Justin Ramsdorfer, Ramsdorfer Outdoors
Pennsylvania- I am a huge public access/public land archery hunting fanatic around the Johnstown area of western Pennsylvania (WMU’s 2C & 2E)and have been blessed with over 16 seasons of archery hunting. In that time, I have been able to harvest 9 bucks with my bow, 5 of which that gross over 121”.
This particular story begins from a mapping standpoint.
One of my greatest tools for success, as most fanatics will probably agree, is the use of aerial and topo maps as I am always searching for pieces of ground that look to have potential for good bucks.
When looking at this aerial map, does anything in particular catch your eye?
For this particular spot, I had eyed it with both aerials and topos and really liked the terrain features that would neck down a cruising buck's movement as he began searching for the first estrus does.
The author really liked how the two large wooded areas (circled in yellow) bottle necked down where they connected. He expected the deer to travel in the red circle because of this and make the X his stand location. Additionally, the area was blocked on one side by a small river which would deter other hunters from hunting it.
This piece also boasted additional benefits because it seemed very easy to overlook, was difficult to access, and appeared to have excellent security cover. The access caught my eye because it was the perfect back door option to slide into for a morning hunt, and I felt strongly that no other hunters were utilizing it in this way so the deer would not expect it.
Taking a look at the topography, the author also liked that he could access it undetected and where the bottle neck was the terrain flattened out, meaning deer would more than likely use this travel corridor.
All in all it looked like an awesome set up to kill a good buck, but now I just had to find the right conditions and time to power scout what I had marked.
Having a family, house, full time job, as well as hunting every evening after work, it can be difficult to find the time to get out and scout even more spots when I’m already bouncing 20-30 areas a season as it is. In the back of my mind though I knew I needed to get in and take a look at that piece because it seemed so good from the maps.
Due to not being able to hunt every Sunday in Pennsylvania (this season is the first we can hunt any Sunday, and only one for archery), Sundays are typically the days that are dedicated to family time and catching up on everything that was falling behind from my focus being in the woods.
On one particular Sunday, October the 25th, the family and I had just gotten back home from fall festivities during the morning. With our kids lying down for a nap and feeling like risking my life with an already hunting season aggravated wife, I asked if I could run out quickly to power scout an area that I “needed to scout”.
Even though my wife could care less because it is all she hears about year round, I explained to her that this spot had,
“serious potential for me to kill a giant buck”
Her response being “you’ll be pissed if I say no so go ahead”.
So with the partial green light from her and having perfect rainy conditions, I rushed out anxious to power scout the areas that I had marked. The pinches in the section as well as the bedding/security cover were even better than what I had expected. Though I found only one small scrape and a handful of rubs, I felt confident that something good would be there so I set a cell cam at one of the primary pinch points.
On my way out I marked the best entry and exit options on my map, which included crossing a stream and slipping up through a drainage to the terrain funnel I wanted to set up on. After some research I was happy to find that the stream I was crossing had a USGS stream gauge on it, so I took down the gauge height it was at when I crossed it in order to have reference for crossing attempts in the future.
A few days went by with nothing more than a few small bucks and an odd doe or two on my cell cam, so I began to question if this spot I was so excited about was actually holding anything worth while.
Having multiple other areas pre-scouted and showing better sign of big bucks, I watched with high anticipation as a major front was to hit our area the last few days of October. More specifically, it was an extensive rain front that was to hit on Thursday, October 29th followed by a 20-30 degree temperature drop and a major pressure spike up into the 30.4 range for Friday the 30th and Saturday the 31st (a hunters dream!).
As the front pushed out on Friday the 30th, I was heading into a different set for the evening with no intentions of going to “the pinch” in the near future. I was watching a doe that I had snuck up on along my access path and cautiously scanning the area hoping that a buck might be lingering nearby when my phone lit up with a cell cam notification.
I couldn’t believe it when I opened it up!
There was an absolute giant cruising through the new spot I had scouted and it was at 12:53 in the afternoon! Even though the rest of the evening was an excellent sit with 5 different bucks sighted, I just couldn’t get my mind off of how I was going to get in and set up on this giant in the new spot I had scouted only 4 days prior.
The first picture of the author's target buck, caught on his Tactacam Reveal!
I checked the stream gauge for my access and from all of the rain on the 29th, the gauge height was nearly QUADRUPLE what I had marked it at, that entry was out!
I kicked around other options of whether I should just work my way in at first light from an alternative access since I didn’t know the area very well, or if I should wait and try something else in the meantime. My final decision was to go very early in the morning, giving myself ample time for the unfamiliar route and in hopes to not disturb anything as the deer should still be a good ways off at expected feeding locations.
With a game plan in place, on Halloween morning my alarm went off at 2:40 a.m. and by 4:00 a.m. I was setting off into the woods with my cold gear on my back, bow in my hand, and saddle around my waist.
It took me almost 2 hours to get to where I wanted to be, find the tree that I felt presented the best opportunities, and get set up, but I felt confident as I nestled into my phantom and waited for the woods to awaken.
With a full moon for Halloween and much colder temps for the day's high, I was anticipating late morning movement. It wasn’t surprising when the first two hours of daylight were slow, and as expected, around 9 o'clock, the movement started to heat up as a spike came down by me and worked it’s way off to the thick cover below.
Not long after, I sighted a nice 7 point cruising above me. I watched as he became alert and looked my direction, presumably having caught a whiff of my thermals.
As messages began to drift between myself and friends of what everyone was seeing, I caught movement to my right. I instantly knew from the large sweeping frame and long points that this was the buck I was targeting that had been on my cell camera less than 24 hours prior!
As the buck stood at 25 yards I positioned myself in my saddle to put the tree between the buck and I, flipped on my Tactacam, and prepared myself for a strong side shot. The buck stood and slowly smelled my ground scent seemingly checking every inch of earth determining if what he was smelling was worth considering a threat.
Thankfully I wore rubber boots and was very conscious of scent control, so the buck cautiously proceeded along the trail inching closer.
When he was well within 20 yards, I could hear the ever so quiet squeak of friction between my arrow and the drop away rest as I put on and took off pressure on my string, wrestling with the subconscious urge to bring my bow to full draw.
I reminded myself in my head,
“he’s going to give you the perfect opportunity, just wait for it”
As I watched him continue along the trail, the buck neared 8 yards when I knew the opportunity I had held off for was coming to fruition, so I came to full draw and settled my pins into position over his vitals.
Patiently awaiting the perfect opportunity, I followed him into an opening along the trail at 6 yards. As I saw my opening, I settled my pin aiming for my exit hole and released my arrow. I watched as he mule kicked and took off with all of the arrow except the fletchings hanging out of his opposite side.
The adrenaline hit as I replayed the mental image of the arrow burying slightly high behind the crease of the shoulder with the perfect exit on his opposite side. I celebrated uncontrollably and made the infamous “I got one phone calls”, I couldn’t believe that it had actually worked out!
After 30 minutes of excited conversations between family and friends about what had just happened, I climbed down and checked the area where he was standing when I hit him. Finding only a big puff of hair, I pushed on about 20 yards further just to get an idea of what first blood looked like prior to heading out to meet up with my father.
Though the first blood I did get on looked bright and reassuring of the lung hit I thought I had made, I wasn’t finding much blood due to the ground being damp from the morning frost which caused doubt to begin to creep in. After packing out to meet up with my father and to shed my cold gear, I threw on the only lightweight clothes I had in my car which were my jeans from work the day before. With help in tow, we hiked back in and quickly got on good blood just after where I had left off.
It wasn’t long until we came across my arrow, the fletchings covered in bubbles and bright blood officially confirmed the hit I felt I had made. I happily looking up at my father as we analyzed it and said, “Dad, I crushed this thing”.
We only made it another 30 yards when the distinct white belly of a fallen deer came into view and the celebration began. There was no mistaking the rack that could be seen sticking up in the distance, it was him!
He had even more junk and points than I was expecting with 15 scorable points, including a drop tine! Adding it all up, he had a rough green score of 153”, a true monarch for public access ground in Pennsylvania!
I still and always will feel beyond blessed to have had it all pan out, this was the 26th different buck I had seen this season and the adrenaline rush of taking a buck like him is the reason I continue to hold out for older age class bucks and love the challenge of the sport!
There truly is nothing like that feeling of making it happen when you are busting your butt for it!
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoy it! If you would like to see the Tactacam footage I uploaded it to YouTube, click HERE to check it out!
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