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Random chaos: relying on the rut relying on the rut to bring public-land bucks to you can be frustrating, until it's not.

Predictably, our conversation centered on bowhunting deer as we crossed into South Dakota, and then eventually into Nebraska. My hunting partner, Ryan Hawkins, and I were on a rut-hunting mission to north-central Nebraska. Two pieces of public land, totaling about 1,500 acres, were our final destination.

We had hunted deer on these properties once in 2012, and we'd had a pretty good hunt. Some insight gained from that first hunt, plus a few spring turkey hunts, helped us formulate a plan for our return trip. On each end of the main property, pinch-points at the top of a bluff filtered deer movement. We had witnessed it before, and knew that if we put in enough time, we'd probably be rewarded. We also knew that there would be other hunters on the property, but that they'd likely stay low on the creek-bottom.

Arriving with just enough daylight left to see, we strapped our stands and sticks to our packs and sweated our way up the bluff. I left Ryan at the base of a pine tree to sort out his gear, while I hiked to the far end to do the same. The tree I had chosen to hang my stand in had been conveniently trimmed by another hunter in the past. In fact, nearly every tree I'd sat in on the property had been trimmed in the past by someone else--testament to the hunting pressure there.

As I made my way back to Ryan's tree to head back to camp and set up our tents, I spotted a young buck trotting through a picked cornfield to our east. His nose-to-the-ground, oblivious nature got my heart racing, but 1 also knew that the rut was a mistress that could potentially be both awesome and frustrating.

As a lifelong Minnesota resident, I've learned to hunt outside of the rut. Our firearms season opens the first week of November, which means that nearly all of my home-state bowhunting occurs outside of the rut, and I've grown comfortable with that. This is not to say that I don't love the rut and what it can do, but I don't rely on it as much as a lot of other bowhunters do. I'm also somewhat skeptical of the rut, knowing that while things can be absolutely crazy during the first couple weeks of November, they also can be very disappointing.

Late into the first night, with a dying fire between us, Ryan and I discussed the possibilities of having an all-out chasing fest occur around our stands in the morning. It was November 8, so that was definitely not out of the question.

Here Comes The Cavalry

The ceiling of my tent was covered in glistening frost when I awoke to the sound of my phone's alarm. After lighting a lantern, I started to heat water on my camp stove while listening for the stirring of my hunting partner. We were fully dressed and sipping coffee by lantern light when the first truck pulled in. Then a second set of headlights cut the darkness. Then a third.

We filled our Thermoses up with coffee and were putting on our packs when we spotted a bobbing headlamp start up the hill. Ryan and I exchanged glances, grabbed our bows, and headed uphill as well. Our plan was to catch up to the hunter and figure out where he was headed, so we wouldn't be on top of one another.

At the lip of the bluff we caught up to the hunter, a very nice fellow from Michigan whose father was hunting the other property we planned to sit. He mentioned that his stand was about three-quarters of the way down the property, which would take him well away from Ryan's stand, but would probably put him close to mine. The Michigan hunter and I walked together down the fenceline after dropping Ryan off.

As we neared my stand, he said he needed to drop down the hill, so I wished him good luck. It was still early enough that not a hint of light breached the eastern horizon when I climbed into my stand and settled in. The moon lit the prairie grass around my island of pines, and immediately I spotted a shape ghosting through the darkness. My hands instinctively went to my chest to grab my binoculars, but instead they found nothing but jacket. In our haste to leave camp, I had left my binoculars on the picnic table. At least I have my coffee, I thought, as I watched the shape of a cruising buck slip into the creekbottom toward our newfound Michigan friend.

When the slimmest of orange slivers appeared in the sky behind me, I screwed the cap to my Thermos on tight and nocked an arrow. A slight breeze bent the grass below me as it whisked past my tree and off over the ridge.

Mistaken Identity

Twenty minutes into shooting light, a lone doe fed her way through the field behind me. She looked almost black in the chopped cornfield, which glowed golden in the early morning light. I was watching her when a horse whinnied in the direction I expected the deer to come from. It sounded close--too close. I wondered if perhaps someone wasn't out for a morning ride, which would not bode well for my chances of arrowing a buck. After hearing the horse, I then heard rustling in the grass and convinced myself that indeed someone was going to ride right past my stand.

Then I heard a grunt punctuate the air. And then another.

Without thinking about it, which was a mistake, I stood straight up and looked to my left. Two racks poked above the grass, and a doe stood staring in my direction. She snorted, stomped her hoof, and then snorted again. Immediately I realized that I had likely blown it, and to make matters much worse, a closer look at both bucks told me that I'd have been very happy with either one of them.

As I stood there hoping the doe would suddenly forget what she had seen, the two bucks started grunting and circling her. She started walking away from me, then turned 180 degrees to trot in my direction. I dialed-in my sight and got ready as she slipped through.

The first buck on her heels was a solid 140-class deer, and I was already at full draw when he hit the opening. For my second encore, I punched the trigger and missed the buck by at least two feet. I hadn't even aimed at him, let alone thought about it. I just drew and shot randomly in the direction of the buck. He disappeared down the hill behind the doe.

At that point, what little composure I may have had left also seemed to travel downhill and out of my life with the deer. The second buck--a solid 120inch deer--started his way toward the others, and I readied myself for another shot. I drew on the buck, but as hard as I tried, couldn't get him to stop. He ran out of my life as well.

My heart sank with the realization that the rut hunt I wanted had transpired in a matter of seconds, and I had blown it. I was plummeting into the depths of a serious pity party when I heard another deer in the grass. This one was heading right at me, presumably to swing wide and cut off the other deer. One glimpse of the buck told me I needed to act fast.

I dialed my sight down to 20 yards and bleated as loud as I could while drawing. At only 12 yards, he put on the brakes and stared forward. He was in a trance, yet it was clear he was seconds away from renewing his pursuit.

My pin floated from his hip to about five inches behind his shoulder and the arrow was gone. The buck bolted at the shot, and at 70 yards he dropped from sight. The entire encounter with all of the deer had lasted maybe a minute and a half, and as I tried to hang my bow up, I realized I couldn't. My motor skills had diminished to the point where I just had to clutch my bow with one hand and the tree trunk with the other. When I finally sat down, I realized that the pine needles all around me were still dancing from my involuntary shaking.

I knew I had hit the buck, and thought it was a good shot, but that was it. Everything else was a mystery I tried to piece together. Then I saw my arrow lying on the ground, and a crimson swath leading through the yellow grass below me.

The realization that I had shot a giant public-land buck didn't do anything to cease my trembling, and that's when I started second-guessing myself. As the encounter replayed over and over in my mind, a young buck caught my eye. When he reached the spot where 1 last saw my buck, the youngster stopped suddenly, and then slowly backpedalled. He cut a wide arc before dropping down to the riverbottom. I knew he had seen my buck lying there, so I texted Ryan. His response was that he, too, had shot a buck.

Double Recovery

While picking up our game cart from camp, a Conservation Officer pulled up.

He checked our licenses and then chatted with us for a few minutes before driving on.

We found my buck right where I thought he would be, and we quickly got him field-dressed and hung up in camp. While working on my deer, the Michigan hunter walked down the hill.

He told us that he had also shot a buck -a beautiful eight-pointer with a 17-inch spread.

Ryan's buck would prove to be a tough recovery. His shot, low and too far back, forced us to let the buck lay for several hours before taking up the trail. The deer led us up and down the hills, before expiring at the base of the bluff not far from our campsite.

It was an amazing hunt no doubt, and I'm only a little ashamed to admit that while I've had some great rut hunts in the past, this was something altogether different. It was unreal, and a good reminder that just because I do something a certain way doesn't necessarily make it the best, or only, way. To punctuate that point, I needed to look no further than the 156-inch 10-pointer hanging between our tents. Or the second buck, a smaller eight-pointer stashed in the shade, waiting his turn on the gambrel. Or the third buck making his way down the hill in a game cart, led by a father-son team who were smiling from ear to ear at their success.


Some of the best lessons you learn on a hunt come via a hardship. During a spring turkey hunt to the same property we would eventually double-up on with rutting bucks, Ryan and I decided to carry blinds, decoys, chairs and gear as far into the public land as we could. A small clearing, visible on aerial photos, was our destination.

Once we reached the clearing, Ryan looked at his bow and realized that his string had derailed. With nothing to do but hunt for a while before going all the way back to camp, he sat there with an expensive paperweight of a bow, while I called-in and arrowed a jake not 20 minutes into our setup.

It was a reminder that not only should you always have a portable bow press like a Bowmaster from Prototech Industries (847-223-9808; with you, you should also know how to use it. I had never seen a bow come derailed from walking through the brush before, but now I know it can happen. And if it does, and you have no way to fix it, you're in trouble. A simple press like the Bowmaster can literally save your hunt. Carry one, always, and learn how to use it.

PHOTOS BY THE AUTHOR By Tony J. Peterson, Equipment Editor


On this hunt, I used an Elite Synergy bow, Easton Injexion arrows, Muzzy broadheads, QAD rest, HHA sight, ScentLok clothing, Cabela's camping gear, Ameristep game cart, and Viking Solutions butchering gear.
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Author:Peterson, Tony J.
Date:Nov 1, 2015
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