Yeti

A Broken Paradise

KipCarson

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 5, 2019
Messages
449
Location
Bossier City, Louisiana
As I prepare for another deer season, only a couple of weeks away from the October 1st opener here in Louisiana, it always has me thinking back over past seasons and the most memorable deer of my life. This time of year always has me hoping for a repeat, but that will likely never happen and I’m ok with that! I thought I would share an article I wrote that was published in Bowhunter Magazine back in 2013. It’s the story of my hunt for a deer I called Zeus. Its a long read but if you stick around to the end I hope you enjoy it!

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A Broken Paradise:
Mother Nature’s fury transforms a good whitetail area into a big buck hotspot.

The tornado wasn’t kind to me at all, or at least at first it didn’t seem so. It didn’t destroy my home or belongings, leaving my life in shambles, but it did destroy my favorite hunting spot. As I slept at home, oblivious to the tumultuous thunder storm outside, I had no clue that oak and hickory trees were being blown apart and twisted into one massive game of pickup sticks, leaving behind a mess that would have taken a skilled logging crew a week to straighten out. Fortunately, nature, in its divine design, has a way of healing itself, and the real damage was only temporary. The once shaded forest floor responded to the direct sunlight of the open canopy and produced a wonderfully dense thicket consisting of primarily American Beauty Berry, Carolina Buckthorn, and several species of smilax. The tornado had taken a block of woods that was usually only popular with whitetails during the fall acorn drop and turned it into a year-round bed and breakfast. It was in this piece of broken paradise that a legend walked into my life.
Bow season 2012 started as fast as a herd of sleepy snails. My hopes had been high, but the weeks leading up to the opener had been plagued with a cloud of events that seemed to spell disaster for my season. Between invasions from feral hogs, almost zero deer activity, and trail cameras conspiring to all break down at the same time, I was having a rough time. In addition, I would miss the second week of season traveling for my job. Usually I would be greatly distressed at the thought of losing a week of hunting, but it didn’t seem like I would be missing much with my current prospects.
Before leaving, I decided to take my one functioning trail camera to my tornado alley thicket to scout for me while I was away. While looking for a place to set up my camera, I came across a faint trail with a track that seemed to be abnormally large. The best part about it was it looked like whatever had made that track had been there frequently. Immediately I knew this is where my solo camera must do its work while I was out of town. Just weeks prior, I had commented to my dad about the ravaged hilltop and said, “I have a feeling that thicket is going to pay off big in the coming years with a great buck for me.” I had no clue how true those words would be.
The track consumed my thoughts and I couldn’t hurry home fast enough to see what behemoth had taken up residence in my thicket. Upon my return, I quickly swapped memory cards and rushed back home to see what had transpired in my absence. After feverishly downloading the images, I must have let out quite a shriek when they appeared because my wife immediately came from the next room to see what was wrong. I reassured her that nothing was wrong and everything was just right! I couldn’t believe my eyes. Right on my computer screen, sauntering around in broad daylight, was a buck that was unlike any other deer I had ever captured on camera. The best part was that he had been there repeatedly throughout the week. For the next few days I was walking on clouds every time the thought of that buck entered my mind, and that was often. It didn’t take long before this amazing deer earned the name “Zeus” because he was definitely a buck of mythical proportions!
The first issue I needed to work out in my new all-consuming quest was hanging stands. The camera had given me the recon I needed to get started, but I didn’t have a stand up anywhere in that area. Hunting Louisiana in October has its own set of special challenges. I couldn’t just sneak in, hang a stand, and then immediately hunt it. If I did that I’d be drenched in sweat in the 90-degree heat and would smell as sour as the local hogs.
Monday evening when I got home from work, I gathered all of my gear and got ready to start my guerrilla warfare hunting strategy. I left for the woods around 10 p.m. when I was sure Zeus had gotten up and moved out in his nightly forays, hopefully far away from his home base, my precious thicket. The best stand trees were now gone, and finding good cover to hide in had become much more challenging. I did the work by headlamp the best I could with the sparse cover I had. But after all, it was up to Zeus to choose the location of my hunt and this is what he had chosen, so I would have to work with it. It is much more effective to go to the deer than to just hope the deer come to you.
My broken trail cameras were my second hurdle. Trail cameras have revolutionized modern bowhunting strategies with the massive amount of information they can provide when used properly. To effectively pattern Zeus I needed a small army of cameras in and around the thicket that would give away his patterns and deliver him the the tree where I would eventually choose to hang a stand.
 

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KipCarson

Well-known member
Joined
Aug 5, 2019
Messages
449
Location
Bossier City, Louisiana
I only had one camera, but fortunately I have a friend who has scores. After hearing my need and the pleading in my voice, he was gracious enough to loan me several to aid in my quest. I started by back tracking the trail Zeus traveled toward the area I though he was bedding. Since everything was thicket with no defining topographic features to funnel him into one area my strategy was to blanket the immediate area with cameras to get a clearer picture of his movements. I would spread out from there until I was as close to his bed as I could safely hunt.

From the first camera location I went up the trail about 60 yards to the first split and positioned a camera there hoping to figure out which fork he was using the most. The other cameras were placed on different trails coming out of the thicket. With every camera check I would log the time, date, and his direction of travel. It’s easy to keep in mind what is happening a few days on one camera, but weeks of data from multiple cameras can get confusing. Because of this I sometimes create computer spreadsheets to keep tabs on a bucks habits. Many patterns jump out at you when you look at it on a page.

Over the next few weeks I started getting to know Zeus better. The stakes were very high, and I knew every move into the thicket needed to be carefully planned. With every camera check I would add a piece to the puzzle, but there were those days when I would find that he had not made any appearance at all, leaving me in agonizing despair. Time was ticking by, and with every day closer to the rut the chances grew of him changing his patterns or severely damaging his antlers in some primal clash with another monarch of the woods.

Zeus had stopped making daytime appearances, but I would frequently catch him moving just after dark, close enough to legal shooting light to keep my hopes up. If I was to kill Zeus it was imperative that I set up close enough to his bed that he would come by before I lost shooting light.

After weeks of scheming and strategizing, all of my data was pointing me towards one particular part of the thicket that I had been avoiding in an effort to lower the chances of making my presence known. It was apparent that I must make a short visit into this area in order to find the final piece of the puzzle that would be Zeus’s undoing.

My chance came one rainy morning. The shower was light, but it was enough that it would soften and noise that I made and wash away any scent I might leave in the process. Entering as cautiously as possible, I slipped through tangled trunks and decaying limbs toward the core of Zeus’s bedroom. It was there that I found a most wonderful sight: a highly polished tree about four inches in diameter was on the edge of the trail before me, with another a few yards further. It was the missing link. At the end of this rub line is where I needed to hang a stand.

November 2 found me in a foul mood. Zeus had disappeared for six straight days. He had never gone missing for that long before. I didn’t know why or where he had gone, but he was gone. After hanging a stand by the rub line several days prior, I had made one afternoon hunt there and saw nothing. My only thought was that somehow I had alerted him to my presence and caused him to vacate the area. I had captured no pictures of Zeus on camera there, but I knew this is where I should make my play.

Dutifully I made my way to the stand and waited all afternoon without any sign of hope on the horizon. With minutes remaining until I had to climb down and head home, I had become despondent. Then, as a twig snapped and a leaf rustled, my heart stopped as I caught sight of an antler moving through the brush. As he headed toward me down the trail, I recognized the familiar kicker sticking off the left side of his G-2, and knew immediately that all my hard work and study was about to pay off. I just had to hold it together and keep my nerve for a few more seconds.

When Zeus closed the distance to a scant 12 yards, he stopped like he had just hit a brick wall and lifted his nose in the air. Freezing for a few seconds with his head behind a tree gave me the chance I needed to draw, and as he turned nervously to leave, my arrow buried through his shoulder and found its way to his heart.

He had been so close I’m not sure he hadn’t been alerted by my pounding heart rather than picking up a scent that wasn’t quite right. Either way, he was found at the end of the most spectacular blood trail that I have seen in my life. Moments like these are best shared, so I waited on my wife, my brother, and my dad to join me in taking up the trail.

I will readily admit that I shed a few tears of joy as I knelt by Zeus that evening. It was the culmination of the three most intensely anxious weeks of hunting in my life, and they had ended in a way I had only ever dreamed. My little piece of paradise, once so broken I thought it was beyond repair, now seemed complete and whole. Never again will I see that ravaged hilltop as broken and flawed. It’s the way it’s supposed to be, shattered trees and all. And I would never change it.

footnote: The numbers don’t really matter that much to me but when people see him it always comes up so here it is. He scores 176 and change and he’s been bumped down a few pegs in the book but last time I checked he was still sitting at the #10 slot on the all time Louisiana archery records.
 
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