November 08, 2016
Without question, one of the toughest white-tailed bucks I’ve ever tangled with was a massive 10-pointer with extra-long tines and pop-can-thick bases. This deer lived deep in the Appalachian Mountains where agricultural fields, manicured food plots and fences didn’t exist.
His home or core living area was in the middle of seemingly endless miles of hardwoods timber, steep mountain terrain, and old grown-up coal strips dotted with thick and dense cover. The area received intense outside hunting pressure and illegal poaching, which basically transformed this buck into a nocturnal ghost that had no problem with magically disappearing for extended periods of time.
Without agricultural fields and fences, big, smart bucks in the mountains can be super tough to pinpoint in the endless sea of timber, which is why sometimes a hunter has to use aggressive hunting strategies. (Travis Faulkner photo)
Consequently, it was an accident I stumbled upon the giant 10-pointer’s home range during turkey season. On a morning where gobbles were hard to come by, I was running and gunning the mountain tops trying to make something happen. Around mid-day I finally got a longbeard to answer a shock-call at the very bottom of a steep ravine in the middle of nowhere. There was no easy way down to the gobbler and I didn’t even want to think about the difficult hike back up the mountain after the hunt, especially if I had to haul a heavy tom turkey over my shoulder all the way to the top.
It took me a long time to work my way down to the bottom, but it ended up being one of the best moves I’ve ever made in the woods. Not only was I able to coax the longbeard into range, but I also found some of the biggest buck sign I had ever seen in the mountains. This heavy-racked bruiser had been rubbing trees the size of telephone poles and making scrapes that were large enough to lie down in and stretch completely out. At that very moment, I knew exactly where I’d be hunting once the fall deer season rolled around.
The author found deer sign like this giant rub during turkey season, which helped locate the buck's core living area. (Travis Faulkner photo)
The Chase Begins
As spring turned into summer, I started scouting the area and trying to learn everything I possibly could about the buck. It didn’t take me long to figure out I was chasing a shadow. The handful of game-camera photos I was able to capture were at night and indicated the buck was probably four years old. About a week before season, he pulled a disappearing act and vanished into thin air. At first, I thought someone might have poached him or maybe he moved areas due to mast production or hunting pressure.
Though not a great photo, the author was happy to see the big 10-point had survived after disappearing for most of the season. (Travis Faulkner photo)
However, toward the end of the year he showed up on my game-cameras and was alive and well. There was no doubt I would have to step up my game the following season, and change my scouting and hunting tactics. It was painfully obvious conventional strategies and setups were not going to get the job done, because I was dealing with a completely different type of whitetail. I realized I was going to have to push the envelope and take things to a whole new level to have any chance at harvesting this buck.
Buck’s Comfort Zone Located
Taken after the season had started in the second
year chasing the buck, this is one of the
rare daytime photos the author’s network of game-cameras
was able to capture. (Travis Faulkner photo)
During the late summer months, I hit the woods hard and was determined to do whatever it took to get a shot at the monster 10-point. I started running an entire network of game-cameras throughout his core living area. As a result, I was able to accumulate over 200 photos of the buck, which helped me begin to piece together and understand his patterns. My biggest problem was dealing with the fact this buck preferred to move mainly at night, under the cover of darkness.
I was only able to capture a total of six daytime photos out of 200, but with those photos I was able to pinpoint the exact location of his preferred bedding area. It was an impenetrable thicket located on the bottom half of a steep mountain side. He was entering this protected sanctuary a good hour before daylight and not coming out until a few hours after dark. In other words, a window of opportunity to connect with this nocturnal nightmare didn’t seem to exist.
Toward the end of September, I eased into the edge of his bedding area and cleared out a spot to grow a small ambush food plot. I planted winter wheat, clover and several no-till food-plot mixes. It was strategically located close enough to his bedding area that he would feel safe sneaking into it just before dark. I was hoping the ambush plot would buy me some daylight opportunities.
Strategically growing a small ambush food plot consisting of clover, winter wheat and no-till mixes on the edge of the nocturnal buck's bedding area helped create a shot opportunity. (Travis Faulkner photo)
With the plot in place, I carefully mapped out my entry and exit points to a setup location that would allow me to enter, hunt and exit the area without bumping the buck or other deer nearby. I made a make-shift ground blind on a high point overlooking the ambush food plot and monitored the site with multiple game0-cameras. I figured by the time rifle season and colder temperatures arrived, I might be able to catch him leaving his bed a little earlier than usual.
Pushing the Envelope to Close the Deal
With high rutting activity happening and approaching cold fronts, I decided to hunt the buck all day, from daylight until dark. My cameraman and I were sneaking into the area a couple hours before daylight – without flashlights – and staying until nightfall. On several occasions, the buck slipped past us just before daybreak and would come back out into the food plot after nightfall. It was extremely frustrating to be that close and not be able to shoot.
An approaching cold front and snow storm created the perfect hunting conditions to connect with the tough nocturnal mountain buck. (Travis Faulkner photo)
Finally, we got the break we’d been waiting on for two whole seasons. Some approaching winter snow storms and the right wind direction were forecasted for one morning. As luck would have it, the buck eased through the food plot and into the thicket right at daylight. I could pick him up in my rifle scope, but the light wasn’t good enough to clearly capture the shot on camera. It was like being gut punched; I badly wanted to go ahead and pull the trigger.
Fortunately, I knew a second cold front and snow storm was expected to hit later that evening, so I decided to let him walk. During the late afternoon hours, it started spitting snow. I was locked on the thicket and glassing the brush when suddenly a slight flicker of the buck’s tail caught my eye. A flood of emotion ran over me and my adrenaline kicked into maximum overdrive. I immediately whispered to my cameraman to get on him with the camera and get ready.
When the 10-point stepped out of the thicket, my cameraman about lost his mind and the sight of the top-heavy rack got me pretty fired-up too. The huge-body buck looked like he had a rocking chair from Cracker Barrel attached to the top of his head. He stretched his neck out, scent-checked the air, and began methodically working his way toward the ambush food plot.
I could hear my cameraman breathing heavily with every step the monster buck took, and the next few seconds seemed to take an eternity. He momentarily paused before entering the plot and my crosshairs were already dialed into his sweet spot behind the shoulder. One deep breath and a gentle squeeze of my trigger caused a loud echoing blast to break the evening silence. The buck instantly rose up on his hind legs and staggered into the tall weeds of the overgrown coal-strip before crashing hard to the ground. Two years and countless hours of scouting, working and hunting were rewarded in a few short moments.
The moment was undoubtedly a special hunt my cameraman and I will never forget for as long as we live. Intense scouting consisting of running a network of game-cameras and strategies allowed us to break into the buck’s comfort zone, which helped create a shot opportunity on an extremely tough nocturnal giant.
Mature bucks receiving intense hunting pressure are completely different animals, and sometimes you have to push the envelope to make things happen, especially when you’re chasing shadows.