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Indiana Buck for the Hat Trick

shannerdrake

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Feb 14, 2017
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Indiana
2023 for whatever reason played out to be potentially my most exciting and memorable hunting season. However, despite closing strong, it started out with a struggle.

Around February, I got bit with the turkey bug worse than ever. I drove my household nuts working calls and getting ready. My wife threatened to burn my calls, dogs were peeing on the rugs when I’d start yelping, you get the point. I set up a Tennessee, Indiana, and Michigan turkey hunt. I had decided that this year I would, for the first time ever, bag three turkeys in the spring. Without going into detail, I didn’t kill a single bird.

No biggie, I was turning 40 this year and a long-planned Alaska moose hunt was going to happen. Until it didn’t. Luckily we found out just in time to get in on the CO draw and I drew an elk and mule deer muzzleloader tags that I wasn’t sure I would. You can read about that hunt in my elk thread. But the punchline - I called in and shot a busted up 6x6 bull and three days later shot a 170in 4x4 velvet mulie. It was a trip of a lifetime (at least my lifetime).

After getting back from CO I had a great September and October and got in a great dove hunt, then a great pheasant hunt, and a great duck opener.

As November neared, I set my sights on Indiana whitetails. I joked with my friends that my plan was simple, shoot a big mature whitetail and closeout the 2023 Hat Trick.

Problem was, EHD smoked our hunting property and by estimation, we lost about 70% of our bucks. Our farm over the last 10 years has produced dozens of P&Y bucks and four legit Booners including one in the 190s. Despite 500+ acres of prime habitat, we had exactly two mature bucks on our property. One we called the Big 8 and one we called the Big 9.
 
Dang, you hunt all those places, DNR must love you for what you pay in licenses, just got back from Indiana (residence in Michigan) and got 5 deer but paid like 800 bucks for out of state licenses.
 
I made a pact with my hunting partners and told my wife that I was only going to shoot one of two bucks this year and the likelihood of that happening was slim.

My first hunt fell in November 3rd. I drove down the night before and laid in my sleeping bag so excited I struggled to sleep. It was time to hunt the rut! I drew first pick and decided to climb into my favorite stand since the wind was right. My buddy climbed into my second choice. By 9:15 my phone vibrated. I answered with a whisper and quickly learned that my odds of killing one of the two mature bucks had decreased by half. The Big 9 was dead. My buddy had pulled it off with the second pick and the big boy followed a doe in to 30 yards.

I was excited for my buddy but realized a hard season just got harder. IMG_2288.jpeg
 
That left the Big 8 and I doubled down and said that he was the only buck on our property I would shoot. I checked all our camera intel and sightings and concluded there were three stands that would give me the best chance. I also hung a fourth to give me an alternate wind setup.

I then proceeded to have a pretty boring season as I sat the same two stands over and over and over. On November 10, I got in stand a little after 6am and had to get down at 11. It was a bucky day and deer were moving. A nice 8pt (but not Big 8) locked down a doe 60 yards from my stand and put on a show for over an hour. I texted my wife and work and said I needed more time and decided to sit another hour. At 11:56am Big 8 walked through at 80 yards. Way out of range and uninterested in my grunt, snort wheeze or rattles.

You get one or two encounters with a mature buck in a season if you are lucky. I wondered if that was my one.
 
Several boring sits in the same stand later still no Big 8. However, camera intel and even a sighting by the landowner confirmed he was alive and still in the area. By this time I had named the local squirrels and memorized the yardages to every trail and shooting lane.

In a moment of weakness I took a chance on an evening hunt over a little fresh cut cornfield. It has timber on four sides and is only about 120x600 yards. I decided a decoy might be the ticket.

I got in clean walking a nearly dry riverbed and setup the decoy. Only an hour into my sit I had a doe work within 60 yards of the decoy. I notice she’s looking down the tree line a little nervously. I turn slowly and see a really nice buck working the wood line. He ain’t the Big 8 but he’s even better and he’ll do! I get my bow ready. He’s going to pop out at less than 30 yards. I’m already loading him in my truck…in my mind.

Then he gets to 60 yards and deadlocks his eyes on the decoy. Turns his ears back and stomps his foot. I’m thinking I’m going to get to see a show! Then for reasons I cannot explain. He turns inside out and runs full speed to the next county. I can only assume the deer gods are reminding me of my pact to only shoot Big 8*.

That’s two mature buck encounters and not an arrow loosed. Things aren’t looking good. However, there’s still hope. Tomorrow the wind is shifting, I can sit a new stand, hopefully name some new squirrels, and most importantly IT’S THE GUN OPENER!!!!!!!!

*worth noting, we got a pic of this buck the next morning not too far away and he had an arrow wound to his neck which would explain why he was super skittish.
 
I get up extra early. Pack extra food, water, and clothes and intend to sit all day if I have to. It’s a cold morning. A cold front blew in the night before and the wind made a hard shift and is straight out of the north.

I can’t help but be excited as I hear gunshots echo across the countryside. Just after first light a couple does work through. I hold my gun waiting for the buck that I know is trailing behind. But no bucks follow. There ends up being surprisingly little deer activity, but the squirrel rut is in full swing.

About 10am I catch movement about 100yds away down towards the river. I pull my binos up and see three does working up the hill towards me. They end up crossing about 50 yards upwind of me. I pick a couple of openings in case a buck follows.

20 minutes go by and I decide no bucks are in tow. But I catch a glimpse of antlers down in the bottom. I get the binos in him and I can’t believe it - THE BIG 8!!!!

My excitement dissipates quickly as I notice he’s working the wrong way. I grab my grub tube quick and let out a quick loud grunt. Nothing. I try again, this time I lay into it and make a grunt that would normally clear the woods. But he stops. This time I hit a soft tending grunt. He turns. I trade the grunt tube for my rifle.

He turns around and starts closing the distance then at about 80 yards, he hits the trail the does walked on 20 minutes earlier. And he goes frantic! Nose to the ground he is sniffing and covering ground. I remember earlier and know I’ll have a 50yd window coming up if he stays on the trail. He comes up to the opening and yell at him to get his attention. He freezes and I squeeze the trigger.
 
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BOOM! The shot echos and he takes off down hill at a full sprint. I start wondering if I missed! My phone vibrates, my buddy heard me shoot. I whisper the story, while making sure nothing pops out.

I wait the longest hour of my life for my two hunting buddies to show up (that’s probably a little dramatic but you get the point) and we take up the trail. It looks like someone was shaking an open bucket of red paint! After about 20 yards I feel like I’m tracking a dead deer and my excitement grows. Despite the most amazing blood trail I’ve ever followed, I travel over 100 yards before I finally see a white belly.

What a relief to get my hands on him. He’s not a huge buck by any means but he was the top dog on our property. This was the first time I’ve ever went all in on trying to kill a single deer. I know folks do this all the time, but it was a new experience and definitely a different feeling of accomplishment, not to mention fulfilling the 2023 Hat Trick!
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Dang, you hunt all those places, DNR must love you for what you pay in licenses, just got back from Indiana (residence in Michigan) and got 5 deer but paid like 800 bucks for out of state licenses.
Yeah I’m definitely over $2k in licenses/tags this year. Also another $1k in preference/bonus points. The nonresident fees are crazy.
 
For a little icing on the cake if you would, after a stop at the butcher, and a happy drive home, my wife and I did a quick flip and headed up to Michigan for a thanksgiving week getaway.

We kicked things off with a tour and tasting at Journeyman Distillery followed by a stop at Driers Meat Market for some snack sticks, tub cheese, and Liverbest!
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However, the real icing on the cake, was a day after thanksgiving fishing trip. My wife and I hit the water about 8am and despite a slow steelhead bite, managed to have a pretty good day jigging up walleyes and smallies including my three best smallmouth on three consecutive bites.
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After getting back and a few nights of sleep in my own bed (after 10 nights away) I decided to get to work on the euro mounts on the Big 8 and Big 9. The pic below is a side by side of my first buck off the farm 11 years ago next to Big 8.
 

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