History of RED
The story of Red started in August of 2014 when I captured this random trail camera picture at a mineral site on my farm. Little did I know, over the next few years, a rich history of trail camera pictures, sheds and encounters would compile and that Red would become a household name, and my 2017 deer hunting quest.
At first, Red was only the occasional visiter to my farm. I captured him again on TC at a cron pile in the late season, but he was weary of the TC and I only captured this single picture. His attitude and body told me he was a 3 year old, despite his rack having a estimated 15 inch spread….indicative of a 2 year old. I then picked up his left shed in the spring a few hundred yards away.
In the fall of 2015, Red made his appeerance around the rut and stayed for a spell. He was on the “shoot list” but never slipped up, even though he started showing some daylight activity. That spring I looked all over hell and high-water for his sheds…..but they never surfaced. That failure still stings.
2016 Red was the primary target for me and two Booner’s Acres clients. But before they could arrive in camp, Red busted off two major tines and I decided I would not shoot him. I also requested to my guest that they not shoot him either. I’m fortunate to have a great circle of hunting guest and they all agreed that Red had the potential to be great and we all hated the thought of shooting a deer that had 10-15 missing inches of horn. A couple of us had chances at him in 2016, but we held true to our pact and he lived.
Maybe this “freedom” made Red feel more secure at my farm because he started to be very daylight active and he shed both 2016 antlers on my farm and in very visible locations. One in my newly built pond (my first shed of the 2017 shed season). And the other in the bean stable near my house (that my Dad found while planting CRP).
And with that, the stage was set for 2017.
The Hunt for RED
I have to start by saying the hunt for Red in 2017 was an easy one. There was no grind, no hard to get out of bed mornings and no pressure to make things happen. It was one of those years that makes you wonder why most years… it’s so hard.
My “rut vacation” from work started October 27th and consisted of two weeks off, but only 2 or 3 mornings a week that I could actually hunt. Those mornings I sent my kids to a baby sitter. I could also hunt any evening that I had the house cleaned and dinner cooked, when my wife (a full-time teacher) came home from work. A deal my wife and I have made for the past few deer seasons.
I was totally OK with the schedule because I do (and always have) preferred morning hunts and….. I like a clean house. I personally believe big bucks are on their feet more in the mornings (compared to evenings) and I feel that the areas big bucks live in are certainly easier to penetrate under darkness. In recent years, I’ve also found that mornings are best for my wife and I’s schedule. Even still…hunting season is very taxing for my wife and without her support the story below wouldn’t exist. So, I must say thank you to my amazing wife foremost.
A hunt for me typically starts the night prior via looking at weather.com, the Huntstand app on my phone, mentally processing trail camera pictures for the days prior and lastly looking at temperatures and moon phases (overhead/underfoot times) to guesstimate “how good of a movement day” will likely be ahead. The later, helps me decide if I’ll hunt perimeter stands where my chances of bumping deer are less or going all in and hunting high risk/high reward stands.
On the night of Nov. 11th, weather.com called for East winds with low temps and high barometric pressures. I also knew of several good bucks that were harvested by other local hunters in recent days and felt the rut was at a good breaking up point (lockdown was predominantly over). Most importantly, I knew RED my home grown 6-year-old Ohio whitetail, that I estimated at 170 inches had recently been very daylight active. So, daylight active, one of my hunt club members missed him only a week prior.
I decided the conditions were right for me to spend some time in one of the best areas of my farm. I was going to a place referred to as THE GAP. An approximate 100-yard-wide travel corridor, with two paralleling logging trails, between a deep cut ravine and a food plot edge at the rear of my farm. THE GAP is also almost directly positioned in the middle of my farm and is a good place for deer to cut through when going from one large chunk of timber to another large tract of timber. THE GAP also borders a 10-acre thick sanctuary, that I only enter during shed season. It really is the kind of spot that you should kill a monster on every sit. Red was showing me on camera that he was randomly jumping all over the farm, so this seemed like the perfect spot.
I do not however have a fixed stand for East winds in the GAP, mostly because it runs predominately EAST to West. But if the wind would have just a little north in it (which was predicted for later in the day) and IMO I’ve found that if a wind is predicted to shift later in the day…. many times, the wind will many times “kick that way” or even “slant that way” in previous hours. Also, If I shifted just a little south of the actual GAP…… I thought I could make it work. So, an hour and a half before legal shooting light, I made my way to the area with my trusty Lonewolf Hand Climber and a backpack full of goodies to make an all-day sit. I also must add that I’ve had some recent back pains and my Lone Wolf Hand Climber is one of my most comfortable stands, so the climber was a good plan.
I made my way to the gap by walking right out my back door and going 900 yards past/through a large CRP field, a once acre clover plot and two brassica food plots. Almost the whole walk is screened with 4-5 foot tall switch grass I planted 4 years ago. I made the entry without bumping any deer! I was shocked I was able to accomplish this because it was dead calm and as crunchy as a bad of Doritos from the frost. I picked a tree, without using a flashlight, knowing I’d looked this particular small Poplar Tree in the past and climbed up as fast as I could. I then buckled in my safety harness and started screwing in my pack holder hook and bow holder arm. Before I could even pull up my bow, I heard critters moving around me. I doubted they were deer and chalked to noise up to raccoons because I didn’t think there was any way I would have gotten into this spot without tipping off every deer in a square mile. But soon after first light, I found a couple fawns bedded in a thick spot of brush only 50-60 yards away. About an hour after light, the fawns left their beds and started milling around. Soon a button buck was directly underneath me eating Poplar leaves and a doe fawn 20 yards to my left. The wind turned out to be perfect for everything that was going on. It was mostly calm, but when the milkweed did float, it was a perfect ENE. That’s when things started to get uncomfortable.
When I’m on stand, I try to be a nose breather. It’s my opinion that it lessens your downwind odor. But with a recent runny nose, the flem had built up in my throat and I was starting to get a tickle. I fought it off as long as I could but then I erupted! A big old cough/hack that felt ohhhh so good! And the fawns never flinched! But momma doe, who had been apparently hidden in the forest below quickly came to investigate. She stomped up the hill and started cautiously looking all over for the cause of the suspicious noise. That’s when a miracle happened. The button buck fawn started coughing and hacking! I do not lie when I say after that, me and the button buck fawn took turns coughing for the next half hour and not a single deer became alerted to my presence.
Those deer soon wondered off and my attention turned to some sparing deep in the sanctuary. And from the sounds of the sparing…. not little deer. These sounded like big racks! Deep and heavy thuds. But bucks just playing around…. not an all-out brawl. Being Red is the only big mature buck I’ve seen in the area, I figured it was him and another buck that I had no knowledge of. The sparing stopped but not before catching the attention of a couple small bucks that made their way through the GAP, right under my stand location and disappeared into the sanctuary to investigate. Soon after those bucks disappeared, I caught a quick glimpse of a doe being chased by a big buck 200 yards to my right. But before I could grab my bino’s and I.D. the buck they disappeared into the CRP. At that time, I decided the prospects were high for the rest of the morning and that I needed to be a little more prepared. The wind also has picked up and was a steady ENE now and I could get away with some movement and noise.
At the shot, RED was 15 yards, standing right/center in picture, through the two hanging grape vines
Directly in front of me was a tree limb that was crowding my space. It was preventing me from shooting nearly 30% of my front radius. And although shooting through the tree tops in that direction was minimal, I decided I wanted it gone. I stood up, pulled out my tree saw and grunt tube and got ready. I made a couple long, loud tending grunts and then quickly sawed off the limb and then tried to throw it on top of some branches to my left that were almost “to high” for my best and most likely shooting lane. The whole ordeal made a good bit of noise, but I did everything with intention of it sounding like a buck that was tending a doe and taking out his sexual frustrations on the young Maple tree. The only part of my mock scenario that didn’t go as planned was the branch I cut off and threw made my suspected shooting lane worse! I now only had 2 or 3 very small windows to the GAP logging trail. I put my saw and grunt tube away and then remained standing and tried to figure out my best stance to get a shot through the branches……when………SNAP!
A twig broke 20 yards behind me. I turn and instantly recognize the blaze red forehead, grey muzzle and fully mature body features of RED! His antlers soon confirmed it was Red and I went into auto pilot. He was moving at a good clip and coming straight to the noise he had just heard. I leaned back, lifted my bow off the holder (t handle release already attached) and started drawing my bow within seconds. Before I knew it, I was finding my landmarks and the thoughts “he’s mine” and “don’t mess this up” were the only things going through my head. The angle was steep, 15 yards from the bottom of my tree he stood, sniffing the ground and at a pause. I buried the pin center mass, leaned back into the tree to get my best TIGHT shooting lane and punched the release.
The hit was solid! Center mass with a thwap! I could see the 2” Rage cut and I instantly said “smoked him” to myself and literally fist pumped! Red ran to 60 yards and stopped. His legs went wide stance and he stood still for a brief minute and then dashed left into thick cover. I did not see him crash or him ever get wobbly legged. I then started to doubt the shot. Was it to far back? How long should I wait? Was that the no zone? The doubts that can invade your memory I will always find amazing. I knew I smoked him but I was hesitant.
I instantly called my wife. Then texted my hunt club members. I told them all that I smoked Red. I did not share my doubts. I knew the shot was fatal but how long should I let him wait? I know the answers to every hit. Guys ask me every year for advice on an unsure hit…. but then it’s your own deer it always so hard. I decided I’d enjoy the moment and deal with questions later. I sat down and took some pictures. I then took out my thermos and drank 2 cups of coffee. I enjoyed the beautiful morning for 40 minutes and thanked god for all his blessings.
After gathering my composure (from the tree stand) I looked over the whole area with my bino’s. I could see my arrow, some hair and a little blood at the shot site. That made me feel better. I then climbed down, took off my boots and snuck to my arrow. I was very clean for a good vital hit. But the blood splatter and instant blood trail with bubbles was undeniable. RED was done.
I snuck to the edge of the sanctuary and climbed up on a stump from recent logging and peered into the sanctuary. Approximately 80 yards from the stand I could see RED laying on a skid trail. I walked slowly to him. Soaking up every detail of the morning. The sun was bright now. Frost gone and temperatures quickly rising. Simply a beautiful fall morning with a few tree’s lit in a neon yellow. A surreal moment. This was a deer I grew and respected. It was almost a spiritual moment. I stopped to take a few pictures walking up to him. But mostly, I was in a daze. Once to him I knelt down and gave him a few pats on the head, stroked his coat and said a few words. I apologized for taking his life and felt remorseful. I then walked away and called my wife and asked her and my buddy Mike (who had come to help with the recovery) to bring the whole family to see RED.
My almost 4-year-old son Cooper was so excited when he got there. For the last 2 weeks he’s been telling me to shoot RED. I let him pretend track RED and we soon found him. That’s when something unexpected happened. Cooper welled up and started crying unconsolably and said “Daddy you’re shooting all my pet deer”. It honestly made me feel very remorseful. But my wife and I quickly kneeled down with him, and explained the circle of life and the nourishment that RED would provide for us. He loves to eat deer meat and always ask for it whenever we have spaghetti or burgers. I told him all these things and he soon gained some composure. He then was again excited to help daddy get RED cleaned and poised for pics.
Taking pictures is a big ordeal for me. I take pride in quality pictures. Over the years I’ve tried moving the harvest to a very scenic picture place but have come to enjoy pictures where the harvest crashes best. These pictures help re-live the moment when you look at them in the future. So positioned Red, cleaned off all visible blood and snapped and few pictures. We then loaded him the Ranger for a quick ride home.
Many friends soon gathered at the farm to see the infamous RED. It was a great morning to celebrate and we did for a few hours. The rest of the day was busy with family Thanksgiving Day plans and caping and butchering Red. Later that night I was able to put the tape to RED. When the numbers were scribed, I gave them to my wife for the final calculations, told her to add them up with a total that should be between 168 and 172 and hit the shower. When I was all cleaned up and sat on the couch she said 174! I said no way! I ran the numbers myself and got 173 7/8. So, I sent a text to a buddy that wanted to hear the details of my hunt and said…. I’ll call you if he added the numbers up for me.
He put them in a app on his phone and sent it back to me. 174 again! I couldn’t believe it….gross Boon for 2017 on a home grown 6-year-old buck named RED. What a year
Thanks for reading,