Why hunting this less than ideal condition can pay off big.
The first week of November rolled around and I had all my tags still burning holes in my pocket. Michigan proved to be one of those ego-bruising seasons with “one that got away” and several close calls that left questions in my mind. But I was ok. I’d been here before, and knew that the best part of season was upon me: November.
I turned my eyes toward Ohio, where the week before I’d seen strong buck activity, passing several nice bucks a younger me would have gladly shot. Partly due to the maturity I’d gained the past decade, and partly due to one particular trail cam picture, I eagerly waited. That trail cam picture was a monster 160 class ten point (I estimated) that showed in broad daylight the day before I left. Expectations and
adrenaline grew as the days decreased until my return trip. However, there was a hitch. As mother nature often times does, she was throwing me a big curveball in the form of a rain front ominously projected for the first day of my trip. Would deer move? Was it worth getting all my clothes, bow (which could rust and damage my sight, dropaway rest, and other components), and other equipment soaked the first day and therefore leaving me with challenging circumstances the rest of the trip (where a high pressure system was supposed to push through bringing historically better hunting)? The day came, and it was decision time. Should I hunt the rain?
Besides being a miserable all day sit (which I planned on doing for the rut), hunting in the rain is many times frowned upon, and I knew exactly why. First, you cannot hear a thing and have to keep your head on a constant swivel. Deer can literally sneak past you if you are looking in the wrong direction. This can lead to rushed shots, and spooked deer due to all the added movement. Not only that, but if successful at getting a shot tracking becomes nearly impossible, as any blood trail gets washed away almost immediately. Many consider this unethical, and due to all these reasons stay out of the woods during a rain. Considering all this, I hit the woods bright and early that first rainy morning in Ohio. I was on a mission.
The first hours of daylight brought nothing but rain, and I began to doubt the intelligence of my decision. My rain suit was “resistant” and helped shed a good deal of the cold and constant drips, but I could feel the wet starting to seep into my inner layers. Droplets clung to my broadhead and amassed until a critical point where gravity pulled them ominously to the ground. Then, the cycle began again. It was rough, but I was tough though and would stick it out. I had seen worse. A memory from two years prior, the opener of gun season, kept me going. It was raining worse then, and every thirty minutes I wrung a bucket of water out of a makeshift towel I had tied around the tree. It absorbed the sheets of water rushing down the tree and beneath my shoddy umbrella, and somewhat kept it from gushing down my back. I had done that all day, I would survive this too.
My setup was at the bottom edge of the property, about halfway down a long slope that went far into a neighboring piece, and where deer seemed to congregate this time of year. About five different two-tracks converged here on the thick brushly landscape, and most the bucks I’d seen the week before had, at some point, traveled through this one hub. Before I left the prior weekend, I had put the stand I now sat in here, exactly for this reason. With rain trickling off the brim of my soaked Sound Barrier baseball cap and hood, at 9:10 AM, I started to see just why I was there.
A nice 8 point worked his way quickly up the hillside and through the brush about fifty yards away. A nice 110 class buck, but not a shooter. What stood out though was that he was almost frantic in his sniffing and bird-dogging. He was obviously looking for does, and almost in a panic to find one. Not finding any, he quickly worked up the hill behind me and disappeared. At 9:32, after looking behind me for only what seemed like a few seconds, my worst fears came true. I turned around to see a giant, white-faced, muscular bodied 140 class 8 point walking right through my shooting lane and into the brush. In the wet leaves and noisy rain, he had walked right past me, and I had no shooting lanes where he headed. He also, was on a panic-tricken mission, and displayed the same odd behavior of the first buck. I’d seen much rutting and chasing in my day, but this behavior was much more than that, and struck me as odd. I blew a few grunts his way and he stopped, as he had now climbed the hill behind me and we were eye to eye. He started back, wanting to come, but sensing something was off he briskly moved up the hill and out of sight. Disappointing for sure, but deer were moving and he could be back. I sat tight.
Just ten minutes later, another 110 class 8 snuck behind me in what looked like another frantic search. No does, so he moved on into the thick slash ahead and up the hill. I was cold in the bone-chilling rain, but the whitetail action couldn’t have been hotter. Would they cool off just as quick? I’d seen this many times before, and knew it would have to end at some point, especially with no does in my immediate vicinity. I was wrong.
What happened next took about eight seconds, and was mere instinct and a culminating reaction born of 28 years hunting experience. At 9:51 AM, a half-running, large body darted through the brush straight at me. The large rack buck briefly turned sideways as he ran, and I could tell he was a shooter, but he showed no signs of slowing. Once again, this buck looked panicked to find a doe. I knew in a mere instant he would be through my one shooting lane. I grabbed my bow and simultaneously grunted loudly, stopping him just off center of my one small shooting hole. As he looked directly at me, we locked eyes much like the 8 point just 20 minutes earlier. I knew I had a brief window of time before he bolted, but my target was not clear of the many menacing branches. As he watched, I drew and squatted until my pin covered his vitals, and fired at the exact same moment he pinwheeled right to escape. It all happened so fast, I wasn’t sure I had hit him, but the flash I saw of yellow nock and green fletch looked true. He ran off, acting a bit hurt, and disappeared into the thick mix of brush.
The story goes on, but for sake of time, and the point of this article, I’ll fast forward to the next day, where around 11:30 AM on a blind body search, I found my buck dead 200 yards away. A great ten point. It wasn’t the monster from the trail cam, but a 200+ pound bruiser no one in their right mind would pass up.
The interesting part of the story for me, is the intense seeking I saw during that 40 minute window. It was unlike any I had ever seen, and the word to describe it would be frantic. What caused so much buck movement in such a short window of time, and why such desperation? As I thought much about this, a theory developed which I believe holds good reason, and gives me reason to hunt the rain in the future.
Several factors I believe culminated to produced this behavior of intense buck movement and big payoff for me:
Peak Rut - being the first week of November the stage was set for buck chasing anyways. Does were getting hot and movement was winding to a crescendo. This was the first key, the powder keg but not the spark.
Inability to smell - with all the rain washing and removing all doe estrus scent from the ground and the air, the bucks could not keep tabs on where the does were. This I believe was the spark that triggered the chain reaction of fast paced, high intensity, frantically moving bucks. They couldn’t smell where does had been so they couldn’t cut a track to find one. They couldn’t smell the air probably much better, and if they didn’t have line of sight on a doe, they were absolutely beside themselves trying to get it. This forced them to move and move a lot to somehow bump into one with their only real sense left, their sight.
Thick brush - what made it even worse for the sense-inhibited bucks was the fact the property where the does where hanging was thick. This further inhibited their only sense left, leaving it poor at best. Their only chance, again fueled by raging hormones, was to move - a lot, and hopefully catch sight of a doe. This combination, I believe, led to the drastic buck movement I experienced that morning and the tagging of a brute Ohio buck. And, is the reason I will definitely risk the cons in the future, of hunting in the cold November rain.
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