Isolating Your Target Buck

By Ryan Graden

I’ll never forget that first picture of him. The buck that made my mind race and my heart skip a beat. You see, over the years that I’ve been deer hunting, I had set some lofty goals of deer that I would like to harvest in my life time. When it comes to deer, there are some unique traits that I had always hoped to have a chance to harvest. The three most “hoped for” deer were a double-beamed buck, a droptine or double-droptine buck, and a buck over 200 inches.

It was December of 2018 when I checked one of my trail cameras for a routine bi-weekly check as I prepared for the late muzzleloader season. I had already harvested a good “regular” mature buck with my bow that fall and I was in search of a buck that I had a picture of from the previous September, but hadn’t seen on the hoof. I downloaded the SD card and started clicking through the pictures. My jaw dropped! For the first time ever, a droptine buck appeared in a picture. Not just a single droptine, but a DOUBLE-droptine! This deer also had a very unique feature that I had never seen before. His tongue hung out of the left side of his mouth permanently! Like a panting dog, there it hung, extending a few inches past the left side of his chin. My uncle proposed the name “Droptine Einstein” for the deer. Pointing out that there is a famous picture of Albert Einstein with his classic crazy hair and him sticking out his tongue. The name seemed appropriate so from then on that’s what we called him.
That year’s seasons finished and I never saw him in person.

Where Do You Begin-Finding a Target Buck?
That’s a great question. My guess is that if you desire to isolate a certain buck, you are probably a bit of a trophy hunter. Whether your reason is for the antlers, a good heavy buck for the freezer, or both, you have to know who is out there. That’s going to take a little effort. Scouting is a very important part to finding your target deer. For me, most of that inventory happens through the previous fall and winter. As I hunt certain areas of a property, I see a lot of bucks while I’m in the stand. Mostly young up-and-comers that will visit a food plot, pass by my stand, or run by during the rut. Usually, I get to see them pretty well and can tell who’s going to be a good buck in the next few years. By two years old you can tell which deer are going to be those “average” bucks at four years old and who’s going to be a “superstar”! Making a mental note while you hunt through the season is one way to create an inventory.

A second way is by the use of trail cameras. Trail cameras will do an incredible job of creating a list of deer in the area. As I see those pictures through the summer and begin to recognize the different antler patterns, I begin to categorize those pictures into files so I know exactly who’s frequenting the area. Certain bucks will gain a pattern and a “home zone”. If you run feeders in front of your cameras just make sure that you obey all of Iowa’s hunting laws when it comes to baiting and feeding game. Our state does not allow hunters to hunt over feeders.

Zero In on Him
After you’ve targeted a few bucks that you’d like to pursue and harvest, you have to get to know them even better. Again, watching from a distance or using the trail cameras are going to help you in a big way for this. Start to make notes about a few things that these specific bucks do. Things such as, where are you getting the most pictures or sightings of him. Where do you see him most frequently? Another thing to notice is just what time you are seeing him. Is he showing up in the morning hours? Evening hours? During a certain time?

Once you have a location narrowed down, figure out why he is in that location. Is there a certain food source that he’s going to most nights? Is there a certain bedding area that he might be returning to in the morning? Is there a water source that he’s going to at a certain time of day?

You see, deer can become VERY routine in the off-season. Some bucks will use the same trail every time when accessing a food or water source. They know where the want to go, they know they’ve gotten there safely hundreds of times and there’s where your advantage begins. Knowing what bucks live where, why they have chosen that area to live in, and what routes they like to take to those sources for food, water, and socialization with other deer will give you an advantage this season.

Make a plan
Once you’ve made your notes, and the season is about to open, begin to formulate a plan to harvest. You know where he’s coming for food. You know what trails he prefers to use while accessing those areas, start looking for a great place to put a stand or a blind in order to hunt that area for him.

Stand and blind placement are going to be very key to making a successful hunt on a target buck. When placing these there are few things to think about. First, and probably most important is the wind direction. I suggest having a few different stands in the area that you expect to see him in. Never hunt your target buck when the wind is NOT right for his location! Taking a chance has a very small percentage of success. You’ll likely do permanent damage and that deer will be educated to your presence. You may not ever get a chance at him again!

Practice Your Shot
When you finally have your target buck show up, it’s going to take all that you have to keep your cool! Trust me, I’ve been there more than once. No matter how many times you dream of this very situation, when it comes true, there is nothing inside of you that remains calm! That’s the great thing about hunting, however it can also be the worst.

You need to spend time. Take careful aim, work on your accuracy, concentrate on your breathing while you’re shooting, and train your mind to remain calm until you shoot. Too often, a trophy of a lifetime will be lost because the hunter wasn’t well practiced or couldn’t keep his/her cool for the shot. If you’ve ever had that happen to you, you know that you’ll never forget it. You’ll spend years wishing for a second chance at that shot. Do your practice and make sure you get it right the first time you have the chance!

The Rest of the Story
Two years had gone by with pictures of Einstein getting bigger and bigger. Another fall had come and I was in my treestand as a very “nice” evening began to turn nasty. The temperature dropped almost 20 degrees, the rain started spitting, and flurries began to dance on the wind. When the weather turned, the deer activity went nuts! I watched deer after deer pour into the neighboring field. Twenty or so does were feeding in the bean debris as bucks showed up checking and chasing any doe they set eyes on.

Then I saw him. I knew that this was his territory. That’s why I was in this stand. I wanted to set eyes on him for the first time at least and if I was lucky, get a shot. However, there he stood. Two hundred yards away posing like he owned everything. He was huge! Barrel-chested with his wide antlers looking like branches extending from the sides of his head.

All I could think of doing was grunting at him. I quickly grabbed my buck roar and let it rip! As soon as I finished, he bristled up, turned to face my location and came charging in! I could not believe it. He covered 160 yards as if he was an Olympic sprinter! He jumped the fence from the neighbor’s field, crashed in to the timber where I was, and stood broadside 40 yards behind my stand.

I went into what I had practiced. I calmed my mind, kept my breath, and slowly drew on his huge body as I targeted the left side of his chest. Slowly I squeezed my finger and let the arrow cover the 40 yards between him and me. I watched as if everything was in slow motion. The arrow entered a bit high, but hit with a punch and he dropped to his belly.

I gladly let the celebration ensue! Yelling loudly for all to hear (though none were there) I announced to the world that, “I got him! I got him!” Droptine Einstein, a buck I had known, now stares at me from my office wall. A memory and a quest that will be cherished as long as I remember it.