The “Coming of Age” of a Manager and a Property
By Dana R. Rogers
After five years of intensive management and passing all young bucks, I had developed a history with a couple that sported some respectable “bone.” I’m sure fellow “gamekeepers” can understand the special place I’d developed in my heart over the years for these beautiful animals. What started out for me as a simple goal of having a better quality hunting experience turned into something much different, it wasn’t just the habitat and the local whitetail deer herd that was changing, it was me.
From my early beginnings of weed-filled food plots, bloody hands from fencing and broken down equipment, I’d grown not just as a hunter / manager but as a man. The journey produced numbers of unique whitetails that I could identify from photos taken on the many trail cameras situated across the property. A few really earned a spot in my daydreams.
Meeting the Duke
2008 was the third year of our management project. There was a particular buck I’d estimated at the time to be four. He carried a beautiful 5x5 set of antlers and a distinctive flyer off his left G-2. I recognized him as a buck that sported a drop tine as a two and three year old and I decided he would be the first buck I’d try to target.
Try as I might, I could not get him within bow range. So after a week of rifle hunting came and went without getting a look at the buck, I changed tactics and sat in a ground blind on the edge of a food plot. I finally saw him emerge from the tree-line 200 yards away and I videoed him jumping the fence into a thick plot of Bio-Mass. I’d mowed a couple of strips into the plot so I hoped he would move through one of the lanes. Eventually, he did just that. I had to make a decision - if he turned toward me, I’d pick up my bow. If he turned away, I’d grab my .300 Win Mag.
The camera recorded as I put down my bow and grabbed my rifle. The buck turned and walked straight away to scent-check a doe. Just as the he turned broadside I touched off the round. He wasn’t more than 100 yards away...how could I have missed? I wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t happened to me, but I’d managed to miss cleanly at 100 yards. Strike #1.
In 2009 the trail cameras revealed he’d grown a drop tine once again. He was a frequent visitor in October and into November. That year I’d decided to stick to archery equipment into November and if it came down to it, I’d pull out the muzzleloader in December. I’d drawn the “coveted muzzleloader tag” so I could always make use of it during the late season if I failed to get him during the archery season. That decision was a tough one to stick to as I saw him several times but not in archery range.
I just needed a break. The muzzleloader season was around the corner but I was limited to the weekends. One time I was able to video him for several minutes just out of range. My bad-luck continued as I watched him saunter off, leaving me holding my muzzleloader.
On the last morning of the 2009 muzzleloader season I went for broke and moved very close to his sanctuary bedding area on the edge of a field of Maximum. I set up the camera and hung my muzzleloader in the tree next to me. Deer funneled in and were hanging out right below me…I was covered up in them. The late December temperatures had me bundled up yet still freezing.
Finally, the buck came into view from a distant field. As I moved slowly to turn the video camera on and put the muzzleloader into position, one of the deer below me alerted. Being the mature, wary buck he was, he immediately became aware, froze and stood facing me at 50 yards. I didn’t want to take the frontal shot so I waited for him to turn. After a five minute stare down he turned and I grunted while cocking the hammer back. He didn’t like that and bolted off. I fired a rushed shot and stood there in total disbelief. After targeting this buck and hunting him nearly exclusively for two years I’d absolutely blown it not once, but TWICE!
I laughed and tipped my hat to him. That’s how he got his name. I called him “The Duke” because, like John Wayne, he couldn’t be killed on camera! I’d videoed this buck over a dozen times and had him seemingly dead to rights at least four or five times, missing him on video TWICE. He’d made a fool out of me at every turn.
Zane and the Big Ole Buck
One day after the season was over, I was talking to one of the boys I mentor named Zane, and we were looking over all the trail camera pictures of the past few years. When we got to this one particular young buck that I’d been passing for a couple of years, I told Zane this one didn’t have a name and asked if he’d like to name him. He immediately said he’d name him B.O.B. I laughed and said ok then, we’ll name him BOB for “Big Ole Buck” and it stuck.
Honestly though, BOB had me fooled. I couldn’t place him for a while in the thousands upon thousands of trail cam pictures I’d compiled over the years. When Zane named the buck I thought he was a good looking three year old that definitely needed a couple more years under his belt.
After the 2009 season I received news that I was deploying to Afghanistan and I’d be gone the majority of the year. I made plans to hire a good friend to take over working the property, planting all the food plots and checking my trail cameras for me. My friend Joe really took to it and did a phenomenal job, far better than I’d done working it part time a few weekends a month. He did it out of a great friendship more than anything because I’m sure he could have made a lot more money devoting those hours to his many construction projects than he did working for me.
I can never express what the pictures and weekly updates Joe gave me via e-mail and phone conversations meant to me while I was in Afghanistan that year. The pictures and stories he’d relay to me were what I looked forward to most other than the conversations with my family. Joe worked through one of the wettest years we’d had on record. He produced the best stand of corn, soybeans and cool season annuals the property had ever seen. Joe became as enamored with the management philosophy as I ever was, and it showed. Without his hard work and effort, I’m convinced my previous four years of work would have gone down the tubes. With no winter food sources, the herd would have moved several miles away, onto neighboring properties where unrestricted overhunting is common.
After finally returning home in late October and getting reacquainted with family and daily life, I decided to make a trip to the farm to visit the rest of my family. I was only going to be home two days so I really hadn’t planned on hunting, but I’d brought my gear to leave at the farm. Once I arrived, Joe left no doubt he wanted me to get my butt in a stand and enjoy all the work he’d put in. I relented and decided to sit a few hours the morning I was to head back home. As I sat on that cool November morning I felt so blessed to be home and on the family farm I loved so much. It was spiritual. About an hour after daylight broke I noticed a flash of movement to my left. I saw antlers and immediately knew it was him, it was The Duke!
It happened so quickly, as his head passed behind a bush I drew and anchored. He was on me at less than 15 steps and moving broadside. He looked up and you could tell he just knew, jerking to a stop in the shooting lane. It was too late though, the arrow was on its way. It flew true but hit the off shoulder so I didn’t get the full pass through I was hoping for. He streaked off in a flash and I had to just sit down. I was shaking so hard I thought I’d fall out of the tree. I reached for the camera, which I hadn’t even had time to turn on, and I just poured out my excitement of the moment.
After a half hour, I got down and went home. I was confident in the hit but I wanted to give him time. I also knew I wanted Joe to be with me when we finally recovered “our” buck. When I told Joe the news he was in shock. He left his construction site and drove straight to the farm. We took up the trail and about 75 yards from the stand lay “The Duke.” It was an extremely gratifying and emotional moment.
BOB gets a pass...Several Times
The rest of the season moved on and I archery hunted during the rifle season as I’d done the previous year. The buck Zane had named BOB kept showing up, but since I estimated him at four, I really wanted to see what he could turn into at five. I wound up passing him up with my bow during the last day of the rifle season at 30 yards as he tended a doe. I wasn’t disappointed at all. The management mindset had fully taken hold of me. I just knew he had the potential to get better and hopefully breed a few more does.
Having been exceedingly fortunate to obtain another muzzleloader tag, I had the option of coming back a few more days to hunt in December. BOB kept on showing up wherever I seemed to be. I videoed and took several still photos of him from 30 to 80 yards as he fed in the Maximum field in front of my blind several cold December evenings. As crazy as it seems I’d passed BOB so many times, but he kept on showing up, maybe it was just meant to be.
My last morning to hunt I sat in another ground blind looking over a snow-covered patch of Clover Plus the deer had been pawing hard. Just after sunrise a few deer started filtering in. I looked up and BOB was coming right down the path directly to me. It seemed God was sending me a message, kill this buck! I couldn’t get my camera to work in the subzero temperatures so I shouldered the muzzleloader, took a rest on my sticks and sent the .50 caliber Sabot through his shoulder. Upon recovery, I called Joe to come see more of what his amazing food plots had produced during this magical 2010 season.
The Duke had slipped through my fingers so many times and I’d let BOB walk on even more occasions. The rewards and lessons of managing a property are ones I’m exceedingly thankful for. After sending both sets of teeth off to Wildlife Analytical Labs in Texas, the results were interesting. The Duke was indeed confirmed to be six and BOB surprised me, rather than being only four he was actually five. I was happy after I decided to shoot him, but I was even happier to find that he was fully mature. The season culminated with taking The Duke my second day back hunting after returning from Afghanistan and late in the season I killed BOB with my muzzleloader. I could care less about score, as to me it’s all about age and the management. Joe was curious though and he taped “The Duke” at 158” gross P&Y and BOB wound up being 173” gross B&C. My largest archery buck and largest overall buck ever.