So I am looking for a nice buck in the swamp, after taking a doe from a fixed stand early in the season on a food plot in the adjacent high ground. The weather is quite mild in the early season here, with the temperature somewhere between 50 and 80 Fahrenheit. Lots of mosquitoes, the occasional viper, and thick cover with a heavy carpet of dead vegetation to frustrate a hunter.
The previous season I had taken a doe using a compound bow on the first day of bow season at the same food plot, while sitting in a chair, concealed by cover and wearing head to toe camo with mosquito netting over my face . She passed within ten feet, not detecting me because she was upwind.
Hunting the buck is totally different than hunting the doe, and many hunters - even in my club - don't realize this. The very best time to do it is during or just after a long cold spell late December or Early January. This will kick in the rut, when the Buck's brains move between his legs. They are almost totally nocturnal in our area, and you can get pictures of them on the game trails and even to food plots. This at least lets you know what is out there, or you would think so anyway. Later on THAT.
It is best to hunt them in the rut, near but not on top of a food source where the does feed. With this in mind, I started hunting the buck in mid December. My cameras indicate the presence a six point, a four point, a spike and three does in the general area. So I am after the six point since that is actually respectable around here where big boys are exceedingly rare. A typical morning hunt has me on my 4x4 ATV at 05:30, riding the trails for about four miles to within one mile of my stand. The subsequent walk to the stand is on an ATV trail to within 1/4 mile. There is water on this trail in places so water proof knee boots are a must. Mine are also snake proof, a wise precaution. The remaining 1/4 mile is in swamp where the route must circumvent ponds and bogs and cross creeks to reach a relatively high ground ( maybe one foot higher) game trail which runs from a nearby farm, through the DEEP swamp onto higher ground bedding areas. The ground not under water is covered with dead leaves and sticks a foot or more thick. Movement must be slow and careful to at least minimize the noise you are making. Silence is impossible. Reaching the climber finally, it is now close to 7 am. Yes, that is an hour and a half getting there. Starting in the dark, the dawn is nigh.
The climber is there so I can at least have a place to sit. I cannot really climb the tree because there is a ton of low cover all around. You cannot see much from twelve feet up. So I only go up high enough to see over the bush around me and put an adjacent smaller split tree in front that I must shoot around, and which gives me good cover. I can actually reach down and grab the barrel of my rifle leaning against the tree below me. There are creeks all around me, and I can see 100 yards in front and fifty yards to the side in spots and lanes yet there is plenty of cover for a deer to feel "safe".
The first time out, a pair of coyotes cross the trail about fifty yards in front of me, trailing something. Normally I would shoot them, here I do not. Clearing the carcasses from the area would be too difficult and would ruin the pristine sense of the place. Mid December, the weather is still mild - about 45 Fahrenheit.
Next time out, a week later, the weather has turned and it is windy and cold - 35 Fahrenheit. Heavily clothed, walking in makes me sweat. Sitting still in the climber I get very cold in the wind. A large bobcat is seen trailing something on Saturday. I don't shoot him. On Sunday a spiked buck comes to my doe call and presents for a perfect shot, but I don't.
The next week it has snowed and disaster strikes. The large trees and scrub trees are rooted in very soft ground. The weight of the wet snow accumulation brought many down. A significant percentage are brought down across our ATV and game trails. We lose power at the camp site and the deep freeze has set in. It takes us all that weekend to chain saw our way back into our hunting areas. Now the travel has become longer and more hazardous because we must negotiate the barely passable trails.
It is now the last weekend in December and I have four days off. The temperature is in the 20's on Friday and I shiver on my climber all morning after jumping a group of wild hogs going in. I could hear them thundering away, so just kept my rifle on my back. Then a bloody Russian razorback circles back to check me out. He spooks when I swing my rifle off my back and ducks behind a log. No shot as he used the log to cover his escape. The area around the stand has been compromised by a fallen tree, limiting my view directly ahead. Nuts.
It becomes really hard to leave camp the next morning. It's cold and why not just stay in the warm bunk and hunt later after it warms up? Really, why not? Argh. Just can't because, well because. At least it is back to the mid 30's, so I drag my ass out there again, reaching for my VZ 24, 35 Whelen custom rifle from the climber at 6:55 AM.
The wind has let off so it's not so friggin cold at least. At 7:30 I hear something coming from behind me to my left. By now I can tell a deer from everything but a hog. Either way this could be a shooter, so I put my foot up on the cross bar of the stand to give me support across my knee and put my finger on the safety. To the rear and left I finally see a deer. Soon I see antlers and he is moving through the cover to my left. No shot. I get another view and see lots of antlers so it's the six I have been looking for? He is moving toward a shooting lane so I take the safety off and raise the rifle across my knee. When he cross and I can see him plainly about 40 yards off, he is no six. He is larger. He is angling away just a tad and his right leg is forward so I aim just behind the forward shoulder and fire. He jumps three feet into the air and disappears. I hear no crashing through the woods, so am fairly certain he is down on the spot. Waiting 15 minutes is hard, but I do it and the make my way over to him. Oh boy, he is a big 5x4 that was never seen on my cameras. A deep swamp deer with his brains between his legs, reeking of the rut.
Happiness! Determination is to remain upbeat as I drag this buck back to where I can reach him with the ATV. At least it is cold so I don't overheat too much with this effort. Once I retrieve the ATV and negotiate it to the area (not so easy by the way), I use the hoist I carry with me, around a tree limb to lift the buck where I can get the ATV under him. Since I am 66 and rather beat up in a motorcycle accident, I no longer can lift the deer myself. The trip back to camp is dicey through the poorly cut ATV tunnels with the buck in the back, but we get to the camp eventually. He is on ice by 10:30.
There are not many hunters in our club these days because it is such difficult hunting. There are only three of this group willing to go after a buck like this. They get discouraged because the bucks very, very rarely will come out on a food plot in daylight. Even the does have wised up for the most part.