By Mike Lambeth
Taking a trophy buck is a lofty goal attained by only a relatively few Oklahomans each season. And as it’s a bit harder, harvesting a trophy whitetail by means of a bow is even less common. Unfortunately, some hunters never venture into the domains of huge whitetails, and thus lessen their chances of reaching either objective.
Others, like Chris Caplinger, pay the necessary price – putting sound management practices into play in the areas that they hunt, and passing on smaller bucks. These voluntary acts of foresight and restraint represent one of the most critical aspects of trophy deer hunting.
Caplinger had a “dream season” last fall – the kind that most hunters can only yearn for. He not only took a Pope and Young buck during early archery season, but he also arrowed another, this one scoring in the mid-170s, two days later. And he accomplished his feat in – of all places – Oklahoma County, square in the shadow of the metro area. Here’s the story of how he did it, plus some tips to help you improve your pursuit of trophy-grade whitetails.
Caplinger, who took up bowhunting when he was 16, got into archery by learning to shoot a recurve bow. His passion for the sport evolved, and soon he bought a custom-made longbow. With that stick and string he killed several deer; he once came close to taking a P&Y-class buck, but it fell just 5/8 inch shy of the magic 125 required to make the book.
Though Caplinger’s accuracy with his traditional setup was amazing, he was bitten by the compound bow craze in 1998 and switched to a solo-cam bow with pin sights. Almost instantaneously, he got even better results with the high-tech weapon.
A few years back, Caplinger and several friends realized that the practice of selectively harvesting mature bucks could enhance their hunting lands’ level of trophy opportunity. To develop a strategy for taking larger bucks in the future, they pooled their ideas and came up with immediate plans that entailed harvesting surplus does and planting a variety of food plots to provide additional nutrition for the area’s whitetails.
Caplinger’s group acquired 2,400 acres and built 50 food plots – each a minimum of 1 acre in area – and then supplemented their feeding program with 23 deer feeders that would dispense high-protein offerings daily.
In the process, the group mandated that no one overhunt an area, and that members should hunt only stand locations with favoring winds. Thanks to the strict guidelines, they reaped huge rewards, with the quality of harvested bucks higher, and the body weights heavier.
George Moore, a hunting buddy and close friend of Caplinger’s, estimates that the eight lease members spend 400 hours per year planting and maintaining the food plots. “The food plots,” Moore said, “are grown year ’round, and feature soybeans, mung beans, milo, rye and winter wheat.”
Last season Oklahoma archers faced unpredictable temperatures in their early pursuits. The mercury soared early in the season; archers swatted gnats while most of the deer lay within their thorny lairs. Just as darkness deepened enough to preclude any hopes bowhunters might have had for a shot, whitetails would pour out into the area’s feed fields.
November’s temperatures were milder, and with the rut approaching, Caplinger had high hopes. Deer sightings were increasing; antler rubs appeared on saplings overnight. Owing to summer sightings of velvet-clad whitetails, he knew that the area was harboring some nice bucks.
On Nov. 7, an optimistic Caplinger sat high in the forest canopy, waiting for the late afternoon to unfold towards night. Checking his watch – the time was 4:15 p.m. – he noticed that he was sweating from the 30-foot climb, but felt confident his scent-elimination clothing would do its job.
Soon a fork-horned buck walked out to sample the buffet at the deer feeder; he was followed by a doe with two fawns. The foursome hungrily ate the tasty morsels littering the earth.
A 6-point buck joined the deer as the afternoon wore on. The serenity was interrupted when the two bucks’ heads shot up, alert to the presence of a deer approaching, and presently, a nice 10-pointer that Caplinger had never seen before emerged from the thick vegetation. In a display of dominance, the large buck chased the doe as the two small bucks looked on. The unreceptive doe eluded the buck’s mating advances, and soon the frustrated buck stopped 30 yards away from Caplinger, offering him a broadside shot. Making a stealthy move, the archer drew and released, placing his razor-sharp broadhead behind the buck’s shoulder. At the sound of the thunk made by the arrow hitting its mark, the field erupted with deer making their exits.
Caplinger summoned George Moore’s son Matt, who was hunting elsewhere on the property, and the pair found the buck a short distance away. The nice long-tined 10-pointer later scored 146 7/8 and field-dressed at 164 pounds.
After the preliminary scoring, Caplinger realized that he’d taken his first P&Y buck. As night fell, he reached into his fanny pack for his cell phone and called George Moore with news of his good fortune.
With the rut nearing, George Moore returned to Oklahoma from a hunt in Wisconsin. He’d no sooner arrived than he received the phone call from an ecstatic Caplinger.
“George,” Caplinger said, “I just took the biggest buck of my life!” He then explained how the afternoon had gone: He’d killed his second P&Y buck in two days.
On the Sunday afternoon after killing the first P&Y buck, Caplinger (who stays busy coaching his children in little league sports) determined that he had an afternoon free and, riding high from the elation of his successful hunt only two days earlier, decided to go hunting again. Accordingly, the archer called on Matt Moore to accompany him on the evening’s bowhunt; he was involved in a church activity and so opted to join Caplinger later.
Arriving at his spot at 3:20 p.m., Caplinger hit the deer feeder’s test button to see if there was any food available. Satisfied to see the motor sling food to the ground, he climbed into his stand and began h
Two does appeared, each with a fawn in tow. The deer nibbled the area’s browse and occasionally checked the wind for any hint of danger. Soon a rambunctious 7-pointer ran in, his mind on mating, and the deer vanished.
Almost instantly, a good-looking 8-point buck walked out and headed toward Caplinger’s position; the bowhunter decided to pass on him. “I felt like I was in a good area with other nice deer around,” he explained, “so I decided to let the buck go to see what else might show up.”
From the area that the five deer had previously run to, Caplinger heard the sounds of a deer approaching, and soon a fatigued doe showed up, her tongue hanging out. Almost as if it had read the script Caplinger had conjured up, a huge buck appeared and began to chase the winded doe. The game of cat and mouse was brief; soon the buck stood broadside 25 yards away from the archer, anticipating the doe’s next move. Caplinger, ready from the moment he’d sighted the brute, let fly.
The arrow penetrated both lungs before burying itself in the ground behind the deer. Mortally hit, the buck traveled only 30 yards before collapsing before the eyes of an adrenaline-pumped Caplinger, who again called Matt to tell of his good fortune and to ask him to bring the ATV for loading the big deer.
The huge 12-pointer field-dressed at a whopping 215 pounds. The buck’s tall, symmetrical rack grossed 174 7/8 as a typical.
Caplinger summed up his feelings like this: “I probably had the best three days a hunter could imagine.”
Now, who can argue with that?
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