Rookies Last Bite

By Cassie Dean

The story began one fall morning in early November. It was 2011 and Chris Dunkin was heading out to do a Muddy hang and hunt with his buddy, Blake Lefler, the cameraman. The morning started off slow, not seeing any movement, they became discouraged as they were planning to do an all-day sit. Chris was waiting for a buck he named Rookie, who had been traveling the draw for the last few weeks. Set up perfectly, Chris made a few grunts and a rattling sequence drawing a buck from the timber. He was heading towards them walking the edge of a CRP field that was lined with scrapes. Chris recognized the buck; it was Rookie. Chris gave a nod to Blake and they began setting up to harvest this buck on film.

Rookie was coming straight for them, exactly as they planned. Then without a concern, he turned in on the trail too early and was walking right under them. Stopping at 8 yards and quartering towards them, Chris waited for the broadside shot to present itself. Being a smart buck, Rookie knew something was wrong and slowly looked up at them in the tree. Not knowing what they were, he focused forward, and waited for them to move. After a few moments, Rookie started to turn around to head back to the field. Chris saw the opportunity to pull back, but at the same time Rookie bolted. Slowing down just outside of range, Rookie didn’t look back and moseyed his way out of site.

They knew they had several other bucks that Chris wanted to shoot on this farm, so they sat the rest of the day, trusting they would see another great deer.

After hours of sitting, Chris heard movement coming through the brush behind them. As he was grabbing his bow and Blake was setting the camera, they both knew this was a shooter buck. Chris quickly realized that it was not Rookie, but was a buck they named Full House. Stopping at 9 yards, Chris took the shot, made the kill and ended the 2011 bow season.

Now that Rookie was not an option for bow season, Chris focused on late muzzleloader. As the late season approached Rookie was still showing up on all of the Wildgame Trail Cameras that Chris had set. Close to having his pattern down, on opening day Chris headed out assuming he was going to be bringing Rookie home. Chris sat in the box blind overlooking a standing cornfield. The evening was cool and the deer were moving. Chris waited for Rookie to come to the field, but Popeye, a three legged warrior showed up first. He gave Chris the perfect 50 yard shot and closed the 2011 hunting season.

Chris checked his cameras for the next few weeks and noticed that Rookie had vanished. The bucks were dropping their antlers and he searched the farm over and over, but still had not found Rookie’s sheds. Chris began to think the worst had happened, but what he didn’t know was that Rookie was still carrying his antlers. It wasn’t until March that Chris put his hands on Rookies sheds. Laying only 150 yards from where the trail camera was he knew Rookie was back to roaming his usual territory.

Going into the summer of 2012 Chris’ goal was to find a handful of bucks. He was looking for Rookie and another buck he named AWOL. The drought was setting in and the lakes, ponds and creeks were drying up. As he pulled the trail camera cards, the bucks were slowly disappearing and more and more Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and blue tongue bucks were being found dead. Chris began questioning whether or not Rookie or AWOL were still alive. Hoping they didn’t fall victim to disease he tried a new tactic and took a post and placed it in the middle of his crop field for the bucks to use as a rub post. Positioning a camera a few yards away he was positive he would capture some great pictures.

The first card pull was exciting, Awol showed back up, but no Rookie.

Ready to find pictures of Rookie, Chris transitioned from his late summer areas to placing his cameras in the rut areas and waited for the bucks to start moving. It was not until the third week of October that Rookie showed himself. Bigger than ever he was a more mature, and dominate buck. Wearing scars, Rookie’s left ear was now broke and drooping low, giving him character.

With both of the bucks alive and even larger, Chris was ready to start hunting hard early November.

November 4th, 2012 Chris and Blake set out for Rookie. They set up on the same draw they had the encounter with Rookie exactly a year ago. Passing up on a few younger bucks, Chris and Blake called it quits around 11 A.M. and headed back to the truck.

On the way to the truck Chris saw a buck walking through the timber. He quickly set up and they waited for him to clear the trees. It looked like Rookie. His nose was down not looking anywhere else, but forward. Chris pulled back sending his arrow flying towards the buck.

Confused and speechless, Chris and Blake made their way to the buck. As they approached the buck they were both speechless when they realized it wasn’t Rookie, but it was a buck that had many similar characteristics. Everything had happened so quickly, that they both didn’t have the opportunity to check him out before he shot. Knowing he shot a great buck Chris was excited, but at the same time he was disappointed that he wasn’t holding Rookie. As they headed to get the truck they weren’t surprised to see Rookie chasing a doe straight to the stand they were hunting only a few hours before. With smiles on their faces they laughed it off and headed to retrieve his look-alike buck.

Now that bow season was over Chris looked forward to the next opportunity, late muzzleloader. Rookie was still showing up on several of his Wildgame cameras during the day and hitting food plots in the evenings. So, on the evening of December 22, 2012, the wind was right, the box blind was set, and Chris was ready for the kill.

It wasn’t long before they saw deer movement. None of the bucks were shooters so, they waited. It wasn’t until an hour before dark that a very familiar buck showed up. Rookie was following a few does that were headed in their direction, but their slow pace wasn’t going to get him in range before dark. As they waited patiently, Rookie started focusing across the field away from the does. Not thinking anything of it Chris kept Rookie in his scope. As the sunlight was fading he knew that Rookie wasn’t going to make it before shooting hours were over. Leaning back in his chair out of the corner of his eye he saw a familiar buck standing tall less than 100 yards away. It was AWOL. Chris quickly pulled his Thompson Center up and focused it on AWOL. Pulling the trigger AWOL dropped to the ground, leaving Rookie to live yet another day.

Now that Rookie was for sure the top buck on the property, the odds of him staying on the farm the following deer year was great.

Chris and Blake retrieved Rookies sheds that coming spring and during spring turkey season he walked within 40 yards of him. His ear still broke and hanging low Chris knew it was him.

Now that Rookie made it through the winter it was Chris’ goal to find him on the trail cameras. Sure enough like the year before, Rookie vanished over the summer and didn’t show himself until the fall. As October came around Chris knew it was about time for him to show back up. It was the third week of October and within four days of last year’s appearance, Rookie showed himself for the first time in 2013.

With a new job opportunity Chris lost his vacation time and was back to hunting only the weekends. Chris told himself that if a mature buck presents the opportunity he was going to take it. The first evening hunt of the rut Chris was blessed with a mature five year old and made a great shot.

As Chris kept his trail cameras out, he stayed focused on Rookie documenting his every step. As the late muzzleloader came closer Chris was given the opportunity to do a swap hunt and head out to Montana to hunt mule deer. With great success Chris harvested his first Mule deer. In turn Chris was to guide a friend, Josh Martin back on the farm in Southern Iowa for late muzzleloader.

December 27, 2012 Josh and Chris headed out to go after Rookie. It was a cold evening hunt, with lots of snow on the ground. They could see that the turnip field was being hit hard. As they approached the field Chris realized his Double Bull blind was flattened by the winter snow and ice. Quickly they removed the snow and set up for the evening. It started out slow with a few turkeys and small bucks showing first. As the evening went on, the deer were getting larger and larger. With Rookie not presenting himself, they passed up several nice bucks the first night.

When Chris and Josh reached the blind the second evening, they decided to cut a few branches making it blend in much better. It wasn’t long before the deer started showing up in the field. Josh had several great bucks on the field, but he was holding out for Rookie. Rookie reached the field only a few minutes before 5PM. He walked closer and ate for a few minutes. Patiently they waited and it wasn’t until Rookie was 30 yards before them he made the mistake of turning broadside. Josh slowly pulled the trigger sending Rookie running with his tail whipping back and forth. “You smoked him!” Chris yelled. Only making it 60 yards Rookie laid to rest.

Excited, Josh and Chris made their way over to Rookie. When reaching him Chris never expected such a great feeling to finally be holding a buck that he had documented over the last three years. Josh was extremely grateful for the opportunity to hunt Rookie and to this day they both still do the yearly swap hunts.