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2018 AHT Holiday Gift Guide

It’s that time of year again! Alright you procrastinating gift giver, get off of your duff and log on to the world wide web and make that purchase of something the outdoorsman in your life is going to be happy about this holiday season.

A friendly reminder to look at the former gift guides done on this site as a number of the gifts are still relevant! Click here to access all that have been on this site in recent years!

Without further ado, here is the 2018 version of the A Hunters Tales Holiday Gift Guide!

Get ‘em a Hooker – Skull Hooker

A couple of skull hookers in use (including the Kansas 11-pointer without his nose!).

This is a gift I was first introduced to by AHT contributor (who owes our readers a piece or two about his hunting success in 2018 … yes, he was successful again!) Greg Johnston. The skull hooker keeps your European mount stable and presents your trophy with artistic flare. Let me tell you what else it does: it keeps your Euro from taking a nose-first dive into a concrete floor after you “have to move it a tad.” Yes, I was the idiot that broke the sinus bones off of a pretty 11-point buck I killed in Kansas several years ago. The skull hooker wasn’t around then, but I’m thankful it is now!

I’ve Got Buck Fever!

This one comes with a story. We were sitting around deer camp last month, swapping stories about seasons gone by, when we found a bottle of doe urine that was, as best as we could recall, at least 12 years old. Of course, we had to open it and see what aroma remained. It was nasty!

The idea of synthetic scents is intriguing to me, primarily to combat that very situation. Conceivably, a synthetic scent should not change its chemical makeup over time and carry its intended scent for the long haul.

Think of it this way, have you ever pulled that bottle of Brut off the dresser from 1987 and seen if the scent remains the same? I have. And it does. But I still resist the urge to wear it the way I did when my hair was feathered and impressing teenage girls was my intent!

Image borrowed from Buck Fever Synthetics

Buck Fever has a long list of products designed for specific uses, all with expected use and shelf lives that exceed their original counterparts. There are a number of elements of the theory behind Buck Fever’s products. I recommend visiting their site to learn more about their products.

They also have scent elimination products!

I’m eager to try some of these scents on a special product I’m working on that I HOPE will make the 2019 Gift Guide (more to come, if my field research works!).

Archery Target

You’d think stopping arrows would have engineering limitations, but believe it or not, the world of layered targets, and more specifically self-healing layered targets, has come a long way in the last decade. The prices are still a little bit high,but most of the newer targets on the market will last a number of years. Essentially, you’re investing in a target that will handle hundreds of thousands of shots.

A number of great options are available from great target makers like Rinehart, Dead Bullseye and Bulldog Targets. A quick search on Google can land you in the right spot to compare sizes and prices!

Head Lamps Always Win

The hunter in your life probably already has one. It doesn’t matter. Buy them another – I promise he or she will not mind. I really like the Cabela’s brand pictured here (it’s actually a Cabela’s licensed product made by Princeton). It has adjustable brightness that allows you to control your beam based on the situation. I’ve never had to change the batteries in mine and, if needed, the brightest beam is very, very bright! It’s a tad pricey, but a great investment.

Deer Tour T-Shirt

Image borrowed from Legendary Whitetails

If your outdoorsman is cool, they know about The Hunting Public. If they’re not cool, tell them about the boys from the newly popular online hunting show (available on YouTube). They also have a “Tour T-Shirt” from Legendary Whitetails that shows the group’s main characters in caricature riding in a car that has created a persona of its own (the Smurf). Sadly, the shirts were designed before Ted became a hit on the show – I’m betting he makes the 2019 Deer Tour T-shirt!

Cooking Thermometer

Cooking wild game is part of the fun of being an outdoorsman, rounding out the whole “field to fork” cycle that hunters enjoy. There are a number of options available, but consider getting your outdoorsman a new digital cooking thermometer. Several now offer Bluetooth technology allowing you to keep track of your temperatures remotely from your mobile device. They’re very handy and make a great gift.

Capture the moment with a Tactacam

Image borrowed from Tactacam.com

Memorializing your hunts, especially the successful ones, has never been more popular. The Tactacam is a video camera that can be mounted onto your weapon, or body, in order to capture the moments that matter most. If you’re considering the camera, also consider the respective mounts your hunter will need to take the camera to the field. Several retailers now sell the Tactacam, including the ever-popular duo of Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops.

Gift Cards

A reminder for 2018!!! Wondering which gift certificates to get for your hunter? A reminder that Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s are now part of the same ownership and gift certificates at either retailer are interchangeable. That stated, a gift card also makes a great gift!

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Dear ol’ Deer Camp: 2018 Version

I shot the biggest buck I’ve ever taken off of our family farm this year. He’s not among the largest I’ve ever taken and barely would rest inside the top-10 by looking only at his antler size. But he’s special and will go down as one of the most memorable.

But that’s not what this recap post is about.

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One of the most picturesque deer drags I recall!

Nope.

It’s about spending the opening week of New York’s gun season with my family and seeing the sunrise on the season from a tree on our home farm for the first time in many years.

It’s about the cadre relationship that hunting camp provides.

It’s about cold mornings where the fireplace at camp feels a whole lot better than Mother Nature’s bitter touch on your cheeks.

And it’s about the reverence for a camp diary.

Each fall, many deer publications publish stories about deer camp. I love reading them all. Stories of the brotherhood that exists when families and extended families come together in the big woods of the north country, or in Michigan’s upper peninsula, … or anywhere else … have always caught my attention.

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One of the spectacular views Mother Nature provided

This year was no different. I read an easily relatable story about deer camp, written in first-person by Dan Ladd (“The Joy of Deer Camp”) in New York State Conservationist magazine and got me excited before I even stepped foot into camp.

We weren’t necessarily at full capacity in our deer camp this year, but we had a bigger group than we’ve had in a long time. My brother Doug, uncle Paul, cousin Nicholas and nephew Matthew, represented three generations of family. My young son, Reid, also joined the group for a day of sharing the family woods!

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My brother Doug and me sharing in the success!

Once a rookie of the camp himself, uncle Paul now represents the old guard. He married into our family over four decades ago. A “city guy” who married a farm girl in my late aunt, Paul had broad enough shoulders to join her brothers in camp, taking all of the ridicule that comes with being new to the sport of hunting. I’m happy to report he acclimated quite well and became a fixture at camp, to the pleasure of my late father and our family.

Uncle Paul shared stories this year about his first years in camp. Needless to say, he experienced a great deal of ridicule and good-natured hazing that would typically be reserved for a rookie joining a sports team. I’m a few years older than his son, Nicholas, who has been a mainstay at camp since he was a young teenager.

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From (L) to (R): Brother Doug, me, Cousin Nick, Uncle Paul

My nephew, Matthew, came into camp riding a three-year streak of punching his tag (and was able to fill it again this year)!

There were drinks. There were stories. There were fun memories of our family members no longer with us. The pool table, even with its minor off-kilter intricacies, became proving grounds one evening. The poker chips had the dust blown off of them for an evening of cards.

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Another beautiful view afforded by the snow.

Memories of successful hunts that culminated with shoulder mounts in the cabin were bandied about. Our camp diary, an invaluable asset that has 40 years of history documented, was utilized as a reference point a number of times. Uncle Paul has served as the primary scribe of the diary over its entire existence. Others add only when he’s not available to do so.

It’s often discussed, but there is just something cleansing for the soul when it comes to the time at deer camp. Having experienced some semblance of camp across a number of states, there are many common threads that connect the spirit of deer camps everywhere. Those who have experienced it know it and no documentation of deer camp can do it perfect justice.

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My son, Reid, joining in the fun on a cold, cold morning!

Perhaps that’s why I remain a sucker to the stories – to pull those parts that carry a similar look and feel to my own experiences.

I look forward to introducing my own kids to it.

There also were successes. The best part of those during deer camp is the ability for everyone to bask in that feats. In this case, everyone played an important role in the process – especially with over a foot of snow on the ground!

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Cousin Nick and I share a photo before taking to the woods.

Of course, the week culminates with figuring out who won camp’s big buck contest! This year, my buck was fortunate enough to take the honor.

Once the bags are packed and camp is cleaned, departure day comes with its sadness. More than 50 weeks of great anticipation and mental reps have ended with “goodbyes.” The countdown, though, to next season’s deer camp begins.


Failure in Familiarity

It simply hadn’t happened before, the path made by the old, wise doe.

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The view from old faithful. Updated travel routes kept the shooters out of archery range.

And with it, came little appreciation for the likelihood that the long-proven patterns of deer in this area of my farm had indeed changed.

It wasn’t until after I saw more deer, including a fine 8-point buck, make the same route from a common bedding area and into the hardwoods, that I realized deer aren’t behaving the same as they had for many years.

Even after briefly scouting the new, well-established trails on this new route well away from my faithful stand, it was hard to consider a change needed to be made. You see, many bucks have passed by this stand over the years, and no fewer than three bucks have been arrowed within 40 yards of this tree. Surely, this was the ideal location to be sitting.

Except it wasn’t. And it played a small role in not filling my 2018 archery tag. So too did my stubbornness to not change the stand location earlier.

Familiarity can be a detriment to an archery hunter. The reams of data that exist within a hunter’s memory from decades of hunting a familiar location can skew his or her decisions. That was reinforced enough in me this year that I’m eager to consider how I’ll change several of my stand locations for 2019.

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This young buck followed one of the familiar trails.

Upon further pondering the challenges of familiarity, it dawned on me how valuable scouting can be to a new hunting location. These are often the most valuable – and fun – elements of hunting the unfamiliar. Those minutes and hours dedicated to learning about the local deer of a location can often be the primary indicator of success.

And advanced scouting before hunting familiar ground should  be no different.

It sounds simple, and it probably is. But when you’re coming from hundreds of miles away to ground you know as well as your backyard, you try to skip the scouting update portion of the hunt and take advantage of the knowledge you already have.

It’s easy to do, right?

Things change within the terrain (felled trees, food sources, erosion, etc.) that provide enough of a reason to, at minimum, confirm your intuitions.

I should have done that. I’ve learned my lesson. And leave it to those old, wise does to teach me.


Things Change While Anticipation of the Hunt Remains

Things are different now. Some parts are better, some are … well, different.

I was able to catch up with my buddy Nick Pinizzotto today, and we spent a good deal of time talking about the evolution of our hunting passion.

the view

In a little more than a week, I’ll be enjoying the familiar view from the woods with bow in hand!

Days of worrying about how big the buck might be on the receiving end of an Easton arrow have been replaced more by the full nature of the experiences.

That’s not to say that we don’t dream of big bucks, or that the experiences of yesteryear weren’t important. It’s just that the priority is … well, different!

Nick, who also serves as the Executive Director of the National Deer Alliance, recently moved back to his home stomping grounds in Pennsylvania. He became a father a couple of year’s back. Both of those life changes have an innate ability to change perspective on the true values of hunting. We spoke at length about the eagerness of hunting with our kids – how that trumps any time we spend in the

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Having a little fun in the blind while waiting on deer can be an acceptable practice these days!

woods on our own.

I’ll be returning to my own home land in Western New York in just a week to spend several quality days looking for the biggest, oldest and baddest buck on the farm. The likelihood of seeing a buck soaring near the minimum Boone & Crockett standards are very low. I know that going in, but my excitement to get there couldn’t be much greater.

For starters, I don’t take the hunting part quite as serious. I still work hard and put in my time, but saying that is more of an indictment on how serious I used to take deer hunting.

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So too can taking a brief cat nap!

Additionally, my new career has me headed to the woods during the heart of the rut without the backdrop of serious end-of-season stress that my former job at NASCAR provided. I’ll be able to dedicate my energy to the daily chess match with the land, trying to execute a strategy that puts me within reach of taking a great deer.

This trip also means so much due to the fellowship with my dear friend, Kenny Roberts. We’ve made this trip together for over a decade and it serves as our opportunity to catch up on family, friends, parents and life. Over the years, there have certainly been more laughs than tears during those conversations. That said, there always is some time earmarked to get serious about life and chat through many of the important stuff in each of our lives.

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Greg Johnston with NYS’s No. 1 muzzleloader buck in 2017!

It’s likely I’ll be able to see another friend and frequent AHT contributor Greg Johnston, who 21 years ago joined me as the renegade who would skip out of classes at our Basilian Catholic college to chase bunnies and deer all over Western New York. Just seeing Greg is always enough to get you excited.

Just as special for this trip, though, is the land. I love it on our family farm. I took it too much for granted as a young hunter. It’s hard, as a teenager, to understand that very few have the opportunity to leave school, grab their bow and get into a tree before dark. I thoroughly cherish my time spent in those woods now. Those woods shaped me more than I can easily explain.

Here’s to the challenging week ahead that will be anchored with anticipation. I can’t wait for the journey there, the cabin upon arrival, the time together with friends while I’m there. I can’t wait to get into a stand and steal a small part of that magical time during November when the rut is in full swing.

Come to think of it, maybe not everything is different now.

 


It’s Back! 2017 AHT Holiday Gift Guide

It’s back! After a couple few year hiatus, the ever-popular AHuntersTales Holiday Gift Guide has returned.

The focus of the 2017 edition will be on value purchases! Whereas, the products selected to be in the gift guide have practical value that exceeds the asking price.

Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Ridge Hunter Windproof Vest
It’s missing the big brand name associated with hunting clothes, but this vest was a mainstay for me on a recent elk hunt in Colorado. )It’s currently on sale at Bass Pro Shops for $24.97, which is a steal for something that I would put against the Ridge Runnerbig-name hunting vests on the market. I’m not joking. I found the vest did it’s advertised job of cutting wind perfectly. Ridge Hunter also makes pants and hoodies out of the same material.

 

 

The All-in-One Processing Kit
I’ve had my Outdoor Edge Game Processor Kit (12 pc.) for many years. In fact, it was a gift my late father bought for me more than a decade ago. He had purchased one for each of us and I can assure you mine has gone to remarkable use. The difference, though, is the price 10 years later is more than 25% off the original price he paid!Outdoor Edge

You can find this kit for right at $50 from several outdoor retailers. I think my favorite part of the kit is having every piece together. When it’s time to butcher a deer, or clean ducks, it’s as simple as grabbing my green kit and getting after it! Mine still has a sentimental piece of green masking tape where my dad wrote my name on it – a fun memento for see each time I use it!

A Hunter Never Has Too Many Pairs of Boots
If you’ve never stepped foot in a Muck rubber boot, then you’re missing out on cMucksomfort. I have several pair. The Fieldblazer model, which is a great summer / early season boot for an outdoorsman, is available from a number of retailers for under $80. In fact, Cabela’s currently has it for $79.99. That’s a great price for a well-made, comfortable rubber boot.

Shoot, Reload, Repeat
RCBS had a similar rebate available all year, but if you’re looking to spend a bit more on your shooting enthusiast this holiday, the time-tested and ever-popular Rock Chucker Supreme reloading kit currently comes with a holiday rebate on top of the sale price of $269.99 (Cabela’s).

RCBSOnce complete of all rebates and sales, you can end up getting an all-in-one kit for under $250. That’s a solid value in a time when you can make that back very quickly with the prices of ammunition. Does your shooter already have a reloader? Ask if there are any die sets he or she is missing that would be a fine addition. Those oftentimes meet a lighter price range for shoppers (around $50).

What? I can’t hear you!
I’ve become a major proponent of hearing safety – then again, several ear surgeries (including a full mastoidectomy) will help instill the importance of hearing to you very quickly.

WalkerI have ear plugs everywhere! I carry the cheap foam ear plugs in my work bag and my shooting bag has two pair of fitted ear molds. I also recently picked up a pair of electronic earmuffs and think they’re worth every bit of their price. Walker’s Razor Slim ear muffs are on sale this holiday season for roughly $45. That’s a value price for a quality pair of earmuffs.

The Ol’ “Any Chance You Can Help Me Drag ‘Em” Call!
I’m getting older. Those deer drags are not as kind as they used to be. It’s time to consider a deer cart! It might be time for one for your hunting enthusiast too.

After spending four hours quartering an elk and getting the sacred quarters just to where we could get a four-wheeler, I have a new appreciation for getting game out of the woods.Deer Cart

The Sportsman’s Guide has several at very reasonable pricing (under $70 with a 500 lb. capacity. That should be plenty for helping get any midwestern whitetail out of the woods.

The boys over at The Hunting Public have joked that their cart will need new tires after this season. That’s not a bad problem to have!

Past Gift Guides HERE!!!!

Feel free to check out Gift Guides of the past by clicking here! Who knows, maybe it will spur other gift ideas.


The 26 Year Quest

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The Author Posses With a Buck He’s Been Chasing Since 1991

I’ve been extremely fortunate to harvest some great New York State bucks through the years that any hunter would be proud of – and I am, but I’ve always been chasing the elusive ‘giant.’ And by that I mean a buck I would be consider a trophy whether taken in the Midwest or the Northeast – a monarch so to speak.  My 26-year quest came to an end Saturday Nov. 18, 2017.

History/Quest

My whitetail hunting career dates back to 1991 when I was 14-year-old. My first kill came that year. I was so proud of that button-buck.  I’m now 40 years young and have been chasing whitetails ever since.

The opening day of the 2017 NYS firearms season would dawn at sunrise that Saturday morning. I had made my way in the dark to a part of our Livingston County farm that I’d never hunted. Why? Well, the wind that morning was blowing out of the southeast and for our property that just doesn’t work well. All of our sets work best with a north or west wind and I had strategized the night before on where I would have to set up to give myself any chance of seeing deer.

The Plan/The Gun

Once making the trek down the hill I picked out a tri-maple tree and shimmied my Muddy climber up it. At sunrise I was set up. In tote with me was my CVA .50 muzzleloader. After a successful archery season, I had made the decision to hunt with the smoke-pole because any deer I’ve been able to take with it just means more to me. It’s a personal thing. I’m an archer at heart, but the second best weapon in my opinion is a muzzleloader. One shot, one chance and when successful I feel like I’ve accomplished a heck of a lot more.

As the darkness faded and light began to hit the forest floor I could see a stark-white rack moving through the woods. I grabbed my gun, shouldered it and readied for a shot. As the buck moved his way through, I couldn’t make up my mind if it was a deer I wanted to take a crack at. By the time I decided I would shoot, the buck was gone. As he worked his way off and out of my life I was left to ponder if I had just made a mistake. I would soon be assured I had not.

I sat for a few more minutes and had a small spike work past my stand. I was taking onus in the fact that my game plan was working. Execution? Maybe not, but the plan, yes.

He Appears

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The buck tends an estrous bedded doe – seen here in the background.

As I sat there enjoying the morning I looked up to see a sight I’ve waited more than two decades for. I didn’t move as the buck was looking down the hill and appeared to be looking at me in the tree. I slowly grabbed my gun and came to my feet. I raised and steadied only to see that the buck had walked several more feet and was now behind a large blow-down. I waited knowing  he was still headed my direction and I knew once he stepped out from behind the downed tree, that  would be my opportunity.

The Shot

As the buck cleared the blow-down, I clicked my safety off and gave a small grunt to stop him. He stopped, but in doing so turned slightly and faced nearly right at me. This was my chance. I centered the cross hairs on the buck’s chest and squeezed the trigger. Boom! Smoke rolled out of the muzzleloader and the buck whirled and ran. I was extremely confident I’d made a good shot, but I didn’t see him go down – although it looked like he was about to when I lost site of him. With a finger to the sky I made the call to my Dad.

The Biggest Buck of My Life

“I think I just shot the biggest buck of my life!” I told him. After recapping and replaying the shot over to Dad, I became even more confident it was good. The buck never flagged (put his tail in the air) when he ran which is always a good indication of a lethal hit.

I gave it 10 minutes or so and made my way down the tree in hopes of finding a solid blood trail. And I did. I clicked my iPhone to video and recorded the moment I walked up on the buck for the first time. He had only gone 80 yards or so before expiring. The shot was perfect. As Bon Jovi would sing, ‘Shot Through The Heart!’ I called Dad again and told him the good news. I then proceeded to call and FaceTime my best hunting buddies.

What’s He Score?

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The Buck in a Bed

I don’t know that yet, but do have intentions of having an official NYS Big Buck Club scorer put a tape to him. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been blessed to take some beautiful animals over the years (you can read about many of them on here @ AHT), but score has really never meant a whole lot to me – in fact, I’ve never had a single deer officially scored. This buck is a bit different for me though. He fulfilled that 26-year quest on Saturday Nov. 18, 2017.

Cat Tails

In the wake of this hunt and week long celebration, I’ve been reminiscing about many of the hunts and deer that got me to this point. I’m going to include some of those photos to selfishly help me reflect back through the years.

 

 


MrMr & The Master Plan

The planning and hunt for this buck I would later nickname, MrMr began in 2016 when my trail cameras captured a dozen or so images of him throughout the hunting season. Though, I never laid eyes on him, I was confident he was a 3.5 year-old buck and hoped he could squeak through the (entirely too long) NYS firearms season to reach the ripe age of 4.5.

My strategy was to continue to run cameras throughout our property during the winter months in hopes of capturing an image or two of the buck to confirm he was alive. My New Year’s wish came true when on January 2nd, MrMr was captured entering our food plot planted to Frigid Forage Big N Beasty.

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This Image Confirmed the Buck’s Survival

This buck was now my No. 1 target for the upcoming season and I would spend the next 10-plus months orchestrating and strategizing a game-plan that I hoped would result in the two of us crossing paths.

I continued to build a history with MrMr as spring rolled around and my son and I hit the woods for our annual shed hunt. As fate would have it, the first set of antlers we located were the match set of MrMr. It was another piece to this whitetail puzzle.

As spring faded and the dog days of summer arrived, my father and I once again planted our strategically located food plot where MrMr was captured in that January 2nd picture. As dust rolled from underneath the rototiller, I envisioned what it would be like to see MrMr step out into bow range.

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A Boy & His Shed

It’s goal like this that motivate whitetail junkies like me. We think, plan and pray for opportunities at a mature buck and in this part of the country, harvesting mature buck is the ultimate hunting challenge. This isn’t the Midwest, rather Western New York where a decreasing few, but still some subscribe to the ole brown-and-down way of thinking.

I began running trail cameras again in September hoping to once again capture and maybe even establish an early season pattern on MrMr. Hope as I did, MrMr was a no-show. No images, but many questions began to fill my mind. Had he died during the winter months, been poached or even hit by a car – like my No. 1 target buck two years prior?

As we flipped the calendar to October and the NYS archery season opened, I still had no images or evidence that MrMr was still around. I decided to take a conservative approach to my season and be patient. I’ve learned a lot over my 26-years of chasing whitetails, but none more important than knowing when to hunt a certain deer. The risk is often not worth the reward – and to minimize that I would let my cameras do the work. Based on that intel, I would react accordingly.

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And He Makes an Appearance

And my strategy paid off on Oct. 26th MrMr was captured bumping a doe past one of my cameras. It was time to act, but not quite yet. With temperatures in the mid 70’s to near 80, I would wait for the right weather – and by that I mean a cold front. Getting an arrow in MrMr would require help from Mother Nature in the form of a barometric pressure drop and some assistance from the Deer Gods.

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MrMr Appears in Daylight

That cold front would arrive in the days to come as MrMr continued to be active – and this time in daylight. I planned to try and intercept the buck at a pinch-point on our farm where the deer are forced to walk up and around a massive gully on their way to food. As I sat in the stand and daylight began to fade, I was shocked to look up and see a solid big-bodied buck heading my way. It took a matter of second for me to grab my bow and come to full draw. A release of the arrow and like that, my 10-plus month plan had come to fruition. The buck bounded out of the woods, hit our open field and went down 60 yards from my stand. It’s a memory that will be forever etched in my hunting archives. I called my father to tell him the news.

Upon taking some nice field photos with the buck, I wanted to verify his age so I took him to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation where a DEC biologist examined him. And as I has suspected and hopes, MrMr was confirmed to be a 4.5 year old. The biologist thought it was really cool that I had his match-set of sheds too.

The hunt for this buck is one I’ll cherish for a long time. It’s so rewarding to build history with an animal, game plan, peruse and then harvest that animal. Nothing is more gratifying to me.