Note: The video of the hunt follows my story.
“Throw out some corn, and deer will come.”
That was my thought process on states that allow baiting for deer as a legal hunting method. As a hunter that has never hunted in a state that allows baiting for deer as a legal hunting practice, it was hard for me to except the practice. Until I tried it.
I grew up hunting whitetails in Illinois, and other Midwestern states. I had never had the opportunity to hunt over bait, and never thought I would take the opportunity. It just seemed too easy to me. Growing up on a grain farm, I knew firsthand how deer flocked to corn and soybeans. Plus, with all the deer “food” on the market with special ingredients to attract deer, it just didn’t seem fair to hunt over a bait pile.
When a friend invited me to hunt whitetails in Kentucky at Central Kentucky Outdoors the opening week of the 2016 season, I had mixed emotions. It was a great opportunity to harvest a velvet buck, but it would be over bait.
It should have been an easy decision, but it took me the better part of the week to say yes. We arrived in Kentucky the day before the archery season opened, and did some scouting. The deer were definitely there, and coming to the bait. The temperature for the week was going to see highs in the low 90’s, and the acorns were dropping steadily. If anything could mess up hunting deer over bait, those two factors would do it.
Another obstacle when hunting early season whitetails in September is the huge mosquito population. It was not something I had thought about going in to the hunt, but luckily I had my Thermacell lantern packed in my truck. The lantern is not typically thought of for hunting, but it saved the hunt in my opinion.
Our outfitter, Jeff Braasch, had plenty of trail cameras of big bucks visiting the food, but the temperatures had most activity at night. There were a couple bucks showing up in the evening at one farm right before dark.
Knowing this information, our first hunt would be on one part of the leased property where some doe management was required, and one particular old doe that was blind in one eye was on the hit list. John had trail cam photos of this doe for the past 6 years, and he would like to see her removed. Evidently, this doe would not allow other does and bucks to eat, and it was time to remove her genes from the herd.
Getting in our stands about 30 minutes before first light on opening day, I was already thinking of recipes for the doe I would shoot as soon as the feeder went off. Shortly after first light, well before the feeder went off, 2 young does walked within 10 yards of my stand. The shot opportunity was there, but I was holding out for the old doe.
She finally arrived about 15 minutes before the feeder turned on, and hung out in the area for a while. Finally, when she was standing broadside at 7 yards, I let an arrow fly. With a loud thud, the arrow sunk to the dirt as it flew over her back.
A lot of things played out in my mind as to why I missed her. Maybe it was the steep angle at close range, maybe it was doe fever. But, the bottom line is I missed her.
Later that afternoon, I made my way to a section of the property where a nice 9-pointer in full velvet had been seen coming to the bait just at dusk.
I hunted hard for 4 hours and the only action was coons, turkeys, and a few does. I learned something about hunting over bait that night. The bait does attract the wildlife, and in some cases, too much wildlife. If a buck would have approached the bait when the turkeys and does were there, I doubt I could have gotten a shot off without being busted.
The nest morning found me back in my doe stand, waiting for old one-eye. She never approached the feeder that morning, but there were plenty of does in the area, that it would only be a matter of time before I had one in the skinning shed.
There was no early activity that morning. Actually, it wasn’t until about an hour after the feeder went off that I had my first activity. Six does came through the area, circling wide around the corn that was on the ground in front of me. They were headed straight to the acorns. However, one doe strayed off track, and offered me a clear broadside shot at 21-yards. Again, my arrow sailed right over her back.
Disappointed, I returned to camp, ready to throw my bow in the nearest river. Instead, I took out the target, and made some practice shots. Somewhere along the way, my sights got bumped, and I was shooting high, very high. After a few shots, and some adjustments, I was once again hitting the bullseye. That was a good reminder to me to always take a couple practice shots after traveling. It is something I always do, but for some reason I failed to do it on this trip.
As it was getting closer to time to head to my stand for the evening, my confidence was up, and I knew that I was prepared to make a good shot. All I needed now was for a “shooter” buck to show up.
With about 45 minutes left in shooting light, the 9-pointer that we were wanting showed up from behind. Unfortunately, the buck and I noticed one another at the same time. The buck did a couple blows and bounced about 30 yards off. He knew something wasn’t right, but wasn’t for sure exactly what it was.
The buck continued to act nervous for the next 15 minutes, but he knew where he wanted to go. There was a 4-foot cattle fence separating him from the bait that was 20-yards to my front. Throwing caution to the wind, the buck traveled 100-yards down the fenceline before making the jump over.
Once over, the buck quickened his approach to the bait, where a doe already was. The buck still knew something was up, but between the bait and the doe that appeared to be in no danger, he thought it was worth the chance to proceed.
At 29-yards the buck stopped broadside and began to show signs of being nervous. I knew that if I was going to shoot that this was probably going to be my only chance. Pulling my bow back, I took a deep breath before settling my 30-yard pin tight behind his front leg. With the click of the release, the arrow traveled true as the Carbon Express Maxima Hunter tipped with a Rage Hypodermic made contact. Red blood immediately began to flow.
The buck traveled about 150-yards up a hill before staggering and finally falling. He bounced right back up, turned my direction, and ran directly towards the tree I was sitting in. At full speed, the buck crashed in to the cattle fence that my tree was nestled against. With a backwards somersault, the buck came to his final resting place.
The 9-point was not in velvet, but had been the previous day according to trail cam photos. I had no idea that bucks lost their velvet that quick. Regardless of being in velvet or not, I was proud of this buck. I overcome two misses, made a perfect shot on a nice buck, and walked away with a better understanding of states that allow baiting. As hunters, who are we to judge hunting practices? We should support hunting as long as it is done in a legal and ethical manner. The weapon of choice, and to bait or not to bait should not be questioned.
My Kentucky buck measured 133 4/8-inches and field dressed at 206 pounds. He was not my biggest buck I have ever killed, but one I will never forget. Along with the lessons I learned, it was a trip I will never forget.
Be sure to follow us on Facebook.