Patience – The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Cat Tales:

This year was my 20th consecutive year of hunting the New York State firearms season. It seems like yesterday I was 16-years-old and hunting with my father and grandfather.

Grandpa died in 1998, but I will always cherish the memory of opening day of 1993.

Nov. 15, 1993

Nov. 15, 1993


On that morning a fine 8-pointer walked to me and became the first buck I’d ever kill with a gun. Grandpa was there with me that day. I also believe he was there with me this year as I harvested the buck with my gun some 100 yards from where this image was taken 20 years ago to the day.

Greg Johnston is a contributor to AHT. He is most notably known here for his weekly report on rut activity. The WNY native balances time between the woods and home where he and his wife are busy raising their two young children.


5th Annual AHT Holiday Gift Guide for Sportsmen

It’s sort of like taxes, except instead of being a thorn in the bum, it’s welcomed by wives across the nation globe.

The annual AHuntersTales.com holiday gift guide is back! And the easiest way to get your wish list to your wife / girlfriend / both, mom, dad or anyone else frustrated by your picky hunting needs is to send them right here to this page.

Without further ado, here is the 2013 version of go-to gifts, selected after hours of consultation among the AHT staff.

Pals for the Paws
Cold feet aren’t just for nervous grooms. I don’t recall a season where I’ve hunted in colder weather consistently than during this deer season. And I have an idea for how I’m going to fix the cold feet that are often times destined during a long sit on stand. I thought I had a formula for keeping my feet toasty, but one sit in a ground blind in the snow and five degrees last month left me with a slight case of frost bite.

Thermacell Insoles

Thermacell Insoles


Check out the Thermacell remote control insoles. Available at a number of big box outdoor stores and a number of places online, these insoles are size specific and slip into your boots. The best part is you can control their use while in the stand, meaning you won’t have to deal with sweaty feet that freeze when still.

Prices very, but expect to pay around $115 for a pair of the insoles.

Start a Fire, Charge your Phone
For the outdoorsman or camper who likes all the gadgets, this one ranks right up there on the “cool” factor.

The CampSove

The CampSove

The CampStove by BioLite is not only eco-friendly, but using it can now double to charge your phone by the built-in USB hookup.

The mini-stove is only 8 1/2″ x 5″ but can boil a liter of water in less than five minutes. Another item on the pricey side, this one goes for $125 or so online.

A Dog Needs Food to Bark
I’m not sure I ever expected to have ammo on the wish list here, but times have changed. With the prices on ammo continuing to rise, and limits being placed on the volume allowed at purchase, few outdoorsmen are turning their nose to having a little extra ammo in their storage locker.

AA target loads are a safe bet for a lot of hunters

AA target loads are a safe bet for a lot of hunters


This one takes a little more work to make sure you’re purchasing the right ammo for the right guns, but it can lead to an extra wink from your significant other when done correctly. The other great part is you can customize the ammo purchase to meet your gift budget by quantity. Some target loads start at $7 and a box of hard-to-find rifle ammo will exceed $30. Mix and match to really get it right!

A Repeat Reminder
Each year, we identify a couple repeat gift ideas.
Why?

Havalon's Piranta Series Knives come in a few different colors

Havalon’s Piranta Series Knives come in a few different colors

Because they’re that good and we want to remind you in case you didn’t get that gift last year. In addition to a great pair of socks (should be on the list every year), this year’s pick for repeat status is the Havalon Piranta Series Knife.

These knives are extremely handy, and a number of manufacturers have developed similar razor-style knives. I’m sure many have similar effectiveness. Regardless of the brand, this is a great tool for the hunter that finds common success afield.

The Havalon version sells for roughly $40.

Smoke Signals Make Me Happy
My wife and I comment quite regularly how surprised we are by the frequency that we use our smoker to cook food. On the heels of an all-day venison jerky making smoke festival, we have few things that have paid off over and over again with respect to how much we’ve paid for them. Our smoker has done that.

A typical box-style smoker

A typical box-style smoker


I opted for the propane fueled box style smoker, but have friends with the electric version and others with the more barrel-style original style. When used correctly, they’re fantastic for cooking all kinds of meats, vegetables, etc.

Several box stores have smokers on sale this time of year, meaning you can find one for $150 quite regularly. Well worth it. And remember to buy a bag of smoke chips if your outdoorsman doesn’t have dried hickory at his/her immediate disposal.

A Neat Meat Reminder
Admittedly, I’ve yet to read one of the books that’s on my growing “to read” list.

The Mindful Carnivore

The Mindful Carnivore

Upon learning more about the book, The Mindful Carnivore by Tovar Cerulli when reading a review earlier this year, it provoked me to add to my list and reminded me to include it in this year’s gift guide. I’ve noticed it on a couple other gift guides in 2013.

I have a couple friends who had similar searches for sustenance and it sounds like Cerulli went through a very logical experience that led him to adding meat to his previously vegetarian diet.

You can find the book on Amazon.com for under $15. I look forward to reading the book at some point this year.

Not good enough?
If this list doesn’t quench your shopping thirst, or you’ve bought everything and want to buy more, here are links to the previous four gift guides. Each has some terrific gift ideas that remain relevant and useful.

2012
2011
2010
2009

Also, I stumbled upon another gift guide on a fellow outdoor bloggers site. Al Quackenbush notes he’s a fellow Western New Yorker. For that, I’m happy to share his guide as well. Read it on his The SoCal Bowhunter site.

Happy Holidays! Remember the Reason for the Season!