December 11, 2018
By Alan Garbers
What does the 2017 Indiana deer season hold in store? We could see a new world-record whitetail in Indiana. Honestly.
Don’t scoff. Look at how the deer hunting landscape has been changing.
First, the one-buck rule has been in effect for a while now, and it has changed the number of hunters afield. Many of them let small bucks walk by, saving their license for something bigger.
Second, easy access to private hunting ground is diminishing for a multitude of reasons. While it shuts many hunters out, it also creates a patchwork of nature preserves that allow bucks to grow to maturity unmolested. Deer do not acknowledge boundaries, and, during the rut, male deer roam miles looking for receptive does. Eventually, they will walk past the hunter that has done his/her homework.
Third, the number of hunters afield is slowly dropping. It’s a sad fact, but it also means the deer-to-hunter ratio is increasing, while hunting pressure lessens on the deer population.
Some of these insights appear as dark clouds on the horizon, but they can also mean more bucks will be reaching maturity in the coming years. Some claim Indiana doesn’t have the great deer genetics of neighbor states. In truth, Indiana’s deer are genetically identical, and, in places, Indiana has more deer per square mile than its neighbor states. Studies have shown most hunters overestimate the age of deer; so, the deer they shoot and claim to be an old deer with poor genetics is actually a young deer with great potential that never was given the opportunity to grow.
The lesson? Any woodlot in Indiana has potential to produce a trophy buck, but hunters need to do their homework, stay in the stand when others are leaving, and make their luck happen afield… much like the hunts presented here from last season prove the formula works.
Hunter: Jimmy Bruner
Antler score: 151 inches, non-typical
Date of Harvest: Nov. 19, 2017
Jimmy Bruner of Jeffersonville hunts on the 45-acre family farm and focuses his efforts on a 15-acre field. Jimmy knew deer would be using the field as a feeding area in the late afternoon.
“This particular Sunday, my father and I headed out to hunt,” Jimmy said, “I was in a blind on the north side, and my father was in a ladder stand on the south side.” Like many Hoosiers, Jimmy’s goal was to fill a freezer. “We had been seeing does coming out regularly, and they were the target that evening.”
Jimmy and his father settled into their stands around 3 pm. “We hadn’t been there more than half an hour,” Jimmy said, “when I happened to look up and saw a doe standing at the edge of the field about 70 yards away.”
The rut was on so Jimmy watched the doe for any indication that a buck was following. The doe walked out into the field feeding as she went. “I waited a few minutes, then dropped her where she stood.
Jimmy assumed the rifle report was going to alert any other deer in the area, but he didn’t want to disrupt his father’s hunting to gather the doe. Jimmy settled in to see what else the afternoon had in store. It was good that he did.
Like many Hoosier hunters, Jimmy turned to his phone for entertainment, playing a game. “I glanced up to see that a large buck and three does had crept up behind me,” he said, recalling how his heart raced. “With my phone in my hand, I watched the biggest buck I’ve ever seen staring back at me from 10 feet away.”
It was a dream come true but quickly turning into a nightmare. Any quick move would alert the massive buck to Jimmy’s presence. “I fantasized about seeing something that large coming through our woods, but I thought I had blown my opportunity,” Jimmy said. “He took off trotting and strutting his stuff for the does. All I could do was hope that my father would have the opportunity that I had missed.”
But Lady Luck had other ideas.
“As soon as the buck got downwind of the doe I shot earlier, he turned to head straight for her,” he said. As the buck walked toward the downed doe, it drew him in a direction that made it safe for Jimmy to shoot without putting his father in the line of fire. After long minutes, Jimmy took the shot. The buck dropped as the rifle crack echoed away.
Hunter: Cory Nash
Antler score: 143 5⁄8 inches, typical
Date of Harvest: Nov. 14, 2017
Cory Nash of Indianapolis is well known by anyone who watches Tim Sylvia’s Hit Squad Outdoors on the Pursuit Channel. Cory’s hunting partner, Greg Davis, was featured here last year with his massive 155-inch typical buck.
Cory and Greg are avid hunters and do their homework to find the deer they hunt. The owner of the property where they had access believed in quality-deer management practices, and the amount of deer sign proved it was working. Cory was excited to hunt in the exact stand Greg had taken his massive buck from. They both hoped that lightning would strike twice.
As they crept into their stand, the wind direction was less than ideal, but Cory was confident that his scent-control techniques would work as desired. The two settled in, ready to hunt all day if needed. The location was proving its worth once again.
“We were covered up with does and small bucks until just before noon, then the woods went quiet,” Cory said. “We hadn’t seen a deer for several hours when a mature doe came running through. She got a drink from a creek then ran back the same direction she came from. A few minutes later we heard a grunt in the direction the doe had gone.”
It was then that Cory and Greg spotted the monstrous buck.
“He was walking with two yearling bucks paralleling him on either side,” Cory said. “He was grunting and thrashing the brush here and there.” The dominant buck didn’t like his challengers. He kept changing directions and bluffing the smaller bucks. The buck was close, but the understory was so thick, Cory was concerned he wouldn’t get a clear shot. But the buck suddenly turned onto a trail and gave Cory the perfect setup at 35 yards.
“I got him to stop in a 5-foot opening and made a textbook shot — the best shot I’ve made on a deer,” he said.
After the deer was down, Cory realized that in the anticipation of the shot he had forgotten to turn on his Tactacam. Luckily, Greg was able to capture all of it on his camera.
When Cory went to get his trophy, he had another surprise.
“A poacher had taken a horrible shot on him with a crossbow several weeks before. The buck had a crossbow bolt sticking out of him that we didn’t see until I recovered him,” Cory relayed. “It was a quartering shot, placed too far back and too high for a clean kill.”
Hunter: Liz Bryant
Antler score: 174 inches, non-typical
Date of Harvest: Early December 2017
As a partner in Bryant’s Outdoor Store in Kokomo, Liz Bryant is an avid deer hunter and focuses on what she calls her “Little Piece of Heaven.” While the woods she hunts is only 11 acres, it borders a mix of agriculture and urban areas, making it the perfect hotspot dedicated hunters dream about. Along with crops and hardwood mast, the gardens and fruit trees that suburbia offers provides tender browse and excellent bedding areas. It is the perfect recipe for growing trophy bucks.
Liz and her husband, Billy, recently started monitoring trail cameras located strategically in their woods. They had the excitement of watching one of the bucks grow to gigantic size over the last four and a half years. Liz spent an extensive amount of time hunting for the massive buck. Her stand was well-placed between bedding areas used by the buck, but she still hadn’t caught a glimpse of it. Never a quitter, the thought of that buck drove Liz to stay in her stand when other hunters were at home.
A change of the weather pattern prompted Liz to be on the stand early the next morning. Knowing it would be difficult for her to draw her bow with the added clothing, Billy convinced her to forgo her Browning compound bow and use his Barnett crossbow. The temperature had been dropping all night. There was a coating of snow on the ground, as Liz climbed into her stand and wasencouraged when, around 7:30 am, two does bedded down just a bow-shot behind her. The rut was still on, and the does might lure the buck in close.
The cold was making every minute turn to hours. By 8:30, Liz had reached her limit of discomfort. As she flicked the switch off to her propane heater she heard the snap of a twig. She looked up to see the massive buck, as it sniffed the chill air. While the buck was still too far away, Liz got down on one knee and steadied the crossbow. As the buck came in range it started quartering away, giving Liz the perfect shot at 25 yards. The bolt flew true and disappeared into the buck’s vitals.
The buck crashed through the woods and disappeared. Liz’s heart sank, but she knew she had to give the buck time to bleed out before trailing it. Liz went in to warm up and told Billy the exciting news. After what seemed an eternity, they started following the blood trail. The buck had run about 100 yards, crossed a creek and died. Liz could hardly believe her eyes. It was the buck of a lifetime, but Liz said she has one regret: “I wish Billy had been with me when I killed it.”