When looking back at my 2012 deer season, I feel very fortunate for a variety of reasons; I was able to spend countless hours with friends and family. In November (2nd-14th) I experienced one of the most action packed ruts that I’ve ever had the pleasure of hunting/filming, and filled my tag on a solid whitetail on video and off of the ground. I also was able to film my best friend, Blake Lefler, as well as my girlfriend, Alex Abens, kill great bucks with their sticks and strings.
At the time, back in November, I was content with how my season had unfolded, and to be honest, killing a buck during late muzzleloader would’ve just been icing on the cake. What more could I ask for? Well, a giant come late muzzleloader would be nice. In particular, my #1 hit list buck, AWOL. Luckily for me (and unluckily for him), AWOL and I met face to face on the evening of Decmber 22nd, and although that’s when it ended, that’s definitely not when it started, so before I give all the details, let’s start from the beginning:
2010: At this time I had no idea that AWOL even existed. He was living on the neighbors farm, and as to my knowledge, spent the majority of his time there. These photos of AWOL are from the neighbors trail cameras (he sent me these photos after learning I had killed AWOL), and were the first signs of AWOL’s existence;
In March, the neighbor found AWOL’s matched set;
2011: After shedding, AWOL disappeared. The neighbor ran trail cameras all summer and fall, but never received any photos of AWOL. Had he dispersed, or was he dead?
January 2012 (still his 2011 rack): After already filling my late muzzleloader tag, and wanting to get a good inventory of the bucks that were currently on the farm, I decided to put my Cuddeback up overlooking a bushel of corn. A week later I pulled the card, and upon scrolling through the photos, saw that a solid 10point (AWOL) had shown up. At this point, I had yet to give him a name, but was hoping that he stuck around;
Summer of 2012: I ran cameras hard all summer, but the solid ten never showed his face on the farm I hunted. This was somewhat disappointing to me as I knew he had the potential to turn into something special. Luckily for me, the neighboring landowner and I have developed an open relationship, where we share/compare trail camera pics with one another. The solid 10 (AWOL) showed up on his cameras, and had turned into something special;
August of 2012: Earlier in the spring, the landowner had planted one of our 4 acre food plots in soybeans, however, due to heavy deer browse, topped with a drought, they suffered significantly. We both realized that there wasn’t enough in the plot to last until late season, and without food, we wouldn’t have luck. On August 18th (my birthday), we decided to disc up 2 acres of the beans and plant a brassica mix. The brassicas came in well;
October 3rd, 2012: My good friend, Joe (6×6), introduced me to the concept of ‘rub trees’ and how they worked well for drawing bucks into them. The bucks seemed to go crazy for rub trees when they were placed in an open area, such as a food plot. I decided to give this trick a try, and put a rub tree up in the brassica plot. I placed one of my Truth Cams on an Elimatree to document if the rub tree worked;
October 8th, 2012: I was once again in the area, so decided to pull into the farm and pull the card on the rub tree quick. I was excited to see that the solid 10 had shown back up on the farm, and decided to call him AWOL due to the fact that he was so ‘hit and miss’ and would go missing off of my cameras for months on end. The character that his rack possessed made him my favorite whitetail out of all of my hitlist bucks, however, I didn’t have much faith in killing him since he never seemed to hang around;
October 20th- December 15th- AWOL once again lived up to his name, and went missing during this time period, not only off of my cameras, but also off of the neighbors cameras. We were both disappointed that he had left, but knew that he had a good chance of showing back up come late season due to the large amount of food planted on both of our properties.
December 16th, 2012: Although I have no photographic or film evidence of this encounter (too dark), the landowner whom I hunt on decided to attempt to fill one of his doe tags on the last evening of 2ndseason shotgun. Just before dark, he caught movement to the north and saw a big buck working towards the field. Upon a closer look, he realized that AWOL had returned. Around this same time the neighboring landowner once again started capturing daylight photos of AWOL on his trail cameras;
December 22nd, 2012- AWOL’s Last Day: A major storm front had pushed through Iowa a few days before, and the deer had been on their feet. Being the first day that I was able to hunt during Iowa’s late season, and knowing that AWOL, along with a few other good deer were around, I was super excited to get down to the farm. I contacted Derek Wilkerson (Dwilk) to see if he would film, which he agreed too. We were all setup by 1PM, and had deer and turkeys in the brassicas a short time later;
At 4PM Derek caught movement 600yards to our northeast, and noticed Rookie, a giant antlered buck, standing in the fenceline. We watched as Rookie jumped the fence and followed a doe in our direction. It appeared he was on a b-line straight for the brassicas, but after reaching 275yards he veered off to our left and entered the cover of a heavy draw. By now we had rearranged our gear in the blind, and positioned the camera to film Rookie if he followed the draw up to the plot. Does and young bucks also entered the plot, including a solid 145 3.5yr old 10pt with split 2s, who will be an absolute stud next year.
As we were staring intently into the cover of the draw, hoping to catch movement or any sign of Rookie, I caught movement to my right; it was AWOL, and he was already feeding at 95 yards. He had snuck in on us. At basically this exact moment, a doe 12 yards from the box blind got spooky, stomped and blew a few times. I quickly settled the crosshairs of the scope on his vitals, and just before he spooked from the field, squeezed the trigger. AWOL lunged forward as the sabot struck him perfectly behind the shoulder, and sprint 70 yards before piling up. Everything happened so fast that Derek was unable to capture the shot on film, but I wasn’t about to let my #1 hitlist buck get away. Derek and I exchanged high fives, and as unmanly as this sounds, a few hugs, before I called the landowner and a few close friends. We then gathered our gear and recovered AWOL;
This is the 2nd year in a row that I have harvested my #1 hit list buck, and I can’t help but think of how lucky I truly am. I will be the first to tell you that my wall wouldn’t even be half as full if it wasn’t for the help of others in the process of the ‘never ending season’ that we all love so much. I am truly blessed to be able to hunt farms that get limited amounts of pressure, and have big whitetails inhabiting them. I feel fortunate, and have had a lot of luck on my side in recent years. More than anything though, I’m grateful; grateful for the opportunity to do what I love, because, I know there are a lot of people out there who have never had that chance. Good luck to those of you who still have tags…..these cold temps should really have them up and moving!
Here is the video of the hunt: