With a steady northwest wind blowing and the big January storm finally over, I knew I needed to be in my new stand location that evening. The deer would be hungry, so I assumed there would be an early arrival to the field by many of the local herd, including “The Big 7.” Due to working overtime, I was running a bit behind, but I had a well-thought-out route to my stand that would help me remain undetected.
Icy wind hit my face as I settled in for the evening hunt. With the snow and cold, the stage was set for a showdown with my buck. Deer started pouring into the field, like they always do, around 4:15. Soon, 21 does and fawns were feeding in front of me, and I knew it was only a matter of time.
At 4:25, I looked up and saw the giant frame I had thought about every day for the last few months headed across the field toward me. I knew it was now or never, so I grabbed my bow and got into position for a shot, frantically checking all the while to ensure other deer hadn’t noticed my movement. The brute was on a mission, led by his desire to feed.
The Big 7 moved cautiously, checking his surroundings for danger every few moments. I knew I needed to wait for him to turn away in order to come to full draw undetected, so when I saw a yearling doe headed his way, I prepared for action. The Big 7 was a loner and didn’t tolerate other deer feeding near him, so I knew this yearling was going to help me out — when he chased her away, I would have an opportunity.
Alone, But Not Lonely
The Big 7 first showed up on my radar when one of my trail cameras photographed him in late August 2015. I could instantly tell he was a loner, because hardly any pictures were of him and other deer. Also, while glassing in the summer months, I never saw him with a bachelor group of bucks. He didn’t seem to have the patience for other deer to be nearby; when they were, he ran them off immediately. His temperament stuck out in my mind all summer,as I knew it meant he probably had secluded bedding and staging areas that were off the beaten path from the rest of the local herd.
Paying attention to The Big 7’s manners toward other deer proved to be very helpful in killing him. I quickly learned that I would have to use different tactics to kill this buck than I had on others. I had never hunted a buck that basically hated other deer, and I had to keep that in mind in order to figure him out. Trail-camera use and scouting in the summer months for the next few years helped me determine that he liked to enter and exit fields the opposite of where other deer did. I then used the onX Hunt app on my smartphone to mark those areas.
This proved to be deadly knowledge: On the night I killed The Big 7, I had hung a new stand on the opposite end of the field he was using — I had located his travel patterns by looking where the other deer weren’t traveling and bedding! It took some getting used to, but this “opposite” approach worked like a charm.
Until The Big 7, I thought I knew a ton about deer bedding areas — how to find them, how to hunt them and how mature bucks used them. He proved me wrong on all counts!
October 2017 found me in a great staging area The Big 7 was using. I had watched him enter a field right at dark the previous day via a saddle leading from a bowl where he had spent the day. My plan was to take my climbing stand and slide into the bowl, then kill him as he made his way toward the saddle that evening. I had a perfect wind for this spot and couldn’t have been more excited until disaster struck.
As I slowly sneaked down the other side of the saddle, I bumped a doe and two yearlings, which started to blow and snort. I dropped behind some cover, but the damage was done — I watched the buck get up about 125 yards away and bolt. I had blown my chances at The Big 7 for good. Or so I thought.
I figured it was best to give The Big 7 some time before I hunted the area again; after all, he would certainly bed somewhere else for a while after being bumped so badly. My new task was to find that spot. Days went by without sight or photo of the buck in any of my other areas. He must have gone to the neighbors’, I thought. Frustrated, to say the least, I finally decided to hunt a bean field the following evening and see what was going on over at that end of the farm. I didn’t expect to see The Big 7 there, but to my disbelief, I spotted him right at last light coming up over the saddle. He was bedding in the same spot again already!
The next night, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, I was back on the edge of the bowl patiently waiting for The Big 7 to arrive. About an hour before dark, I spotted him heading my way. Then the barking started. Sure enough, stray dogs spotted The Big 7 and chased him off, making a racket the entire time. Surely now this spot was ruined.
I was completely heartbroken but had learned a very valuable lesson about where bucks bed. I had previously viewed bumping a buck once as a disaster, twice in 10 days as a season-altering event. The Big 7 actually continued to bed there all season long. That hidey hole provided him with cover, safety and numerous escape routes, so even though he got bumped, there wasn’t any need for him to change bedding areas, because he virtually couldn’t be killed there. No matter how I approach, I could be heard, seen, smelled or spotted by The Big 7 or other deer. Not even dogs chasing him out was enough to get him to leave forever.
So, next time you bump a buck out of his bed, don’t give up; he may be right back there the next day!
Never Give Up
The Big 7 also taught me that persistence pays off. During the 2017-18 season, I spent 97 days hunting The Big 7 in my home state of Ohio. With only one buck tag per resident hunter, I made up my mind from the get-go that it was him or tag soup; no exceptions! I couldn’t have imagined the roller-coaster ride I was in for, as The Big 7 proved to be the toughest buck I’ve ever killed.
For starters, this buck was underneath my stand twice in October after legal shooting time — talk about gut-wrenching! The Big 7 was bumped from his bedding area twice, as mentioned, and I hunted nine straight days daylight till dark in November without seeing him but got trail-camera pictures of him every one of those nights. For the cherry on top of my sad-sack sundae, I had The Big 7 within range three times Dec. 1-8 but wasn’t able to shoot due to bad shot angles, too many watchful deer nearby and a swirling wind that had him on edge.
Basically, this buck put me through the wringer, but I didn’t break. I bent, sure, but I wouldn’t allow myself to quit. I wanted The Big 7 so badly I could already taste his backstraps, and that will to succeed kept me going day after day. Every time I was about to give up or hunt another buck, I’d see him or have an encounter, and that would give me the motivation I needed to keep after him.
In the End
As the yearling pranced closer and closer to The Big 7, I knew my chance was coming. Having already ranged the distance, I was confident my opportunity would present itself as soon as he chased her off.
Sure enough, the buck finally had all he could take and, like a bull out of the chute during a rodeo, he tore off after the doe, chasing her directly away from me. This sudden outburst drew the attention of all the other deer and allowed me to come to full draw on the buck. Checking my distances one last time, I waited for him to turn broadside before settling my pin and burying an arrow deep in his chest.
It was 15 below zero that week with the wind chill, and I had hunted every evening. My hands and feet were frostbitten from the cold, but as I walked over to The Big 7 and grasped his antlers, I didn’t mind. I had paid my dues, and on that frigid January day, I collected my prize.