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Category Archives: Day Afield

‘The Shed Buck’

'The Shed Buck' & His Sheds.

by AHT Contributor Greg Johnston

It’ll go down as one of the more memorable hunts in my hunting career, and certainly one of my most coveted accomplishments. ‘The Shed Buck,’ roams no more. He now rests in peace on my wall!

This, like many other hunting stories, started with a single trail camera photo. At the end of the 2010 hunting season, I placed my cameras back out into the field to take inventory of what deer had survived the New York hunting season(s). I was pleasantly surprised when a 2.5-year-old 9-pointer made a cameo in front of my Moultrie.

I knew who this deer was and, in fact, had watched him all through the summer months in a bachelor group with several other bucks. The odd part was that I’d never encountered him through the entire 2010 season and, to be honest, had forgotten about him by season’s end. Never the less, he was alive and that was a good thing.

'The Shed Buck' appears.

I closely monitored the one camera the buck seemed to frequent most. The plan was to try and capture as many photos of the deer as possible [I captured dozens] and, if at all possible, recover both of his sheds. It worked perfectly as on Feb. 6th the deer arrived sporting only the left side of his rack. That meant the right side wouldn’t be far from the camera location. Even better, I captured another photo shortly after which showed the buck had dropped his left side, too. I was very confident I would recover both of his sheds and begin building a history with this deer.

The buck appears with his left antler only.

I made several attempts at recovering the antlers, but the deep snow made it a difficult task – especially with my then 3-year-old son firmly placed on my shoulders. My luck changed as the snow began to melt in late March. I was able to recover both sheds approximately 20-yards apart. I was thrilled.

Fast forward to the summer of 2011 as I glassed my normal honey holes in search of this one specific deer I’d dubbed, ‘The Shed Buck.’ Try as I did, though, I never located the deer through the entire summer. I began to wonder if the deer had been hit by a car or if he had just moved out of the area as many younger bucks do. On Oct. 23rd I was given a glimmer of hope when I grunted in a handsome 8-pointer to within 30 yards. The deer locked up and presented me with a bad shot angle. I elected not to take the shot, but I began to wonder if I had just laid eyes on ‘The Shed Buck?’

I had a similar experience with the deer in early November as he chased a doe in from behind me but, as I reached for my bow, he caught movement and walked off in the opposite direction. I was sick. I noticed that night, though, that the buck had a fairly significant injury to his right leg. He walked – or hobbled – very slowly.

I hung several new stands in the following days hoping to get a crack at this big 8-pointer with archery tackle. Things changed on Nov. 18th when I harvested another one of my Hit List deer. This meant I’d have to wait until shotgun season to try and kill the big 8. In New York, hunters are allotted one antlered deer for archery season and then another antlered deer for the firearms season.

The first opportunity I had to hunt the area was on the afternoon of Nov. 23rd. It was unseasonably warm and a touch windy, but I headed out to one of the new stand locations I had recently hung. I climbed the stand only to discover I had forgotten my safety strap in a tree from the previous days hunt. I made the decision to climb down and hunt from the ground. I quickly formulated a ‘Plan B’ and began to maneuver myself about 100 yards to the south where I would have a good view of a natural travel corridor. It was the best I could do, given the circumstances.

As I walked down a mowed path on my way to the travel corridor, I glanced to my right and saw my number one Hit List buck appear out of nowhere. There he stood at 100 yards looking at me through the thick goldenrod. I raised my Remington 1100 .20 ga., centered the cross hairs and let a Winchester fly. The deer whirled at the sound of the shot and began to move in a northerly direction.

I took off running hoping to get a glimpse and another shot off at the buck, but when I got to where he should have been, I couldn’t find him. I figured one of two things had happened – either I killed him and he was lying dead, or he never exited the goldenrod field because of that bum leg. I slowly climbed onto a nearby dirt mound to get a better view where I saw the buck standing a mere 20 yards from me. Another shot from the 1100 anchored the buck for good. As it turned out, I never hit the deer on the first shot. His injured leg just prevented him from running too far.

A perfect match.

Only one question remained unanswered now and that was, was this indeed ‘The Shed Buck?’ I went back home to retrieve my 4-year-old hunting buddy, the sheds and the tractor. A quick comparison of the sheds to the deer left no doubt, that I had indeed, just killed ‘The Shed Buck.’ I couldn’t believe it came together the way it did.

Looking back, I think this was just one of those hunts that was meant to be. Earlier in the day I had contemplated hunting another property, but decided against it. You take that, coupled with the fact that I forgot my safety belt, and the deer’s injured leg slowed him down enough, which allowed me to get a second shot off.

The deer has a 19" spread with 8" G2's.

There is no more gratifying feeling for a whitetail hunter than to establish a history with a particular buck and then successfully kill him. It was one heck of a week in the deer woods for me, killing two of my Hit List bucks in six days – one with a bow and one with a gun.

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Eleventh Hour Hunt Ends Quest for ‘The Ghost Buck’

by AHT Contributor Greg Johnston

One happy hunter.

It all started with a mid-June trail camera picture of two deer. Both of the bucks were big, both deer had nine score-able points and both deer would be killed in the 2011 NYS archery season. One however would fall on the final day of archery season as I’d punch my archery tag for the first time since 2007. It was an incredible day and one that marked the end of the line for ‘The Ghost Buck.’

The deer earned his name from that June picture. At first glance, I thought the photo only captured the image of one buck – and a good one at that. But as Kurt and I manipulated the image and over exposed the photo, a second brute appeared. He would adopt the name ‘The Ghost Buck’ from that point on.

The only image of 'The Ghost Buck' I ever captured.

Ironically, the name seemed to fit the deer as he vanished from the trail cameras. I never captured another image of the deer and we had no sightings of him throughout the entire archery season, until the morning of November 18, 2011.

The morning was cold and chilly, and with a fresh blanket of 3 to 4 inches of snow on the ground, I had high hopes of seeing movement. I reached my stand around 6:00 a.m. and didn’t see a deer until around 7:45 when a small buck appeared off to my southwest. As I watched the buck move through the woods, I turned my head to see something I’d waited all season for – one of my Hit List deer on the move during daylight hours.

A photo I took of the conditions moments before the encounter with 'The Ghost Buck.'

The first thing I noticed was how he walked with a considerable limp. I was unsure as to what deer this was, but I knew he was a shooter and on the final day of the season, that’s all I needed to know. The details would get worked out later.

The buck was traveling in a northerly direction moving from my right to left directly behind the stand. To complicate things some, the overnight snow was weighing down the hemlock limbs in the area – much like heavy Christmas ornaments hang from the family tree. I struggled to see the buck as he continued his hobbled walk.

I hoped he would turn and head my way, but it became very clear that wasn’t going to happen – at least without some prodding. It was at this point I decided to grunt at him. I gave him a few tending grunts and that was all it took. He stopped, flicked his tail and made a 90 degree turn towards my stand. I whirled around, grabbed my bow and attached my release. As I saw the buck moving through the trees I came to a full draw. He paused for a moment and then walked broadside at 25 yards. I blatted at him, but as he stopped he angled towards me. I had one shot and that was to try and squeeze a G5 Montec into the left side of his chest. I steadied my HHS single pin sight and sent a Beman flying.

I immediately knew I hit the buck – archers know the distinct sound a penetrating arrow makes. I made a few phone calls and assessed the situation. Upon climbing down from my stand I found good blood. I was encouraged. I gave the deer 45 minutes and began to slowly track him through the snow. I went about 60 yards and looked up. To my amazement the deer laid 15 yards in front of me. He had his head up, but his breathing was obviously labored. I knocked another arrow and came to full draw. I let a second arrow fly – this one catching the front part of his lungs. The buck jumped up and ran up a small nearby hill. I called my Dad and told him I was not sure we’d recover the deer. I walked out and met my Dad where we gave the deer another 30 minutes to expire.

We followed the blood trail another 60 yards where the buck laid dead in a ditch. To say I was juiced is an understatement. I had sealed the deal on the final day of the regular archery season. I couldn’t believe it.

The buck has an impressive 22 and 1/4" outside spread.

The 5 X 4 has a 22 and ¼ outside spread. I don’t know what he scores, nor do I really care. It’s been a long journey through these past three seasons. I’ve had some great encounters with some great deer, but for one reason or another I wasn’t able to close the deal.

I feel vindicated and relieved.

I’d like to just give a quick shout out to my wife who deals with my annual absence every fall. Hunting is a time consuming game and she picks up my slack when I’m in the woods and out of the house. I appreciate her understanding of my addiction to whitetail deer.

Until next time, safe hunting.

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.


Note to Self: Next Time Remember the Arrows

AHT Contributor, Greg Johnston Reports From the Stand:

It wasn’t one of my finer hunting moments. My father and I had made our half-hour morning commute to our hunting property in Livingston County, NY. All was well and good as I prepared myself for the morning hunt. Dad stopped the truck as the plan was for him to drop me off near my stand location – I would walk from there. I reached into the back of the truck for my hunting paraphernalia. Safety vest check, H.S. earth scent spray check, Bowtech check, Catquiver…Ah…

My Catquiver.

Yup, that’s right I had left my Catquiver at home. Without it I was dead in the water. I’d be like Dale Earnhardt Jr. showing up to the race track without a Sharpie in hand.

My backpack carries my arrows, grunt call, bleat can, gloves, knit hat and more. There was one solution to this problem and that was to drive back home and retrieve my catquiver, which I did. To complicate the problem, I arrived back home where I received a call from my Dad who said he forgot his release in the truck after I dropped him off. I eventually returned back to the woods, handed Dad his release and climbed the tree. All by 7:30 a.m.

It’s fair to say the morning didn’t go as planned, but with all of the garb we archery hunters carry now a days, I’m actually surprised it hasn’t happened before [but hopefully won’t again].

Rut Action

As I forecasted last week, rut action has really picked up. A quick search of the internet will show that hunters from the Midwest to the Northeast have been knocking down some bruisers. Unfortunately I haven’t been one of those lucky hunters. I’ve seen plenty of chasing and have passed up on plenty of smaller bucks, but I have yet to get a good look at a big boy. I aint giving up though.

Tomorrow, 11/18 marks the end of the early archery season here in N.Y. The orange pumpkins invade the woods on Saturday the 19th. I’m going to mark the end of the archery season by sitting in a tree with my bow in hand. I’m down to my final hours, but I’m going to finish strong.

Shooting a mature buck in the Northeast has proven to be a challenge. Not impossible, but a challenge. I know that. Hey, I’ve eaten my archery tag the past three years in this quest. At this point in my hunting career I’ve made the conscious decision though to shoot big deer or no deer – or at least just does.

Orange Pumpkins

As I said, Saturday marks the beginning of shotgun/rifle season here in WNY. I will reluctantly join the orange pumpkins. I enjoy gun hunting I just don’t enjoy listening to all of the weekend warriors whack every deer that runs out of the woods on the first deer drive of the season.

Opening day 2010 buck.

That’s not to say that opening day isn’t one of the best days to be in a stand though. I got lucky last year when ‘The Great Eight’ came strolling in in search of a hot doe. He seemed to have no idea it was firearm season, but then again we only allow stand hunting on all of our properties.

I hope to have some luck this week. I’ve put in my time, I just hope it pays off.

Here’s to a safe and enjoyable hunt, Greg Johnston


Rut Action to Peak This Week

AHT Contributor, Greg Johnston Reports From the Stand:

The calendar reads Nov. 8th, but it feels more like Oct. 8th here in Upstate NY. The mercury is forecasted to climb to near 70 degrees today and we all know that doesn’t make for great deer hunting weather.

I’m not hunting today, but I’ll be in a tree the rest of the week and the upcoming weekend. With cooler temperatures expected, activity should peak.

A group of does work past my stand on Saturday morning.

I expect rut activity to climax Nov. 10 through the 15th as bucks will be on their feet in search of that first estrus doe. In my opinion, that’ll be our best shot at getting a crack at a good buck with archery tackle in hand.

To recap my week, the closest encounter I had with a mature deer came last evening as I had a big buck run a doe to within 40 years of my stand. I’m a little fuzzy as to who this deer is, but never the less, he’s a big bodied buck and sports a good rack.

The deer had a considerable limp and appeared to be ailing from a pre-rut scuffle with another deer.
I blew my opportunity though when I hit him with a few tending grunts. I decided to grunt in an effort to bring him around a clump of brush. I needed him to clear the brush in order to get a clear shot. The wounded warrior obviously didn’t like the challenge as he turned and walked away. Lesson learned – I won’t try that again.

I have to admit that my archery tag is itching a hole right through my back pocket, but I’m doing my best to try and remain patient, but confident. It’s hard though man.

Let us know what you’re seeing by leaving a comment below.

Cat Tales:
I received some disappointing news this week when I learned that one of my Hit List bucks had been killed by a neighboring hunter. The 9-pointer had visited my trail camera last on October 24th, just a few days prior to him being harvested.

The final picture I captured of the Big 9. At just 3.5 years-old the deer was one of the better bucks I captured on camera.

That was a bummer, but I’ve still got some great deer to hunt and feel fortunate and blessed to have the opportunity to do something I love so much!


Earning an Outdoors Degree

Some degrees in academia take two years, some take four. Apparently, getting your degree in the outdoors takes a heckuva lot more than that.

I’m still seeking my diploma in the Outdoors (concentration whitetails) after more than 20 years in search of America’s most sought-after game animal.

Can you find the buck in this screen shot? This buck played the role of teacher last week in my search for an outdoors degree.


And this week was another lesson that professor Nature provided, leaving me as a stumped pupil hoping to not make the same mistake twice.

My hunting buddy Kenny and I made our near-annual trip to Western New York to chase whitetails with bow and arrow. It was its normally fantastic trip, yet neither of us were able to connect with a giant northern deer. I came the closest, yet never flung an arrow thanks to a minor hiccup by your faithful veteran blogger.

Let me set the scene.

It was chilly – a crisp morning with temperatures locked in the mid 20s. For any deer hunter who relies on their senses for how good a hunt could turn out, you would understand when I say it felt like a “deery” morning. Shortly after 9 a.m. I noticed a single doe standing in the woods. I decided to video her.

Shortly after I hit the record button, she made the all-too familiar glance behind her that signaled she was not alone. Was it a buck? I noticed another three deer walking toward her and figured those deer were the subject of her interest. I kept the video recording.

It was then that I heard the sound of a buck making a single, quick grunt. I quickly transitioned into hunter mode, pushing my camera arm out of the way in exchange for a clear lane to draw my bow. I kept the video camera recording, but the it was pointed at the tree I was perched in. As I reached to the other side of the tree for my bow, I could hear deer running toward me – a clear sign that this buck was bumping at least one of the does. In just a few short seconds, several deer went from 60 yards behind me, to being within 15-25 yards of my treestand.

By the time I turned back around with bow in hand, a doe and the buck were glancing my direction. I was busted. And he was a shooter – A chocolate-horned heavy eight-point with an “ain’t happening” stare.

I knew my opportunity was gone. There would be no way to get my bow drawn and make an effective shot on the buck at that point. I decided to reach for my camera arm and try to steer it toward the buck to catch video of him before the doe and he took off. I was able to capture just a couple short moments of video. And it was over.

I knew at that point, because our trip to NY was so short, that this might be my last opportunity at a good buck this year with my bow. And a rookie mistake of not anticipating a possible buck being with those does ended up costing me.

Lesson learned. And there will be many more before this hunter receives his diploma.


Waiting on The Waiting Game

AHT Contributor, Greg Johnston Reports From the Stand:

The trail cameras prove they’re there, but this week I failed to lay eyes on any of the mature bucks that visited my Moultree cams throughout the summer and fall. The calendar tells us it’s getting to be that time of year, but the deer haven’t yet cooperated. That will soon change.

A doe feeds on corn Saturday morning.

I expect activity to increase this coming weekend and really get rocking the week of Nov. 7th.

My hunts this week were fairly uneventful, although I saw plenty of does and yearlings. The most action I saw was last Thursday morning when a 1.5-year-old 8-point bumped several does past my stand.

With a week and a half of vacation time coming up this week and next, I’m confident that I can get on some mature deer. I’ll certainly be trying. I’ve got my Dad in the field along with another hunting buddy, so hopefully between the three of us we’ll get our hands wrapped around some bone at some point during the next few weeks.

Stay tuned.


Action on the Increase in WNY

AHT Contributor, Greg Johnston Reports From the Stand:

The action is heating up here in Western New York.  I hunted Livingston and Ontario Counties this Saturday and Sunday where I encountered some decent action – including one of my Hit List deer.

Two does work past my stand.

Deer movement is on the increase and this week’s cold snap shouldn’t hurt things.  I hunted our Livingston County Farm on Saturday where I encountered over a dozen deer, including one decent buck that I wasn’t able to get a good look at.

Sunday was warmer and sunny, but I hopped in the stand anyway for an afternoon hunt.  I didn’t have high hopes, but movement was swift throughout the afternoon.  I was able to grunt in one of the bucks on my Hit List, but he locked up at 30 yards, behind a blow down.  With a bad angle and a tree in my way I had to watch him walk.

If it hadn’t been for that tree, I’m guessing this entry would have had a different headline and topic, but hey, that’s why we hunt.  It’s worth noting that I also encountered a 1.5 buck who was clearly in the seeking mode.

I’d say it’s just a matter of time before we start seeing those older more mature bucks on their feet and cruising during daylight hours.  So, if you’ve got the time, I’d suggest you plant your rear in the seat of a stand somewhere.  The clock is ticking…

Be sure to check back weekly as I continue to chronicle my season and monitor deer movement here in the Northeast.

Greg Johnston