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November 12th. It was a crisp morning – the type you dream about in July as you’re starting to shoot your bow in the 85-degree heat. The woods were so quiet that the sound of a frosty leaf hitting the ground made you spin your head in anticipation. Sitting in the bottom of “white valley” as we called it, you can see several hundred yards in each direction with the fall cold and the wind has stripped the majority of the trees of their foliage for the year. All of a sudden crashing up the ridge to the north, I turned to see a doe running west across the ridge, followed by the grunt of a small 8 point whitetail buck in hopeful pursuit. I knew it was going to be a good morning, little did I know it was going to be a hunt that ended with the best buck of my life on the ground – and memories with my friend to last a lifetime.
Like most hunters in the mid-west, I grew up with a passion for whitetails. My experience was much different, our family owned a small piece of property south of International Falls, Minnesota with a shack that my grandpa and his friends pulled out from town in the ’70s. Rifle hunting in the bitter northern Minnesota November cold while seeing only a few deer a day (if you were lucky) are the memories of my youth. While I helped drag out many bucks with my uncles, brother, and father, it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I had the chance to shoot my first buck – a very respectable 8 pointer that at the time I would have considered a giant on a global scale. It was then that my passion grew into an obsession.
I did not start bow hunting for whitetail until college when a friend of mine encouraged me to start practicing with him using his father’s Coleman bow. I really enjoyed it, and that fall picked up the basics required for bow hunting, bought a small hang-on stand and placed that in a tree on public property about 30 minutes north of East Grand Forks, Minnesota. A few weeks later in early October, I shot a small 8 point buck with a clean shot and watched him fall only 40 yards away. I nearly fell out of my stand with excitement! Now, bow hunting had become all I could think about.
A few years later, my friend Isaac Landecker had introduced me to his friend Dan Efinger and asked if I wanted to join them in hunting some property in SW Wisconsin. They had spent the year prior hunting a small piece of property, and since had gained permission from a new landowner with over 200 acres. I was, and forever will be, grateful for the offer – and jumped at the opportunity! After growing up with my experiences in Northern Minnesota – hunting in Wisconsin was like a dream come true. The deer were plentiful, and over the next few years I grew in experience just by watching them and how they acted under different situations – especially during the rut.
My friends and I shot several very nice 8 and 10-point bucks over the years and finally had realized that during the sweet time of November rut – White Valley was the place to be if you wanted a chance to shoot a big buck. That brings me back to November 12th. The morning I will never forget.
Over the next few hours, I saw 9 different bucks cruise through the bottom chasing does – or looking for does. A few of those bucks looked like potential shooters, but I was not successful in pulling them off a doe to see them in range. White Valley offers non-stop action during the rut since it serves as a transition area between food sources, bedding areas, and water – the challenge is getting the deer in range. They seem to travel that corridor without any particular pattern, especially during the chasing phase of the rut. Stand placement is very important, as is a whole bunch of luck. All of a sudden I heard the slow crunch of a deer walked towards my stand from behind me. I turned slowly and caught a glimpse of a large white rack coming at me through the brush. I turned to grab my bow and set my release in place. By the time I slowly moved my body back into position, the buck was already within 30 yards and closing in fast. I finally had a chance to get a good luck at the rack and saw that it was a very nice 9 pointer that we had seen on camera. My heart was pumping and I drew back the bow to wait for my shot opportunity. The buck stepped into a lane and stopped, I took one final look and decided that this buck was not above the caliber I had taken off this property in years before – so I let him walk.
Another hour passed, and I really started to question my decision to let a good buck walk past me in shooting range in White Valley. I looked at my watch, it was 10:45. I remember thinking to myself that it was such a great morning, I had seen 11 different bucks and several does, but I was still disappointed that with all that activity I did not get the chance to shoot a buck. Then up ahead of me I heard more crunching of another deer walking my way. I looked ahead and saw a deer making its way down the middle of the four-wheeler trail that comes under my stand at 10 yards.. The deer was in the shadows of the mid-morning sun, so I could not make out the rack, but I could tell by the body that this deer was definitely a buck. It continued moving forward and at about 60 yards away came into a clearing when I could get a good look at it. The deer had a beautiful chocolate colored rack, with heavy mass – and I immediately knew this was one of the bucks we had on camera from the week before, a great shooter!! He continued to make his way down the four-wheeler trail and I noticed that this buck had a bit of a hitch in his step. I did not think anything of it at the time, but instead grabbed my bow and readied myself for a shot. The buck kept walking with this head down, lumbering his way down the trail. As the buck stepped within 10 yards of my stand I drew back, and he stopped. He had stopped perfectly in a place where I had no shot with two trees and branches in the way, I could not believe it! I waited for what seemed like minutes, and finally, the buck continued to move forward. As he stepped into my shooting lane I let out a small grunt, the buck stooped – looked forward – and I let the arrow fly. The Matthews bow fired true and I watched the arrow strike behind his right shoulder and into the ground behind the deer. He ran about 25 yards away, stopped, and fell to the ground. I had never been so excited in my life!!! I almost immediately started to descend the tree with my climber stand and ran over to get my hands on that deer. I grabbed the rack and was so incredibly grateful that this opportunity had come to me, and said a small prayer in gratitude. I had mentioned that this buck was walking with a bit of a limp, after looking him over I saw that this buck had been shot already with an arrow – right through the hindquarters! I was a little bummed at first, but then realized how grateful I was that someone got to enjoy this fantastic buck instead of having him die somewhere for the coyotes to eat up.
Next, my thoughts turned to take as many photos as possible, then getting the deer back to the truck out of the valley. White Valley is an amazing place to hunt, but does not have any cell phone reception, and is quite a haul to get into. I thought about walking out to call my friend Isaac who was down for the week hunting with me, but then realized he had been on a date with a girl and was not back to the hunting land yet. Yes – he went on a date during the rut, abandoning his friend. After taking dozens of photos, I walked to grab the deer cart and hauled the beast back out to the truck. When I pulled up out of the bottom I immediately called Isaac and texted him a photo – he could not believe that he missed it!! He quickly ended his date and drove back down from the twin cities to celebrate with me.
Two days later, it was Isaacs turn. I had spent that following day getting the deer processed and caping out the hide for a shoulder mount. Isaac had hunted White Valley that day and seen a few bucks, but nothing like the activity I had the day before. We talked about it that night, and ultimately decided he should go back and sit in the exact tree I had been in when I saw 12 bucks and shot 1 buck. Our friend Dan’s father had been out the week prior and had shared with us a few photos of bucks from White Valley. One of those bucks I had just taken, the other was another great shooter buck – an 11 point with an incredible spread. It was about 9:45 that morning, when I received a text message from Isaac – he was holding the rack of the 11 pointers! Both bucks were down! I jumped in my truck and rushed to White Valley to help him haul the buck out. I thought it was the least I could do since he was so helpful in pulling mine out. My wife and kids had joined us the night before, and we took photos of the two bucks and my kids with me in my arms. I’ve never been more excited about a photo in my life!
While both of these bucks are not considered monsters in the whitetail world, I know that all of you can appreciate the excitement in shooting a great buck with your bow, in the company of great friends and family. It is such a blessing and offers memories that we will treasure for a lifetime.