Tips from a Downstate Bowhunter

John Benedict from Auburn Hills has 23 deer registered in the Michigan record book. Maybe his tactics can help you achieve success this fall.

Photo by John R. Ford

By Richard P. Smith

John Benedict from Auburn Hills is one of Michigan's most successful bowhunters. He has 23 deer in state records maintained by Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM). Twenty-two of them were killed with bow and arrow. He arrowed a pair of book deer in the state last fall, one of which was the highest-scoring typical taken in Michigan.

The huge 10-pointer from Clinton County grossed 184 and nets 180 2/8 inches, tying it for second place among typical bow kills listed in state records (not including the 1986 Craig Calderone buck, which CBM does not recognize) and easily qualifying for places in national records compiled by the Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett clubs. Benedict's bow-bagged buck is the highest-scoring typical on record for Clinton County. The hunter got the deer on Nov. 7. The buck ties Rock Vore's Oakland County buck from 1994.

Benedict's other 2002 buck tag went on a 12-pointer he got in Midland County during October. Those antlers net 130.

His best non-typical is another 12-pointer he tagged in Lenawee County during 1994 that nets 189 7/8. One more 12-pointer he got with an arrow in Wayne County during 2000 is that county's No. 1 non-typical and scores 171 5/8.

Eleven of the book deer Benedict has taken with archery equipment in Michigan also qualify for Pope and Young records. Typical antlered bucks only have to measure 100 to qualify for CBM Records, and the minimum is 125 for non-typicals. Pope and Young minimums for the same categories are 125 and 150.

The fact that the 23 whitetails Benedict has in state records have come from 17 different counties illustrates that he does a lot of moving around. He doesn't have one or two honeyholes that produce for him on a consistent basis. How is he able to be so consistently successful on book bucks?

"I have pretty much committed to myself that I'm only going to shoot Pope and Young deer," Benedict said. "If I don't get a deer, that's all right. I feel just as successful coming home with a picture rather than putting meat in the freezer. I've learned a lot by reading about deer in books and magazines from people who are hunters, researchers and photographers.

"I don't have any real secrets," Benedict continued. "I go look for the type of deer I'm after. I already know where there are a couple of dandies for this year. I spend as much time hunting for permission as I do hunting for deer.

"A lot of people give up too easily when trying to get permission to hunt private land. If one person says no to them when they ask for permission to hunt, they get discouraged rather than asking the neighbor. I always ask the neighbor. And if I get permission to hunt from the neighbor, I go back to the person who said 'No' and tell them if they see me or my vehicle around, I'm not trying to sneak on their property, I got permission to hunt from their neighbor. They will sometimes give me permission to hunt then, too. If they don't, I ask if it's OK to follow after a deer on their property that I shoot on their neighbor's land."

Benedict also keeps his ears open.

"If I hear a report about a big deer, I always follow up on it," he said. "Rather than assume it's a false report or someone is exaggerating, I try to find out as much as I can about where the deer was seen. Then I refer to plat books to find out who owns the land and try to get permission to hunt. Once I have permission to hunt, I get aerial photos and topo maps of the area. I also refer to county maps.

"If I see a big buck while driving, I don't drive on by like most people do," Benedict commented. "I pull over and figure out exactly where I am, so I can find the place on maps. Then I try to get permission to hunt.

"One of the bucks I hope to get in the future is in Monroe County," Benedict explained. "I was on my way to Tennessee on a business trip with my wife and I saw this buck in a field along a major highway. I've obtained permission to hunt the property where I think I've got the best chance of getting him. In early March I prepared a spot to ambush him this fall and blocked a fence crossing 60 yards away, so he's more likely to use one that's 30 yards from where I will be waiting."

Benedict does a lot of planning and preparation to put him in position to score on book bucks, and anyone else can do the same thing. Scouting is a year-round activity for Benedict. Even when he's turkey hunting, looking for morel mushrooms or fishing, he's always got his eyes and ears open for anything that can contribute to his deer hunting success. He always has a camera with him, too, so he can photograph any deer he happens to see while afield.

The Boone and Crockett 10-pointer he got last fall, for example, he first saw during 1999 and managed to take some photographs of it. The whitetail was on property his nephew owns. Benedict had misplaced a bleat call while hunting the property, so he went back to look for it. He spotted the 10-pointer bedded and managed to snap two photos of it lying down. Based on the size of the deer's body, Benedict thought the buck was 2 1/2 years old at the time.

Over the years that followed, Benedict came to the conclusion that the buck spent most of its time elsewhere but was always on his nephew's property during the first week of November. Benedict always takes a week off of work during November to bowhunt for deer, and it's usually the first week of the month. Hunts out of state prevented Benedict from connecting on the buck during 2000 and 2001, but his nephew saw the deer. Sign left by the whitetail also confirmed it was still around.

The veteran bowhunter concentrated on connecting on the trophy animal in 2002. Benedict went home to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 5, and a neighbor spotted the buck that day. It was two days later before Benedict got his chance. He was hunting from a ground blind composed of natural cover.

"I had a perfect blind in a little woods," Benedict said. "The three best deer trails that went through that woods were all within bow range. The wind was wrong for the blind until 4:30 p.m. I monitor a Web site that gives the hourly wind direction and I knew the wind was supposed to change. Even though I wear a Scent-Lok Suit and think it helps reduce the chances of deer smelling me, I still pay careful attention to the wind.

"I moved back into the blind after the wind changed. It was getting dusky when he came down a fenceline. He was uphill from me, so he was silhouetted against the sky. When I saw his antlers silhouetted, I knew

he was an exceptional buck.

"I grunted with my mouth to stop him when he was 30 yards away and broadside," continued Benedict. "When I released the arrow, I heard a crack like you broke a limb over your knee. I thought the arrow might have hit a sapling and deflected, but I could tell by his reaction that he was hit. The arrow actually hit a rib that made that cracking sound."

The ground was covered with yellow leaves speckled with red, and even with a flashlight Benedict figured he would have a hard time finding blood, so he decided to return in the morning to recover the buck. As it turned out, there wasn't a lot of blood to find. Benedict's aluminum arrow had gone through the top of both lungs. The high hit resulted in a sparse blood trail.

The whitetail had also gone farther than expected. The mature buck had gone through a stand of pine trees and into a woods where it bedded temporarily and then attempted to jump a fence. It was 11 a.m. when Benedict found the buck, much to his relief, about a quarter-mile from where he had shot it. He said it appeared as though the deer died in midair while jumping the fence.

Benedict has shot all of his book bucks from the ground. He fell 15 feet from a tree in 1981 and that soured him on hunting above the ground. He was using a limb as a step to climb down when it broke under his weight. Fortunately, he wasn't seriously hurt.

"I ruined my bow and scared myself to death," he commented about the fall. "I still had my bow in my hands because I was maneuvering into position to lower it when I fell. I landed on my bow, and I twisted a limb, ruining it.

"If I don't have any other choice, I will still go in a tree. I simply prefer not to. I enjoy hunting from the ground. I've got a knack for it. I always use natural cover to make blinds. I not only cut shooting lanes, I cut approach lanes so I can get in position without making noise. I do this months ahead of time."

Benedict has been deer hunting for 44 years and bowhunting for 38 years. The last time he seriously hunted whitetails with a firearms was 1997 or '98.

"I have had such good luck with a bow that I'm usually tagged out by the time gun season opens," Benedict said, "or I have a big deer located in a bow-only area. What's so appealing about bowhunting is the fact that I see more game and I like the fact that deer are close enough to see what they are all about before you can shoot."

Benedict has been bowhunting with a compound bow since 1988.

"I wrestled in college and separated a shoulder," he said. "I could draw a recurve, but had a hard time holding it at full draw. In 1988 I borrowed my son's compound. I had such good luck with it, I went out and bought one for myself."

Benedict bought a bow with a 70-pound pull and 65 percent let-off in 1989 and he's used it ever since. The bow is equipped with a crosshair-type sight that he uses as a rangefinder as well as to aim. Benedict said he has to use a sight with a rangefinder because he's blind in his left eye. He lost sight in the eye when he went down in a helicopter in Vietnam. His ribs also separated from his sternum during the crash, but that injury healed within a year.

Two of the crosshairs on his bow sight are set as aiming points for 15 and 30 yards. The third crosshairs are the rangefinder.

Since the bow is an overdraw, he uses a release. It's a caliper-type release with a wrist strap.

To sum up what is responsible for his bowhunting success, Benedict often tells people it's by following the three "P's and R's." The three P's are persistence, patience and prayer. He's a religious man. The three R's are restraint (passing up small bucks), readiness (practice and being prepared for a shot when the time comes), and repertoire (being in touch with what's going on around you and having an idea what might happen next).

He credits the five years he spent in Germany in the military for helping him learn restraint. While there, he got a hunting license on his own and it took 10 months of study to get it. He had to pass three tests - written, oral and one in the field - to get the license. One of the requirements was the ability to judge deer on the hoof.

The reason for that is during pre-rut hunts, large mature breeding stock have to be passed up. Bucks that aren't desirable breeding stock are removed from herds then. When Benedict returned to the states, he did a lot of reading and studying videos to help him learn how to field judge whitetails. He passes up about 20 bucks a year that don't meet his standards as shooters.

Of the 71 bucks Benedict has taken over the years, 48 were taken with bow and arrow. Twenty-one of them were shot during the pre-rut period - before the end of October. He's only taken three bucks on opening day of bow season, but two of them are of Pope and Young caliber.

Thirty of his bucks have been taken during the rut, which is late October and early November. And Benedict has bagged 20 bucks after Nov. 15. All but two of those were shot during December (post-rut).

One of his December bucks is the 12-point non-typical from Lenawee County scoring 189 7/8 inches. He calls that one the "heart attack buck." A father of a friend of Benedict's wounded the deer during gun season and immediately suffered a heart attack. The friend told Benedict about the deer and asked him if he would try to get it.

Benedict spent a lot of time looking for the buck and finally jumped it out of a 5-acre swamp on the property. He said the buck was living in the swamp, and once he figured that out it wasn't too difficult to determine what trail the deer would most likely be using, and that's where he got the whitetail.

When bowhunting for deer, Benedict carries two calls that most other hunters don't. One is a squirrel call and the other is a snort call made by Lohman. Whenever Benedict is moving through the woods, he tries to move like an animal would. He blows the squirrel call to better create an illusion that the sounds he makes are coming from a squirrel and not a human.

"When a deer snorts at me, I will snort back at it," he said. "If you snort back at them and draw it out, it will stop them. Sometimes their curiosity will get the best of them and they will come back. Most of the time they don't."

The second year Benedict used a snort call it helped him collect a 140-class 9-pointer with a 24-inch spread near Lapeer.

"It was dark as I was going into this spot in the morning when the buck snorted at me and I snorted back," he said. "About 10 a.m. he came back. He came in from the downwind side like he was trying to smell me. I was on the crest of a little rise where the wind swirls. I shot him before he smelled me."

Benedict has written 54 stories about his hunts. He's thinking of publishing them in book form sometime in the future. If he does

, you can learn more about how he consistently scores on Michigan's book bucks.



Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to Michigan Sportsman


Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.