When deer hunters tell their campfire stories, they often seem to center around the crazy days of the autumn rut when big bucks are running and grunting their way helter skelter across the land in pursuit of a winsome doe.
But not always. In fact, some deer hunters have some pretty entertaining early-season deer hunting stories to tell. And upon close inspection, there are several solid deer hunting tips and techniques these stories reinforce.
Sportsman Channel television personality Fred Eichler is one of those hunters, a bow bender who has a never-ending supply of hunting tales – and lessons to teach – tucked away into his camouflaged back pocket.
Owner of Full Draw Outfitter guide services near his Trinidad, Colo., home, the host of Easton Bowhunting TV has a reputation for having difficulty holding out for a good buck.
Why? Because he likes to eat wild meat – and his wife, Michele Eichler, excels at cooking venison dishes – not to mention he still has a boyish joy when it comes to seeing a big-game animal walk with a Hoyt bow in hand.
When I asked him about his most memorable early-season buck, Eichler laughed and said he had a story to tell.
“I grew up hunting public land since we didn’t have money for leases and such,” said Eichler. “Back then, I shot a lot of what walked by and I still do at times; I just love bowhunting.
“And I like to eat wild game,” he continued. “In fact, my wife told me yesterday that we were out of meat in the freezer so I needed to go shoot something.
“Well, a few years ago, we had finished up with our clients and I was out trying to shoot a western whitetail. I had some time to hunt and film, so it wasn’t long before we were up in a treestand with a camera going.
“My guide said ‘Fred, you know what’s out here from all of the trail camera photos, so please, don’t shoot the first legal buck that walks in.'”
Was the popular bowhunter – who incidentally was the first archer to complete the Super Slam of all 29 North American big game animals with a recurve bow – able to stay on mission and complete the task?
“Well, the first one that walked by was legal but a little guy,” laughed Eichler. “I looked up at my cameraman and he shook his head no.
“Then another buck came through, a small eight-point and he said ‘Don’t even think about it, I’m not even going to turn the camera on.’
“Then a good, solid 130- or 140-inch whitetail started through and I looked at him and he whispered ‘Ok, I still think you should wait but I’ll turn the camera on.’ The buck came close enough to my stand, I drew my recurve and I shot it.”
The lesson from Eichler’s early-season bowhunting tale? If you want to shoot a big buck, you’ve got to be willing to pass up the little guys. Even if it’s your cameraman who is making you do it.
But sometimes, the bucks of early autumn aren’t little guys. Take the hunting tale from my friend, Dave Price, for instance.
A retired Air Force and commercial airlines pilot, Dave’s late father owned a farm in eastern Virginia not far from the Washington, D.C. beltway. But the deer living there didn’t seem to know they weren’t far away from the nation’s Capitol even if Dave – or, Junior, as most of his friends call him – did.
“My most memorable early-season hunt took place on my family’s farm in Loudon County, Virginia, during the archery season of 2008,” said Price.
“Late-summer and early-fall scouting showed that a trophy 10-point buck liked to hang out near our barn before daylight and he lingered in the fringe growth for 30 to 45 minutes after sunrise.
“He always came from a wooded, swampy corner of the property walking with his back to the sun as it rose.”
The buck seriously intrigued Junior, who is a former board of directors member with the Dallas Safari Club and a current worker with the DSC’s Dallas Ecological Foundation.
The more he thought about the deer, the more he knew he wanted to try and arrow it with his Hoyt compound bow when the season opened.
“We had a number of hay bales stacked and stored near the barn,” he said. “So I let the grass grow really tall around the bales – against my father’s wishes, I might add – and (when the season opened) I snuck into the hay bale stack at 4 a.m. after rearranging the bales to make a shooting blind.”
Then it was time to wait for shooting time and the arrival of Mr. Big.
“I was totally concealed in a natural setting and scent free on a cool, crisp overcast morning,” said Junior. “The big buck eventually came out and grazed within 20 yards, presented a quartering away shot opportunity and I recovered him in our back pasture after he traveled less than 100 yards.”
The lesson of the Virginia hay-bale-blind buck Junior tagged? Pay attention to early-season movement patterns and strike quickly if a buck is making consistent appearances in the same spot during daylight hours.
If Junior’s Commonwealth buck has a lesson to teach, then so does a deer taken by Tom Rainey, the marketing director for Browning Trail Cameras.
“Admittedly, I play it a little close to the vest deer hunting, but years ago we had an old house on a farm that we hunted and it overlooked some fields that were typically planted in either soybeans or corn,” said Rainey, who now lives in Collierville, Tenn.
“The house had been abandoned for several years, so the wildlife didn’t pay much attention to it at all (and) we routinely hunted out of it instead of bringing in new blinds or stands. And we had a lot of success out of it.”
Including one year when Rainey was a youngster, just starting to try and figure the deer hunting game out.
“Actually, my most memorable early-season buck really wasn’t that big at all, but the lesson is one that nobody seems to talk about,” chuckled Rainey.
“It was my last juvenile hunt in Tennessee. I was in the ‘old house’ that we hunted in so often and as the last afternoon started nearing sunset, two bucks fed their way out into the field at the foot of the hill.”
According to Rainey, the light was getting low even if there was still plenty of legal shooting time left.
“My father’s friend that was sitting with me said ‘Take the nice eight,'” he recalled. “So I shot and the deer dropped in its tracks. Problem was, I had always been hesitant to tell people that I really couldn’t see all that well. So I had (actually) shot the little basket-rack 5-pointer because I couldn’t tell which one was the nice 8-pointer.”
What’s the lesson of Rainey’s early-season story? Don’t fail to notice how deer react to their day-to-day surroundings, especially as they feed in certain spots or walk near old abandoned buildings, farm implements, certain trees, a gap in a fence line, etc.
And needless to say, get your eyes checked out too!
“I finally gave in and went to the optometrist and had glasses soon thereafter,” chuckled Rainey. “But I always look back and wonder how many good deer I didn’t take in my youth because I was too hard headed to get my eyes checked out.”
For Major League Fishing and BASS pro Brent Chapman, his best early-season whitetail story is more about the buck he didn’t shoot rather than one he did.
“My addiction with bowhunting whitetails really started back around 2000,” said Chapman, the 2012 BASS Angler of the Year who lives and hunts in eastern Kansas.
“I remember I had gotten a new bow, I had gotten some carbon clothing that was highly recommended to me, I had got this new (game) camera (and my goal that year) was to go out and shoot a deer with antlers outside of his ears.”
When Chapman viewed the first photos from his new game camera, he had shots of a respectable 8-pointer roaming the family farm. Going into the archery season, he thought he’d be tickled to death to harvest the deer, given the opportunity.
But then he climbed into his early-season stand and thought differently.
“On one of my very first hunts that year, I could have shot that buck,” said Chapman. “But for some reason, I didn’t since it was still (so) early in the season.
“In Kansas, once you shoot that buck, you’re done. So I let that animal walk and it was a good thing I did.”
Why? Because a few weeks later, Chapman found himself pulling his bow back on the buck of a lifetime.
“I went out the first week of November and killed one of the largest bucks I’ve ever killed,” he laughed. “It gross scored in the low 180s and netted around 168 inches as a typical.”
The lesson here? With a long season of deer hunting, if you’ve only got one buck tag in your back pocket, be very careful how you spend it.
Because sometimes, good things – and huge bucks – come to those hunters who are willing to be patient and wait.
Just ask Brent Chapman.