By Dustin McAloon
My name is Dustin McAloon, and I am a deer geek. It started innocently but turned into a daily obsession. Of course, I am not to blame. It’s always someone else’s fault, and in this case, I blame my dad. My dad blamed his job, during which he oversaw Deer & Deer Hunting magazine and launched Deer & Deer Hunting TV. We had to live and breathe deer and deer hunting.
But forget the blame. We are deer geeks, and we're OK with that. Deer hunting is a year-round event for me. Honestly, not a day passes without hunting, scouting, planting, planning or researching deer-related information, and I looked forward to the most recent archery season with more anticipation than any previous year. Why so much anticipation? I hadn't been able to hunt the previous year; we had more food plots on our land then ever before; and our trail camera photos were amazing.
THE PREVIOUS YEAR
My hunting wasn't curtailed because of an injury, family tragedy or anything serious. I had accepted a scholarship to play football in Missouri. I knew being seven hours from home would prevent me from hunting my home state, but I didn’t realize the time commitment college football and studies would require. My roommate had land in Pike County, Ill., and I wasn’t even able to sneak away and hunt there. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything but a 200-inch whitetail at 20 yards, but I'm sure glad to be back in Wisconsin playing football within an hour’s drive of my home.
I was home for the entire summer, and we had a new diesel tractor. We created a real smorgasbord—the ultimate all-you-can-eat deer buffet. We live on a unique 40-acre property. It's actually back-to-back 20-acre parcels that translate into a piece that's 220 yards wide and 880 yards (a half-mile) long. The entire northern line is a beautiful oak ridge bordered by a five-year-old clear-cut. It slopes down to a valley, allowing for about 17 acres of food plots.
In previous years, we planted about five acres of food plots. We always had our staple plots of Imperial Whitetail Clover and experimented with numerous other products. How does this sound for a deer buffet? We had three Imperial Whitetail Clover plots, two Whitetail Institute Pure Attraction plots, two Whitetail Institute Winter -Greens plots, two plots with cereal grains and eight acres of corn and soybeans. This year we had 17 acres of food planted for deer, and don’t forget that the remaining 23 acres are littered with white oaks, which had lots of acorns last year.
TRAIL CAMERA PHOTOS
A picture is worth a thousand words. Despite an extremely dry summer in Wisconsin, all our plots did well. With so much food, where do you decide to hunt opening night? Because of the layout of our property, we don't hunt mornings until the rut.
We examined our trail camera pictures to see what bucks were eating, Imperial Whitetail Clover was the answer. As mentioned, we've had Imperial Whitetail Clover planted for the past 10 years. We have also experimented with everything imaginable for deer forage, and before the hard freeze, deer prefer Imperial Clover above anything else — BAR NONE! The choice of what forage to hunt was a no-brainer, but we had to decide which Imperial Plot and which stand to use. We have three Imperial plots, and there are seven stands on those plots, most of which are positioned for the north to northwest winds that are prevalent in our area. We can’t hunt south winds, and I would have died if there had been a south wind opening afternoon.
That's where the trail cameras have become such a benefit to bow-hunters. We have seven trail cameras on our plots. Early in the year, they are positioned on the edges of food plots for two reasons. We see what plots are being used and where deer are entering them. Also, we can easily check them during midday without disturbing deer travel routes or bedding areas.
My dad and I debated the correct stand. I wanted to hunt a stand where the deer enter the plot; he suggested a stand on the back side of the plot where deer would have to feed toward us. Because it was my hunt and he was filming for DDH TV, he let me choose. I picked a stand where the deer come off our ridge to enter the Imperial plot. This stand can be tricky early in the season because of heavy foliage. The deer will be eye-to-eye with you as they head down the steep ridge. Being still and scent-free are essential yet complicated with two people in the tree. I was lucky that we had a bye week for football, which let me hunt opening afternoon. However, it was the only night I could hunt, as we had to be back for meetings Sunday afternoon. It was unseasonably warm for mid-September — in the 80s — and I feared the deer would not move. We had trail camera pictures of deer in the food plots as early as 5 p.m., so we were on stand by 4 p.m. and settled in for a four-hour sit. Nothing. It looked like the warm temperatures would win. My stand was positioned to face the food plot, and the camera was set to face up the ridge, so my dad served as my eyes. Finally, I heard him say a deer was coming, and a doe and fawn sprinted into the food plot. There was maybe a half-hour of light left. Then my dad whispered, “Buck coming.”
I twisted my head toward the ridge to see a nice 3-year-old 8-pointer heading down the trail.
Then dad said, “Big buck coming behind him.”
I saw antlers and repositioned my body to face the food plot for a shot. When I turned, I saw four other bucks entering the food plot on a trail only 35 yards away. They were all 2-year-olds — no shooters. I would have to wait for the big buck to pass under my stand and enter the food plot before I could shoot.
The minutes seemed like hours. Where was the big buck? Facing the food plot, I had no idea where he was. The 8-pointer he was traveling with had entered the plot and was feeding with the four other bucks in front of me. Little did I know the big buck had cut off the main trail and had been standing right under us. Finally, I caught movement as he started to move from under us into the food plot.
"OK, be calm, pick a spot," I thought.
The big buck bolted and rammed one of the 2-yearolds less then 15 yards from me. They locked antlers, and the big buck drove the smaller deer into the ground, twisted him around and pushed him 40 yards out of the plot until the smaller deer turned and ran away. "Don’t tell me he isn’t going to come back into bow range," I thought. The big buck stood in the plot for about five minutes, almost to tell the smaller buck, “Don’t even think about coming back into my food plot.” But the urge for a little Imperial Clover snack must have been too much for him, as he turned and headed back toward my stand. He fed to within 20 yards of us.
The shot was easy and, thankfully, perfect. The Rage broadhead made sure the buck never made it out of the food plot. I had killed a 140-inch Pope & Young buck. I am a deer geek, and I'm also very blessed. I want to thank everyone who has supported me and made hunting such a special part of my life. Having the opportunity to shoot a deer like that is special, and doing it with my dad filming over my shoulder was priceless.