The Never Ending Season
By Bob Coine
Working the 2005 Iowa Deer Classic for the Quality Deer Management Association was an absolute pleasure. Having an opportunity to visit with so many good people, who take their deer hunting as seriously as I do made the 3 day show end far too quickly! Sharing memories and tales of triumph and escape, lessons learned, and anticipation for the upcoming season really made time fly.
The greatest part of our common interest in the white-tailed deer is that each hunt, each deer, antler and day afield is so unique. So much to experience and every day is different. Maybe that is why after 25+ years hunting, I still can't seem to get enough, and judging by my discussions with folks at the Classic I am certain I am not alone.
As time passes we begin to look for more ways to lengthen our deer season. I guess we could call it the quest for the never-ending deer season. Here in Illinois, the middle of January isn't just the end; in fact it is also a beginning. Of course there are the directly related activities such as spotting and glassing the survivors of the hunt. Keeping a watchful eye on the bucks, eagerly anticipating antler casting. Hunting diligently for those bone appendages, all the while scouting rubs, scrapes and bedding areas and filing away all of this newfound information to be put to use the following hunting season.
It wasn't always like this. Don't get me wrong, I always looked forward to the fall. However that was the beginning, coupled with a finish line in the middle of January. It seemed so natural, a start and a finish.
Then the fever hit, I wanted more. I wanted to become an enhancer; I had a dream of acquiring the ultimate wildlife/hunting property. A diamond in the rough, destined to be polished and polished until it became a prized gem. I wanted to locate just such a property, and be a true steward of the land. Leave it far better than I found it, for the future inhabitants both four legged and two, furred, feathered, scaled or human.
But above all, I wanted to build whitetail paradise. A place where I could count on an opportunity, not a guarantee of success, but an opportunity at a wall hanger each season. How long would this take to achieve? I had no idea, but was certain that if I did not start on day one, it would only delay the desired outcome.
The first order of business upon securing the land was an inventory of what I had purchased, followed by a drawing up a list of things to do.
From day one I would not allow any experienced hunter to harvest a young buck. No exceptions. None. This of course was prior to my children being born, and the anticipation of their first hunts. Now that the dream of a balanced buck population is a reality, with all age groups well represented, I have no problem at all with the possibility of a young buck falling to an inexperienced child's shot.
Habitat enhancement was also at the top of the list. If given a choice a deer will choose to live in paradise, I believed it at the time and am more convinced than ever today. By choosing to live in paradise, that young buck would have greater opportunity to live till maturity. Food plots, security cover and browse would be the priorities.
An all out assault was launched and results were continually reassessed. Looking back I now have the answers to some of my most important questions. If you build paradise will it hold not just deer, but specifically bucks from buttons through maturity? Yes and no. Some will depart for parts unknown, possible die an untimely death. Some will depart, only to return for unknown reasons years later. And finally some will stay.
How can I be so sure? Well for years I have taken great pains to document my bucks, through video, photographs and shed antlers. And the immense satisfaction of watching them pass from immature, naive rascals into prime mature bucks cannot be overstated. Putting them on the wall is bittersweet. Getting to know their habits for bedding, feeding and rutting almost builds a bond with these individuals. Learning about their individual personalities also creates a bond. I'll give you an example of an old friend I called 'The Beast'.
Beast was the most cantankerous mature buck I have ever seen. A bull of buck, thick bodied and dominant. His antlers would never score very high in any record book, but were very noteworthy and attractive to me. Beast had a very narrow spread, beams that swept up, and tines that although uneven, had enough height to give an overall impression of his antlers heading skyward.
But the disposition of this buck is what earned him his name. With the onset of the rut, he turned into the most belligerent, downright nasty bucks I have ever witnessed. By the time he reached 41/2 years he was top dog, and was not at all hesitant to prove it. He owned the place. He patrolled his area constantly, affording regular daylight sightings and capture on video. He brawled his way to the top, and brawled to stay there.
I pursued him for 2 weeks straight during the rut, including walking up on him while changing stands due to wind changes. Did he run? Go nocturnal? No way, not Beast. He'd see me and glare, then very slowly strut away. The day I slayed the Beast, he was a shadow of his former self, his 300 pound plus frame shrunken from the rigors of the rut, but still patrolling, checking does. His thick beam snapped, some tines broken, but awesome just the same. No quit in that buck at all. Is that the end? Of course not, every time I look at him on my wall I can still see him in all his glory.
For the past several years I have watched another youngster with very similar antler characteristics, and an identical personality patrol the place. The first time I saw him I named him 'Little Beast', always sparring with his yearling pals, and even taking on 2 ½ year olds. As a 2 ½ year old he became even more visible. He couldn't care less if it is day or night, he owns the place and struts the same as his old man. Yes the Beast is still here, living within his son Little Beast. When I see him I can't help but see his dad a few years before, weird eh?
This is but one of the many benefits of Building Whitetail Paradise. A chance to hold bucks on a property, but also getting to know individual deer. The fondness developed for many of our bucks here really is a byproduct of studying whitetails in general. As a serious QDM'r I not only have the opportunity to hunt for a buck, but have the opportunity to hunt specific bucks.
This season marks the 5th straight I have been fortunate to harvest a specific known target buck. At the same time, my string was also broken this year. The Monarch eluded me, although I did come close three times, I didn't close the deal. I gave up the chase towards the end of season by releasing an arrow on a gorgeous buck. But those are stories for another day.
If you would like to watch Little beast grow from year to year, as well as get to know some of our other bucks, I encourage you to purchase the Building Whitetail Paradise DVD. In Volume 1 you will find a portrait of the Beast and I, and also footage of Little Beast as a yearling, if you can pick him out. In the soon to be released Volume 2, you will learn if your guess was accurate and meet him as a 2 ½ year old. I'd bet a few years down the road after he matures, you just might see us together in his final portrait!