If you enjoyed Episodes #62 and #159 of the Wired To Hunt Podcast with John Eberhart, you’re in for a treat. Over the coming weeks, John has offered to share a number of his successful kill stories here on Wired To Hunt. And we’re kicking things off with the story and in-depth analysis of his 2016 hunt for an Ohio buck. Enjoy. – MK
By John Eberhart
Last year on the saddlehunter.com hunting talk forum, which is an interactive talk forum dedicated to hunters that use harnesses instead of conventional tree stands, I frequently exchanged hunting information with fellow hunter Mike Maustellar from Ohio. In early October 2016 Mike called and offered an open invite to bowhunt whenever I had the time to come down. With the current Ohio State/U of Michigan football rivalry going on and being from Michigan I was tentative about crossing the state line and leaving my Michigan plated mini van parked unattended.
On my first trip to Kansas in 2004 some pissed off residents that didn’t like out of state hunters coming down and taking their bucks, flattened all four tires on my mini-van and on my hunting partners truck while they were parked overnight at a motel. To be honest though, I really wasn’t concerned about it happening in Ohio.
Mike doesn’t own or lease property but his good friend Donovan who’s a realtor had a 243 acre parcel listed that Mike could hunt on until it sold and he was able to invite a guest.
As most hunters are aware it’s difficult on a short term hunt to learn the subtle deer movement habits on a piece of property such as; where they bed, where they prefer to feed during daylight, where their comfortable transitioning through during daylight hours, and how the properties bordering hunting pressure affects deer movements.
This property had also been vacant for a while and was at least an hour away from where Mike or Donovan lived so there might also be issues with locals trespassing.
The 243 acre parcel was near Kimbolton and the only time I could foresee a lag in my work schedule was in December right between Ohio’s main gun season and their 2 day weekend gun season on December 17th and 18th.
Since I write about bowhunting pressured deer and with my home state of Michigan statistically being the most heavily pressured state in the country concerning licensed bowhunters, I’ve remained committed to hunt Michigan until either gun season or both of my Michigan buck tags are punched.
Mike and Donovan hunted the property during bow and the first gun season and also had several motion cameras out and sent me several pictures of a drop tine buck and a clean 10 point along with a few Google Earth aerial photos to entice me to make the trip down. The bordering properties also get bow and gun hunted and neither Mike nor Donovan knew what bucks in the area might have been taken.
Mike’s enticement worked and on December 9th I checked into a flea bag Motel in Cambridge Ohio with a kitchenette. Mike invited me to stay at his place but it was more than an hour away and Donovan was ever further. They also both had to work, so I would be on my own.
Learning the Property
I slept in the first morning and arrived at the property at around 9:30 am and was blown away at the sheer beauty not only of the property, but also of the surrounding area. Sometimes words simply can’t explain nature’s beauty, and this was one of those times. I’ve had the great fortune to bowhunt in several other states and other than bowhunting for elk in Colorado I’ve never seen such a gorgeous landscape.
The property itself has 3 ponds, 2 tillable crop fields that hadn’t been planted (in weeds) with perimeter timber, several dense briar-packed small stands of timber as bedding areas, and to top it off a large river as its eastern border with timber, brush and briars running along both banks. The aerial maps didn’t show elevations and that alone was a sin because the property was nicely tucked in a valley surrounded by high and very steep rolling hills littered with patches of timber and gold colored weed fields.
With all the foliage down and no snow I cautiously scouted the property making every attempt not to molest any possible areas it seemed deer may be bedded in. It’s very difficult to adequately scout a new property for a short term hunt because it typically takes some hunting time to figure out deer movement nuances. Make it mid-December, shortly after gun season, frozen ground with crunchy leaves, and without snow to show current movements, and it’s even more difficult.
There was one hillside briar-packed stand of timber at the very back of the property that Donovan was certain the drop tine buck was bedding in during the early bow season and even now it was well suited for daytime mature buck movements because it offered dense security cover from the valley to over the hill. However it couldn’t be accessed for a hunt without either spooking deer feeding in the valley with a prior to daybreak morning entry or with an after dark exit. During late season spooking deer with either can cause a change in any potential daytime mature buck movements.
That stand of timber had significant late season hunting downfalls, but stubbornly I had to check it out and spooked 4 deer while doing so. Within it I prepared a location at an inactive primary scrape area surrounded by at least 20 rubs and it would have been an awesome rut phase location.
On two occasions Mike had seen “crab claw” coming out of a long strip of tall white pines that bordered the very end of the larger weed field and then turned and ran a little ways along the river. While I badly wanted to hunt the hillside timber scrape/bedding area, due to its significant downfalls, I knew better and figured my best percentage odds of a daytime visit by a mature buck was in those pines.
A few advantages the pines offered were; they were within 80 yards of the properties entry and parking spot, due to the landscape they offered both an entry and exit strategy that would not spook deer, they offered overly sufficient front and background concealment cover, and they would buffer the cold wind.
Being able to just see deer without receiving an opportunity due to being silhouetted and getting picked is not only a waste of time, it is frustrating when it’s windy and the temperatures are in the teens and the pines would give a solution to both of those issues.
The stand of pines run along the field and river for about 250 yards but are only 5 rows deep and at the corner where they turn and run along the river the ground drops off into a valley of brush and briars where deer bed. As with most mature white pines, the bottom 8 to 10 foot of branches on all of them were dead and due to the lack of foliage on the brush in the valley below, the pines offered no entry movement concealment from the deer bedded in the valley for anyone walking along the field edge.
While walking the edge of the pines prior to setting up a location, I spooked at least 3 deer from the valley as I had no option but to search for a tree and make the noise and commotion of setting it up.
After preparing a pine and placing a motion camera, I sat down to eat a couple sandwiches and noticed a doe and her fawns browsing their way down a hillside through one of those gold colored weed fields that dropped into the valley. Looking at my watch it was 3:15 and those deer were my signal that it was time to leave the property.
I drove up a bordering hillside road and parked for the evening at a location where I could glass nearly the entire valley below for deer movements. It’s common during and after gun season for mature bucks to take on more nocturnal movements and of the 9 deer I saw, none had large enough antlers for me to identify with my 8 power glasses. I had forgot to bring my spotting scope.
There was no way of accessing the timber tree in the morning without spooking deer and since the pine was on a field edge, the likelihood of spooking deer while ascending it on morning hunts was also high so I decided to pass on morning hunts which made for a few long boring days.
The First Hunts
For some reason the primary scrape area within the timber just sucked me in even though at this time of year and where it was, I knew it was a mistake to hunt there. On the first evening however I did and other than spooking 2 deer with my entry, saw nothing but seemingly uncoordinated turkeys flying up to their nighttime roosts. As great a location as that would have been during the early bow season, it was immediately taken out of the mix leaving only the pine and I hate having only one option.
From where I parked there was a long and deep ravine that passed by the west end of the pines and continued along the weed field another 40 yards making it a perfect entry route for an evening hunt. So as not to spook deer with my entries I would walk the ravine to its end, cross the field edge fence, and walk across the field until even with the pine and then turn and go directly to it. From the valley the deer bed in, they can’t see over the crest of the field edge and with the pine being on the field edge, I could enter undetected.
The night of the 11th there was a snowstorm that dropped a couple inches and coated the tops of the pine branches and there was no doubt that my Scent Lok Vortex suit in Vertigo camo pattern would help to make me invisible.
On the first hunt in the pine it was extremely windy and I saw a doe and 3 fawns and about a 16 inch wide 6 point. In order not to spook deer with my exit I waited until well after dark to get down and then exited over the hill and through the very bedding area valley the deer had come in from.
The Final Hunt
The next evening (13th) I was back in the pine and by the time I strategically placed 4 Grabber body warmers, zipped up my exterior jacket and was ready to hunt it was 3 pm. It began snowing around noon and was still coming down pretty good and accumulating fast and the temperature was in the mid 20’s and dropping. The fresh snow just added to the beauty of this hunting experience.
It wasn’t long before the same doe and 3 fawns entered the field from the valley below and began feeding out into the field and with half an hour, due to the heavy snowfall, they faded out of sight.
At around 5:30 a big buck came out farther down the pines and began walking the edge of the field in my direction. He was sniffing the ground as he went and at one point scent marked and worked a licking branch and made a fresh scrape in the snow below it.
When he got close he started to slightly veer away from the pines and into the field and at a distance of 14 yards and moving, while at full draw with my 55 pound draw Mathews bow I made a vocal doe “matt” sound to stop him. He turned around and stood quartering towards me and I took the shot. I released and my Maxima Red 250 arrow tipped with a G5 – 100 grain Striker head found its mark and I watched as he leaped high in the air, landed in full stride and headed back in the direction he came from.
The hit looked perfect and he ran about 60 yards before disappearing back into the pines. Because it was still snowing rather hard and I was sure of the arrow placement, I undressed a few under-layers and packed them into my backpack, got down and unscrewed the motion camera from the tree and immediately trailed him. The arrow had completely passed through and was stuck in the ground and covered in blood. The surrounding snow at the shot sight was spotted with blood and even though light was dimming, I could easily make out lots of red dots in the snow for some distance in the direction he ran.
At a normal stride I walked the blood trail and not 30 yards beyond the pines and into the valley I could see him all sprawled out. I dressed him out and left, leaving a lower clothing layer I had been wearing over his body to ward off coyotes and by the way, the G5 head passed through both lungs.
The snow in the field was too deep to drive my mini-van through so I called a fellow workmate that resided about an hour and a half away that had a 4 wheel truck, to see if he would come help me get the buck out. It was still snowing when Shannon arrived around 8 pm and it was a good thing I got down and trailed him immediately because when we got there he was covered in snow and the previous easy to walk down blood trail in the snow was now covered over with a couple more inches of snow. Would have found him anyway, but might have required coming back in the morning.
After getting back to the Motel I checked the motion pictures Donovan and Mike had sent and this 10 point wasn’t crab claw or obviously the drop tine buck. He was a buck that resided in the surrounding area and must have recently taken up residency in the valley either due to surrounding gun pressure or the amount of does that were now feeding in the weed fields.
Upon inspecting the SD card from my camera I had an awesome picture of the 10 point just before I let that Maxima Red arrow loose.
I can’t begin to express how gratifying it was to take that mature buck after gun season with a bow, it was like spreading icing on top of what was already a very good season.
– John Eberhart
For more from John, including information on his “Whitetail Workshops,” visit EberhartsWhitetailWorkshop.com