Author Archives: Greg Johnston

How a :60 Sec Hunt Etched a Life Long Memory

bullyherophoto

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.

musiccamp

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.

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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.


‘The Show’ Stopper

The Show Hero Pic

Shooting mature deer in New York State isn’t the easiest task to accomplish. Heck, let’s face it – shooting mature deer in Iowa or Illinois isn’t easy either, but you get my drift.

That’s why I take great pride in saying that between my Dad and me, we’ve killed at least one mature buck the past five seasons.

Putting on a show.

Putting on a show.

Heading into this archery season, Dad and I had a handful of target deer, but there was one buck in particular we were hoping to get a crack at. I had nicknamed the deer ‘The Show’ after a particular series of trailcam photos captured him standing on his hind legs while working a licking branch.

Fast forward to September of this year when I pulled one of my cards only to find this same buck make reappearance. I was ecstatic.

Sept. 15, 2013

Sept. 15, 2013

He was now mature and sported a handsome Pope and Young 8-point rack. I relied heavily on my trailcams throughout October, monitoring the buck’s daylight activity.

On October 22 I got my first daylight pic of him. It was time to move in. Dad and I hunted this deer’s core area hard for the next week or so, without any success.

On the afternoon of October 30, Dad texted me around 3 p.m. to say he hadn’t seen a single deer all afternoon. Things soon changed. About a half-hour later I got a call from him saying that he’d just shot ‘The Show.’ We were pumped. Dad marked the blood and returned home where he waited for me to return from work.

'The Show' bedded with a hot doe less than 24 hrs. before Dad's encounter with him.

‘The Show’ bedded with a hot doe less than 24 hrs. before Dad’s encounter with him.

We gave the deer roughly three hours as Dad was concerned the shot may have been a touch back. When we initially took up the trail, I was astonished at the amount of blood. It was as if someone had walked through the woods dumping red Kool-Aid from a gallon jug. But just as the trail began, it ended.

The blood trail.

The blood trail.

I was confident the deer was liver hit and in fear of us bumping him, we backed out. I had to work the next morning and get my kids to school, so Dad took up the search by himself. It wasn’t long before my phone vibrated. It was Dad. He had located the buck, but the deer wasn’t yet expired.

Dad knocked an arrow and moved in for a final shot. We had done it – Dad had done it. Our number one hit list buck was down. I wanted to jump through my skin with excitement.

A mature NYS buck.

A mature NYS buck.

I returned home that night just in time to snap a few nice photos of Dad and his trophy.

My Dad is 66-years-old and has overcome more than most. He suffered a severe back injury in 1995 and has fought through numerous other ailments including broken bones and most recently a detached retina in his right eye.

To say that I’m proud of him would be an understatement. Having him shoot our number one hit list buck gives me more pleasure than I ever would have if I had tagged the buck myself.

Next week on AHT read how my slow season picked up in a matter of 16 hours.


Never How You Want to Find Them

As I found him.

Where I found him

My fears had come true. It was May 11, 2013 and I was out chasing spring gobblers in Upstate New York when I stumbled upon him. It was the end of the mystery – I now knew what had happened to this buck 8 months prior.

It’s something we as hunters never want discover, but unfortunately we do from time to time. Finding a dead rotten buck is never a pleasant sight, especially when it’s a deer you recognize. It’s a theme that many deer hunters experience, we focus in on a particular buck only to have the animal disappear for one reason or another. Such was the case here.

I had captured several trailcamera photos of this buck back in mid-September. They weren’t the best quality images, but I saw enough of the deer’s antlers to interest me. I knew the buck was a definite up-and-comer and I looked forward to monitoring his progress and finding him back the following season.

Trailcam image from Sept. 2012.

Trailcam image from Sept. 2012.

The 2012 hunting season came and ended without a single sighting of this buck.

The next time I would lay yes on him would be that warm May morning. The buck lay dead nearly a mile from where my Bushnell Trophy Cam had captured those images of him back in September.

It’s always a bitter-sweet moment when you discover an animal like this. On one hand you’re relieved that you know what happened to him and on the other; you’re disappointed and saddened that he’s gone and won’t be around for the upcoming season. And then there’s always the question of how the animal died.

G5 T3 - Illegal in NYS.

G5 T3 – Pokes out from bone.

I began inspecting the 8-pointer for clues as to what may have lead to his death, and there in pain sight was the answer. A G5 T3 Broadhead was wedged in to the buck’s right shoulder blade. The finding left little doubt that the deer had been shot by a fellow archer and never recovered – most likely because the arrow never penetrated the deer’s vitals.

This story would end here if I lived in Texas or Illinois, but I don’t. I reside and hunt in New York State. I tell you that to tell you this: G5’s T3 Broadheads are illegal for hunting purposes in NYS.

A quick check of the NYS Department of Conservation’s website will tell you that ANY barbed broadhead is illegal. Period.
broadhd

Image if T3 - illegal in NYS.

Image of G5 T3 – illegal in NYS.

Here’s how the DEC defines a barbed broadhead: “A barbed Broadhead is one in which the angle formed between the trailing or rear edge of any blade and the shaft is less than 90 degrees.”

Clearly the T3 fits this description.

I’m unsure of who shot the buck – and to be honest, I don’t really care, but may I suggest that he or she pay a visit to http://www.dec.ny.gov prior to heading out to the local pro shop to stock up on next season’s broadheads.

As for the buck, I salvaged his head and plan to do a european mount on him.

It’s a shame really, but at least I now have answers to my questions.

Mystery solved.


New Yorkers Stripped of Rights, Freedom

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

It wasn’t about guns, it was about freedom and New York State residents awoke Tuesday morning stripped of it.

The free people of New York are disarmed.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York Sate Senate orchestrated a closed-door deal, ramming secret legislation through under the dark of night. The result: an over-reaching bill that strips New Yorkers of their Second Amendment rights.

The right of the people to keep and bear arms is no longer the law of the land. New York has been infringed upon – thanks to a dictator named Cuomo and a class of clowns knows as the State Senate.

All rumored to be burried in this bill…

The number one selling rifle in America is now illegal in New York State. Thousands are manufactured in New York’s Herkimer County, but its people are now not free enough to own one.

Having a magazine with a capacity of eight rounds or more is now illegal in New York. The max is a seven round clip. Yeah, the Ruger 10/22 you bought to take your son or daughter squirrel hunting is now useless without its 10-round clip.

Oh, and if you need to purchase bullets for that .22, good luck.

10 Round Clip

10 Round Clip

All law-abiding citizens are now subject to a background check when purchasing any type of ammunition – and there are limits on the quantity you can purchase. Good luck getting through the line at Bass Pro or Wal-Mart the day before deer season.

Those who possess a hand gun permit will now be forced to be recertified every five years. Can you say money grab?

The so called ‘mentally ill’ will now be stripped of their guns. That next knock at your fron door could very well be the State Police demanding your weapons.

The question that begs to be asked is what exactly defines mentally ill? Is Johnny Joe considered mentally ill because he was prescribed an anti-depressant following the death of his 6-year-old son?

All of this legislation comes from the same man who decriminalized the use of marijuana while criminalizing gun owners – In the same speech!

Is this America or Neo-Nazi Germany? The last time I check this was The Land of The Free and The Home of The Brave. At least half of that statement remains true.

Let’s face it though, this wasn’t about guns, it’s about freedom – or the removal of it. And let’s not forget Mr. Cuomo’s 2016 ambitions. Coincidence? I say not.

New York State ratified the Constitution in the year 1788. It died on January 14th 2013.


My Formula For Not Keeping Score

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The question is better than the answer I told him. My friend had stopped over to the house to take a look at the buck I had harvested earlier that day. That’s a nice buck Greg, he said. What does he score? I haven’t put a tape to him I said, and I’m not sure I ever will.

The buck, a big 9-pointer with a small G5 on his left side that could possible make him a ten, was one of the heaviest racked New York State bucks I had ever killed in my 20-year plus whitetail hunting career.

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I had anchored the buck on the afternoon of Nov. 19 with a Winchester slug fired from my Remington 1100 Special. The encounter happened by chance, as I ascended to my stand for the afternoon hunt and spotted the buck standing in a nearby CRP field. A few shots from the stand and a finishing shot from the ground, and the buck was mine for good.

After admiring my kill, my buddy’s question really got me thinking. How do we as hunters really value our trophies? Is score the end-all, be-all in the whitetail woods? Gosh, I hope not. I’ve never been big on score; in fact I’ve never had any of my deer officially scored. That’s just not me. I hunt mature deer, period.

Why, you ask? My answer is pretty simple really, I feel putting a label/score on a deer diminishes the hunt I had for him. Personally, I like to let the memory of the hunt marinate in my thoughts a while. It’s kind of like placing a back-strap in a bag of spiedie sauce for the weekend. Follow me? You have to let it sink in. To me, slapping a number on a trophy buck too quickly devalues the animal.

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Now having said that, I recognize the fact that The Pope and Young Club and the Boone and Crockett Club set whitetail records based on the score of a buck’s antlers size. My fear however is that in the new-aged world of whitetail hunting with so much emphasis being placed on harvesting trophy deer, the sport of hunting is getting lost in the mix. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with and practice Quality Deer Management. I enjoy hunting big bucks and like killing them even more, but does the score of a deer inflate or lessen the worth of the animal or hunter? I say no.

I embrace and cherish the sport of whitetail hunting. I live and breathe whitetails. Anyone who doubts this fact can ask my beautiful wife or taxidermist. I just don’t feel we as hunters should base a trophy on a series of numbers.

What say you?

Cat Tales:

I’d like to give a shout out to my Dad who spent the majority of these past summer months conducting a Timber Stand Improvement Project on our property. Dad and I are committed to growing big deer, but with two young children and a full-time job, much of the grunt work gets left to him. He rarely disappoints. Thanks Dad!

I’d also would like to publicly congratulate my friend and good hunting buddy, John Koska who put the hammer down on this mature 8-pointer while hunting my property December 1st.

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I cannot tell you how many bucks John has passed over the years on our farm looking for the right deer to take. This guy seemed like a fine candidate. Way to go John!


Season Recap – Antler Discovery

Four antlers, two deer and one lucky hunter. That pretty much sums up my 2011 hunting season. As documented here on AHT I killed a deer dubbed ‘The Ghost Buck’ on Nov. 19 with archery tackle in hand.

'The Ghost Buck' Mount

The only history I had with the deer was a single trail camera photo – or so I thought.

On Nov. 23 I tagged another hit list deer I had dubbed ‘The Shed Buck.’ I had both sets of sheds from the deer from the previous year. I was thrilled with the outcome of my season – one that I deem my best in my nearly quarter century hunting career.

'The Shed Buck' - And The Sheds


The story however got even better in early April when I picked up ‘The Ghost Buck’ from my taxidermist. After securing the buck in the trophy room and admiring him I recalled a set of sheds my then 3-year-old son and I had retrieved the previous year. We had found the sheds just a stone throw away where I arrowed the buck.

The Sheds

I dug through the shed pile and located the antlers in question. I held them up to the mounted animal and was amazed to see that they were a near perfect match. The deer had grown significantly, but carried the same characteristic – sweeping beams with small times, and more of them on his left side. There’s no doubt in my mind that indeed the antlers I found in 2010 are a match set to ‘The Ghost Buck.’ This discovery means I have matching sheds to both bucks I killed in 2011. You can’t ask for a more satisfying feeling in the deer hunting woods.

Proof that passing young deer grows bigger deer.

To say I’m tickled would be an understatement. We’ve put a lot of effort, time and money into growing deer on our properties.

My accomplishments in 2011 are the result of this effort. Taxidermy photos of ‘The Shed Buck’ expected in early May.