For the second year in a row, Ohio bowhunter J.T. Kreager dropped a record-book buck on his first sit–proving that when it comes to hunting big early season whitetails, very often it’s the first time that’s a charm. Kreager’s scouting regimen–which begins when he puts mineral blocks out in March–helped him pattern the 175-inch typical perfectly, but it was patience that put him in position to close the deal. Here’s how he got it done.
Kreager, who owns the websites American Hunter and Next Hunt, last year tagged a 190-class typical on the second day of Ohio’s bow season after nabbing a couple hundred trail cam shots of the buck from June to September. The massive ten-pointer turned out to be one of the biggest typicals taken anywhere in the country during the 2010 season.
He used a similar approach this year, running eight trail cams in five counties to identify potential shooters. The two biggest–the 12-pointer he would eventually shoot and this 160-class, 10-pointer–were on property in the south-central Ohio county of Pike owned by Sunfish Valley Outfitters.
Kreager got his first look at the 12-pointer in August, while the buck was still in velvet. “The 12 was definitely my preferred deer, but I probably would not have passed on the 10,” he says. “It would have been a tough choice between them.”
In the end, the deer decided for him: After the bucks shed their velvet, the 10 disappeared. “I don’t know for sure what happened,” Kreager says, “but my guess is you had two mature bucks who tolerated each other during summer, and when the velvet came off they didn’t tolerate each other. The 12 stayed and ran the other off.”
He also put the 12-pointer at the top of his hit list because it was the only big buck that consistently showed up on his trail cams in daylight. “I have a lot of friends who have pictures of great bucks at three in the morning and get frustrated when they can’t kill them,” Kreager says. “The fact is, they’re too far from where the deer is living. When you drill into all the trail cams pictures you get, you must have pictures of deer in the daytime.”
Last year Kreager had to pass up an evening hunt on the opener because the wind was wrong. This year he missed the first several days of the bow season hunting elk and antelope in Wyoming (More on that later). When he returned to Ohio, he was again bedeviled by ill winds for several days. “I worried that the window for that feeding pattern was diminishing day by day, and that his other pattern–to run away and chase does–would start,” he says. “It was hard to be patient when it felt like my early season opportunity might be slipping away.”
Finally, on October fifth, he got the wind he needed. Planning to hunt only evenings, Kreager had hung a stand downhill from a logging road that deer used to enter an isolated half-acre food plot located on a ridge above the main crop fields. “I knew the thermals that time of day would carry my scent downhill, away from the deer,” he says. But temperatures were in the 80s, and his stand was in the sun. “I was roasting in the heat. It was hotter than almost any sit I can remember.”
None of that mattered when he spotted the 12-pointer about 75 yards away. “A smaller 6-pointer was already feeding in the food plot when I saw the big buck making his way down the hill straight towards me,” Kreager says. “When I saw that big white rack coming through the woods, I knew right away it was the 12.” At 30 yards the buck stopped and stood looking into the field for several minutes. “I leaned out to get a better look, and when I did–I don’t know if he caught movement or what, but he took a step back.”
Instead of spooking, the buck circled into the food plot before making a half turn to head toward the 6-pointer, which was 20 yards from Kreager. “The 12-pointer walked to where he was quartering to me at 22 yards. I had already come to full draw when he walked out into the food plot. I know I can make a quartering-to shot through the shoulder, and I did. It went right through the shoulder and out the other side. He went about 100 yards and piled up.”
“I was shocked that it happened again,” Kreager says of his second-straight one-sit Booner. “I think a lot of people would say your first sit is your best odds. I wholeheartedly agree.”
The first-sit success has become something of a family tradition, too. J.T.’s son, Jared, tagged this 8-pointer, his best ever buck, on his first trip to the hunting blind this season with Dad. “It’s a two-year-old deer, but he was super excited to take it,” Kreager says.
Jared took a doe later in the season–and J.T. took this fantastic trophy shot. “I try my best to get great pictures, because that’s part of the memory, part of the experience,” Kreager says.
Daughter, Kelly–busy with school and sports–made a quick kill too, getting this doe on her first sit shortly after a buck spooked before she could get a shot. She hopes to get a buck this season.
Kreager also took out his cousin’s son, Max, who tagged a doe on their second sit and, like Kelly, hopes to get a buck later this year. “I really enjoy getting kids involved in the outdoors,” Kreager says.
Another reason Kreager didn’t get his first chance at a buck until 12 days into the archery season: On September 24, the day of the Ohio opener, he was taking down this 300-class 7-by-7 elk in high prairie country near the Bighorn Mountains, between Buffalo and Casper. “When most guys think about elk hunting, they think they’re gonna be up in the aspens at 10,000 feet,” Kreager says. “But one thing I’ve learned from operating Next Hunt is that a lot of trophy elk are not in those traditional areas that get a lot of pressure, but on private land away from the big mountains and big crowds.”
Less than five miles away, Kreager put a 25-yard bow shot on this antelope while hunting a blind on a water hole.
The 71-inch Pope & Young buck is Kreager’s third antelope, and second with a bow.
Antelope and elk make for an unusual combo hunt, but that was just the beginning of the diversity Kreager saw while hunting with Craig Smith of Triple Three Outfitters. “From a high point you could glass elk, antelope, whitetail and mule deer on the same alfalfa field,” Kreager says. “I’ve never seen that before this trip.”
With back-to-back Booners on his wall, Kreager obviously has found a formula that works for him: Setting out mineral licks and trail cameras in March, reviewing hundreds of photos all summer, picking and patterning a special buck, and waiting until conditions are just right to hunt. “Patience is hard,” Kreager says, “because you know at some point they’re going to start looking for does and roaming for miles–and every single day that goes by, that becomes more probable.” Waiting is tough, but it can produce the best-possible sit. And as Kreager well knows, it only takes one.