Boon*er*i*tis: n. A mental disease contracted from the act of searching for and pursuing large-racked, mature whitetail bucks. The only known cure occurs when the infected bowhunter is successful in the quest. However, reinfection usually occurs immediately after the close of the current bow season.
MY NAME IS BEN. I’m a blue-collar logger, outfitter and coon dog man who loves God, family and country, and I have Booneritis.
We all have our own passions and goals. Each of us gets a different type of satisfaction from hunting and we should support each other, from meat hunters to trophy hunters to the youngsters looking for their own place in the woods. When I was new to bowhunting, my goals were different. Rut now, with many seasons under my belt, the thing that excites me most is taking free-ranging, Boone and Crockett-class whitetails. I’m not a greedy horn hunter; I’m just a man who likes to pit himself against the odds.
My joy comes not from simply filling a tag but from the experience of chasing an animal as rare as a “Booner.” My choice of weapon is a bow, which adds to the challenge. I started bowhunting at the age of 14 in Ohio, where I’ve lived all my life. I’m now 37, but at the age of 27 my life changed forever when it came to whitetail hunting.
It was then that I had my first chance to hunt a Boone and Crockett buck, a giant nine-point typical that grossed 184 inches. I remember that hunt like it was yesterday. The feeling that came over me the first time I saw that buck feeding in a soybean field in July was the greatest rush I had ever experienced. I spent countless evenings trying to catch him on video and it created a new passion–staying undetected and learning a single buck’s habits and weaknesses.
One evening I watched the buck use a small fence gap to get to the bean fields, and even though the surrounding trees were small, I had to try to get close. So I mustered up the nerve to move in to a mere 75 yards of his half-acre bedding area. I waited for a windy day to hang my stand and used an old fencerow and a deep ditch to conceal my approach. I positioned the stand so I could climb up out of the ravine into the stand, never crossing a good deer trail. I only trimmed and moved brush when it was windy, and I stashed the cut branches in the ditch so I would not tip the buck off. I waited for a cold front with a north wind and an early rising moon to put the buck on his feet early enough for a shot. Luckily, I only had to wait two days. On October 23 I got my chance.
I vividly remember avoiding eye contact as the buck slowly worked his way from his bedroom to my stand location. I feared he would “feel” the effects of the adrenaline surging through my veins and pick me off with his sixth sense. That didn’t happen, and I made the shot on the magnificent buck!
Ten years have passed since harvesting that nine-pointer, and what I’ve learned in that time about chasing Booners would take a lot of paper, but I’m going to try to cover some basic tactics and facts that could help you take your dream buck. In the past 10 years I’ve been blessed to have killed five bucks from 176 to 204 inches in Ohio, and some great 150 and 160-class animals out of state–all on tape, on pressured land. I’m not bragging. I’ve screwed up along the way, but I have learned what it takes to get it done.
You Can’t Kill What Isn’t There
This is the number-one fact in hunting big deer. You cannot kill a deer that doesn’t live on the property you’re hunting. Yes, some get lucky and encounter bucks they didn’t know existed, but I’m not wasting my time on luck. I spend hours each year researching new properties, scouting and running Reconyx cameras on farms looking for a target buck or two. Some people golf, some play softball, and some fish. I hunt year-round by shed hunting and spending the summer scouting. Finding a giant buck and acquiring permission to hunt where he lives is the first step.
Once you find a buck and have access you need to decipher the property, learn who else hunts there, and how the neighbors hunt. Check for stands on property lines, especially those on the upwind side of potential bedding areas. Such a scenario would indicate to me there’s a slim chance of finding a big buck using such an area. Use that knowledge to move on and find the true hideout of your target buck.
One way to do that is by setting up trail cameras on as many edges as possible around summer and/or early fall food sources. Knowing where a big buck lives and how he moves are the most important factors that will put you within bow range. Once I find his bedding area, I never penetrate the timber close to it. I basically just stay away from it so he feels no pressure. Now, depending on your competition or how nocturnal the buck is, you may have to get aggressive at some point and hunt his bedroom or close to it. Big bucks that live on heavily hunted land are a lot harder to drop the string on. You also have to hunt smarter by capitalizing on major moon and weather patterns that may give you any sort of an edge.
The Most Recent Payoff
This past season I killed a 193-inch buck I called Picket. I got the first photo of him in May and he was growing a split brow tine. I got him again in July on a different part of the same farm. I knew he wasn’t living on the farm because I had 10 cameras running on that property. To only capture him twice in three months was a sure sign he lived close by, but not on the property. I could only hope a pattern would develop as fall approached. I just kept running my cameras and monitoring the farm, hoping to figure him out. He showed in late August and twice in early September, which gave me hope because he was on the same treeline all three times. It was a normal travel route from bedding hollows to acorn ridges and crop fields. I instantly made my setups for two different wind directions and crossed my fingers he would show up during the season.
By September 26, our opener, Picket wasn’t showing himself enough to hunt him hard. I decided to wait until I knew he was back. That time didn’t come until October 21, when the bucks were just starting to mark up scrapes and nose a bit.
One evening, from my observatory position, I caught Picket working the treeline and knew he would only be around for a day or two. I hunted the next evening but he didn’t show. I knew he was still around, so I left most of my gear and my camera arm in the tree overnight. I got up early the next morning and planned my approach to the stand so I would avoid as many deer as possible on the way in. I jumped a few deer bedding in the CRP but just kept walking like it wasn’t a big deal. Once in the stand and settled, I waited for daylight and thanked God that I had the chance to hunt such a great buck.
As daylight broke,1 could see a few does and small bucks working from the timber and across the CRP field to another bedding hollow. I knew the deer were coming from some ripe white oaks and a distant soybean field. As it got lighter I could see a few mature bucks working some scrapes on the distant woods edge. They seemed a little on edge and with good reason. They knew Picket was around and he was a seriously dominant buck that was a roamer and a threat. It was October 23, and the first frosty morning of the season. Things just felt right!
As some does started working the treeline I was sitting on, I kept watching for the buck’s giant rack to appear. Seven does and three little bucks had walked within 20 yards of my stand, giving me confidence that the high pressure and late-falling moon was keeping my scent up and the deer moving.
I was videotaping a doe in the distance and another one right under me when all of a sudden Picket stepped out of the timber at 34 yards. He started working a scrape and I started to get the camera focused on him and get my bow ready. Long story short: It took five minutes of him scanning the area and slowly sniffing everything around him to move enough to give me a shot. I got my opportunity and made the most of it! He fell within 75 yards of my treestand. All my homework, patience and resistance to hunting when the conditions weren’t right had paid off. I tried to hold back my emotions, but it was hard. Picket ended up grossing 192 7/8 inches–a true giant.
Here are some other tips for hunting big bucks:
- Hang your stands more strategically, and keep them hidden from the view of others as much as possible.
- Never hunt the wrong wind. Ever.
- Avoid letting other hunters on the land know what you’re hunting. Just be another good ol’ deer hunter and you may find it easier to get along with them. Big bucks turn people against one another and create envy problems. Just kill big bucks every year and you’ll find out how many friends you don’t have!
- Once I’ve located a big buck’s core bedding area, I start keeping notes on how he moves past my cameras and what wind direction brought him there. I number my cameras and transfer the data to my Reconyx BuckView program on my computer where you virtually see the pattern open up like a book. A notebook and aerial photos will work also if you’re not keen on computers. You will start to see a pattern unfold after a few weeks.
- I also try to keep a routine in checking my cameras the same way at the same time, every time. Bucks have boundaries on which I feel they accept human scent, but if you cross that boundary it’s over. I try to establish these boundaries early by running my cameras on the field edges or timber transitions to CRP. I’ve found they get used to where I’ve been and eventually accept me. The key is for them to not associate you with danger.
- I check most of my cameras once a week and try to use my pickup to get as close as I can, but I keep the pattern the same. Soybeans, clover and mast crops are my major edge camera sites.
- Did I mention I’ve killed all my Booners except one in September and October? When they are slaves to their stomach and not worried about does or other bucks, they are far easier to pattern. Take advantage of it!
- I often set up observation stands or locations where I can watch food sources from a safe distance. Nothing teaches you more about the deer on the farm than this. You learn where all the deer live and how they move, what bucks hang together, and what areas to avoid.
- Give yourself plenty of options for the prevailing wind directions and barometric pressure by hanging multiple stands, but concentrate on placing one or two stands that will give you the best chance of getting in bow range the first few times you hunt the deer. I always opt for trees that offer the most cover rather than height. I hang hundreds of stands when outfitting, and I believe cover is the most important factor. I’ve taken big bucks from only seven feet off the ground, but I had good cover to hide me.
- Always cut decent shooting lanes. If I’m setting up early enough in the year that deer will get accustomed to it, I like to pile the branches at the base of my tree. If I’m “hanging and hunting,” I remove the debris so I don’t give the buck something to sniff.
- It should go unsaid, but always practice shooting your bow.. Sadly enough I see the results of poor shooting every season. You need to practice shooting in stands, blinds or however you plan to hunt. You basically need to be a finely tuned machine with your nerves completely in check, and be able to perform the shot as second nature.
You will definitely make a mistake at some point. I still do. But just keep ticking and remind yourself that it isn’t easy. If it were, everyone would have Booners hanging on their walls! My guess is there is just a tiny percentage of bowhunters who have more than one Booner on their wall. To be one of those bowhunters takes extreme dedication, and a severe case of Booneritis.
Just remember, there is only one cure. And it’s temporary!