Archery hunting for pressured, spooky bucks in the dead of winter is never easy, but scoring on a big buck can be done. Enjoy the trials and tribulations of my buddy Tim Young’s hunt for an Iowa giant-and learn six lessons that will help you hunt better during the late-season.
Tim first got the giant buck on his trail camera on December 3, but the animal was in an area where Tim could only bowhunt-no guns allowed. Tim had to wait anxiously for both Iowa firearms seasons to pass before he could go in and look for the monster again. Hopefully the buck was still alive.
He was, and he kept popping up on Tim’s cams three to six times a day.
“I thought it was gonna be a slam dunk,” he said. “Boy was I wrong. It was like this deer was watching every time I went into my stand. He’d be on cam, but as soon as I would come to hunt he’d disappear. I tried everything, from having someone drop me off right at the blind and driving away to going in an hour before daylight and sitting and shivering for an hour after dark.”
None of this worked. It turned into a cat and mouse game that Tim was determined to win.
Finally, on December 28, Tim saw the beast.
“He walked out into the plot at last light, but no shot,” he said. “He was amazing, and I continued to hunt harder than ever after this encounter, hoping to get one more look at him.”
It happened on January 5. The giant walked back into the food plot, this time with plenty of light. Tim calmed his nerves and waited for the perfect shot. The buck fed to 33 yards, turned broadside and opened up his vitals. Tim drew back and fired—and watched in horror as the arrow sailed 2 inches over the animal’s back!
“I couldn’t believe I’d made such a rookie mistake,” he said. “Somehow I’d put my 40-yard pin on him! I sat there and said to myself, ‘It’s over, it’s over, you blew it.’ Man I was bummed.”
But that night back at home, as he played everything over in his head, Tim surmised that since it was a clean miss, the buck really didn’t know what had happened. Longshot, but maybe he would show back up.
Tim checked his trail cam at noon the next day.
“To my utter disbelief the buck was back in the plot just six hours after I had missed him!”
Over the next three cold, windy, miserable days, Tim saw zilch and time was running low. On Sunday January 9, a big snow was moving in, and Tim hoped deer would be up and feeding. The afternoon sit was cold and long. About an hour before dark some does walked into the plot. Tim’s dreams were slowly fading away with the season when he caught movement in the back of the plot, and a mature 150-inch 8-point walked out. Tim ranged the buck and looked down to clip his release to the string.
“When I looked back up, there he was!” Tim said. “The giant I had been hunting for so long appeared in the plot like a ghost!
The monster fed past the 8-pointer and walked to within 25 yards of Tim’s blind. The hunter focused harder than ever, drew his bow and watched the arrow zip through the deer’s lungs. After an 80-yard tracking job Tim finally put his frozen hands on the giant’s rack.
“What a way to end the best hunting season of my life,” he said. “The rack was even bigger than I thought, and scored 188.”
- By the time mid-December rolls around, many hunters think all the big bucks have been shot, or at least driven underground by all the previous pressure. But no, there are still some big bucks out there. Be confident of that and hunt hard to the bitter end.
- From early December into January (if your season lasts that long) your best tactic is to hunt the best late-season food source(s) in your area-food plot, last strips of beans, whatever. The surviving bucks are run down from the rut, and they have to eat.
- The colder and snowier it is, the harder deer will come to the food sources, often showing up in the middle of the day. Hunt long and hard in a stand or blind.
- Cold weather is brutal on cameras and batteries, but keep them running and monitoring several feeding areas. The day you get a picture of a shooter in a field or plot, move in and hunt that spot.
- If you miss a buck cleanly with an arrow, all is not lost. But don’t start jumping around round and cussing. Keep still, and let the buck walk or run off without seeing or hearing you, or sensing your presence. He didn’t know what happened-the wind blows brush, branches snap off and the like all the time. Chances are he’ll be back. Tim’s 188-inch dream buck is the perfect testament to that.
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