The sun was barely clearing the eastern horizon on another scorching hot July day as I slipped from my truck with a couple of trail cameras. I had just gotten permission to hunt a new property a couple of days before and was anxious to get the cameras out to see if the giant buck I was trying to track down is actually utilizing this piece of real estate.
It all sounds simple enough but here is the kicker; to get to the woods I had to walk ¾ of a mile across a soybean field that stood almost chest high. (luckily the farmer planted the soybeans on wide rows!) So I set out walking through soaking wet soybeans that were taller than my waist. Needless to say, I was soaking wet within the first few yards. By the time I got back to the truck a couple of hours later I was soaked, thirsty and exhausted … but my day was just getting started. After this adventure I headed to a couple of other properties for my first game-camera card pulls of the year. On this one summer day I likely put in more hours and more effort than 99% of other deer hunters will put forth the entire summer.
Summer is one of my favorite times of year as a deer hunter. I love seeing the bucks grow their new racks and enjoy running the game cameras. What I learn from my cameras is largely what will lead to my hunting success later. I enjoy getting a giant buck on camera almost as much as I enjoy getting them to walk in front of my stand. Almost!
One thing I don’t enjoy about deer hunting is the jealousy, rumors and outright lies that accompany success. Deer hunting is a solitary endeavor unlike sports which are overseen by referees and umpires and often played in front of a crowd. With no onlookers it is easy for the jealous haters to try to discredit others who have had more deer hunting success than they have. The common theme seems to be, “Clearly the other guy must be doing something wrong if he is killing bigger bucks than I am”. It seems impossible for some to accept the fact that not everyone needs to cheat to kill big bucks just as not everyone needs to use a trampoline to dunk a basketball.
My upcoming 2018 season could very well be tremendously successful or I might not tag a buck at all. Time will tell. I am anxiously awaiting the first photos of 5 different bucks scattered over 5 different counties that could potentially push 200”. The challenge is that 4 of those bucks live on properties I have never hunted before and the fifth lives on land that I do not own or lease but just have permission on a couple of small tracts within his range.
While the anticipation and excitement of knowing such bucks exist on land I can hunt is what I live for, it also gives me reason for concern. You see last season I had my best season ever and killed 2 giant bucks on back-to-back hunts … and soon the haters were spreading lies about me and the bucks I shot. The most common rumor is that I raise these bucks in a pen and then turn them loose to shoot them.
So why bring this up now? Well, there are multiple reasons. First of all, a lie repeated often enough will become the truth in the eyes of many. It is time to stand up to the jealous haters and speak the truth. I have a small legion of true loyal friends who believe in me. Some of them have helped me drag out bucks so they know the truth first-hand while others simply believe in me. All have defended me against the lies perpetrated by jealous haters. I want to thank all of those who know me to the degree that they can defend me without question, knowing in their hearts that I did things right. You all know who you are. Thank you!
Let me state the following unequivocally –
- I have NEVER shot a deer behind a high fence.
- I have NEVER turned loose a deer from a high fenced area to shoot myself or for someone else to shoot .
- To the best of my knowledge, not a single buck that I have ever shot has ever spent even one second of its life in any sort of captivity. They have all been 100% wild without exception.
Not only do I hunt 100% legally, but ethically as well. I refuse to hunt with a gun (not that there is anything wrong with that) and won’t take a shot over 30 yards with my bow. The feeling of knowing that you pour your heart into your passion and do everything right only to be lied about by people who really don’t even know you is a tough one to describe. I often use these haters and their lies as fuel that drives me to kill another giant buck. It is a vicious circle though. The more successful I am the more ridiculous the lies become. It is to the point that even having an entire hunt on video is not enough to shut them up.
Another reason that I bring this up now is that the way things are shaping up, I truly have a chance to have another season that some will find hard to accept. This is especially true considering the season I just had last year. Don’t be surprised if I tip over another giant or two in 2018 but also don’t doubt for a second that it will all be 100% legal and ethical. It will be a true challenge though as I will be hunting a lot of new properties and don’t know any of these bucks like I knew the two I shot last season. However I do have some solid leads on some giant bucks a couple of which will surely get the haters blood to boiling with envy if I should be so blessed as to tag one of them.
Again, my 2017 hunting success was well documented and while a certain amount of luck came into play, there were also many years of work and preparation involved. I thought it might be interesting to look back at my last 5 hunting seasons and the bucks I killed during that time to get a better understanding and appreciation of exactly what led up to the unprecedented success I enjoyed in 2017. While the hours and effort I put forth cannot be over-stated, these photos and the captions with them show that some decisions were made that most deer hunters simply would not do.
During the 2013 hunting season the deer herd in my area was recovering from the massive EHD dies-off from 2012. The buck I ended up shooting lived on my own farm and was a minimum of 5 1/2 years old based on the history I had with him. I also had this other much larger buck on the farm that fall but elected to pass him several times including just a couple of minutes before shooting this buck. My good friend Kevin Boyer filmed this hunt and when this buck stepped out into the Real World soybean plot he was the 7th buck in line to do so. It was his last mistake. The bigger buck that I passed disappeared after this winter and I never saw him again.
In 2014 the deer herd in my part of Illinois was still devastated from the EHD outbreak of 2012. I searched diligently for a shooter buck and the best I could do was a 5 1/2 year old mid-170s (pictured here in trail cam photo) that I didnt want to shoot because I thought he had a chance to add several inches to his rack in another year. I totally walked away from that buck hoping he would make it another year. On another farm I had this 4 1/2 year old 9-point that grew very little from the year before as well as a much better 3 1/2 year old. On my first hunt on this farm for the season I passed that great 3 1/2 year old and minutes later shot the 4 1/2 year old cull that I wanted removed from the property. Neither of these bucks were on my own property or a property that I leased. I simply had permission from the landowners to hunt these properties. Incidentally, the great 3 1/2 year old buck that I passed was shot by a gun hunter about a week later.
In 2015 the 5 1/2 year old buck that I walked away from the year before only added a couple of inches to his rack from the previous year. Since he was now 6 1/2 years old I decided to go after him. I only had one small property to hunt this buck and past trail camera photos told me he only showed up on the property during the rut. On November 8th, the first morning I ever hunted for him, I slipped an arrow through his chest. Good friends Alan Foster and Henry Hortenstine helped me drag out this one. He gross scored right at 180″ and was as much a real-world buck as any that ever lived. To my knowledge there was no foodplots within his home range and there was substantial hunting pressure in the area.
2016 would be the season that some of even my closest friends questioned my sanity. I had a 5 1/2 year old giant (Smokey) that would score in the upper 180’s on my home farm and passed 5 legitimate shooting opportunities at him, getting each of those on video. I could not find another shooter buck on any of the properties that I hunt so at the very end of the season I shot this 1 1/2 year old spike which was also living on my own farm. I vowed to cull out this buck the very first time I saw him chasing does on my property. I dont believe we can gain much of anything “genetically” when we cull bucks but we can sure as heck influence which bucks on our property get to live to older age classes and this is one I didnt care to see down the road as a 4 year old. I wrote a blog about this and it caused quite a stir on social media! http://higginsoutdoors.com/extreme-whitetail-management/
2017 would be the season that dreams are made of. The buck I named Smokey and passed the season before on my own farm was now 6 1/2 years old and made a good jump in antler score. I tagged this 206 6/8″ buck on October 15 and the very next time I went hunting I tagged my other target buck Trump which ended up scoring 193 3/8″. Trust me, I was as shocked as anyone when it happened!
So there are my last 5 hunting seasons in a nutshell. Interestingly, during 3 of those seasons I shot bucks smaller than other bucks which I could have shot to give those bucks a chance to get older and reach their true potential. Twice it paid off and I shot the bucks a year later and in the other case the buck disappeared and was never seen again. Also, 3 of my last 6 bucks pictured here were not shot on land that I own or lease but simply have permission to hunt. They are as “real-world” as it gets!
My 2018 season is shaping up to be a very interesting one as I have expanded my search into areas and onto properties that I have never hunted before. At the end of the season I may end up with a big goose egg or I might end up with the biggest buck of my life. Either way, it will be done 100% legal and ethical and if someone tries to tell you otherwise they are simply spreading lies.
Don Higgins has authored 2 books on hunting trophy whitetails that can be purchased on this website –