Bucks Love Water!
Take Advantage Of Local Water Sources...
November 01, 2007
The trophy buck stopped at the edge of the Grand River near Lansing as I focused the telephoto lens and captured his reflection in the shimmering water on a cold fall evening. He looked in every direction, then pranced into belly deep water, took a long, cold drink and continued across the shallow flats as though it was the crosswalk on Michigan Ave. downtown near the State Capital building. What an inspiring scene, a mature buck, with swollen neck from the rut, marching across the river in search of a receptive doe. The spectacle made me think about wise old bucks I've chased with bow and gun near water.
It all started in 1966 when I arrowed my first Pope and Young buck in Midland County along the Tittabawassee river, just south of the Gordonville Bridge. He was a mature five year old with tall tines, wide spread and plenty of mass. I chased him on the Tittabawassee flats, on property owned at that time by Carl Haefer, a local pig farmer. Carl's land was rich with corn, alfalfa and large bowl-shaped lowland along the river. During high water the flats would flood and the big deer would move to high ground and local hunters would try to tag him. But the first time he sensed a hunter, the monster deer would head for the river. On numerous occasions I chased the big boy to the water's edge. Come late season, I followed his huge tracks in the snow, jumped him, ran like hell and he would still beat me to the river and cross to the other side. I'd look at the huge steaming tracks in the fresh fallen snow and dream about big body deer sporting impressive head gear.
He was a smart old buck but he made a fatal mistake on a warm fall afternoon when I noticed some woodcock hunters moving into the flats with dogs in search of migrating woodcock. I rushed to the well-worn crossing trail on the bank of the river, nocked an arrow and took stand. Fifteen minutes later I saw his rack coming directly at me through the thick underbrush. The brute slinked along the trail like a wounded rabbit, head low to hide the massive antlers, tail tucked to hide his white flag. He stopped, looked back in the direction of the woodcock hunters, ears cocked forward, when I drew the bow and sent an arrow through his massive chest at a distance of 15 yards.
Since that first big buck I've discovered how much deer love water. It all starts at a young age when fawns are taught by their mothers to drink water and how to hide in the thick alder patches around water. By the time a deer is a yearling it has been introduced to every watery hideout in its home territory.
Some bucks refuse to leave the comfort and concealment that only water offers. Hey, nothing is thicker than cattails and big boys learn how to slip into bulrushes, alders and cedar swamps.
Take the trophy 10-point I took with muzzleloader in the Shiawassee National Refuge. The brute was chasing a doe-in-heat in the flooded forest found along the Cass River. He splashed through the knee deep water like a black Lab chasing a downed duck; with white water flying in every direction, creating a halo-like rainbow around his tall white rack. Finally the intimidated little doe made a sharp turn and the following buck charged directly toward me. I'll never forget the exciting sight of that trophy deer splashing through the water and the impressive sound a big deer makes when running flat out in water. He never did stop, but slowed for an instant and I got a good shot at his massive chest.
But the largest water deer I've ever hunted was in southern Kalamazoo County. This buck had an amazing 16 points and is in the record book under another man's name. I spotted the unbelievable buck in a thick swamp. When I asked the local farmer to hunt he said no. But when I told him about pinpointing the record deer he got on his CB radio and called in an entire clan of red clad muzzleleloader hunters. Well, it was muzzleloader season but the clan toted old guns with hex barrels, good old round ball flintlock primitive weapons.
The plan was simple; Billy Bob would drop me off on the dirt road where I spotted the trophy. The clan surrounded the swamp and it was my task to push the monster into the clan. I had every intention of easing off the road and taking that buck. When Billy Bob dropped me off I slinked into the ditch, hoping to make the shot as the big boy watched the pickup move down the trail. Wrong! It seems old Billy Bob just had to slam the door when he dropped me off and even though I stayed low a few minutes, when I slowly stood up the monster buck was looking directly at me. I eased the gun to my shoulder, flipped the safety off and just as the crosshair settled on his massive chest, the big buck turned and dashed into the swamp. The sight of the unbelievable rack moving directly away sent my heart pounding and created a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Now, I had no choice but to go after the huge racked buck.
I slipped silently through the water, making certain to not lift my boot from the water and make any loud splashing sounds. I eased to the spot I last saw the brute. He was gone. Then, suddenly the doe bolted from the swamp and ran past me at 30 yards. Behind her was the largest deer I've ever shot in Michigan. His rack looked like an elk, head up, antlers held back as he dashed through the water. I settled the sights on his chest and fired. He splashed down into the cold water sending white water into a huge wave, making it easy to locate the deer. I began reloading, when the sound of the thrashing deer got my attention. The next sight sent my heat pounding. The big buck was now standing, looking directly at me. I rushed, pouring powder and ramming the sabot and hollow point bullet and just as I capped the nipple and rose to shoot, the big buck stumbled directly away from me. I did not shoot and elected to run after the crippled animal. But every time I got closer and brought the gun to my shoulder, he would wiggle out of sight. Next thing I remember was the sight of his massive rack dancing through the underbrush, headed to the hunter lined ridge. Suddenly there was the sound of a primitive weapon firing, followed by a war holler that made the hair rise on the back of my neck.
To make a long story short, when I exited the swamp there was a group of happy hunters standing over a tremendous buck. It seems I pushed the giant directly into easy range of Grandpa and he dumped the oncoming monster with one shot to the neck. One of the boys gave me a big hug, thanked me for chasing the deer to his grandfather, shook my hand and explained that the clan had been chasing the big non-typical for several years. In their eyes, I was a hero and immediately they broke out some homemade wine and we began celebrating the kill.
I was heartbroken when a close inspection revealed a 16-point with 16 inch G2's, kickers and enough mass to push the rack into the 180-class Boone and Crockett scoring. Too bad my shot clipped his liver. Sure, he would have died, eventually, but the clan was so excited about grandpa's shot that I didn't bother with an argument that I drew first blood. Heck, there is more to deer hunting than simply trying to gather a trophy rack. Deep inside I was happy to see the long-bearded old man with snow white hair grinning from ear to ear as he held the awesome rack. More importantly, the huge buck proved one important point. Big bucks love water.
If you are looking to score on a good buck this season please take the time to scout local waterways in your hunting grounds. Keep in mind that bucks often retreat to water when pressured. Some take up residence on islands that are difficult to reach. Others prefer to hide and bed on small mounds of high ground located in cattail marshes or cedar swamps. They know water offers security, comfort and they can avoid human encounters. Watery marshlands offer super thick cover and water filled runways allow a mature buck to sneak around without making the slightest sound. At times deer move through water like a water snake, slithering along silently, effortlessly, fact is they enjoy the aquatic environment.
Some old bucks live to sport trophy racks by using water to avoid hunters. In a game of hide and seek, they simply swim a river, lake, pond, ditch or stream and the hunters seek to find them. But when the hunter gets his toes wet he retreats to the dry comfort of the bank, and the big buck wins.
One of my secret hunting spots is along the bank of the Maple River, not far from St. Johns. I love to watch deer splash into the water and quickly swim the river and minutes later hunters will show up on the bank. The deer are long gone.
Michigan is blessed with millions of deer hideouts. What about your deer stand, is it located where you can take advantage of local water sources? If so, you know what I'm talkin' about and you have probably taken plenty of deer that are wet to their knees. I hope so!