Did you know that many of you may qualify to be
able to use a crossbow during archery season? If so,
Cheryl Westbrook's tactics could help you connect! (August 2007)
Cheryl Westbrook from Manitou Beach has taken six bucks with record-book proportions.
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Westbrook.
Cheryl Westbrook from Manitou Beach is one of Michigan's most successful woman bowhunters when it comes to bagging bucks that qualify for state records maintained by Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM).
She has taken six bucks of record-book proportions, with her biggest being a 14-pointer grossing 153 inches and netting 148. However, that buck was the only one she bagged with a firearm. After running out of time during bow season, Westbrook killed that whitetail after firearms season opened, but more on that buck later.
Although five out of Westbrook's biggest bow-bagged bucks qualify for state records, don't look for her name in any record book. She loves to hunt mature bucks for the challenge involved and the personal satisfaction derived from success. Having her name in the records multiple times isn't important to her.
After being involved in a serious automobile accident 10 years ago, Westbrook is just happy she was able to continue bowhunting. The pickup truck she was driving was rear-ended by a semi-truck. As a result of injuries she suffered in the accident, her doctor recommended she discontinue shooting a bow and arrows. She didn't want to give up bowhunting, so she obtained a permit that allows her to hunt with a crossbow.
Westbrook is grateful that our state allows hunters with handicaps to hunt with a crossbow during archery deer season. She hunts with a 150-pound-pull Horton Crossbow mounted with a Red Dot sight. A mechanical cocking device enables Westbrook to cock the bow by herself.
Even though Westbrook has not entered any of the bucks she has killed with her crossbow in state records, CBM does accept crossbow entries. Like bucks bagged with vertical bows, those with typical antlers only have to score 100 inches to qualify. Archery kills with non-typical racks have to measure at least 125 inches to make it into state records.
Starting this year, bucks bagged with crossbows that qualify for CBM records will be listed under that category. In the past, they were lumped together with other archery kills. All whitetails taken with crossbows that are currently in state records will be listed in the new category along with new entries.
Another little-known fact is that in addition to provisions for handicapped hunters to use crossbows during bow season, anyone can hunt deer with a crossbow during Michigan's firearms season.
If Westbrook did enter her deer in CBM records, her highest-scoring bow buck -- a 130-class 13-pointer -- would probably rank close to the top of the list in the new category. She has killed at least two others that would measure around 125 inches. She arrowed the 13-pointer on Oct. 30, 2005, and a grunt call played a key role in her success on that whitetail.
"I drove over the grunt tube I used to use with my truck, so I went out and bought a new one," Westbrook said. "They didn't have any grunt calls like the one I had. I bought one called the Pacifier that fits in your mouth.
"That call was in my pocket the day I got the 13-pointer," she continued. "The first buck I saw from my tree stand that day was a yearling 6-point. He came out in the open and then went back in the cover he came from. A while later, I saw a doe in the same area where the 6-point had been. She walked out in the open followed by the 6-point. Moments later, I heard a big buck grunt. I could tell it was a mature buck because he had a deeper voice."
The doe and small buck disappeared soon afterward. When the doe reappeared, the bigger buck was behind her. He was on a trail through thick cover, however, where it would have been impossible to get an arrow through. The trophy buck walked to a nearby pond for a drink. While he was quenching his thirst, Westbrook put the new grunt call in her mouth and gave it a try.
"The second time I made a grunt with the call, the big buck came barreling right toward me," Westbrook said. "He thought the 6-point was after the doe and he was going to chase him off. When I saw the 13-pointer was coming, I got excited about the possibility of getting a shot. The grunt call was still in my mouth and, as my breathing accelerated, I kept grunting. I finally had to knock the call out of my mouth to quit grunting.
"The buck was only five yards away, straight down under my stand, when I shot him. He made it 20 yards into the sanctuary before dying."
All of the book bucks Westbrook has killed have come from 63 acres she and her husband, Tim, own in Lenawee County. The pair have worked together to manage the property for deer, and the benefits from their efforts are obvious. They agreed to designate eight acres of thick swamp on the property as a sanctuary for deer that they never enter, except to retrieve arrowed animals.
The sanctuary encourages deer -- and especially adult bucks -- to take up residence on their land because the whitetails know there is always a place that is safe and secure when they are disturbed. Deer that are pressured elsewhere know they won't be bothered in the sanctuary. Adult whitetails are good at locating and using spots where they aren't bothered.
"After we bought the land, we read articles and attended seminars, and learned that habitat is everything," Cheryl commented. "Trees and shrubs that deer like were planted. Two fields were signed up under a government program. Tim also put in three food plots consisting mostly of alfalfa and clover, which are deer magnets.
"The last major habitat improvement was to cut trees to thicken the woods. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool tree hugger, and Tim had a hard time convincing me this would be a good idea. Now that I understand the value of young trees to deer, we continue to cut mature trees. We leave the trees lay, and new growth sprouts up. When I can't walk through a chunk of woods or see more than 30 yards, I know the deer will love it."
Besides being able to hunt property that is well managed for whitetails, Cheryl said hunting as much as possible is responsible for her success.
"To grow as a hunter, you have to get out there and do it," she said. "Practice makes perfect. I hunt every day after work and all weekends. Tim doesn't mind my three-month-a-year absence, and sitting in a tree is a great way to unwind f
rom work. When I'm in a tree stand, I witness a whole new world. I'm the fly on the wall, watching a fantastic drama where the characters are deer. As the days wear on, you have to want to be out there. I sometimes bring birdseed with me and watch the birds. I love being outdoors. That makes it easy for me to hunt day after day, even when I don't get anything. When the rut is on, it's like a soap opera out there. I just have to go see what's going on."
Tim also hunts, but he's not as enthused about deer hunting from stands as his wife is. He likes more active types of hunting, according to Cheryl, such as hunting rabbits with beagles.
"Tim wants me to be successful as a deer hunter," she said. "When it comes to fishing, he outfishes me big time!"
Cheryl not only spends as much time as she can in tree stands on their property during hunting season, but she is out there year 'round. Time she spends afield both before and after hunting seasons helps her keep tabs on what's happening with the local herd. She enjoys watching other wildlife besides deer, and she does some sketching while in tree stands, too.
Cheryl is an elementary school art teacher and artist. On days she sketches while occupying stands, she concentrates on that during the early afternoon when deer are less likely to be active. She normally puts her artwork away before it's time for whitetails to start moving.
She received her introduction to hunting from her mother's side of the family. Her grandfather took her small-game hunting and she would run through corn fields to flush pheasants for him. It was "Uncle Bub" who took her on her first deer hunts. She shot her first buck in 1988 while hunting with a girlfriend on property her father owned. The yearling 8-pointer appeared at a distance of 35 yards early in the morning, and Cheryl dropped it in its tracks with a double-barreled 12 gauge.
"I thought deer hunting was easy after getting that buck," Cheryl said. "But it was five years before I got another one. During that time, I found out my original assessment wasn't accurate."
Besides managing the 63 acres for deer that the Westbrooks own, Tim has put in a number of ground blinds and tree stands that Cheryl hunts from. Several of them border the sanctuary. Cheryl hasn't shot any bucks in their food plots. She prefers to hunt from stands along trails leading to them.
A key element of Westbrook's success is being familiar with family groups of deer on their property. By knowing where individual does spend most of their time, she knows where bucks are most likely to be when the rut is on.
"To learn deer behavior, I needed to keep track of the does, so I named them," Cheryl said. "They aren't all brown. Old Frosty, who has been on the property for years, has a white spot on her nose and a graying face. Jane, also known as Jane Doe, has no white markings on her face. She's incredibly wary and picks me out most days, but has grown accustomed to me. She had two doe fawns that will have fawns of their own this spring. I keep track of four families. The largest family has eight members. If one of my girls is missing during the rut, I'd better be hunting where I know she will want to be. I keep a daily hunting journal in which I record every detail from my observations."
Based on her observations, Cheryl said the breeding dates of does she keeps track of is staggered, sometimes being as much as a week apart. One doe in particular tends to consistently breed late in November toward the end of gun season. During bow season, she monitors the does that she knows will be coming into heat during that time.
Cheryl has arrowed most of her biggest bucks during late October and early November when the rut is starting to kick into high gear. That's prime time for any bowhunter to be afield in our state.
Cheryl is as scent conscious as any bowhunter, but she has a secret cover scent most archers don't have access to. The Westbrooks own a donkey and chickens. Cheryl stomps her feet in donkey "poo" as a cover scent. Local deer are familiar with the donkey, and when they smell where Cheryl walks, they think the donkey has been there. Perhaps droppings from cows and horses would serve a similar purpose in areas they frequent.
This avid bowhunter also uses a homemade liquid cover scent she sprays on her head before hunting. She said she wears a Scent-Lok coat and pants, but doesn't wear a hood. That's why she sprays her head with a cover scent.
"I always pay attention to wind direction when deciding where to hunt," Cheryl said. "I go to a stand where the wind will be in my favor. I have 20 stands to choose from."
Cheryl is frustrated she was unable to get the biggest buck to her credit with an arrow from her crossbow.
"I saw that 14-pointer three times during a two-week period in bow season," she said. "He presented me with good possibilities each time I saw him, but I was never able to get a shot at him any of those times."
The first time she saw him, a doe he was with walked by in the open, but the buck took a trail in the thick stuff. The second time she saw him was the closest she came to getting a shot. The whitetail was practically under the rear of the stand Cheryl was in that day. The buck was rubbing a bush while Cheryl was turned on the stand, ready to take the shot when his vitals came into the open. She had an opening to the rear of his body, but she was not about to take a gut shot. He turned and walked away without presenting a killing shot.
The last time she saw the whitetail when she had a bow in her hands, the doe he was following came out into the open to break ice on some nearby water to take a drink. The buck hung back in thick cover, refusing to expose himself in the open.
When gun season opened on Nov. 15, Cheryl exchanged her crossbow for a 20-gauge Remington pump. It was the evening of Nov. 26, 2003, when she saw the buck for the fourth time. She was hunting a stand among some oak trees at the time.
"I had does and fawns scattered around in front of me eating acorns," Cheryl said. "Then I noticed a new deer that had slowly filtered its way into view. It caught my eye when it flicked its tail. Soon afterward, it turned and I saw the big antlers. I waited for his shoulder to clear a tree and fired. He dropped on the spot.
"That's when I first got a cell phone," she continued. "I called my husband to tell him about my success. Tim got in my car, rolled the windows down, put in a Ted Nugent tape and played 'Fred Bear' as he drove to where I was to help me with the buck. I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and accomplishment when I got that buck, even though I didn't get it with my crossbow."
Cheryl said she has been concentrating on hunting mature bucks for about seven years now. She had taken about two-dozen yearling bucks before that. She now routinely passes up yea
rling bucks with small racks. She knows of four yearling bucks she passed up numerous times during 2006 that made it through gun season. Hunters on neighboring parcels sometimes shoot bucks she lets go, but the sanctuary on their property reduces the chances that all of the yearlings will be killed. The surviving yearlings are a spikehorn, two 6s and an 8-pointer.
"I named the 8-point Johnny Appleseed because I always saw him when I hunted a stand by some apple trees," Cheryl said. "I knew he was a yearling because he had a small rack and he was kind of dumb. He was chummy with all of the other deer."
Nobody will be surprised if Johnny catches an arrow this fall!