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Buck #42

Hunter:    Brian Leither             

Score:     114 4/8"

Points:     11 points

Weight:    196 lbs

Date:        November 17, 2007

Location:  Northern Minnesota

Method:   .30-06 bolt


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For family reasons, I was unable to get out scouting or hunting until the last three days of rifle season this year.  So I knew I had to sacrifice some daylight on Friday to identify a prime spot with good sign.  I ventured into a section of wilderness that was new to me and unspoken for among our hunting party. 

After about two hours of due diligence, I honed in on a section of immature aspen and birch speckled with a few black spruce and cedars.  It was a three or four acre plateau that was locked between two significant ridges and a dense plot of pines.  I noticed three heavy trails with multiple scrapes and rubs—some very aggressive shredding of trees in close proximity.  This was going to be my home for the next few days—time to get crackin’ on a black spruce about 120 yards southeast of the heaviest sign.  Less than two hours later I had carved out a coniferous cavern from which I could watch the wilderness unfold below.

When I shared my new locale with the rest of the guys over some lunch, I had a sense of giddy optimism…this new spot just had a good feel to it.  My optimism was about to be tested.

I spent Friday afternoon looking into a 5-10 mph breeze littered with sleet and snow.  It wasn’t heavy enough to abandon the hunt, but it certainly limited visibility and made for a challenging afternoon and early evening.

I trekked into the dark woods early Saturday morning once again excited about the prospects of my new stand.  After making the 60-foot climb to my perch, I quickly realized I had found an ideal location for an anemometer—the only wind break in the area at the moment seemed to be me.  In normal circumstances, this would have been a concern only in that it may shorten the length of time I could stay out in the elements before retreating for warmth.  However, being secured to the thin end of a 70 foot pole in these winds raised other concerns—primarily the concern of being able to stay in my seat when swaying four to six feet in the wind gusts.  It only took about 15 minutes for me to conclude that I could not stomach this post.  By the time I had reached the ground, I was fully embedded in self-doubt about the scouting work I had done the previous day.  Had I set myself up for failure by trying to get such a grand vista?  Nonetheless, I realized I had found a name for the new stand—Whiplash.

Around noon that day, the sun poked through the clouds and the winds started to calm.  After spending the morning in a couple of old permanent stands with limited sign and range of view, I was anxious to give Whiplash another try. 

At about 2PM I clicked in the carbiner on my safety harness.  Yes!  The winds had calmed, the sky was clear, and there was a fresh coating of snow that greatly enhanced my range of visibility.  The hunt was back on!

The afternoon passed by with no sightings.  As I was watching the sun set on a distant ridge, I continued to have confidence about the area—everything seemed just right for witnessing whitetail activity.  If not today, then surely on Sunday.  It was then that I heard a branch snap off in the distance.  I scoped the area and after about 15 seconds saw what I was looking for, the body of a white-tail making its way down the trail from the ridge.  It was too thick to make out antlers, but it appeared to be a mature deer.  “Be patient,” I thought to myself, the deer was on the move in what seemed to be a relaxed state and the wind was in my favor.  Time to sit back and let things take their natural course.

About 30 seconds later, the deer had crossed into a partial clearing about 250 yards out and I made the first confirmation of antlers.  He was still on the move—determined and deliberate, but not alarmed.  I could make out a heavy rack and big body.  I guessed he was in the 8-10 point range, but I wasn’t certain.  I was certain that if the chance came along, he was definitely a buck worth taking.

As he headed back into thick cover, I looked up from my scope and projected two openings ahead on his path that would present clean shots.  The ideal opening was a 120 yard shot, but it was still almost 250 yards from the buck’s current position.  There was an earlier opening 80-90 yards from his current spot that had some light brush but would present a 180-yard shot.  While the buck took his time moving through the heavy cover, I decided to set up for the earlier opening—no need to tempt fate waiting for the ideal situation to materialize.

He slowed significantly as he exited the thick cover but was still moving.  I had him locked in through my scope, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to take a shot at a moving animal at this distance.  When he reached the full opening, I grunted, he threw his head up high, quartered toward me, and froze.  BOOM!  One big donkey-kick, a stumble over a log, and some loud crashing through the thick cover straight away from me.  I followed him for about 80 yards and then lost visual.  I heard some more crashing and then silence.  Did the silence mean he was down?  Or did it mean that he had cleared the thick under-growth and was stealthily escaping through the darkness of the pine grove?

Then in the silence, the post-shot questions started to filter into my racing mind.  Was it a clean shot?  The donkey-kick seemed to say yes, definitely a hit.  Should I have waited for him to come in closer?  No, I had a great look and made the right decision.  Should I have taken a second shot when he was crashing through the thick brush?  No, there was almost no chance of a hit.  How long should I wait to go after him?  It will be dark in about 20 minutes, do I go against my instincts and look for him right away?  No, I have a light and I can get help from the other guys if I need it.  Okay, I feel good about the answers I’ve given myself and wait until darkness to begin the descent from my stand.

I reach the spot where he was standing when I took the shot about 50 minutes later.  Now panic begins to set in—not one drop of blood!  I scan the area again—any blood should be easy to see given the covering of snow.  None!  Wait, what is that in the snow on the log a few feet back?  There is a small sprinkling of hair…no blood, but the hair indicates at least some type of hit.  By now, I am joined by a member of our party.  We track the footprints and broken branches for about 20 minutes, slowly advancing about 75 yards.  Wait, what is that on the long blade of grass—the first sign of blood.  Yes!  15 yards further I see the body.  I come around the front, see the rack and let out a yell full of joy (and relief).  A quick study reveals a solid 11-pointer with a big body.  My best buck ever.  I had a feeling this was going to be a good spot…