Hunting VideosBowhunt or Die
My Own Backyard - Paul Brown's Story
The following Saturday, September 8, as I collected the 1-gigabyte cards, I didn’t see much deer sign in front of the three camera locations. My expectations were low, but to my surprise, the first card—taken from the trail leading into the clover field where we found the shed—contained more than 500 images. As I scrolled through the first 400, I saw only does and young bucks. Then image number 460 hit the screen with the blast of a thunderbolt. I almost fell out of my chair. There stood the buck we all hoped to see. He was real! At 1:55 a.m., the monster was captured for the first time on the trail cameras. Half a dozen pictures revealed a massive rack with at least 16 points. Further scrutiny led us to call the buck a main–frame, typical 12 point with one extra (13th) vertical point and three additional stickers.
There was no doubt the shed we had found seven months earlier belonged to him. I anxiously saved the images, forwarded them to Chad Dacus, and asked him to take a stab at scoring the buck. He soon wrote back saying he and another biologist estimated the rack would score in the mid 190s and net in the low to mid 170s.
My enthusiasm kicked up another level. I asked myself, Could I actually have a book buck on my own place?
I continued capturing images of the buck on camera and soon established a movement pattern and a good idea where he lived and what food source he favored. But he was only traveling in front of the cameras under the shroud of darkness.
Over the next four months, I captured 40 to 50 pictures of the big buck. The only images captured during daylight were taken September 20, when he was shedding his velvet.
I’ve hunted one particular buck many times in the past with some success, but this one was different. He was likely a record-book buck, and he lived on my property, in my backyard.
What Would be our Hunting Strategy?
Based on the camera study, the buck didn’t travel far and, I am convinced, never left the property. Our approach was to hunt the periphery of what we believed to be the buck’s bedding area and home territory and to pay particular attention to wind direction. And keeping the property calm and quiet was paramount. Four-wheeler travel was eliminated. Scouting was off; the trail cameras would do that for us. We’d have to be disciplined about not hunting an area when conditions weren’t just right. And we were.
I am not a big fan of hunting food plots. I prefer taking a treestand in the woods. But the topography of my property dictated food-plot hunting. My place is rough, dominated by steep, winding gullies that have an eerie way of changing wind direction and spreading human scent all over the county.
Archery season opened on Monday, October 1, but Mark and I decided to wait until the weekend of October 6 to climb a tree. But with the temperature in the low 90s, we called off the hunt and focused on planting approximately 18 acres of annual food plots. We didn’t hang from a limb for three more weeks, which allowed more PT for me and saw the temps fall to comfortable levels.
I kept working the Cuddebacks while we hunted with bow and arrow. As feared, the big buck only moved at night, often walking right in front of some of our treestand locations.
Gun season opened November 17, so we swapped bows for rifles.
As gun season progressed without a sighting of the big nocturnal buck, I become frustrated. But trying to remain positive, the deer rut was still a month away, and surely he would make a mistake soon.
Then came primitive weapons season December 1, which produced the same result. The buck was feeding primarily in the clover fields; I had proof. But it was at night and just before sunrise. And he was feeding in all four clover fields.
The responsibilities of college kept Mark and Jessi on campus more than they wanted, so it became more of a one-on-one hunt for me. Often I was the only one hunting. I couldn’t even persuade friends to join me. For some reason, they reckoned I’d disown them if they killed my buck.
I had to figure a way to get the buck—and the does—to feed in one field instead of all over the place. I decide to fertilize the clover field where I’d taken the most pictures of the buck. I had never fertilized these fields in midseason and wasn’t sure it would work, but I was out of ideas and desperate. After talking with several experts, we broadcast urea at a rate of 300 pounds per acre in the field we call “the tank stand,” named after the water-tank-shaped shoot house overlooking the field.
Just before Christmas, I noticed a richer color to the clover and utilization had picked up. I held onto the slim hope that someone would at least get a glimpse of the big boy in the fertile clover.
A north wind was bad for the tank stand, so we hunted it frequently during other wind directions. In early January, while the deer rut was still ongoing, I sat in the shoot house four straight afternoons without seeing a single deer.
As the season wore down, I threw in the towel and accepted defeat. It was over. The buck wasn’t going to show in daylight. The rut was coming to a halt, and we hadn’t seen hide nor hair. I even took the cameras down. I’d gotten enough pictures of him at 10:30 at night and 2:00 in the morning.
A book-signing event took me to St. Louis on January 15. Fellow photographer Richard Day and I’d planned to photograph waterfowl for a few days in southern Illinois starting Tuesday the 16th. Rifle season in Mississippi ended on January 17, so I had pretty much given up on the buck for the season.
But Richard called late Tuesday night and left a message that I didn’t pick up until about 5:30 Wednesday morning. He had come down with the flu and had to cancel our photo shoot. Faced with nothing to do, I packed the truck and headed back to Mississippi around 6:30. My truck thermometer read 16 degrees when I left the hotel.
On the drive down, I calculated if I made good time, I could end up close to my place around 2:30 in the afternoon. Hmmm, I thought. Maybe I’ll get in one last hunt. The weather was prefect in Missouri, but I wasn’t sure what it held back home.