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One incredible December archery hunt in Michigan's out of doors



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Steve Schmidt harvested a pair of record book bucks 15 minutes apart hunting December 19 during the late archery season with his crossbow. photo by Author Photo.
February 01, 2017
I am a lifelong hunter here in Michigan. My aunt and uncle got me into hunting whitetails at the age of 12 and I have been hooked ever since. I grew up hunting in the Grayling area. Over the years my passion for hunting big mature whitetails grew and I began to focus in on hunting southern Michigan. I have taken several big deer over the years but nothing as big as the two I harvested on Dec. 19.

One of the bucks that showed up at the end of the 2015 season on my property in Van Buren County, was a split brow 13 pointer. The 2015 season left me buck-less and I ended up eating "tag soup" on my combo license.

With high hopes for 2016, I spent significant time preparing for the season. Early archery season was slow. Come November several big bucks began showing up. Two of those bucks included the split brow 13, and a mainframe 10.

I had a few trail camera pictures of both of these deer come November, however, they were strictly nocturnal at that time. It wasn't until mid-December did the cold weather finally show up. Along with the cold weather came better deer movement with the split brow 13 now making appearances closer to first and last light.

Heading into the week of Dec. 19 he made appearances two times during daylight. The last day of muzzleloader season came and went, still "deerless" having both tags left on my combo license. With muzzleloader season closed I was able to focus back on crossbow hunting. I closely monitored the weather and knew that Monday, Dec. 19 could make for a great hunt being one of the coldest days of the year with temperatures ranging in the 5-10 degree range. The recent string of cold weather was getting the bucks moving much earlier than normal.

That day I was in my stand around 3 p.m. hoping tonight would be the night, as I do with every hunt. I remember the wind being perfect for the spot I hunted, a Southwest wind, which essentially blows out into an open blueberry field and is the direction I walked in from. I had good activity early; within 45 minutes of getting set up I heard deer crunching around behind me. Around 5:00 p.m. I had a group of three does followed by a basket 8-point and a smaller spike cross a creek and walk off into the distance. And then around 5:20 p.m., out of the corner of my eye I spotted a big rack about 100 yards out walking through the trees. As the deer was approaching I quickly recognized the split brows and knew it was the big 13 I had been after.

The deer approached from my left and began to funnel around behind my stand to my downwind side. The split brow buck had walked within 10 feet of the base of the tree I was in and crossed behind me. As it began circling to my downwind side, it appeared on edge but I held as still as I could given the circumstances.

Sure enough seconds later, the deer "blew", and I thought my encounter was over. Luckily he didn't run, but I knew I didn't have much time to make things happen. He now stood at 20 yards and I knew it would be difficult to get my crossbow up and pointed in his direction given he was on high alert. The deer took a couple more steps went behind a double trunked tree, I knew my opportunity to get my bow up was here. As he took two steps beyond the other side of the tree I let my arrow fly.

The deer quickly "donkey kicked" and took off on a full tilt run. Interestingly he stopped about 70 yards away and slowed down to an extremely slow walk. I was waiting for him to drop, but he never did. I questioned whether this may have been a liver shot by the way he was walking, but felt it was a fatal hit. My heart was pounding as my adrenaline ran high. I first began texting a couple of my buddies letting them know I just got an arrow in the big 13.

After realizing I still had 15-20 minutes left in shooting light and one tag left on my combo license, I reloaded my crossbow never imagining I might get a shot at another Michigan monster. I was quite surprised when another doe began walking from nearly the same spot the 13 came in from 10 minutes later. However, this doe stayed on my upwind side. I took a good look at her through the scope and was considering pulling the trigger when I saw a flicker of brown not far behind her. Initially thinking it was probably a fawn following behind, I decided not to shoot the doe. As the trailing deer stepped out, I could not believe my eyes. All I saw was tall tines and at least 10 points. As the buck followed behind this doe it now stood broadside at 20 yards. With three minutes left in shooting hours, I centered my crosshairs over the vitals and let the arrow fly. Another "donkey kick", and the deer started hauling full tilt away from me. Visualizing the deer between the trees he stopped at about 80 yards for a split second and then took off running again. To my dismay this deer didn't go down.

I was in complete shock of what just happened. At first I wasn't entirely sure which deer this one was.

It took a minute to digest the situation, not one but two monsters in one night. I got down out of my stand and took a quick look around for my arrows. The first deer I shot, I didn't find my arrow only a few small drops of blood and hair. The second deer, my arrow was sitting in the snow, a clean pass through with good blood on the arrow. Given that I saw neither of these deer go down, I decided it was best to back out and give them a couple of hours.

With my hopes running high I headed back out after a couple of hours to do some tracking. Feeling more confident in my shot on the second deer I started tracking that one first. I had a great blood trail for about 90 yards and then nothing. Searching for over an hour I began to get turned around. To make matters worse I had kicked up at least one deer bedded nearby questioning if I had bumped the buck. With concern this deer may still be alive I went back to search for the first one. Other than a few drops of blood and hair where I shot him, I could not pick up a blood trail. I was now beginning to question my shots on both of these deer. I began to feel sick to my stomach wondering if I would find either of these deer. I was getting turned around and decided to back out and come back in the morning. As they say when in doubt, back out!

After getting back to my house I decided I would give it the rest of the night and head back first thing in the morning with a bit of help tracking. Talk about a sleepless night! I'm not sure I slept a wink. I drove back first thing in the morning and began searching as it was getting light. Additionally I contacted Mike Riepen from Michigan Deer Track'n Hounds to see if he may be able to assist me in tracking if I was having trouble.

As I began tracking I again started with the deer I had shot second given the blood trail I had found the night before. I tracked to the spot I had last marked blood. Sure enough I looked over and he was lying 20-30 yards away. Somehow tracking the night before I circled all the way around him and didn't find him. As I walked up on him, I quickly realized it was a big 11 pointer that had been on my hit list for a large part of the season. My emotions went from feeling apprehensive to pure excitement knowing I would find at least one of these bucks.

Revisiting the site I had shot the first deer, I now began finding some foul smelling material mixed in with a few drops of blood. It was clear that I had made a "gut" shot." I realized the night before my sense of direction was off when tracking this deer as I quickly found an impressive blood trail. I followed large quantities of blood for nearly 200 yards where I saw the big 13 pointer laid up under a tree. His head appeared to be up but I could not tell if he was alive or just leaning against a tree. As I got within 15 yards it was clear the deer was still alive. Crossbow in hand, I attempted to get close as the tree he was under provided thick cover and I was concerned I may not be able to get an arrow through. Sure enough the deer gets up and runs never presenting a shot.

I contacted Mike Riepen again and he gave me some great advice, he felt I should back out and give it several more hours, as he did not feel that I would need his dog given how close I was able to get and the amount of blood.

After 6 hours I headed back out tracking crossbow in hand. I had tracked the deer approximately another 75 yards. There he lay up under a tree, sure enough his head was still sticking up. This time I was able to get follow up shot and seal the deal on harvesting the big 13.

As I walked up on the big buck I was in disbelief. I felt like the luckiest hunter alive! I would have been happy harvesting either one of these bucks, but could not imagine getting a shot at both of them 15 minutes apart. I also felt a great sense of accomplishment, knowing the hundreds of hours I put in this season finally paid off. This was a hunt that dreams are made of! A late season double I doubt I will ever top.

I green scored both of the bucks myself. The 13 grosses in the 160s with a net in the 140-150 range, the 11 point grosses 154 Ĺ" with a net just under 150. Over 300 inches of gross antler in one sit! My taxidermist provided me with the jaws and aged the 13 at 5.5 years old and the 11 at 4.5 years old.

I end my 2016 season thanking the good lord for one incredible year in Michigan's out of doors.

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