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Tag Archives: deer

The Hit-List Buck Falls

By Greg Johnston
AHT Guest Contributor

Grandpa always said he’d rather be lucky than good, but on opening day of the New York firearms deer season, I was a little of both.

Rewind one week to Nov. 13 when my hunting pal, John Koska, and I were hunting my family’s property in Livingston County.

The author with his Great 8 2010 NY buck


It wasn’t long into the hunt and I felt the vibration from my phone in my safety vest. The message was clear and to the point: “Shooter chasing a doe.”

After a short while John gave me a call and said he watched the buck breed the hot doe and then work past the treestand with the doe at about 25 yards. John said the doe trotted through the shooting lane and that the buck had followed. Not feeling comfortable trying to squeeze a Carbon Express arrow through the young saplings, he elected to pass the questionable shot. You have to respect that.

My question to him was “where did the buck go?” He answered “west,” and that gave me an idea. I had a treestand at the bottom of the hill where the buck seemed to be working towards and with the doe in heat I was confident he wouldn’t go far.

It took multiple encounters for this mature buck to fall

So, I packed my gear, climbed down from my stand and hiked to the truck. From there I drove around the block where I planned on entering the same block of timber, but from the west side. It’s probably about 9:30 a.m. or so at this point.

I eased up the hill and reached the stand. Once settled, I could see a flurry of activity up the hill and it wasn’t long before several does worked by. I then caught a flash of something running and knew that mature buck was exactly where I anticipated he’d be. This meant two things: First, I’d positioned myself so the shooter was now in between John and me; and Second, I was now in a position to try and kill him.

With the help of my 10x42s I could see the brute laying into a tree about 90 yards away. I watched for a few minutes and examined him. “Man, he’s got cool-looking bladed main beams,” I thought.

What now?

I decided to grunt – all while watching him through my binos. He didn’t react, so I became more aggressive with a snort wheeze. At this point I realized it wasn’t meant to be. There is no replacement for love and this bad boy was in it.

At 12:30 p.m. I called it quits, as my son’s birthday party was the next day and I had to tend to some household chores.

With that, I hung up the Bowtech for another year and headed to work for the week, waiting for the following Saturday – the opening of firearms season – to roll around.

John and I talked and decided that the “Great 8” had leapfrogged his way to the top of the hit list.

On opening morning, I was carrying my Remington 1100 Special 20 gauge and entered the woods just hoping that I’d have a chance at the buck – or at least a mature buck. The morning hours came and went with many shots fired, but none from inside the perimeters of our property.

I backed out for lunch and John, my Dad and I discussed the afternoon hunt. After a sandwich, we were back at it. I reached the stand around 2 p.m. and settled in. Shortly after, a doe and yearling worked by. From there it gets a little blurry, because I dozed off in the stand. What? You’ve never done that? Whatever…!

Okay, after my cat nap I awoke to a much calmer woods. The wind, which had been stiff out of the west, had faded and the conditions had improved.

I sat and texted back and forth with John as he was hunting a stand in the middle of our property. It wasn’t long after that I caught movement to my right. Guess who? At 85 yards I struggled to find a clear lane to squeeze a Berennke through. That is until he stopped to work a scrape. I steadied my recticle on him and fired.

Bang.

The deer whirled, ran 10 feet and stopped. Bang. I fired again. This time, he went on a dead run through the woods, but angling towards me and closing the distance. I knew the second shot had hit him, but I wasn’t sure where.

I begged him to stop. And at 60 yards my recent string of bad luck ended as he applied the brakes. Bang. I shot a third time and with that he disappeared over the nearby gully.

So, you’d rather be lucky than good? Grandpa was right! Me too. That third shot had found its mark and entered his front shoulder.

I waited awhile and eased my way along the edge of the gully. What I saw at the bottom of the gully was the end of a lengthy, season-long quest. The “Great 8” was down! I stood at the top of the bank for 10 minutes or so collecting my thoughts before descending down to put my hands on him.

I couldn’t believe it had happened. I called John and told him the news. He was pumped and made his way over for the celebration.

Now my problem was talking my wife into another taxidermy bill. It’s like Dierks Bentley sings: Man what was I thinking?

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Picture-Perfect Dream Buck

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, we were looking at two pictures. The 2,000-word part was easy. My struggle came with figuring out how many inches were in the photos.

Tyler Sellens had just returned Friday from checking his trail cams. And he wanted to know what I thought this one particular buck would score.

I looked quickly – too quickly – and threw a number out that Tyler and my hunting buddy, The Biscuit, clearly weren’t impressed with. The odd looks told me I’d have no problem proving I was running on two hours sleep the last two days.

At closer glance, my high 140s mark had absolutely no merit. This stud had huge main beams, he had long tines and his mass was of the deer that hunters dream about. I quickly retracted.

Tyler, who along with Josh Turner makes up Riverview Outfitters in Hancock County, Ill., had two pictures of this buck. The first picture was Thursday morning, the second from Friday morning – but both during daylight. But he also had a challenge.

Tyler explained that he and Josh had only one tree to hang a stand in this spot, and his gut told him this deer was working a high trail during his daily ritual of checking for does. If that remained true, he knew the shot on this deer might be a long one with archery equipment.

The Biscuit, and I were only an hour removed from target shooting our bows, doing so at nearly every yardage marker possible – including 50 yards. We both shot well and that had our confidence levels soaring. We both implied that we might be up for the challenge.

The stand that they put in this area was, unfortunately for the Biscuit, locked onto a small hickory tree. The Biscuit isn’t … well … small. I am.

With the wind correct, I was able to navigate to and climb that stand our first morning of hunting Illinois. I saw and videoed four small bucks over the first couple hours out of that tree. And as the winds were gusting at speeds well into the 40s, I figured the big bucks were probably off their feet and staying as much out of the wind as possible. I had just talked myself into not expecting much movement until the magical time before sunset. The wind remained favorable for this stand, blowing out of the southwest.

And that’s when it happened. Nine hours after I arrived at my stand, the biggest deer I’ve ever seen on hoof came walking out of a brushy pile of woods and started on a walk in my direction. As Tyler had predicted, he was on the high trail. I knew right away that everything would have to go perfect in order to get a chance at this deer. I remained very calm – and looking back I’m not sure how.

As every hunter who has a large whitetail walking his direction would do, I grabbed my video camera! I’m not sure why that came first, but thankfully I also grabbed my bow and fumbled both in my hands as I sized the situation.

The buck walked through a little depression and stopped behind a series of saplings at 60 yards. He started rubbing his antlers on a small tree. I kept the video rolling and somehow managed to reach for my range finder. I’d already ranged this area several times in the morning but decided confirming the distance right now would be best. If he came out of those trees and remained broadside, he would be at 50 yards. If he came down the hill just a little bit, he would be in an opening at 44 yards. I dialed my sight to 45 yards and waited.

Somewhere in there I remember making up my mind that I was only going to shoot if everything went perfectly. I recall distinctly thinking that I was going to make this particular deer my week’s mission if the shot didn’t present itself. This was the first day of the hunt and I would have several days to play chess with him.

After a couple minutes of rubbing, the deer started moving again. That’s when I threw the video camera into my backpack. For some reason, I never even bothered to turn the record button off. Thus, the remaining pieces of the hunt were played out via sound on my video camera.

The buck broke out of the saplings and was walking slow. He walked a couple yards and turned toward my stand a bit. He was going to be on the 44-yard side of the opening.

I drew. At full draw I remember thinking that I would only take this shot if everything were still perfect.

I grunted. He stopped.

He was broadside at 44 yards. My HHA dial sight was dialed appropriately. I was looking through my peep sight and everything was perfectly aligned with his vitals. I squeezed the release and remained focused intently on where I wanted the arrow to hit. I did not see my arrow in flight, but saw and heard it hit the buck right where I was looking.

The buck turned up the hill and I could see the lion’s share of my arrow (all but the fletchings) sticking out of the opposite side of the deer … right where it would indicate a lung shot. I also saw blood – a lot of it – coming out of his side.

I was confident in the shot (as was later displayed when I replayed the video sound). I watched the buck run up the hill and out of sight. The shaking started.

I grabbed my video camera and realized that it was still on record. After taking a few moments to record my thoughts, which were all rooted in the sheer enjoyment of just shooting the biggest deer of my life, I called Tyler.

I climbed out of my stand and went to another hill and waited nearly two full hours for Tyler to meet me to begin tracking. As anyone who has ever shot a whitetail with a bow can attest, those hours are some of the most gut wrenching you can experience. You go through everything in your mind 1,000 times and try to recall any clues that will help in the recovery.

I started to question what I had seen. Was I sure the shot was where I thought? Was that blood I saw? Was he even as big as I think he was? Was it the same deer in the trail cam?

For the first time since the shot, I replayed the video. I listened to my entire first reaction and realized that there was no way I was seeing things. Replaying the real-time reaction helped build my confidence back up.

Tyler arrived and I played the video sound for him too. We started back into the woods to track.

We found blood early. The trail was easy to follow. After 70 or so yards, my arrow laid in his tracks. It was covered in blood. As often happens, the trail got wider with blood after that. We walked only another 15 yards and Tyler turned around smiling.

I’ve experienced ground shrinkage in the past. This is my first ground growage! He had points coming out of his main beams, his tines were longer than I remembered and he carried the widest rack I’d ever shot. He was truly a remarkable deer.

Tyler and Josh both were as excited as I was to have the bruiser on the ground. They’ve worked their tails off for several months to provide a hunter with an opportunity like this. And it so happened that in this case, I was the hunter. For that, I’m extremely grateful.

The buck ended up with 15 scoreable points – all intact.
And that picture ended up being worth a lot of inches – 185 4/8” in fact!

Cat Tales: I’m truly blessed. I’ve been able to shoot several nice bucks in my hunting career. Yet, I recognize that this deer is a “once-in-a-lifetime” kind of deer. And for that, I need to thank a few people for helping me fulfill a life dream. Thank you to Nick Pinizzotto, my fellow outdoor blogging friend who had never met me yet thought enough to ask me almost a year ago to join him in Illinois for a hunt with Riverview Outfitters.

I also need to thank “my girls.” My wife has dealt with my hunting obsession for over a decade and has been nothing but supportive – even though it often means a couple weeks of running our house solo each fall. My daughter Sara is living her third hunting season and gets almost as excited about deer as I do. And she is the best arrow holder this side of the Mississippi!

Finally, thank you dad for introducing me to hunting. I’m as passionate about this sport today as I was as a teenager running around our woods in Western New York. I wish a lot more kids around this world could see what I’ve been fortunate to see.


Learn more about Riverview Outfitters at www.RiverviewOutfitters.com


‘To a perfect best friend’

The following is an article I wrote 11 years ago while a sports writer, republished verbatim and borrowed with permission from The Lynchburg (Va.) News & Advance. Please find commentary about the piece at the bottom.

‘To a perfect best friend’

Cancer broke up hunting duo after two decades

By Kurt Culbert
(published 10/2/1999)

BEDFORD (Va.) – It doesn’t take long to see that Mike Cottrell is an avid outdoorsman.

Eight or so mounted bucks hang throughout his house, evidence of the countless hours Cottrell has spent working the woods for the majestic whitetail deer.

How the article appeared on A-1 in October 1999


Most of those hours, though, doubled in enjoyment for Cottrell because he was spending time with his best friend, Al McFaden.

This season marks the first time in 21 years Cottrell won’t be venturing into the woods with McFaden, who died May 7 at 47 after a battle with cancer.

The excitement that normally precedes hunting season for Cottrell isn’t quite as strong this year. Hunting without his best friend just won’t be the same.

“Without question, this is going to be the hardest hunting season I’ve ever experienced,” said Cottrell, 42. “I’ve hunted with Al for the better part of my life. He is the perfect hunter.”

Cottrell pauses for a moment and just shakes his head and smiles.

“He was the perfect hunter.

“I’ve had a real hard time with this. I guess I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before.”

No one ever said losing a best friend is easy, but Cottrell says that McFaden was more than a best friend.

“I was thinking the other day of a headline for Al,” Cottrell said. “I thought of ‘A tribute to a perfect hunter.’ Then I said, ‘A tribute to a perfect best friend.’ He was both of those and so much more.”

Cottrell remembers the day the pair met in November 1978 as though it were yesterday. They were both starting their first day on the job at Siegwerk Ink, in the prime of hunting season.

A photo of Mike that also ran in the paper

“I had just left the farm for public work,” Cottrell, of Bedford, recalled. “The city life was kind of new to me. The first guy I meet is Al and he sticks his had out and says, ‘Nice to meet you.’ He had a huge smile. I like to call it a ‘magical Colgate smile.’”

It didn’t take long for the two to start taking their hunting interests afield and begin the bond that would carry them for the next 21 years.

“From that first day we met, we never had a cross word,” Cottrell said. “Heck, I seen him more than I seen my own wife.”

The memories Cottrell has of hunting with McFaden seem countless. Most of the time, the two hunted with Cottrell’s brother-in-law, Randy Walker.

But a few stories stick out in Cottrell’s mind. Judging from the smile on his face, they’re all no doubt pleasurable.

An article was written about the adventure the two had in November 1985, when Cottrell shot his first bear.

On a dreary, rainy day, the two went into their normal hunting area in Bedford County for a quiet, still hunt. To get out of the rain, Cottrell crouched at the base of a tree and awaited the rain and his friend.

“All of the sudden I heard (a whistle),” Cottrell said. “I looked up and saw Al sitting under a … bush. I waved back at him, but when he pulled his hand down, I see this black blur running away from him. I thought, ‘Heck, that’s a bear.’”

Cottrell grabbed his gun and shot the bear on the run. It turned out the bear had actually been sitting under the same tree as McFaden.

“He didn’t even know it,” Cottrell said. “He was as excited as I was. But that’s the kind of guy he was. He was my rabbit’s foot and my lucky charm.”

Another time, the two had rested from an early hunt and were standing, talking and drinking soda and eating a candy bar. They could hear a housedog chasing deer just over a ridge.

“Al had just missed an eight point the day before,” Cottrell said. “I know his bullet must have hit a limb or something, because there was no better shot in the state of Virginia. But Al gave me his gun and told me to go after it.”

Cottrell went out looking for the deer, which ended up being a “huge buck.” With a broadside shot well within range, Cottrell pulled the trigger only to discover he had no shell chambered.

“Al was always safe,” Cottrell laughed. “I thought, ‘what in the world have you don’t to me?”

After getting a shell loaded and finally getting re-situated, Cottrell ended up getting a shot at the monster buck.

The two waited an hour before beginning the search. They found a speck of blood where the buck was last seen and began what turned out to be a six-hour journey for miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“My eyes were just burned out,” Cottrell said. “Al said, ‘If he’s as big as you say he is, ‘I’m gonna find him.’ I couldn’t even see any longer, but after miles of tracking just prints in the dirt, Al said, ‘There’s the deer right there.’”

The buck turned out to be the largest Cottrell has killed with his gun, a 10-pointer with extra-long tines.

“I would’ve never found that deer,” Cottrell said. “I wouldn’t have half the deer I shot if it weren’t for Al. There wasn’t anyone better in the woods.”

Cottrell remembers McFaden as a family man who is survived by his wife, Cynthia, and two children, Scott and Tracy.

“He’d always bring up his family and how much he loved them and how fortunate he was to have such great kids.”

The hunting group grew a bit in recent years when McFaden’s son Scott began to join them. Cottrell remembers when Scott was able to shoot his first buck.

“Al was so happy and proud,” Cottrell said. “He dragged that buck to the creek and started to field dress it and ended up cutting his thumb because he was so excited.”

Last hunting season was memorable in other ways for Cottrell. After a nearly two-year fight with colon cancer, all indications were that McFaden had defeated the disease.

“He kept going back for regular check-ups and they gave him a clean bill of health,” said Cottrell.

During hunting season, McFaden began to get sick.

“I knew it was different than a normal sick,” Cottrell said. “I told him that he needed to go back to the doctor. They ended up telling him the cancer had spread and it was getting worse fast. He asked them for a timetable and they said they couldn’t be exact, but maybe two or three years.

“He just kept telling me that he wanted God to give him one more hunting season because he wanted to take Scott hunting one more time.”

His vigorous battle with the disease didn’t last long: He died six months later.

“You know, he was a real winner,” Cottrell said. “His battle with cancer was the only thing I’ve ever seen him lose. But, he was still a winner because of all the lives he touched while he was here.

“He asked me if Scott could hunt with us even after he passed. I told him that as long as there’s a breath in me and I can hunt, Scott will hunt with us.”

On one of the two best friends’ final hunt, Cottrell shot a dandy eight-pointer. He holds up the rack among other fine animals. “Al could have shot that deer. He ended up watching me shoot it and he could have shot it himself, but he wanted to let me.”

Cottrell paused one more time and stared at a picture of his friend with a monster buck. “To sit and watch your best friend suffer is so hard. What’s that Alabama song? God spent a little more time on you? That’s what he did with Al.”

Looking ahead, Cottrell hopes he gets excited for the upcoming season.

“It’s gonna be hard. Al’s not here with us to put a smile on our face, but he’s gonna be in our hearts doing it. I know he’s flashing that ‘Colgate smile’ in heaven.

“The woods in Bedford County aren’t going to be as perfect this season. The perfect hunter is not gonna be there.”

——–

I remember the day well when Mike Cottrell was escorted to my desk in the newsroom in 1999. He had his hat in is hand and was hell bent on finding a way to honor his hunting buddy. He was clearly hurting from the loss several months earlier and I’m not sure he expected to find someone who shared a passion for the outdoors when we chatted by my desk. Then again, I’m not sure I expected to find one of the kindest-hearted human beings I’ve ever met.

This story was one of the easiest I ever wrote and ranks among the top-two articles ever in feedback volume. I am so thankful that I got to meet Mike that day, to get to spend a day with him at his house talking about his friend, and later sharing opening day of the 1999 Virginia opener with him in the same woods that he and Al used to travel. It was on that day that I shot my first Virginia deer, a basket racked buck on a beautiful mountainside atop a large rock that Mike dropped me off at before daylight. And to top it off, Mike shot a dandy 8 point that morning as well. Sadly, I have not connected with Mike in quite some time. Thinking of this article has sent me on a mission to find him and see how he’s doing. I will do that immediately.

I’m not sure the reach of this story really hit me until I walked into my cousin’s deer camp that same year, in Western New York, to find the article framed with a small note reminding his guests that the article’s homage to a hunting buddy was “what it’s all about.” The article still hangs there today.


Johnston’s Take: Unethical to Farm Raise Whitetails

By Greg Johnston
AHT Guest Contributor

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a tree hugger. I burn wood, eat meat and enjoy killing God’s great animals for sport.

However, a recent trip to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) left me asking this question: Is it ethical to raise, breed and grow whitetail deer for human benefit?

Photo of 170-class whitetail that spurred author's opinion of pen-raised whitetails


I say no.

Hunting ethics and sportsmanship are the core roots of our sport and without them where would we be? I don’t want to imagine.

To me, raising a wild animal for personal benefit crosses this line. Free roaming whitetails continue to be the No. 1 hunted big game animal in North America and this should give whitetails a free pass from captivity.

Let’s take the buck pictured in this post.

This was one of two trophy animals on display at the NYDEC event I attended. Although impressive to look at, I couldn’t help but wonder if the deer was enjoying the event as much as the dozens of gawkers who were looking at him.

For those of you unfamiliar with whitetail farming and its benefits, whitetails are grown and raised for one reason – money. Farmers either sell the animal for breeding stock [at a high-fenced facility] or collect their urine for scent sales. Either way, I’m opposed to it.

This hits at the heart of my argument. We’re not dealing with an Angus or an Appaloosa, here. The whitetail continues to roam free in all but five U.S. states – Nevada, Utah, California, Hawaii and Alaska currently have no published whitetail herds.

I’d like to see it kept this way.

I believe our Creator put the whitetail deer on earth for reasons unknown, but I’m pretty sure putting him in a pen wasn’t one of them.

Where do you stand?


Top Questions about Hunting – Part II

As a second part of our dive into the minds of Americans alongside Ask.com, we’ll take a look at another five questions that are among the most asked hunting questions at the question and answer site. By the way, these questions are among the more than a million asked at Ask.com everyday!

Without further ado, here are the questions and my personal opinion to the answer. Once again, if you’d like to see how each is answered by others, visit Ask.com and ask.

Fishing is not the only outdoor activity former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin enjoys. Photo borrowed from Ask.com

Does Sarah Palin hunt?
I guess she does. People ask a lot of Palin questions these days. Those questions are not exclusive to politics.

When is turkey-hunting season?
This is another one of those state-dependent answers, but most states do fall in the April-May timeframe for spring turkey season.

What is the easiest breed of hunting dog to train?
Look, there’s a reason why Sage is the star of this blog! I’m completely biased in my opinion that Labrador retrievers are the easiest. I’m sure there’s a Springer Spaniel, German Shorthair or Boykin Spaniel owner out there who disagrees with me.

What is the best rifle for long-range deer hunting?
The opinion of “long range” differs for a lot of hunters, but when it comes to my preference for hunting deer with a rifle, I am a big fan of the .308 Win. And I don’t believe there’s ever been a more shooter-friendly rifle action built than that of the Remington 700. All of my rifles are sent to my friend Lenny Palmatier in Potter County, Pennsylvania to make sure they’re field ready for those long-range deer hunts!

Where is the best duck hunting in the U.S.?
I wish so badly that I could put the answer as the Piedmont Region of North Carolina! Sadly for Sage, that is not the case. I’ve never hunted it, but widespread perception says that Arkansas represents some of the best duck hunting in the U.S. The top location I’ve ever hunted is unquestionably North Dakota. That said, with the right time of the season and the right weather, it’s hard to top any region along the Mississippi flyway.

This is part two of a two-part entry that looks into the top questions about hunting – as posed by Americans at question and answer site Ask.com