By Eric Boley
Early morning is a magical time for hunters to be in the woods. As darkness finally loses its battle against the rising sun, the gray shapes that have been moving in the low light begin to materialize. As hunters, we’ve been impatiently waiting to see what those shapes will become, hoping that one will be a huge buck or bull.
I was 18 feet up a ladder stand, concealed in an oak tree on a creek bottom in the Black Hills of Wyoming. I had seen shapes moving in the fields surrounding my stand and had been straining to discern those shapes through my binoculars, hoping that one of the shapes would materialize into a shooter whitetail buck. I was hunting the Solitude Ranch, located in close proximity to Devil’s Tower in northeastern Wyoming. I had purchased the hunt at a fundraiser in my hometown of Kemmerer over a year before and had been anxiously waiting for this day to arrive. I had planned the hunt to coincide with the November rut and according to ranch owner Mike Schmid and head guide Frank Amos, I had timed it perfectly.
Wyoming is world renowned for its huge mule deer, great elk herds and tremendous Shiras moose hunting, but is often overlooked as a whitetail hotspot. My tag for this hunt was actually good for either mule deer or whitetail, but I was focused on shooting a big, rutting whitetail.
My ladder stand was situated close to a food plot of sugar beets that was secluded by a small dry creek bed and had a huge bedding area close by consisting of ponderosa pines. I hadn’t hunted from a tree stand before, so before my hunt I stopped in at Sportsman’s Warehouse and picked up a Hunters Safety vest. In the predawn darkness, I felt much more comfortable being in the stand wearing my safety vest. As dawn approached, I could see a very nice buck working his way up a fence line about 300 yards away. I could also make out several does feeding in the direction he was headed. As it got lighter, I continued to glass, looking for a shooter buck headed my way.
After an hour or so, I noticed several does feeding down the field behind me. As I continued to scan the fields behind my stand, I noticed a large bodied deer working its way down another fence line. I quickly found the deer in my binoculars and took a quick breath as a high racked 5×5 came into view. He was working his way down the fence towards the herd of does that were feeding my way. He stopped, made a scrape and then he proceeded to beat the crap out of a fence post. Through my binoculars, I could see chunks of the cedar fence post flying in the air as he rubbed his horns and showed his dominance. I watched the other buck I had seen earlier turn tail and head the other way.
For the next 30 minutes, the does slowly made their way towards the food plot I was situated on. There was a well used game trail that ran almost directly under my stand and if the does continued their course they would be right on that trail, which I used my range finder to determine what would present a 15-25 yard shot. The buck was showing interest and was slowly hazing the does towards me. Finally, the does committed and came through a small copse of scrub oaks and right down the trail. The wind was perfect and they walked right under me and began picking at the turnip tops. I had two doe tags in my pocket, but I wasn’t tempted knowing that the buck was likely to follow the does.
I caught glimpses of him through the branches of the oaks and for a time I was convinced that he was going to come down the same trail as the does. But for some reason, he veered off to the north and worked his was along the dry creek bottom. He was a little too far for an ethical shot with my bow and the branches of the oaks that bordered the creek made it hard to find a clear shot anyway. I could see him standing there looking at the does. He made another scrape, spent some time freshening up a licking branch and then he turned and headed up the hill to the bedding area. All I could do was stand there and watch him walk away. I lost sight of him after about 125 yards. I sat down in my stand and put my head in my hands. What an incredible experience to witness all this rutting activity first hand.
About 45 minutes later I was contemplating getting out of the stand and calling it a morning. The does had fed in front of me for quite a while and had wandered off. I was just getting ready to call my guide to come get me when I heard a huge ruckus off to my left. I could see deer legs through the branches of the oaks and I could hear a buck tearing those trees to pieces with his antlers. I couldn’t see the buck’s head gear, so I didn’t know his quality. The buck finished with the tree he was destroying and slowly started to walk towards the creek. There was a huge old oak tree blocking my view of the buck, but every once in a while I could see a leg or part of his chest as he made his way down the hill. I finally caught a brief glimpse of his antlers through the branches of the tree and again caught my breath as I realized it was the high rack, ten point from earlier.
If he continued his course and came around the east side of the oak tree he was behind, he would be screened by a bunch of scrub brush. But, if he came around the west side, he would be in bow range with no obstructions. I watched him disappear into the creek bottom and then suddenly he was standing right below me at 21 yards. He slowly surveyed the beet field, slightly quartering away from me. I already had my bow in my hands and my release on the string in anticipation of this moment. I made sure he was looking away and quietly drew my 101st Airborne Bowtech bow. I anchored my release in the right spot on my cheek and I remembered to aim a little low since I was shooting steeply down from my elevated ladder stand. I picked a spot just behind his right front shoulder and touched the release. In my minds eye, I can still see the Goldtip arrow and Muzzy broadhead disappear in the fold of his shoulder. He ran back down into the creek bottom and started up the other side and then it was over. My buck collapsed and slid back down into the creek bottom.
I was shaking like a leaf and had to sit down or I’m afraid that I would have fallen out of the tree; another good reason for the safety vest. I had just taken my first animal of any kind from a tree stand and he was a bruiser, easily qualifying for Pope and Young. I called my guide, Frank and waited in the stand until he arrived to help me recover my deer. I took a moment to thank my Creator. While I waited, I glassed the tall grass where the buck had been standing and found my arrow sticking in the earth where it had passed through my buck. I could see crimson red on the fletchings, so I knew that it wasn’t a dream. When Frank arrived, I lowered my bow and gear down on a rope and then shakily made my way down to solid ground. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on my trophy.
During my next couple of days on the Solitude Ranch, I was able to complete a couple of other firsts. The day after I took my beautiful buck, I was able to complete a double and within 45 minutes of each other I took a doe at 27 yards and then 32 yards. My third day on the ranch I was able to collect a beautiful Merriam’s turkey with my muzzleloader, another personal first. As I reflect on the hunt, I consider myself so blessed to have been allowed to experience the Solitude Ranch and to spend time in the Black Hills of Wyoming.