A Dandy Opening-Day Bow Buck

John Benedict has arrowed many trophy bucks in his career, but the double-drop-tine buck from Monroe County he killed on Oct. 1 last year took a lot of effort and patience.

John Benedict's buck had a final score of 188 2/8 non-typical inches. Photo courtesy of John Benedict

By Richard P. Smith

Opening day of bowhunting season can be the perfect time to score on a trophy buck, especially if you have done some pre-season preparation, as John Benedict from Auburn Hills proved on Oct. 1, 2003. Benedict also proved that if you want to get a big buck, you may have to hunt at times when most other hunters don't. It was noon when Benedict arrowed a 13-point non-typical in Monroe County that grossed 195 4/8 inches and netted 188 2/8 inches.

That buck is the highest-scoring non-typical on record for the county, according to state records maintained by Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM). The rack has a 10-point typical frame, a pair of matching drop tines that are 12 4/8 and 11 3/8 inches long, and 1 more sticker point measuring 2 5/8 inches.

If you haven't spent time in your stand during midday while bowhunting the early season in the past, perhaps you should try it in the future. Benedict's success is an example of what can happen.

Last fall was the second year the experienced archer hunted that particular buck. He probably could have gotten the deer during 2002, but it had a couple of broken tines then, including one of the drop tines, so he decided to leave it alone until 2003. Someone else could have easily gotten the whitetail in the meantime. Fortunately for Benedict, no one did.

And that double-drop-tine buck is not the only trophy deer Benedict has killed with archery gear on Oct. 1. He's taken three others, two of which also qualify for national bowhunting records maintained by the Pope and Young Club, including a 13-pointer. He has taken book bucks at other times of year, too.

Benedict now has 24 bow-killed bucks in CBM records, and 12 of those also qualify for P&Y listing. His best typical is a 10-pointer scoring 180 2/8 inches that he shot in Clinton County on Nov. 7, 2002. The antlers from that deer surpass the minimum for entry in Boone and Crockett Records, too.

Although the non-typical Benedict arrowed during 2003 is a whopper, it's his second-best in that category. His best non-typical is a 12-point he tagged in Lenawee County during 1994 that nets 189 7/8 inches.

Benedict first saw the 13-point non-typical he got on opening day of bow season last year while driving out of state on a business trip with his wife during December 2001. The deer was visible from a major highway. It was the middle of December during the morning as they were driving south.

"I noticed a trio of deer in the middle of a field that bordered the road on our left," Benedict said. "The one closest to the highway was sporting a giant set of antlers. He was at least a foot taller at the shoulders than his companions, and had a well-proportioned non-typical rack. It looked like he had 10 typical points and 5-inch drop tines off each beam.

"My heart accelerated and my car decelerated as I groped for the binoculars. By the time I could stop safely I would be too far down the road to glass them, so I let discretion outweigh valor and resumed speed. A casual observer would have thought that the encounter had not made much of an impression, but my mind was working overtime. I mentally recorded the closest mile marker and was planning my strategy for getting landowner permission to hunt the local farms."

By May 2002, Benedict had permission to hunt close to 100 acres. He then visited some of the parcels to locate the best places to hunt and set up ground blinds in strategic locations that he identified. His pre-season preparations were complete by June 1.

His first hunt for the drop-tine buck was on Oct. 10, 2002. The weather was still warm and hornets had constructed a nest in the blind he wanted to hunt from. The stinging insects drove him from the spot. That left him little choice other than to hunt that evening from his backup spot.

"I hadn't been settled in for more than 30 minutes when six deer strolled into the field," Benedict explained. "They weren't any more than 100 yards away. Three were bucks, and one of them was big bodied, dominant and hostile. He chased anything that came within 10 yards, spending a lot of time pawing the ground and rubbing his antlers on saplings and shrubs in the field.

"The big boy was a non-typical with more than 12 points. He had 10 typical tines, 2 drop tines and a few stickers here and there. I thought the drops were at least 6 inches long at first, but when he turned and looked my way, I could see that one side was broken off at about 2 inches. He had also broken off part of a G3 tine on one side."

That's when Benedict decided he didn't want to take the deer with a damaged rack. He didn't return to his hunting spot in Monroe County until March 2003. He got rid of the hornet's nest from his best blind, made some better shooting lanes and tried to encourage deer traffic near the blind. To do the latter, he plugged a hole in a fence 60 yards away that deer had been using, so whitetails would be more likely to use a break in the fence much closer to the blind.

Benedict visited the spot one more time before opening day to make sure the hornets weren't back, to re-trim shooting lanes and to clear a path to approach the blind on so he could do it quietly. He did those things during late June. On Oct. 1, 2003, Benedict was in that blind before first light. It was a cool day, with rain in the forecast, conditions that would be expected to encourage deer activity and eliminate concerns about biting insects.

"At first light, a herd of does came through the fence and wandered into the field on a trail that passed within 10 yards of my blind," Benedict said. "A half-hour later, a 5-pointer and an 8-pointer that would score close to 100 inches followed the same route. Then about 10:30, three small bucks materialized in the middle of the nearest field.

"A while later, a doe with a spotted fawn jumped the fence and either saw me or caught my scent. All through a 10-minute pounding downpour she bobbed her head and stomped her foot at me. When the rain stopped, she wandered off without spooking or snorting.

"It was close to noon and I was sneaking a drink of bottled water from my drenched pack," Benedict continued, "when movement caught my eye. There was a deer paralleling the fence, headed toward the break. He stopped, lifted his head to scan the field, and my heart jumped into my throat. It was the buck I had been dreaming about for months.

"Luckily I didn't choke on the water, but I had to exchange the bottle for my bow before he jumped the fence and got too close for the required movement. He appeared to be alone, but he checked his back trail a couple of times before starting to move. When he put his head down and out of sight behind the brush along the fence, I got rid of the bottle and grabbed my bow. It took a good 10 minutes for the buck to decide to jump the fence, but he finally did and moved along the same route as all the deer before him. Broadside, quartering away at between 10 and 15 yards, I released the arrow and watched it disappear into his rib cage. Before he went out of sight across the field, I could see that he was staggering."

Soon after Benedict arrowed the trophy buck, he saw another big deer coming and he nocked an arrow in case it was a second "book" animal. However, it proved to be a huge doe that was followed by two more.

Benedict shot the buck with a 70-pound pull bow 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 acts as the rangefinder.

(Editor's note: For more reading about Michigan's big bucks, refer to Books 1, 2 and 3 of Great Michigan Deer Tales. Each book includes chapters about the top bucks taken with bow and gun from our state. Autographed copies can be ordered from Smith Publications, 814 Clark St., Marquette, MI 49855. Books 2 and 3 are $16.50 postpaid and Book 1 is $15.50. The three-book set can be ordered for $40.)

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