Bowhunting Halloween Bucks

Posted on August 10, 2011

This bowhunter’s dream of owning his own land and managing it properly for big bucks finally comes to life—and in a way beyond belief

buck hunting

The author with his 2010 Halloween-day buck, which was the buck he and his friends had called “Palmy,” due to his heavy, palmated 12-point frame.

By Eyad Yehyawi

Living in Iowa my entire life, I had always dreamed of owning my own farm, a sacred place where I could pursue my passion for hunting and the outdoors. That dream became a reality in the spring of 2005, when I purchased a small acreage right out of school and vowed to make it the best I could in regard to bowhunting and wildlife management.

It wasn’t the typical property so commonly advertised today; big buck photos were absent, there were no massive rubs or scrapes tattooing the property, and food plots were non-existent. Not to mention the fact that the farm was overrun with ATVs, had no security cover and had been heavily gun hunted in years past. In my heart, though, I felt it held promise, knowing that sound management and time could yield tremendous results, especially in the great state of Iowa. Working closely with good friends, we slowly began planting food plots, establishing sanctuaries and hunting the edges as best we could. We didn’t take any bucks the first three years, but it really wasn’t our decision—we just didn’t see any.

bowhunt

While many believe that food plots are the key to big whitetails, in fact, it is security cover that will yield the greatest returns in holding big deer.

Bucks Move In

It wasn’t until 2008 that we began to see our work pay off. More bucks were beginning to show up on the property, and it finally felt like it was all coming together. We had drawn up and carried out plans regarding sanctuaries, food plots, timber-stand improvement (TSI) and CRP establishment, and the deer were beginning to notice. Trail cameras had become an invaluable tool for us while transforming the property and allowed us to witness the changes as they unfolded.

In late August 2008, I was checking pictures and noticed the image of a young deer with interesting antlers. His palmation and character were evident, and I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that he was calling my farm home. While the ever-watchful eyes of the cameras had captured other deer, thereby fueling our dreams of the approaching fall, I couldn’t help but wonder if we would ever see him again or what he would become. We decided to call him “Palmy.”

Finding the Big Shed

Time passed. While on a shed hunt in March 2009, coursing along a deep ditch near a hardwood ridge, I noticed a white tine protruding from the oak leaves. It had become the property of the woodland mice long before I had noticed it, but the palmation and ensuing mass were obvious. I knew it had once belonged to Palmy.

The warmer months soon arrived, and in the summer of 2009, another fleeting photo appeared of a nice buck with a similar frame. Palmy was growing up. However, other than one other photo of him, no more photos or sightings took place that fall or winter. We had heard of a large buck being shot on the adjacent property that November, but they had been unable to recover it.

Before long, the short, brutal days of winter transitioned to spring, and it was time again to begin work on the property. The heavy rains throughout the Midwest in 2010 had not allowed any of our agricultural fields to be planted, and many of them became vast jungles of foxtail, ironweed and other grasses. This fortress of vegetation enhanced the security cover, which, in my opinion is the heart and soul of property management, and more bucks continued to surface. We were excited, to say the least, because two distinct bucks were showing up regularly on the cameras and seemed to call our security cover “home.”

The author found Palmy's shed in March 2009.

The author found Palmy’s shed in March 2009.

Preparing for the Season

In August, I decided to hang a stand on the backside of a ridge where it dropped down to a valley below. This area was a classic edge, with an area of secondary growth meeting mature timber. Needing to travel vast distances to seek out the first does coming into cycle, I knew bucks would strategically use the terrain to mask their travels and keep them out of harm’s way. Just like a large bass or musky, these bruisers will use edges to navigate their travels.

Rather than be skylined along a ridge top or exposed in the middle of a field, big bucks will often course along the first break in a ridgeline or cut across an inside corner of a field, using various terrain features to safely navigate their territory without exposing themselves.

The bucks would start cruising in late October, looking for the first does in estrus, and this was a classic terrain trap. If I could place a stand immediately along the downwind side of this ridgeline, where the two habitats blended into one, I might catch a big buck cruising through. The only problem was that an east wind would be essential to make this plan work, and in this part of Iowa, that was a rare occurrence.

And so the work began. Thankfully, my good friend, Seth, came along with me that hot August day. He would be assisting me with trimming and stand placement, as well helping out if an accident occurred. When we had finally finished, I took one last look around and said, “I need to raise that stand up another two feet—that hickory branch will alter a shot if one comes through this lane, and you never know.” Seth was less than amused and just looked at me with dismay as the mosquitoes kept biting and the 90-degree weather worked on us. Still, the stand was moved, and while I thought it might be overkill at the time, little did I know how important that move would become.

The author and his wife on Halloween Eve. Balancing family time with one's bowhunting passion is important—even it if means dressing up like a turtle on Halloween!

The author and his wife on Halloween Eve. Balancing family time with one’s bowhunting passion is important—even it if means dressing up like a turtle on Halloween!

The Hunt Begins

It was Halloween morning. For the first time that season, I began my ascent into the large oak Seth and I had last visited in August. I felt the breeze hit my neck and carry over the valley below. This was good. Suddenly, a melody of footsteps came from the ridge below: Crunch-crunch-crunch-crunch. Oh, no! I looked down; there came a 2 ½-year-old 10-pointer—a nice deer but one that I had no intention of taking.

You could tell the young buck was in love, without a care in the world, and I let him walk by with my bow still on the ground. I was just thankful it wasn’t “Mr. Big.” Still, it was a good sign they were out cruising, and now I was feeling a bit more awake. I pulled my bow up, nocked an arrow and sat down to enjoy the morning. Ten minutes went by and light began to fill the woods. It was beautiful.

At 7:30 a.m., my ears brought me to attention, and my eyes followed suit. Here come tines, long tines. I grabbed my bow. Then, I saw a small, streamlined body with a rack supported by thin bases. I know this deer; he’s young and will get the pass.

Three minutes later, I noticed that the demeanor of the young buck was changing; he was getting very nervous. Is it my scent? The wind seems perfect, and he’s still upwind of me. He was looking intently down the ridge and standing stock-still. Then I heard it—the faint sound of walking among the fallen oak leaves. The sound got louder and steadier, and the young buck was still staring down the ridge, not moving a muscle.

Here He Comes

After 20 years in the Iowa woods, I know one thing: Something is coming, something bigger. Suddenly, the younger buck took off fast. I was getting nervous. What was coming up the ridge?

Then, I saw him. A giant main beam appeared, ghosting over the ridge, coming right at me. His thick neck and shoulders were intimidating, and the hair bristling on his back revealed that he wasn’t amused by the younger buck. Then it hit me, and my heart began to beat faster: This buck was Palmy, and he was coming right at me!

I felt handcuffed and couldn’t move for fear he might see me. Why didn’t I pick up my bow earlier? Palmy realized the other buck had heeded his warning and slowly veered to my right. The wind continued to blow from the northeast, and I was still in good shape. However, if he continued to my right, the show would soon be over; Palmy would catch the wind and with it, my scent.

Twenty more yards and Palmy would hit my scent stream. I had no bow and I was turned the wrong way. This wasn’t looking good. He kept coming and his rack was not getting smaller. Suddenly, he stopped on a dime and sensed that something was very wrong. The wind was still in my face, but what was going on? Then, I immediately realized what it was and couldn’t believe my foolishness: He had cut my entry trail, a cardinal sin when hunting big whitetails, and I knew better.

I was tired and decided to cut through the one area I shouldn’t have, because it was easier, and now Palmy knew it. He stood there, not moving. A big buck will often vanish the same way he came after realizing something is amiss, leaving a bowhunter shaking in his tree—with a broken heart.

The Stand-off Continues

Minutes pass as he stood, absolutely still. I started scanning. Palmy was literally in a thicket of cedar and multiflora rose, and all I could see was an eye here, an ear there. Scanning to my right I spotted it—a small opening that might afford an opportunity for a shot. The arrow would need to travel over a set of hickory branches—the same ones that had motivated me to adjust my stand height back in August. I couldn’t believe what was unfolding before my eyes.

I noticed Palmy was calming down. His tail flickered, and he began to walk toward the opening. I slowly reached for my bow and then glanced back up. Did he see me? No, he is still walking.

Once turned, I instantly that a shot would, in fact, present itself. In one quick motion, the release clipped onto the string and I came to full draw. I let out a subtle Merp with my mouth, and the giant stopped in his tracks, swiveling his head toward me. The pin settled for 25 yards, and I released the Slick Trick-tipped shaft, watching intently as the arrow headed toward the Midwest giant.

I saw Palmy drop a bit and whirl, but not before the arrow disappeared into the crease. A solid thump echoed through the hardwoods. I was shaking. I noticed Palmy as he ran off over the ridge and disappeared. I didn’t hear a crash but waited for 30 minutes. I then descended to look very cautiously for my arrow. It was nowhere to be found, and although I was now a bit more concerned, I did as I always do: leave quietly and treat each shot with a worst-case scenario approach.

Calling in Help

Being fairly certain that the arrow had entered on his right side, I knew the worst-case scenario would point to a liver hit. If I had contacted any bone such as the shoulder, it would have been audibly evident. (Paying attention to every detail after a shot is one of the most critical aspects of any bowhunt. It can make or break your recovery.) It was quite plausible I had taken out both lungs, but always planning for the worst case is never a bad idea. I elected to wait for four hours for my good friend, Don, and his son, Seth, along with his uncle, Bobby, to accompany me back into the woods with a lot of hope and a bit of despair.

Once they had heard the news, my friends wouldn’t have it any other way and chose to drive all the way back from a Missouri youth hunt to help. Sometimes, you forget the value of tremendous friends.

On the Trail

We couldn’t find the arrow, so we elected to “slowly” meander in the direction Palmy had run. We took our time as we looked for even the most-subtle sign Palmy may have left behind.

Finally, Don, one of the best trackers I know, said, “I have blood.” It was sparse but steady, darker in color. As I followed along, I realized it was a good call to have waited so long to begin the track.

We pressed on. At 200 yards, I was getting nervous, despite the steady flow. At one point, I considered backing out, but Don convinced me to keep pushing. The blood at times became lighter in color and frothier, but never once did it stop, which is a testament to a razor-sharp broadhead.

We went down two hills and a ditch; no deer and no beds. We were then at 300 yards. Down into another creek, and I was really starting to worry.

I ventured further into the creek and then heard Don’s brother say, “Well, you can keep blood-trailing if you want—or just go look at your deer.”

I crested the bank. There was Palmy. Words can’t describe how I felt. He had a magnificent 12-point frame, with massive beams and palmation.

Undoubtedly, if I had pursued Palmy immediately because I saw the arrow hit “perfectly,” things may have gone differently. The broadhead had, in fact, centered the impact-side lung before clipping the liver, so giving Palmy time was the best decision we had made.

I was proud of this deer, the hard work it took to get to that moment, and those friends with whom I shared the experience. Palmy was the first deer harvested on my farm that had a history, a little legend spoken between close friends.

It was fitting that Palmy was my first Halloween buck—a true “ghost” of the hollow. He will not soon be forgotten.

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