Deer Hunting with Greg Miller
The Hungry PhD Buck
Editor’s Note: Greg Miller of Bloomer, Wisconsin, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, television host and one of the most-widely-recognized deer hunters in the nation, has used Hunter’s Specialties’ products for many years and has taken many trophy deer in his lifetime. According to Miller, “In my family, deer hunting is a tradition that’s as rich and as important as the blood that runs through the veins in the men of the Miller family. I’ve been hunting whitetails for about 42 years. Although I hunt deer with a wide variety of weapons, bowhunting is my favorite way.” This week we’re going to talk with Greg about some of his most-memorable bucks he has taken and tells about in John E. Phillips’ latest book, “PhD Whitetails.” To learn more, click here.
The deer that taught me the most was a PhD buck I killed not 30 miles from home in Eau Claire County, Wisconsin. My brother Jeff and I had exclusive permission to hunt a 290-acre farm for whitetails that had poplar trees as big as my upper thighs on it. For two seasons, Jeff and I hunted this buck but never saw him. We always found his scrapes, rubs, tracks, droppings and trails, but we could never find the deer. This buck was driving us nuts. We did see a huge deer walk out in an alfalfa field late in the evening. The next year, my brother and I located a big oak tree and set up a stand in the place where we’d seen the deer come out the year before. I went to the farm to see if there was any deer activity and discovered a trail by the tree that went into the alfalfa field. Deer were pawing through the snow to reach the alfalfa. But I didn’t see any deer sign that really got me excited or made me want to hunt that area. Four days after my scouting trip, I was sitting in my office writing an article for a magazine when my brother walked in and said, “I checked the stand today and found four big fresh rubs right along the brush line.” I realized the buck had made those rubs in the last four days. Jeff looked at me and said, “Greg, you need to hunt your stand right now.” Jeff said the magic words; I logged off the computer, put on my hunting clothes and headed for my tree stand on the edge of the alfalfa field. I wasn’t in my stand long before the does came streaming out of the wood line and into the field. I then saw a nice-sized buck just out of bow range. As the afternoon wore on, I had 1/2-dozen does pawing through the snow and feeding on the alfalfa. One doe was 15 yards from my tree stand. I heard a deer coming from the bluff above me down to the alfalfa field.
Suddenly, the does in front of me lifted their heads and looked in the direction of the deer coming off the hill. My bow was hanging on a bow hanger. I was sitting as still as possible. I knew that if I turned to look at the deer coming to the field, the doe might spot me. The weather was very cold; I had my hands in heavy gloves tucked under my armpits to try to keep them warm. When the doe finally allowed me to move enough to see the deer, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This buck was a huge non-typical. Immediately, I thought to myself. “That’s the monster buck we’ve been unable to see for two years!” At the same time, the buck and doe that were 15 yards in front of me spooked, ran right in front of my tree stand and stopped. I was concentrating on the trophy buck so hard that I wasn’t paying any attention to them. When the gigantic buck was 20 yards from me, I looked away and slowly reached for my bow. The doe below me spooked and ran behind my tree stand. My heart sank. I felt like I’d blown the chance to take my buck of a lifetime. As I looked at the buck, he didn’t seem alarmed. He just swished his tail and came walking straight to the spot where the doe had been feeding on the alfalfa. I really believed that the buck thought he’d spooked the doe. Now I had a new problem. The buck was head-on to me and didn’t present a very good shot. I had my bow in my hand with the wind-chill factor below zero degrees. I had to wait while freezing for 5 minutes with a 200-inch non-typical buck right in front of me. I had to deal with the pain of the cold and the sheer excitement of having a huge buck that close and not being able to take a shot. Those 5 minutes were probably the most difficult I’d ever spent in a deer stand. After what seemed to be an eternity of hunting this buck, the buck turned, quartering slightly to me, which allowed me to draw my bow and aim just behind the buck’s front leg on his off side. When I shot this trophy buck, he went back toward the bluff from where he’d come originally. As the does ran across the alfalfa field, he turned and ran right behind them. But then he fell about 200-yards out in the alfalfa field. I never dreamed that the buck was as big as he was.
From the time I saw that big buck, I forgot about his antlers and instead concentrated on where I needed to aim to get a lethal hit. I would have estimated his score to be about 160 Boone & Crockett. But when I walked up on that buck and looked at his antlers after pulling his head out of the snow, I saw that he had 18 points. His antlers were 202-inches wide. I couldn’t believe I’d taken the buck that my brother and I’d been hunting for 2 years. Earlier Jeff and I had decided that the big buck on the farm was nocturnal and too smart to show up during daylight hours. We were convinced that this buck had already patterned us, and we’d probably never see him again. Yet there the huge buck was in the snow, just 15 yards in front of me. The 6-1/2-year-old buck field-dressed at 200 pounds. He should have weighed 40 more pounds, but apparently because he’d been rutting so hard, he was almost skin and bones. The next morning after I took the buck, 6 inches of new snow was on the ground. I decided that that buck knew a bad snowstorm was coming and had to eat before it hit to have enough food to maintain his body temperature. I believed that his need for food, especially ahead of that snowstorm, was the only reason he was out in the alfalfa field during daylight hours. I’ve learned from this Hungry PhD Buck that you:
* don’t ever give up on a buck, even if you decide he’s nocturnal and has you figured out;
* can hunt a buck in any temperature because the weather can never be too harsh or too brutal to prevent a buck from feeding;
* will find the deer feeding heavily before a weather front moves in, when bad weather is coming; and
* need to be ready to go deer hunting on extremely-short notice if and when you discover that a buck is active and moving.
To learn more about “PhD Whitetails,” click here.
Tomorrow: The UPS PhD Buck