In the Midwest, where baiting deer is mostly illegal and high fences are far and few between, hunting a single, mature whitetail buck is generally futile. Unless a hunter has access to the kind of large, managed properties television hunters use across America's midsection, it's a good way to waste an entire deer season.
If a person is prepared to end the season empty-handed, however, the quest can be the greatest challenge in the hunting world.
Few hunters start their season focused on a single animal. The obsession usually requires a glimpse of a buck bigger and better than anything previously encountered.
At least, that's how it happened to me this year.
A week prior to Indiana's archery season, a single trail camera on my 201-acre farm revealed a single, fuzzy glimpse of a buck I thought was unlike any other. Based solely on the single photo, I decided it was worth holding the string on any buck but him.
Two more weeks and thousands of new trail camera shots showed no sign of the deer, however, and with no additional clues to support the possibility that a big buck was in the area, I wondered if my strategy was sound.
I decided it was worth waiting for the persimmon and acorn crop to dry up before giving up on my dream since I knew those crops scatter deer. I hoped the early stages of the rut would also lead him back to my open food plots where does were still camped out.
After seeing very few deer for several days, I finally watched two 120-inch, two-year-old bucks walk by and hoped their daylight strolls were a harbinger of better things to come.
I checked cameras again and to my excitement, uploaded one more photo of the big buck. It was at night again, but at least I knew he existed, was still alive and in the area.
Over the next week, I passed a shot at a monstrous buck that I believed to be four-years-old. He was a wide-racked beast that likely weighed over 300 pounds on the hoof.
As he walked by, I made the snap decision that he would not score as high as the buck I was now calling "the night stalker." I wondered for a moment if I had made a mistake.
Three days later I saw something that convinced me I was on the right track.
In one photo of a bottom, isolated clover plot, the night stalker finally revealed himself during shooting hours. Three days later I entered the plot at noon, prepared to sit until dark on the off chance the old guy would do the same thing twice.
Forty-five minutes before dark he did.
As he entered the plot, I readied my bow. Though I barely moved, the old deer fixed his gaze right on me.
I held my ground and didn't flinch, and after about two minutes he lowered his head and started eating. As I patiently waited for him to quarter away from me and shield his eyes so I could draw, a doe entered the field.
With her as a distraction, I drew and zipped an arrow through the buck as he ate 15 yards away.
A short distance away, I listened to him crash and I knew I had the one buck I wanted.
Though I never score any of my bucks, this one has a 22-inch inside spread, 26-inch main beams, field dressed 215 pounds and tooth aged 4 ½-years-old.
Luck, work and rules
While I am a firm believer that luck accounts for at least 50 percent of all mature buck harvests, there are ways to hedge your bet.
A lot of hard work, sacrifice and patience went into growing and retaining that deer. Without these things, I would have never dedicated an entire season to hunting a single deer in an area as wide open and heavily hunted as the area where my farm lies.
Here are some of the things I do to create an environment where bucks are born and stay until they die.
• 1. I don't kill does. Does need to be harvested and they are, in droves, all around me. I let everyone else shoot up their space, as my farm becomes a sanctuary from killing, gutting, tracking and dragging all year.
• 2. I don't overhunt the farm. Other than my kids, no one else but me hunts my farm. It is the beauty of owning land, regardless of the size. I also don't hunt small game, birds, mushrooms or anything else on the farm. I also certainly do not have any livestock or allow logging.
• 3. I don't use or allow motorized vehicles. Other than to plant food plots, my atv sits in the garage. The 215-pound buck I killed this year required a heck of an effort to get him back to the road using only muscle power, but it was worth it.
• 4. I created a refuge and never hunt it. I identified a dense 40-acre section in the middle of my farm, marked the boundaries and haven't stepped foot in it for five years.
• 5. I control predators and trespassers. I have pressed charges against one of my neighbors and kill as many coyotes as I can all year. Since it is illegal to shoot even wild dogs in Indiana, I go great efforts to fence them out or gather and take them to the pound.
• 6. I work hard all year. While others are fishing and playing all summer, I am at the farm, taking care of food plots, fixing fences and sweating through about a hundred other chores that improve the lives of deer.
Combine all of these factors with luck, and patience, and the result is a place where any deer hunter can beat the odds and harvest the biggest buck on their deer hunting land every year.