3 Amigos & A Dream Season
October 04, 2010
Three are better than one. If you doubt that, just talk with Indiana hunters Brad Dragoo, Jim Baird and Eric Williams and ask them about the amazing season they enjoyed together in 2009. (September 2010)
What do you get when you mix three obsessed deer hunting buddies, trespassers, a severely sprained ankle, a gigantic ash tree, a heartbreaking loss, sweat, tons of hard work and extreme dedication? Read on and find out about the amazing deer season three central Indiana deer hunting buddies experienced last fall.
Hunting buddies Brad Dragoo, Jim Baird and Eric Williams all managed to kill trophy whitetails in the first year of a plan they established to hunt their shared property wisely and manage the land for quality bucks.
Photo by Dean Weimer.
Friends Eric Williams and Jim Baird had been hunting a property together for eight years when another friend, Brad Dragoo, entered the fold a few years ago. The property always had loads of potential, but incessant trespassing had been a problem for the hunters in previous seasons. Once that problem was taken care of for good, this trio of dedicated deer fanatics would implement a plan to improve their overall hunting for mature bucks. Little did they know, entering last fall, the success they would all end up experiencing in the first year of their plan!
The first phase of the plan saw the three hunters preparing two food plots on their hunting ground. This included clearing a lot of brush and scrub in the area, testing the soil for pH level and then adding fertilizer and lime to improve the nutrition level for the deer.
"Leading up to the season we put two food plots within the core of the area of our hunting ground," Dragoo explained. "The food plots were not designed to hunt over. They were there to keep the deer concentrated in the center of our farm."
The second part of their plan was a determination to disturb the area as little as possible once deer season began. They agreed to only hunt prime areas during the first week of hunting season and the rut. The rest of their hunting time would be spent in observation stands.
Over-hunting the area early would most likely push the big bucks onto neighboring properties. By getting their setups ready in spring and summer, they could then wait until the bow opener to hunt. They also decided not to kill any does on the property prior to taking their bucks.
What hunting they did do early would be minimal, and they would go to great lengths to keep any human scent left in the area to the absolute minimum.
The third phase of their plan was to not kill any bucks smaller than 130 inches. And, in reality, this phase of the plan had been implemented earlier than 2009.
STARTING THE TRIFECTA
Brad Dragoo would be the first hunter of the group to take a mature buck, and he'd take it from a tree that most hunters wouldn't even consider trying to put a portable deer stand in.
"I have a thing for big old trees. A tree that you can put a hang-on (stand) in and disappear. I often think about all the mature deer that have walked past one of these 300-year-old giants. I'm not sure what it is, but I love hunting out of such a tree," Dragoo said.
Back when they were clearing brush and getting the food plots ready, Dragoo noticed a giant ash tree with huge, sweeping limbs next to one of the plots. After realizing the tree would be right for the wind for that particular food plot, he decided that was the tree.
He told Baird that they needed to get a hang-on in that tree, and that he was going to kill a mature buck from that tree. Baird laughed because the tree was nearly 6 feet in diameter. The next weekend they were back to hang a stand in the ash.
After chipping bark away from the outside of the tree they were able to get Dragoo's stand in it. As soon as they were finished, he climbed into the stand and took a look around the area. He felt extremely good about it and just knew he was going to kill a big one out of that particular spot. However, he'd have to wait several months before he'd get the opportunity. On Oct. 3 Dragoo would get the first chance to hunt out of his tree.
"Going back to our rules laid out in the summer, I was going to hunt one of the better stands the first week of the season, when the bruisers are still patternable," Dragoo said. "Well, the first day found the wind right for my big ash tree in the evening. I told Baird the wind was right, and he should hunt the tree. He insisted that I go hunt it since I picked the tree. What a buddy!"
Dragoo was extremely excited all day leading up to his first hunt. "There was something in the air that told me it was going to happen. I have had that feeling three times in my life about a particular stand, and three mature bucks have fallen during those times," he said.
He arrived at his stand around 4:30 p.m. He later saw a wide 6-pointer and some does and smaller bucks. "It was 10 minutes to last light when I started doubting my feeling. I was starting to think I was crazy even thinking I would put down a shooter so early in the season," Dragoo said.
About that same time the hunter heard footsteps behind him. To his surprise he looked back and noticed a giant buck slowly working his way toward the hunter. Dragoo realized the buck's approach would put it about 12 yards away broadside and upwind. "Perfect," he thought.
"I took my eyes off the rack and concentrated on the posture and body language of the deer. I knew too many things can go wrong with mature deer. They tend to have the sixth sense when in close with hunters."
However, the buck never knew the hunter was there. Dragoo drew his Hoyt and sent the arrow screaming through the buck's chest. After a short, 35-yard run the buck fell over dead.
"I'll bet that deer walked by that giant ash tree 500 times during his life. He was so confident no one was around; he totally had his guard down," Dragoo said enthusiastically.
Dragoo's buck was an early-season beauty for sure. The tall, narrow-racked 6x5-framed dandy had a few sticker points to add character to an impressive early-season rack. Good mass also enhanced the rack, which gross scored 157 3/8, with a final net score of 144 4/8.
Jim Baird would be the second of the trio to score in the area. Having hunted the ground with Williams for several years before Dragoo joined them, he'd had the unenviable task of running off many of the trespassers
on this property.
"In the past four to five years we have really cracked down on the trespassers, because before that it was a real problem. We have also been very diligent in shooting only mature deer '“ specifically bucks over 120 inches, and a few older does. In the same timeframe we have tried to minimize our own hunting pressure," Baird said.
Baird actually hunted the property on the morning that Dragoo killed his buck. "I told Brad he should hunt it (the ash stand) because he picked the tree, did a lot of work, and I'm a nice guy," he happily said. "After he killed his buck I was very excited for him. I told myself that being nice would have its reward."
He didn't know how prophetic that thought would turn out to be. However, he'd almost have to break his ankle at work before it would come to fruition.
On Oct. 28 Jim twisted his ankle at work so severely that it would need to be X-rayed to determine if there was a broken bone. Luckily for him it was found to be only severely sprained. That was the good news; the bad news was that Baird loves to hunt out of self-climbing tree stands. His ankle injury would make that impossible, so he'd be limited to fixed stands that were hung prior to the hunt.
It was Nov. 6, and Baird had to think hard about where he could go hang a portable stand with a bum ankle. He ended up choosing a spot that hadn't been hunted for two years. A narrow, wooded valley runs east to west and leads to a sanctuary that had standing corn all around it. In the past he'd seen many bucks use one edge of the wooded valley during the rut.
Dragoo let him borrow a stand and some climbing sticks. He set out about 11 a.m. and after much effort was set up high in a tulip tree, about 12 yards from the edge. He left the area and went home and got prepared to go hunt it that evening.
He returned later in the afternoon and got settled in. About 20 minutes before dark a small buck chased a doe, grunting the whole time. Finally the two exited the valley to the west. About 10 minutes later, in an opening 100 yards west of the new stand, Jim caught a short look at what he thought was a shooter buck. That buck followed the commotion of the young buck and doe from earlier.
"I was very excited about the next morning, he said "On the way back to my vehicle I was already planning on being back in my new stand well before daylight. When I got home, I told my wife I had a feeling about the next morning, and that I was going to kill a big buck."
After a restless night's sleep, Baird was up and in his stand about 45 minutes before daylight. He sat motionless until about 8:45 a.m., without seeing any activity. He then decided to stand up and stretch. Approximately five minutes after that he heard what he thought had to be a deer crashing through the standing corn stalks.
"I never saw the deer but assumed it was a buck. Over the next ten minutes I did three series of buck grunts," he said. A short while later Baird heard "crunch, crunch, crunch" in the standing corn! He then noticed a buck heading out of the corn and toward his position.
"I could tell this buck had a decent set of horns. I knew the buck was on a mission and was not going to stop for anything."
Baird quickly grabbed his 15-year-old Darton as the buck cleared the stalks. He counted 10 points and knew it was a shooter for sure. He drew his bow as the buck made a couple more steps into a shooting lane. Baird then threw out a voice bleat and stopped the big buck. He released the arrow for what he thought must be a perfect shot.
The buck fell to the ground and Baird saw evidence of a spine shot. Having had experiences with this in the past he quickly slipped another arrow onto his string and fired it into the buck's chest. He then grabbed a third arrow and placed it within an inch of the second one. The buck was taking his last breaths when Baird called Dragoo.
"I regained my composure over the next five minutes. I climbed down and ran over to the deer, instantly realizing it was bigger than I thought originally. No ground shrinkage here. What a hunt!"
The monster-framed typical 5x5 with two stickers close to the bases would end up with a gross typical score of 161 1/8 inches, and a net score of 153 1/8. The big buck field dressed at a hefty 204 pounds.
Eric Williams is like the rest of us. He loves to hunt giant whitetail bucks and isn't going to kill just any buck. Because of his selectiveness, he's had to endure a few seasons where he never killed one. Any big buck hunter can relate to this, as these monsters of the timber and crops can make the best hunters come home empty handed. His time was very near, but he would have to experience one more heartbreak before feeling the ultimate satisfaction.
It all began on Nov. 3 when Williams put what he thought was a killing shot on a giant buck he had watched grow up all summer long near his home in a separate hunting area. He and several of his friends looked for the buck for three solid days. Williams remembers the ordeal, "I spent the better part of three days looking and had six different friends help me look the fields and creek around my house. He probably went past the half-mile radius search area. I stayed home and looked off and on for nine days."
As most serious hunters can attest, those days are gloomy and are normally filled with emotions that only caring hunters can understand. Williams was so stricken with negative feelings surrounding the hunt that he quit hunting entirely after that encounter.
Dragoo and Baird would talk to him and try to convince him to get back after it, but Williams just couldn't do it. Finally after much positive talk they convinced him go to the property and try to kill a different buck. He finally heeded their advice. Lady luck was about to shine on member number three of the amigos.
He went bowhunting on the property on Friday, Nov. 13 -- the day before firearms season -- and passed on a 2 1/2-year-old buck. He also found a good-looking spot to hunt that afternoon in a funnel that led from a standing corn field to a bedding area, near an old pond.
On the gun opener Williams was back in this area. He passed another 2 1/2-year-old 8-pointer. The opener would provide no big buck. "I had been feeling pretty down and Jim and Brad encouraged me to hunt that afternoon even though it was warm," he said. He took his Lone Wolf climber back to the spot he found the day before and got settled in around 3 p.m.
About 45 minutes into the hunt Williams heard some fast footsteps in the leaves coming down the trail from the cornfield. He looked over and saw a big body and a heavy rack "with lots of points." He got his gun up and waited for the chestnut-capped brute to clear some saplings. Once that happened he sent a Winchester platinum tip from his Mossberg right into the boiler room.
"He went 50 yards and fell over
dead within sight. I felt it would be a little anticlimactic after all that time passing young bucks for three and a half previous seasons. I was confident my patience was going to pay off eventually. Jim and his wife, Kim, and Brad were able to come over to the kill site and help me get him and take some pictures, which made it even more special."
Williams' dark-racked beauty sported a tight rack with tall tines and a split G-2 on his right side. The 5x5 main framed dandy grossed in at 140 3/8 with a net score of 133 1/8.
There you have it. This story just goes to show you what extreme hard work, dedication, planning, perseverance, and let's not forget good old-fashioned friendship, can provide for three close deer hunters.