The whitetail world always amazes me. Year after year, bucks of monstrous proportions pop out of the woodwork throughout the country. Animals of mythical mass and tine-length break records every year. This is mostly due to quality deer management over the last decade and hunters’ efforts to improve the health and genetics of their herds.
I’ve seen this tactic work for several animals that I’ve pursued over the years, animals which had the potential to be world class. My trail cameras captured them season after season, and I’ve let them walk, hoping they make it through the hoards of hunters in the area. Again, my cameras proved that many do.
The number one defining attribute is age. If bucks are allowed to make it to maturity, their knowledge of their environment will ensure that they have a chance to make trophy caliber. Without our help, whitetails will seldom evolve into what every hunter is looking for.
My intrigue of whitetails lead me to the decision that I wanted to enter the hunting community as a manufacturer of hunting products, products which would make my own life easier in the field. In 2006, Innovative Hunting Solutions was born, as well as a new scent-dispersal system.
This brings us to the story at hand. We were contacted by customers almost immediately after our product hit the shelves. One customer, Brian, really stood out. He hunted mature whitetails in Michigan as seriously as anyone I knew; he had a passion for big bucks.
Brian used his trail cameras to scour properties across southern Michigan, using as much land as he could to find the buck he would spend the season chasing. Because Brian had access to numerous properties he was able to single out some rather large bucks. The photos were impressive. In the fall of 2006, he sent me a photo of a handsome long-beamed, tall-tined buck walking under his empty stand on December 6th. I remember the pain in his voice when he told me the story of why he had missed the hunt. Long days were spent during the last few weeks of the season to no avail.
I kept in touch with Brian throughout the spring and early fall of 2007. His cameras were showing no sign of this highly anticipated buck. Days rolled into weeks and weeks turned into months. After much thought, Brian realized that this deer was a transient and that, for some reason, only showed his presence during the tail end of the rut.
The whole month of November passed without a word from Brian. I imagined the thoughts that were racing through his head. A buck of that stature is hard to come by anywhere in the country, let alone Michigan. As anyone would, he and the property owner kept the buck a secret knowing that the pressure in the area would double if word got out.
On the 10th of December, I received a call from Brian. I could tell from the excitement in his voice that the buck had returned. A few days earlier, he placed dominant buck urine on an active scrape, checked his camera and found a photo of the very buck from the season before. Unfortunately that was it, almost like déjà vu, the buck disappeared without another sighting or picture that season.
As both were avid bird hunters, Brian and the property owner worked with Pheasants Forever to enhance the wildlife habitat on the property the next spring. They planted corn, buck oats, soy beans, and clover plots in and around the perimeter of an apple orchard.
The plantings proved to be successful. Bird and deer numbers were up, but the 2008 season came and left without any sign of the ghost-like whitetail. Did another hunter put a fatal shot on him? Did he get hit by a vehicle? Could he possibly have died of old age? All these questions were going through Brian’s mind. Talk about mental anguish!
The 2009 season came in quick. Brian was back on the property running cameras and looking for signs of the giant buck. I even lent him a few of my own cameras to help the cause, meanwhile wondering how something so big could just disappear.
Then, one November evening, I received a call from Brian. His first words were “THE BIG BUCK IS DOWN!” The event unfolded like this . . .
BRIAN HEADED TO THE STAND AT 6:15 A.M.
Because of bad wind directions for a week, Brian had been waiting to hunt a stand overlooking standing corn and oat plots intersected by narrow hedgerows. His camera had shown a lot of rutting activity in this area and the conditions seemed perfect.
It was early November, the temperature was 37 degrees, and the rut was at its peak. The wind was at a standstill and every step sounded like the one that would give him away. Brian stopped every 20 yards or so in order to make himself sound like a weary animal, eventually making his way to his blind without alarming any game.
Busting brush to the south a mature doe made her way through the orchard in front of Brian. Daylight was still 15 minutes away, but, through his binoculars, Brian could see a heavy-framed buck standing no less than 20 yards from his stand. With the buck so close, he didn’t want to give away his location, so he sat motionless. The buck grunted again and proceeded to chase the does.
The scene was quiet. Thoughts were circling Brian’s head like a whirlwind. He wondered if he could have made the shot earlier that morning. All of a sudden, a doe broke the hedgerow with a 150-class buck in tow. Brian had little time to control his emotions, let alone gather his gear. The two whitetails blew by his stand before Brian could get his composure.
Over the next 20 minutes, the trophy buck chased the doe over just about every inch of the five-acre food plots, except for the area where Brian was perched. Situated in his stand, ready for any shot, Brian watched helplessly as the chase lost momentum and eventually the deer began to feed out of range.
Brian thought to try and call the buck in, but he knew he would alarm the deer because of the wind direction. He had to sit back and wait to see how the deer would react and how the day would unfold.
A grunt, snort, and wheeze, downwind from the orchard put Brian at full alert. While slowly gathering his bow and attaching his release, Brian looked up to see the very buck that haunted his dreams for the last three years penetrating the hedgerow 90 yards from his stand.
The buck was leaving a dust trail as he blew through the neighboring field at full throttle catching the 150, 11-point that was tending the doe unaware and helpless. He drove his massive antlers in the chest of the 11-point and pummeled him to the ground. After little resistance, the mature buck chased the doe due south, directly away from Brian, disappearing into the hardwoods.
Brian was still trying to get over the fact that the buck of his dreams and three years of anticipation simply ran by, out of range, in a cloud of dust. Feeling sorry for himself, he raised his head in the direction of the hedgerow to the south. His heart skipped a beat when he saw the front profile of the enormous rack working its way into the clover.
All emotions erupted at once. At first, Brian thought for sure he had another chance. Then he realized the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. Where was the doe? He told me, at that point, his arrow was uncontrollably rattling in his rest.
There the buck stood, 90 yards away, scanning the food plot with a look of intensity in his eyes. The only thing moving was his ears, scanning the area like radar. Another 10 minutes went by, and then the beast slowly walked out of the danger zone the wind was providing.
To Brian’s amazement, a 1-1/2 year old 8-point walked directly up to the monarch and began to spar with him. The giant buck simply let the smaller buck bounce his meager head gear from inside to inside of the massive 10- point frame.
This was Brian’s chance. He reached into his bag and began the task of trying to call in the brute. He tried grunting, rolling the can, and even rattling. Nothing seemed to faze the buck. He looked up a few times, but seemingly had no interest.
Brian endured another 15 minutes of mental torture and again had to watch the buck fade away into the thick Michigan undergrowth. There was nothing he could do but watch and hope the doe showed up again, hopefully pulling the buck into range.
Brian had no intention on hunting all day until he saw how the morning had unfolded. He was supposed to hunt the morning and return home to help his wife prepare for his son Jacob’s first birthday party. Brian knew he had to make a choice. He was hoping his wife would forgive him.
For the next five hours, Brian had numerous young bucks chasing does in and around the food plots he was overlooking, never going more than 30 minutes without seeing rutting activity. He knew his wife was going to be mad, but there was no way he was leaving.
The weather was exceptionally warm for November and Brian was contemplating shedding a layer when all of a sudden five does broke through the hedgerow into the clover. Fifteen seconds later, he heard brush busting. Taking his attention off the does, he could not believe his eyes. The buck was back!
Trying to keep his composure and not spook the does, Brian gathered his gear and positioned himself. The does stopped to feed below his stand at seven yards. The massive buck sat tight, scanning the area from the hedgerow 25 yards to the south.
The buck was directly downwind and couldn’t see Brian because the sun was behind his back. He just sat still, patrolling the does. Brian prayed that his scent-free clothing and spray would be enough.
Brian’s head was a whirlwind of emotions. It took everything he had to keep it together. Was this going to be another close call? How could the buck not smell him? He hoped that the buck would forgive him and keep his attention on the does.
A shift in the wind gave Brian hope, when the does began to slowly move toward the south. The buck flared his nostrils, turning south, taking three steps. The does watched the buck as Brian drew his bow.
As Brian tried to steady his Red Dot scope from bouncing all over the kill zone, he kept saying “it’s only a deer” over and over again. After little hesitation, his bow launched forward and the 100g broadhead ripped through the ribs behind the front leg of the buck. Jumping straight up, the buck kicked, then drunkenly stumbled 40 yards and fell on his side against a fallen log.
That day, Brian Hughes proved that perseverance and patience pay off. After the 60-day drying period, the massive animal net 203-5/8 non-typical in the Boone and Crocket scoring system, having less than six inches of deductions, making the record books both typical and non-typical.
Two weeks later, during firearm season, the property owner harvested the first buck Brian saw that memorable day. The buck net 146 with an 8 broken G2. The antlers were the spitting image of Brian’s buck, proof that Michigan has what it takes to produce world-class animals.
Bass Pro Hunting Pro Staff