Personally, the 2022 season was a struggle for me to say the least. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced a year where so many plans didn’t come together, target animals seem to vanish into thin air and no matter how hard I tried, I could not catch a break. Last year tested my patience, persistence and mental attitude to its very core and right down to the wire. Fortunately, I didn’t throw in the towel early and trusted the one factor, the single variable that has helped me put more giant bucks on the ground than anything else - the Red Moon!
I had big plans for last season, starting in Alberta for the opener in early September. Unfortunately, nothing exciting was showing on our cameras up north. With some world class bucks to chase here in the midwest, I opted to postpone my Alberta trip and hoped we would pick up something good later in the season. That never happened!
I was fortunate (I thought) to have some really good bucks to chase in Ohio, Illinois and Kansas. These deer were showing up consistently right up to the time I was ready to hunt each animal, then as if on cue, each one disappeared! By mid October I had hunted hard at home in Ohio and spent multiple weeks in Illinois and Kansas with nothing to show for my efforts! Before heading home from Illinois in late October, I was checking cameras on a different farm and was surprised to find out I had a really good buck show up during the Red Moon. After the initial pic, I had one daylight pic of him 3 days later, then he disappeared. I was starting to see a trend develop and it wasn’t a good one!
I was vaguely familiar with this buck although he had been a virtual ghost the past few seasons, only showing up on the rare occasion. We were confident he wasn’t living on the farm. Our best guess was the animal was probably 6 years old, based on previous years pictures and one shed that a neighbor picked up 3 seasons ago. Did I have a new target buck? I knew it was a long shot, but I had nothing else I wanted to focus on.
My plan for November was to grind out the rut in Kansas, hoping the giant I saw in the summer would make an appearance. On that trip, I hit the lockdown with pinpoint accuracy, my farm in eastern Kansas was a ghost town. I bounced around for a week, just hoping to cross paths with a mature deer but it wasn’t in the cards. To make matters worse, guess who made an appearance on camera in Illinois during my Kansas rut hunt. Missed again! I had a few days before the Illinois gun season kicked off, so I packed my truck and headed east but never ended up crossing paths with him, gone again. As I made my back to Ohio I realized this deer had only shown up twice on our farm, both times on the Red Moon - was this a pattern or coincidence?
As December came and went, the big buck had become a little more frequent on camera but everything was at night. I’m sure the multiple gun seasons had something to do with his nocturnal behavior, not to mention the fact I was dealing with a 6-7 year old animal that knew the game. By New Year’s Eve, I was running out of time, but I had a couple aces up my sleeve. With a half acre of soybeans left standing on the farm and a small plot of Whitetail Institute Pure Attraction- I knew we had the food to pull him late season. I also had the next Red Moon hitting on the 8th -14th during the last week of the season! With Illinois archery set to close on January 15th things were lining up for a showdown at the 2 minute warning!
I knew I was only going to get one crack at him and I had to make it count. I had to kill him the first night I hunted. If I didn’t get it done on the first sit, I was going to blow a lot of deer out of the field after dark. This would tip off a mature buck like this one and game over.
I wanted the best wind for him - one that would be blowing right in the direction he normally came from. I wanted him to feel comfortable enough to show up before dark, so I had to give him the wind to his advantage. A Northwest wind is what I needed but I wasn’t getting that wind till Friday the 13th. With only 3 days left in season, this was cutting it close, but if I was going to take my best shot at him that was it!
With the season expiring in less than a week, I’m positive this is where a lot of guys would have made a mistake and gone in too early. If I’ve learned anything in the last 42 years of hunting it’s that the toughest part of hunting big bucks is not hunting them - not until you have the deck stacked in your favor! My system for killing big bucks relies heavily on getting it done the first time you hunt a spot for a specific animal. In my opinion, when you combine the right wind for the animal you are hunting (in his favor) in combination with the pull of the Red Moon, then you add a weather pattern that increases deer activity to the mix- it’s the perfect storm for killing big bucks!
Well, Friday the 13th ended up being my lucky day. The Illinois giant followed 11 other bucks into the field that night, nose to the wind and fed in front of me for nearly 10 minutes before I got my shot. Fortunately, we had placed a Banks blind in this spot earlier in the year for a scenario just like this one. Having 12 deer within 30 yards, all directly downwind of me, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I had to finally open the blind for my shot. Thankfully I had taken the time to spread a calming scent from Raw in front of the blind prior to the hunt and had the Ozonics running in the blind - I’m not sure I would have gotten my opportunity without those products. Call it what you will, I gave him the wind to his advantage and beat him and his nose at his own game and I wouldn't have changed a thing.
The hit was slightly back but he was quartering away at impact, so to be safe I backed out until the next morning. The giant made it less than a hundred yards once he entered the timber and was most likely dead within minutes. His heavy rack sported bases of nearly 7" and carried the mass all the way out. With a 10 point frame, matching kickers off the G2's and a split brow, his green score of just over 180 inches doesn't do this buck or the story of my season justice.
I can tell you with utmost certainty, this deer means as much to me as any other buck on my wallI - maybe more!