With a steady Northwest wind blowing and the big storm finally over, I knew I needed to be in a tree on this Saturday evening. These deer would be hungry and I assumed there would be an early arrival to this field from many of the local deer including "The Big 6." Due to working overtime, I actually was running a little bit behind schedule, but had a well thought out entry route in that provided me with a discreet path to my new stand location, undetected. As I got nestled in for the evening sit a smile came across my face as the cold wind steadily hit me. I knew I had the perfect conditions with the snow and cold, so the stage was set for a showdown with my buck.
The does started pouring into the field, like they always did, around 4:15 and it was evident that they were hungry. Quickly they ran into the field and started feeding. Before long 21 does and fawns were feeding in front of me and I knew it was just a matter of time. At 4:25 I looked up and from across the field I could see the giant frame that I've thought about for the last few months (everyday) headed my way. I knew it was now or never and I started mentally preparing for my shot opportunity. My favorite part of the hunt isn't actually releasing an arrow. To be honest, it's the few, fragile moments leading up to the shot that I live for. For me, everything slows down and I go into "my zone."
Frantically checking to make sure another deer wasn't paying attention to my movement, I grabbed my bow and got into position as the brute made his way across the field, step by step. He was on a mission, lead by his desire to feed and I knew that by being a slave to his stomach is what was about to make him so vulnerable on this day. Cautiously, he started to feed while checking his surroundings every few moments in order to ensure his safety. I knew I needed to wait for him to turn away in order to come to full draw undetected and once I saw a yearling headed his way I knew my opportunity was about to come into existence. He was a loner all his life and didn't tolerate other deer feeding close to his proximity….(to be continued)
Okay so now that I have YOUR attention let's rewind this story about two years back and start from the beginning.
The story of The Big 6 actually starts in the spring of 2015. I was out strolling for sheds, like I normally do many days during the spring, when I decided to head to a farm that I have hunted most of my life and that usually produced a few good antlers. After walking about an hour or so I spotted what looked to be a good, heavy beam antler laying up ahead. Rapidly I scurried over to check it out! Low and behold my assumption was correct and I was holding a beautiful antler from what looked to be off a mature buck. My mind was now racing! “Which buck was this!?” Honestly, I had no clue what buck this was, nor did I have any pictures of him either. As I laid in bed that evening I remember how excited I was to get minerals and cameras out on that farm to try to find the buck that this antler belonged to. The obsession had begun!
Cameras and minerals were put into place and the anticipation for summer sightings and pictures of this brute couldn't have been higher. But, unfortunately this buck did not turn up one single time on camera or in person on my summer scouting missions! I was heartbroken. The only thing that I could think of was that he wintered here, but didn't spend a whole lot of time here during the spring and summer. “Hopefully in the fall I would catch up to him”, or so I thought!
As that season came and went no pictures were taken of this ghost buck, but I did get a good glimpse of a heavy beamed, old brute during the rut two different times that I thought may have possibly been this buck. As the season came and went I ended up killing a great late season buck on another farm in December and so my thoughts switched gears to hopefully finding this ghost bucks sheds that next spring.
In the spring of 2016 while walking on this same farm where I found the shed from the year before I stumbled on what appeared to be a great set of antlers laying almost side by side down in a creek bottom! As I sprinted towards them I immediately in my head thought that maybe this was my buck from the previous year and boy did they sure look like it! With heavy mass, great time length and good beams I was certain this was the same buck and I couldn't have been more excited! Now it was time to put a trail camera plan into action on this farm in hopes of getting some pictures of him in velvet.
As luck would have it I started getting pictures of this buck right away in June and he was a complete stud again. He had heavy beams and long times, matched with a gigantic body and that “swagger” that only dominant bucks possess. I couldn't wait to hunt this buck and because this farm had soy beans on it this year I knew that he would probably stick around and give me a chance to hunt him. My plan was to continue running a few cameras and scouting this farm from afar in hopes that not pressuring him would keep him here all summer and early fall.
This plan worked like a charm as he was caught on camera and spotted in person numerous times that summer and early fall even after he shed velvet. My only problem was that I had a bigger buck showing up on a different farm that I also had history with. So my game plan was to hunt whichever buck was giving me a better pattern that first part of the season. As luck would have it, the other buck, a buck I named “Extra” was showing up more frequently and thus I decided to hunt him first.
Extra decided to read the script perfectly and let me put an arrow thru him at 27 yards on the opening night of bow season during the 2016 season. He's still my biggest buck to date and I couldn't have been happier to kill him, but as the season went on I often wondered what had happened to the big framed ghost buck on my other farm. With only having one buck tag in Ohio, i decided to pull all of my cameras and stands on the farm where this ghost buck was on in an attempt to give him nothing but space and no pressure. I was hoping he would stay on this farm and once again leave his sheds behind for me to find that spring.
During the spring of 2017 I searched and searched for this bucks sheds only to come up empty handed. I even gained permission from the neighbors to shed hunt, but came up short and never found his antlers. Standing corn on a farm I had no permission to hunt must have kept him occupied for most of the winter and I figured that's where his sheds would be as well. My only hope was that he would return to my farm this spring and summer to feed on the luscious beans that I would be planting for him. Thankfully this is exactly the way it panned out!
Low and behold on the first camera check of the year, BOOM there he was and what an old, warrior he had turned into. He was now a main frame 6 point, with heavy, long beams and fantastic mass, which made his frame look gigantic. A huge body capped off his presence and solidified himself as the dominant buck of the area and one that I would hunt for all year long, if need be. I remember walking back to my truck that day tingling with excitement. I had always wanted to kill a big, old 3x3 and this buck literally was like a dream come true. His dominant presence won my heart over from first sight and bow season couldn't seem to get here soon enough
Trail camera pictures and sightings in the beans were a normal weekly event all summer long with this buck. I really thought if he stripped velvet and stuck around that I would have a great chance to kill him during our early season, the end of September. But as my luck seems to always go at times, this was NOT the way this story goes and unfortunately I lost this buck at the end of August right before he peeled his velvet off. I was now spinning my wheels the entire month of September trying to figure out where this buck had gone.
A week before our season here in Ohio started I got a tip from a local guy that a giant bodied buck with a large frame ran out in front of him one evening right before dark on a farm close by. Eager to see what buck this was I gained permission to hang some cameras and scout this farm. On my second evening glassing fields I found “The Big 6!” He was with two other smaller bucks that I had pictures of on the other farm and I was certain that they had switched gears because this farm still had green beans due to being planted late. I now had a new gameplan on a new farm and couldn't have been more pumped!
During the end of September and into October I had numerous pictures of “The Big 6” and even had him in front of me twice!!! Once it was past legal shooting light and another time on October 30th he was at 52 yards, but never presented a shot. After hanging some more stand sets for the rut I was hoping November would be my month to settle the score with this old, bruiser.
November unfortunately came and went with three more sightings, BUT no shot opportunities. I had now saw this buck on the hoof 5xs AND STILL had never drawn my bow back yet. To say I was frustrated would literally be a huge understatement. This buck was driving me insane and I couldn't stop thinking about him. My only hope was that the cold and snow would put him on predictable patters to hunt. After a long, hard rut I knew his stomach would be the only thing on his mind and I certainly would key in on this weakness.
December came and with it brought freezing cold temperatures and lots of snow. For a bow only, late season lover like myself, the weather conditions couldn't have been any better and I was extremely excited to see those below “0” temps and lots of white stuff on the ground. I knew these sits would be long and cold, but I also knew that these were the conditions I needed to get this buck on his feet before daylight.
On December 30th, after months of chasing this buck around in multiple stands I FINALLY had him coming my way and on a straight line towards my perch, high up in an old, oak. Frantically I kept checking my watch as I knew light wasnfading fast. With the East wind hitting me in the side of my face and all the other deer out in front of me I knew the conditions were good to hopefully get an arrow in this buck. Slowly he marched into range, directly facing me head on as he fed. And he fed some more. And he fed some more!!! A nightmare was about to take place as the light faded right before my eyes and I knew it was going to hurt. This buck literally fed in front of me for 15 minutes as light faded away only to finally give me a quartering away shot as legal shooting time had already expired. For the second time this season I had this buck in range, but was not able to kill him because of shooting light running out. Discouraged and feeling defeated I walked to my truck that evening hanging my head. I knew this was a perfect opportunity that had just slipped thru the cracks of my fingers. I was mind blown.
As January came once again this buck changed his routine and bedding area and was now entering this bean field from a different direction. This was bad for two reason, #1 being that my stand was now in and iffy spot for the correct wind that he liked to move on and #2 I was now unsure of my entry and exit routes into this field because of his new bedding area. North and East winds were the only winds suitable to kill him on so on a cold, January evening with a South wind I opted to not hunt and glass from afar to see if I could spot this buck entering the field. As my watch read 5pm that afternoon I looked up and saw my buck with 5 does heading towards the field and then something hit me, something I had never thought to do before up until this point popped into my head. “I need to go into his bedroom and see what this buck is seeing,” I thought. As crazy as this sounded it was the perfect scenario-all the local deer were already in this field and so was my buck. With a backdoor entry into his bedroom I knew i could go in undetected and hopefully figure out something I was missing. So I jumped into my truck and quickly headed towards the other side of this farm.
From the moment I got into this bucks bedroom it all hit me and made perfect sense. As I crossed a ridge and went over a saddle towards my stand this buck, from his bed, would be able to see me pop over the top. Due to probably watching me do this from time to time it caused him to hit this field later than normal. This led to my buck being on edge and is why he always got to me so late AND why it took him so long to walk across that field. He knew at times something was in the area that shouldn't be and that thing was me! I needed to hang a new set and come up with a new approach to get to and from this spot.
January 13th a frigid, snowy day that I'll never forget and soon won't stop thinking about. On this day I matched with with “The Big 6” and came out on top.
……(continued from the beginning)
As the yearling fed closer and closer to my buck I knew exactly what was about to take place. “The Big 6” was a loner and never was found of other deer feeding in his area let alone right beside him. Many times during the summer, fall and winter I watched him run other deer off that came to close to his feeding proximity and I knew this time would be no different. Meticulously I checked my surroundings to make sure all of the deer were still in front of me. With the wind piercing my eyes and face I knew I had all the odds stacked in my favor and it was time to get back to full draw.
Cautiously I lifted my bow off the bow hanger and calmly rested it on me knee. I was now entering “my zone” where I really try to slow everything down so no mistakes are made. I remember saying to myself right before I drew back, “this is it Clint, make it happen tonight" I knew the time was now and I needed to capitalize on this opportunity. Slowly I bent back the limbs on my Mathews bow and finally got back to full draw. I nestled the string against my nose and began getting ready for the shot. Around this time the yearling had finally gotten too close and the buck tore after her making sure that she left his feeding space. At this moment is when it really hit me that I would be getting a shot and I checked my anchor points one final time before beginning my shot sequence. Effortlessly I began squeezing my back muscles together, like I have done in practice sessions a million times before. I had my pin set to the exact yardage of 37 and I was determined to bury this pin on the bucks chest as I continued to squeeze...squeeze….squeeze….until the bow broke and my arrow was off!
I knew the moment my shot broke that this buck was dead. It just felt perfect and I knew what that usually meant as I watched my Gold Tip Pierce Platinum shaft and rage broadhead bury deep into the brutes chest. Immediately I saw blood flying from his body as he tore off down towards the creek at the bottom of the field. Frantically I hung my bow up and grabbed my binoculars in hopes of watching him go down right before my eyes. Once at the creek he stood motionless like a soldier in lineup, then he proceeded do walk slowly down into the creek. An attempt was made to climb the steep bank, but after making it about halfway I watched him stop and then flip over backwards back down into the creek and I knew that I had FINALLY DONE IT. The Big 6 was dead!
I'll never forget grabbing my phone and calling my dad to let him know the news. I could barely talk and honestly was so shook up that I had to sit down and just relax before ever even climbing down. But this is why I bowhunt, this is why I hunted over 95+ days for this buck, this is why I kept going and stayed hungry, this is why I battled 15 hour days in the rut and -15 degree days in the winter. It all came down to this evening, on this day and to me, there is no better feeling OR moment in time than to be sitting in a tall, old oak tree on a frigid January day knowing that you finally killed the buck you've been after for so long. This is why I do it and this is why “The Big 6” will always be extremely special to me. I hope you all have enjoyed the story on my encounters with this buck. It was a rollercoaster ride full of emotions, but that's what makes this buck so special. The WCB gang and I will be doing an in studio podcast later this week all about this buck and my quest to kill him. I hope you all enjoy it and thanks again for the continued support! We can't thank you enough. As always GO SHOOT YOUR BOW and Chase your dreams, not your liquor!
What “The Big 6” taught me
-Mature bucks will and do winter in different areas each year solely based off of the available food sources no matter how much cover one farm has over the other. Food is the king.
-Bucks that are loners will usually stay that way and rarely will change their demeanor throughout their life
-Old, dominant bucks do EVERYTHING for a reason. Figure out those reasons and he's a killable animal
-Entry and exit routes are key ingredients to killing mature deer and have to always be planned accordingly due to changes in a bucks pattern or behavior
-Thinking outside the box and doing something different can sometimes pay off in a huge way even if it's something you've never done before (going into his bedroom was a key factor in killing this buck)
-Patience AND Persistence will always pay off (95+ days were needed to kill this buck)
-Determination and Grit are needed if you want to match wits with an old buck (it's not usually an easy task to kill a dominant, old buck)
-Documenting the wind and using trail cameras are key pieces to putting together a solid gameplan on how to kill an old buck regardless on what season you're in.
-Embrace the grind. It'll all be worth it in the end.
-NEVER EVER GIVE UP