Hunting the Best Ever Bucks, A Dream Fufilled
By Larry Weishuhn
Presented by Bernard+Associates
Columbia, SC --(AmmoLand.com)- The rain slowed from a downpour and then, thankfully, stopped falling altogether.
I shifted ever so slightly from under the brushy juniper that provided limited shelter from the rain for guide Barry Hendrix, cameraman Blake Barnett and me.
By squirming to my left I could get a better view of a deer trail leading through the dense underbrush. Off in the distance a bluejay squawked his displeasure while only a few feet away a squirrel scampered across rain-soaked leaves. Then all grew quiet, except the splatting of an occasional raindrop on a limb above us.
We’d arrived in central Missouri only a couple hours earlier after a long drive from western Colorado where I’d taken a 32 ½-inch Rocky Mountain mule deer. Sleep-deprived, I struggled to maintain my concentration while gazing at a drop of water on an oak leaf cradled in the bough of a juniper. Our gray, sodden surroundings were momentarily brightened by a flash of lightning, followed by a sharp, close crack of thunder.
“OK, time to leave!” I heard Barry proclaim before the thunderclap faded. Neither Blake nor I needed any further encouragement. Soon the three of us were back at the vehicle and on our way to Oak Creek Ranch lodge, where we knew steaming hot coffee awaited. About halfway back the rain began falling as if poured from a bucket and we grew concerned that the creek might be too high to cross.
Suddenly, we spotted movement in the narrow woodland road just ahead. From the front seat I heard Blake gasp, “Oh my God!”
I strained to see what had grabbed his attention and caught just a fleeting glimpse of a monstrous buck. His body was huge and his tines looked like baseball bats, both in length and girth. And there, on each side of his main beams, were long drop-tines. In the moment I got to see him, there was no doubt the buck would gross-score more than 200 points.
For moments no one uttered a single word, though all three of us were giving each other questioning looks. Had we really seen what we thought?
I was the first to speak. “I know which buck I want to hunt for!”
“He’s definitely as big as he looks,” Barry said. “I saw him four days ago . . . first time I’d seen him. He was making a scrape close to where we were set up. I think he beds on the ridge just above that.
Which is why we set up where we did.”
Before I could reply, Barry continued. “Let’s do this. It’s raining too hard for your camera, right?” Blake nodded.
“Let’s go back to the lodge, get some dry clothes and a bite to eat, then head back to where we were. I have a good feeling about that area.”
I have been fortunate to hunt some really outstanding deer country, having worked for many years as a wildlife biologist and researcher specializing in whitetails. And if there is one thing I have learned it is to trust your guide when hunting country that’s unfamiliar to you.
This was my second hunt at Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch. Barry had also guided me on my first trip the year before. Back then, I was immediately impressed with his knowledge of big whitetails and his passion for hunting them. I had truly enjoyed his company.
During my 2008 hunt at Oak Creek, I had seen more big whitetails – bucks scoring close to or more than 200 inches – than I’d ever seen anywhere on the continent, and that included the legendary Brush Country of South Texas. And even though Oak Creek is high-fenced and intensively managed for the biggest whitetails in North America, the property is large enough to sustain top-quality habitat for the animals, year-round.
There was nothing “easy” about my first hunt at the ranch. Big whitetails, such as those found at Oak Creek, are the same as anywhere else. They are extremely elusive, crafty and difficult to find and take. I fell in love with Oak Creek, not only because of its huge-antlered bucks, but because of its challenging hunts, its diverse terrain and its spacious, beautifully appointed lodge. Owner Donald Hill and his entire family are involved in the operation, and the chef and guides are unsurpassed. Hunting at Oak Creek was like coming home, only better!
I passed up some unbelievable bucks on that hunt. I rattled in several monster whitetails, then finally set my sights on a buck that we pursued for four days before I finally got a shot and enough footage to showcase the hunt on my Winchester World of Whitetail television show on Versus. If you happened to catch the show, you’ll know that near the end of the hunt I shot a 200-plus typical 12-point with my T/C Encore .308 Win. pistol. It was my biggest deer ever, at least at the time. I dreamed of returning to Oak Creek, which came about sooner that I thought it would.
After a quick visit with Donald and questions about the “magic beans” he’d planted in several large food plots, we headed back to the woods.
That afternoon, in a hastily set-up GhostBlind (ground blind), we saw some extremely good bucks, including a monster that bedded down not far from us. Unfortunately, it was not the one I had set my sights on that morning.
We moved the GhostBlind to a spot just downwind from a trail meandering toward a food plot deep in the woods.
“The mature bucks tend to hang back from the plot where they can check does headed to the forage,” Barry explained. “Young bucks and does feed primarily in the plot itself. But I’ll be frank with you. We’re into a fabulous acorn year, and when we have this sort of bumper crop, the deer do not use our food plots like they normally do.”
We did not have long to wait before the first does and fawns came by. We were hidden behind the GhostBlind, which perfectly reflected the leaves and underbrush in front of us, so the deer had no idea we were there.
After the does walked past, a buck scoring about 150 or so sauntered by. “Two-year-old,” mouthed Barry. I nodded.
As the afternoon progressed, numerous bucks glided through the woods, among them a three-year-old typical 12-point that would have easily scored in the 170s. On any other property I would have taken that buck, but at Oak Creek, he was safe. Donald and his staff try their best not to shoot bucks until they are at least four years of age and have reached full maturity.
That night I had the opportunity to review some photos of trophy bucks taken at Oak Creek, though from what I’d seen that day, it was hard to believe the ranch had even been hunted before I arrived. One photo in particular caught my attention. It was of Sporting Classics Publisher Chuck Wechsler with the biggest whitetail he’d ever killed. Others were of smiling hunters who’d taken their bucks of a lifetime.
The next day we awoke to the sound of rain falling on the lodge’s roof. As we readied for the morning hunt, the rain slowed.
“Let’s go before it starts again,” Barry suggested. “We’ll head back to the same ridge, but this time we’ll still-hunt. The wet leaves will allow us to move quietly, and the way the wind is blowing out of the southeast, we’ll be walking into it.”
Less than a mile from the lodge we came to the rain-swollen creek, which was now impassable. Reluctantly we turned around and returned to the lodge.
After finishing my coffee, I grabbed my T/C Icon, a box of .300 Win. Mag. Winchester ammo and headed to the range next to the lodge to fine-tune the rifle, if necessary. Two shots touched dead-on at 100 yards. I cased the rifle and headed back to the lodge through the falling rain.
After lunch and reviewing Blake’s footage from our Colorado mule deer hunt, I was beginning to wonder if we’d be able to get into the hunting area due to the flooding. Just then Barry walked in and said, “Gather up the gear. I just checked the creek and we can get across. Same plan as this morning.” A short time later we parked our vehicle and walked to the northwest corner of the ridge. The wind was blowing out of the southeast at about 10 to 15 miles-per-hour. Perfect. As we started up the ridge, all three of us stopped at the same time when we spotted what appeared to be two antler tines protruding above a small incline. Using hand signals, Barry indicated he would crawl forward to see if he could get a better look.
When Barry returned a few minutes later he was wearing a huge smile. “It’s our buck,” he whispered. “He’s bedded and has no idea we’re here. Let’s move up quietly and slowly. If he looks our way, stop and DO NOT move!”
We slipped to within about 35 yards where I could just make out the deer’s rack and head. I set up my shooting sticks and leveled the rifle at the buck, or at least what I could see of him. Behind me Blake set his camera ever so quietly onto his tripod, then tapped my shoulder.
When I turned to face him he mouthed, “Can only see his rack and head.” Then he mouthed again, “Don’t shoot until he stands up.” I nodded back, then settled into as comfortable a kneeling position as possible, knowing the wait might take mere seconds – or forever.
Where the buck was bedded, if he spooked he would be gone before I could get off a shot. We needed him to stand on his own rather than induce him to stand.
I studied the buck’s huge antlers. His brow tines were long and massive, his primary tines long and thick. His double drops were equally massive. If I was fortunate enough to take him, the buck would be my highest scoring, widest and most massive whitetail ever.
I waited and waited. My knees ached, my shoulders hurt and my heart raced. My back muscles were screaming for relief, for me to get up and move around.
Still I waited. Mountains rose from flat prairies and crumbled. Great civilizations were created and fell. I glanced back at Barry and Blake; both just shrugged their shoulders. The rain resumed, yet the buck remained in his bed.
I was seriously contemplating whether to stand so I might get at a shot at his body. But then I thought the better of it. Surely he would rise from his bed soon. Meanwhile, the rain grew more intense. I was about to shout, “Get up!” when the buck rose from his bed. At his first movement I had pushed off the safety. By the time he’d risen to his full height, I tugged the trigger then immediately bolted in a second round and shot just as the buck started to run. Then he was gone.
I reloaded and looked back at Blake. “Got it,” was all he needed to say.
I looked at Barry, who said, “Let’s go get him.”
We found him less than 40 yards from his bed. The closer I got to him the bigger he seemed to grow. At his side I said a prayer of thanks, and then reached down for his antlers. His body was huge – at least 300 pounds – and his rack was truly spectacular. One drop-tine measured seven inches and the other five drops were all at least one inch and longer. His greatest outside spread was four inches longer than the Icon’s 26-inch barrel.
I was ecstatic. At my side was the biggest whitetail buck I had taken in over 50 years of hunting. We took a few quick photos before darkness set in; there would be more time for pictures the next morning. Now there were some “TV things” that needed to be taken care of before taking him to camp.
Later that night we celebrated our successful hunt and made plans for my return the following season . . . and the year after that and the year after that.
I’ve finally found my “Whitetail Hunter’s Heaven,” and I’ll hunt at Oak Creek as long as I’m able.
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