My friend Don Higgins has shot some very nice bucks over the years, but none have been as special as the whitetail he tagged recently. Higgins can trace his history with this 12-point buck for five seasons, and his successful hunt contains lessons for all of us.
Don, who is a whitetail expert and habitat consultant, first encountered the central Illinois buck when it was a 2-1/2 year old. “Two things that stood out about this buck,” he says. “First, he was a real homebody; I almost never saw him leave my farm in the five seasons I knew him. When he was older, I watched him chase a doe off the property during the rut, but he immediately turned around and came home. The second thing that stood out about the buck was that he wasn’t afraid to travel in daylight. While most of the mature buck’s I’ve hunted are largely nocturnal, this buck would travel and feed when I could see him.”
We’ve talked a lot in this space about the October lull, and I often attribute the seeming lack of buck movement (especially among older deer) to their adoption of a tight core area and generally-lazy movement. That certainly seemed to be the case with Don’s buck, which was 6-1/2 years old this fall. Fortunately, the Illinoisan had a good hunch of where the buck was bedding and feeding.
“I hunted one evening and saw him get out of his bed in some prairie grass, head into some clover, and feed toward me,” Don says. “I almost got a shot that night, but another buck saw me and spooked, taking the 12-point with him. The next evening I was in the same stand. This time the buck was bedded in a strip of timber, but headed toward the same clover field. I had a 20-yard shot and made it happen.”
Though not many of us get the luxury of knowing a buck so intimately, Higgins’ trophy serves as a reminder that some very mature deer are on their feet during an-often dead time frame. Scout thoroughly and hunt carefully and it’s entirely possible to kill a monster during this difficult period.