Coalgate, Okla. hunter John McCollum has enjoyed a dreamy month of October hunting for monster bucks, thanks to a unique game camera strategy.
When John McCollum went to check his Wildgame Innovations trail camera in mid-October, he wasn't too sure what he would find when the SD card he pulled was inserted into a computer.
After all, McCollum â€“ a seasoned 39-year old bowhunter â€“ had already downed his best hitlist buck, a beautiful mainframe 10-point typical scoring in the low 150s and dubbed "Pretty Boy."
"That was my best bow buck to date," said McCollum, a self-employed concrete worker from Coalgate, Okla., of his 2017 opening day of archery season whitetail. "That made him a giant to me."
But when McCollum viewed the photos from one of 10 cameras that he runs on two different hunting properties near his home, he caught his breath when an Oct. 22 image of a monstrous south-central Oklahoma whitetail suddenly lit up the screen.
It wasn't as if McCollum had never seen this buck before. Hardly, in fact, since the bowhunter had actually missed the deer he called Megatron a couple of archery seasons ago.
Since then, as his game camera photo library grew with images of the giant buck, McCollum had been on the short end of a cat-and-mouse woodsy game of chess, one where Megatron always seemed to be at least one step in front of the serious hunter.
So when the self-employed concrete business owner saw the mid-October photo of Megatron â€“ the first one obtained since mid-February â€“ McCollum began to formulate a new plan, one that seemed reasonable in light of the fact that several other local hunters were also targeting the giant whitetail.
The hunter's plan? To trade his Obsession bow in for a brand new CVA Accura muzzleloader, temporarily at least, as the Oct. 28-Nov. 5, 2017 Sooner State smokepole season approached.
McCollum's multi-year history with the buck â€“ he has photos dating back at least three years, perhaps even four when the buck was younger and naïve â€“ has been carefully built over time thanks to diligent camera scouting and the use of rice bran as an attractant (baiting with such attractants is legal in Oklahoma).
While many south-central Oklahoma hunters use the time-tested barrel feeder spitting out corn a couple of times each day, McCollum prefers rice bran.
"Why? Because it lasts longer than corn does since they can only eat it for 15 or 20 minutes before they want to go and get a drink," he said. "The deer and other animals just can't sit there and wipe it out in one sitting like they can with corn."
In the 10+ years that he has utilized rice bran as an attractant for his game cameras, not to mention as a temptation to stop a buck momentarily in a shooting lane, McCollum has seen local whitetails gravitate to the rice by-product.
One time, in fact, he even saw a couple of does poke their head under some floodwaters from a nearby creek to nibble on the rice bran, images that forever sold the Coal County hunter on the attractant's usefulness.
McCollum said that he doesn't pour rice bran out just anywhere, trying to put it in a pathway that leads from a buck's bedding area to a feeding zone.
"I'm looking at putting it in natural funnels that these whitetails travel â€“ along timber edges, field edges, an edge between high grass and low grass, and even a fence line," he said. "I try to put it in natural spots that deer move through, putting the feed out and getting the pictures I need to figure a buck out."
When he gets a photo during daylight hours â€“ just as he did on Oct. 22 when Megatron reappeared â€“ that triggers McCollum's hunting instinct and quickly puts him into a stand.
"I check my cameras every couple of days," said McCollum. "Really, I hunt the cameras and what they are telling me. I don't hunt and educate the does until see I see the buck I want on camera."
While the strategy doesn't always work, it did on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 when the giant buck trailed a yearling doe and stepped into a shooting lane not far from the ladder stand that McCollum was occupying.
While his first shot on the big whitetail was a little high, it anchored the buck to the ground. A follow-up shot later, McCollum was battling his emotions and walking up on a buck with amazing mass and tine length, characteristics likely to place the buck in the Boone and Crockett Club record book.
While McCollum said he isn't obsessed with the record books, he admits that he likes targeting specific bucks like Megatron, whitetails that the hunter develops a long history with.
"I love watching (Outdoor Channel) shows like the Drury brothers' 13, Lee and Tiffany's Crushed, and Don and Kandi Kisky's Whitetail Freaks, especially how they build their stories with a deer," said McCollum.
"The difference between me and them is that they have tractors and food plots to do all of that with, I have to do it with a sack of feed," he added.
"I start putting rice bran out in mid-July and it usually lasts 2 ½ to 3 days before the hogs and the deer plumb wipe it out. It costs me (some money) to do it that way, but from the second week of July on through the season, I'm able to get photos as I check my cameras twice a week. My favorite thing to do is to find a buck and watch him grow (through the photos)."
With any hunter's luck at all, those photos will turn from a deer in front of a game camera in the late summer months to McCollum holding the whitetail up later on in the fall after his target buck has been tagged.
This time, that target buck is one dubbed Megatron, a massive bruiser buck like those seen on the cover of Oklahoma Game & Fish and North American Whitetail magazines.
And for at least once in his lifetime, the humble McCollum is thankful that he's the hunter smiling big in the grip-and-grin photo.
"I believe in God, I guess everybody believes in something," said McCollum. "I don't really understand why He chose me to take this deer out of all of the other hunters in the world, but I'm truly grateful He did."