HuntStand Helps Recover Long-Lost Northwoods Buck

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

A favorite stand site. A surprise encounter with a rutty target buck. When things suddenly go south, HuntStand is there to lead the way.

WisBuck1 900October 29, 2020, was one of those days avid whitetailers long for. Cold and still and with the rut just starting to kick-start consistent daytime buck movement, I was hanging in one of my favorite northern-Wisconsin deer haunts with the type of quiet, laid-back confidence that can only come from serious preparation. Soon I’d be tracking a brute of a mature bigwoods buck I’d been hunting for several years, a deer whose antlers I would not grasp in my two sweaty hands until several months later. It’s a buck, and bittersweet recovery, that I credit mostly to the HuntStand app.

Of course a statement like that requires a bit more perspective to fully grasp its meaning, and so we’ll once again return to that fateful late-October day. I’d hunted the area for years so knew a thing or two about how and where rutty bucks liked to cruise through there working scrape lines and searching for hot does. And it didn’t hurt that a quick pre-dawn check of HuntStand showed an unusual, yet favorable southeast wind for the particular river valley stand I had in mind. But despite settling in that morning well before first light, by about 10:30 a.m. I’d seen exactly nothing—save for a couple grouse and a pine squirrel or two. I seriously considered getting down for a break, or maybe even a stand change. I’d been hunting hard for several days straight and was juggling two hot areas and three carefully placed stands.WeatherSolunar 900Still, something was keeping me from bailing. Planning the hunt the night previous I’d been on HuntStand checking the moon phase (Solunar) info and noticed the day’s peak game activity time would stretch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Now in all honesty, I don’t typically plan hunts around solunar tables—much preferring to hunt when and where time, wind direction and opportunity come together—but here was a fairly time-honored peak rut buck movement period that begged not to be ignored. I would give it to at least noon, or maybe even 1 p.m., I decided, before any stand switch.

It was a long half-hour but about five minutes after 11 a.m.—that HuntStand-forecasted start to peak game activity—all hell broke loose. First a pine squirrel came flying out of the woods and up the tree next to me, scolding me and chattering louder than any rodent should be able to. Distracted, not five minutes later I jumped yet again. Somehow in all the noise and commotion an unseen buck had slipped in through the thick aspen growth to my right. How did I know? Sudden, crazy-loud thrashing—an unseen buck, and by the sounds of it a very good one, was battling the brush not 20 yards away!WisBuck10 900I had just enough time to grab my bow, pivot on stand and draw back—as the corner of my right eye caught an incoming brown blob complete with serious headgear. I’d bent sharply at the waist and held steady as the rutty worked-up buck disappeared again—hidden behind the tree next to mine—but heavy footfalls through thick brush told me the buck strode directly toward my tree. There was just one thin trail down there and so that’s where I held, as a deer brisket suddenly appeared in my sight window—then stopped. He was right below me. I could see nothing but brisket and assumed the frozen buck was simply casing my stand site for its next move; I recall calmly twisting to my right, watching the sight pin move slowly from brisket to shoulder to chest, then pausing. The buck was three yards away. With my stand at a mere 14 feet, it felt as if I was riding the deer’s back.

At the shot, pandemonium. First the solid thunk of a good hit; the buck whirling, crashing, sprinting back 15 yards, maybe 20—then hitting the breaks. It staggered and stumbled, paused a good while, then began limping, slowly, down the trail another 10 yards eastward, away from me. Then it slowly inched north for 10 yards, across the brushy entrance trail and out of sight.

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Below me, I could easily see my blood-covered arrow stuck virtually straight up in the dirt, right where I had aimed. Even better, it was on the far side of the trail—another good sign. Processing all that positive info with a still-thumping heart, I guessed I would find the buck a few yards from where I’d last seen him…maybe 50 yards away.

Ultimate confidence reigned, and the reasons were many; on this hunt I was using the Mathews VXR 31.5 compound and arrows tipped with G5 Montec M3 broadheads; both the bow and broadheads were 2020 Editor’s Choice award winners in the respective HuntStand Bow and Broadhead Field Tests, and the rig was shooting darts. But even so, I wanted to give myself every chance for a successful recovery. So after about 30 minutes on stand I carefully, silently climbed down and backed out. I hiked the three-quarters of a mile back to my truck and called a buddy to pick up a deer cart, and assist in what I was fairly sure would be a textbook recovery. WisBuck11 900Here’s where HuntStand would once again play a crucial role in the deer’s eventual recovery. After returning with my buddy, now well over an hour later, we soon found good blood where the buck had first paused following the hit. I logged that spot in the app, and then the floodgates seemed to open. Good blood—bright, frothy classic lung blood—was found from there on for a solid 100 yards, and I logged the buck’s trail every 20 yards or so, as he worked north up the river valley ridge. With each step, both of us thought the buck was—had to be—just ahead.WisBuck13 900Right about that 100-yard mark we came to an obvious, empty-but-fresh bed just inside a cat-hair-thick, 4-year-old clearcut choked with young aspen regrowth. A good hidey hole indeed. The empty bed was a curious sight; blood-covered leaves in a disturbed, four-foot circle showed the buck had struggled—mightily—to get back to its feet and leave it. I guessed we’d bumped the buck as we started up the river valley bluff some 80 yards away. Not good, of course, yet still plenty encouraging. BuckScreen1 900Here’s where things got weird. From that blood-soaked bed we found just two more spots showing evidence of blood, with the last about 40 yards from that bed. And then, nothing. Both of the last two blood sites, of course, were logged in the HuntStand app, info that allowed both of us to begin grid-searching the surrounding ground. At first, of course, we headed out in the buck’s general line of travel. We searched high and low, then low and high; in every compass direction. The hours and miles racked up steadily, but we’d leave that first day empty handed.

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I knew my buddy had to leave town the next day so I worked the phones—hard—that night for possible help. And things, initially, looked promising. “I can’t make it up there Mark but know lots of guys in the area who would be happy to help,” my buddy Bill offered. “Hang tight while I make a few calls.”WisBuck8 900Timing is everything, of course, and each one of Bill’s promising leads would soon, unfortunately, dry up. As you might guess the peak of the rut can be a difficult time to mobilize fanatical deer hunters, especially those who like to hunt several neighboring states. In the end, I would once again be alone but still hopeful; I knew the HuntStand app held the critical info I’d need.

I had that entire next day to search before I, too, had appointments I couldn’t shirk, and again gave it my all circling and grid searching in all likely directions before again coming up empty. Those of you who’ve been there know the feeling, but the frustration was crushing. That night I knew subsequent searches would simply be for a deer carcass, but I couldn’t shake the thought of the buck, knowing he was down somewhere in a spot I’d somehow missed or overlooked.

Over the next several months family, work and myriad other obligations converged to limit my buck-search time, and then, in late December, even mother nature got into the act. Accessing the remote public tract that lies a full three-plus hours from my home requires crossing a waterway with help from waders, and after breaking through the ice and floundering slowly back out, I felt the bitter conditions simply created a too-dangerous situation. Stymied again.WisBuck5 900Fast-forward to late March 2021, when a much-too-long winter had me ready for spring and another passion: steelhead fishing. But when a timely spring rain storm made my stream of choice unfishable, I knew it was a sign to renew my lost-buck search. Certainly, I hadn’t forgotten.

The night before that late-March search I once again fired up my HuntStand app and studied my hunt area map, complete with blood-trail loggings that I’d scoured a hundred times. I decided I needed to expand the search to the north, in some older-growth aspen. And I’d have my eager daughter along to lend some welcome help.WisBuck2 900That next morning came a very encouraging discovery. As the crow flies HuntStand’s measuring tool showed I was exactly 264 yards to the north of the last blood logged in my app, when I stumbled upon a curious 6-foot circle of deer hair (see image above) nestled among some mature-tree blowdowns. I was maybe 150 yards into the long stretch of mature aspens that somehow spoke to me the night previous. Almost instantly, I got the feeling the hair belonged to my buck. And especially, when a closer examination showed the circle of hair also included a tiny square of deer hide. Immediately I called my daughter over and we circled the area—almost unbelievably finding nothing in about a 100-yard circle. I was dumbstruck. Then we moved farther north and again circled and grid-searched, coming up empty yet again. Was my find yet another cruel twist? WisBuck3 900Once again frustrated but far from ready to give up, I once again fired up the HuntStand app and trudged back to the logged hair circle. Next, I more or less aligned that spot with the last blood marker, and picked my way slowly southward in that direction. Exactly 114 yards from the circle of found hair, I suddenly stumbled onto the meatless buck carcass. There it was, complete with skull and rack. I was awestruck. We’d finally closed the circle.WisBuck9 900In an interesting twist, a check of the rack showed I had been hunting the buck for several years. Shortly after the fateful October 2020 hunt, several friends had asked me to describe the buck’s rack but I told them truthfully I could not; I’d caught just a glimpse before the shot and then afterward, recalled only that it had three points up on one side, and carried good mass. But a check of my trail camera images showed a shot of the buck back in 2018 (see image above) when it likely was at least a three-year-old, maybe four. Which made it at least 5.5 years of age back in October—a great public-land buck by most anyone’s measure.WisBuck7 900Adding still more numbers to this final search closed out an intriguing story. Once again using HuntStand, I was able to determine the buck had made it some 200 yards (in a straight line, likely a good deal more) from the last blood logged back in October. I also learned the buck had made it more than 350 yards from where it was shot, and that I’d walked within 30 yards of the carcass no less than five or six times during my previous searches. I’d been close but not close enough, but in the end, of course, things could have been much worse. Right now, I’m still reveling in the fact that I’m the proud owner of a mature northwoods public-land trophy—and one truly unforgettable HuntStand success story.

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