Date: November 12, 2016
Time: 7:14 a.m.
Temperature: 32 degrees and falling
Weather: Sunny and clear
Barometric Pressure: 30.08 and rising
Wind: 5 mph NNW
Moon Phase: Waxing Gibbous

After an epic rut hunt in the Land of Oz, I was primed for my final rut quest of 2017. The five hour drive flew by and before I knew it my Bridgestones were rolling on familiar ground. It was late, nearly 10 p.m., but the brightness of November moon illuminated the sandy red hills of western Oklahoma. Yes, I returned to my little slice of Sooner State heaven and couldn’t wait to meet up with my good buddy and owner of Croton Creek Adventures, Scott Sanderford.

After a late-night planning session that included milling over a few trail camera photos and discussing wind direction, entrance and exit routes, we developed a solid plan for the following morning.

Under the cover of darkness, I tiptoed into a small finger of timber located near a known bedding area. Even though Scott wasn’t picking up a ton of bucks on trail cameras, he was picking up the most important November ingredient of all — does! Lots and lots of ladies were calling this area home, and we knew it was just a matter of time before a few big boys started cruising.

The morning temperature was perfect, and a heavy frost covered the ground. I didn’t see a single deer for nearly an hour, but then again, I didn’t expect to. I was about 500 yards from a winter wheat plot, and I figured the ladies would take their time filtering back to bed.

Finally, the first doe popped into view with her fawn in tow. They appeared exactly where I expected them to — in narrow opening that connected the food-to-bed travel corridor with the heavy bedding cover. Rather than heading in for a mid-morning nap, the pair wandered around the opening for a bit. Perfect! Live decoys!

Ten minutes had passed when the mature doe snapped her head to attention and burned her gaze into the heavy bedding cover. She stomped the ground just as he emerged — a mature 8-point that quickly set his radar to chase mode. The fawn dashed away as the buck pushed the doe in and out of the timber. Satisfied she wasn’t ready, the buck let her go and began strolling in my direction. I grunted him to a stop at 24 yards and let the arrow go. It was low. It was back. Crap!

The buck bounded forward a few yards and then stopped and began a slow, steady walk. I stayed in my tree for an hour after I lost sight of him before making the long walk back to my truck.

I was sick, disgusted and pissed. I shoot every single day of the year so things like this don’t happen, but as I’ve said many times, this sport will humble you quickly. After talking things over with Scott, we decided to give the buck 5 hours. I was confident I caught the back of one lung, and in this case, because of the angle, hopefully opened the guts. My arrow was still in the buck so I couldn’t inspect it for stomach matter, but the slow steady walk told me I’d gotten in the paunch.

Five of us tracked specs of blood for over two hours before the trail dried up. I made the decision to walk up a hill and into another patch of timber. Experience has taught me that wounded animals, contrary to popular belief, will go uphill when hit. I didn’t see a spec of blood going up the hill, but the moment I descended into the bottom of the draw I found some stomach matter along with a few spots of blood. At that same moment a deer blew out of the cover in front of me.

Scott’s wife, Joni, was on top of the hill and saw the buck. She marked his point of travel and described it to the group when we all got back together. She noted that she couldn’t see blood, but that the deer didn’t run very hard on his escape. Being that this happened less than five yards from where I’d discovered the last blood, we knew it was the same deer.

I knew the odds were stacked against us now. We’d bumped a gut shot deer and that, as many of you know, is never good. Why didn’t I give him more time to expire? Because coyotes in this area are thick, and I was confident I caught the bottom of one lung and possibly a bit of the liver.

We gave the deer four more hours and returned to the spot where Joni watched him go over the hill. No blood. No nothing. We wandered through the tall CRP and thick creek bottom, but were unable to find any sign of the deer. Later that evening, after darkness swallowed the land, we climbed up on a long ridge and looked for the glow of my Nockturnal nock. Nothing.

It was sleepless night, but we were all confident the deer was dead, and we weren’t giving up. The following morning we returned to the scene with ATVs. Before combing the area, Joni showed me exactly where she’d seen the buck travel up the hill. I went to the spot and found a pin drop of blood. Scott and I tracked the blood on our hands and knees for 120 yards. The buck was on the exact trail Joni had pointed out, but after jumping the fence, the blood trail took a weird turn. It went left. Not right. We were puzzled. Joni is a seasoned hunter and was confident the buck we’d blown out the previous day went right.

Again, we lost the blood. The buck had made it to the wheat field, and we figured that although the trail led left, he eventually cut right. He had to. I stepped back and looked at the landscape. To my left was a timbered draw that we hadn’t searched, and to my right was open CRP and a distant creek that we combed numerous times. Why would a fatally wounded animal take the long route when access to dense cover was available only a few yards away? I took a chance.

I hadn’t walked 30 yards into the draw when I found the first spot of blood. That spot quickly gave way to another spot and then another. I was elated. I yelled for the crew and a short time later we found my expired prize.

We came to the conclusion that the buck Joni saw was a completely different animal — one that was bedded right by the last blood and took the same trail up the hill as my wounded buck. Yes, that was bad luck, but it just goes to show that if you never give up and keep up the search, good things will happen. I could have easily convinced myself that the buck was going to live — that he would never be found — and I could have just gotten back in a stand. But I didn’t. We stayed the course and were rewarded for it. What a magical season this has been! Three mature deer in three weeks. Lord, I love the rut!

How did your season go? Any crazy stories you’d like to share? Drop me a line at jbauserman@grandviewmedia.com. I’d love to hear from you.