by Eric Hall
Ohio hunter Mike Figley took advantage of an early season cold front to score on his biggest whitetail to date.
The 2017 Ohio whitetail archery season opened on September 30th. Typically, the tactics used during the early season call for evening hunting because deer normally are still on somewhat of a summer movement pattern: bed to food in the evening and food to bed in the morning. Most times the deer are back into their beds before sun up so the opportunity tends to be more limited with morning hunts.
Opening day, 2017, Mother Nature ushered in a cold front in NE Ohio that dropped nighttime temperatures 15-20 degrees below the previous day. With temperatures in the mid 30’s and a good frost, Mike knew it was time to hit the woods early in hopes of catching a buck headed back to bed just a little later than he normally would. Little did Mike know what was in store for his first hour of the 2017 whitetail season.
The property on this hunt, although small, offered numerous terrain features. There is thick bedding cover and a pond that lies behind the set. Mike took advantage of the topography to set up in a pinch point between 2 old strip cuts and an adjacent cornfield. “My entrance is across a 1.5-acre yard and up a hill to a ridgeline. I drop down off the ridge into a bottom and my stand is in an 8-yard-wide opening between 2 old strip cuts. Behind me is a small pond and a dense thicket of crab apple trees that I figured to be a bedding area,” Figley explained.
“I hadn’t been in this spot since last year. No trimming, no scouting. I didn’t even know if my stand would still be there,” said Figley. “The night before, I was moving couches in our home. I found a lighter under the couch that had a buck on it. I told my fiancée, Erin, I have a feeling it will be my morning. I’m going to go out and see what happens,” Figley said.
Mike was up at 5:30 and under the cover of darkness crept onto the small 8-acre tract of land. “It was so grown up that I was way more noisy that I wanted to be. The trail I used last year was completely covered in briars,” Figley explained. Using his cell phone cupped in his hand for light, he located the stand and slowly climbed up, finally settling in at 6:55 am.
The sun began to rise on the frosty September morning. Mike passed the time watching 4 raccoons playing and chasing one another in the tree next to him. Intent on enjoying the morning, Mike checked the time on his phone. When he looked up he noticed a body slipping across the ridgeline towards him. “At 7:22 I saw a body and I realized it was a deer coming. I could see one side of the rack and thought here we go again, another little one like I passed all last year,” Figley said. The buck moved closer down the ridge towards the thick bedding cover, Mike was able to get a better look at the animal and his opinion changed. “When he got to about 15 yards he was almost at eye level with me. He looked directly at me and I just started to shake,” said Figley. Mike Figley was eye to eye with the biggest buck of his life on opening day.
Plumes of breath from the buck’s nostrils rose into the cold October air as Mike shouldered his crossbow trying to settle his nerves for the shot of a lifetime. “I was shaking so bad. As soon as my sight settled behind his shoulder I squeezed the trigger,” Figley said. The buck showed no visible reaction to the shot. The buck simply took 4 or 5 leaps down over the crest of the ridge. Though Mike could still see the back of the deer, he thought he had blown the shot. Unable to cock the crossbow due to uncontrollable shaking, doubt quickly took over his mind. “Man, I thought I had missed! I just kept telling myself I can’t believe I missed,” said Figley. Doubt soon turned to hope when the loud crash of a deer falling echoed through the autumn woods.
“I tried to sit in the stand, I really tried. After 25 minutes I got down because I had to know,” said Figley, “I crested the hill and I saw white belly, he didn’t make it 15 yards.” Even with full-blown buck fever, Mike was able to execute a double lung shot on the buck and the Muzzy broadhead didn’t disappoint. “I was off probably 8 inches from where I was aiming because I was shaking so badly. I was just glad I didn’t wound him, and he went down so quickly,” Figley said.
Mike sat in silence with the buck for 15 minutes just taking in what had happened. He then texted his fiancée and said, “I just got a monster!”
2 key takeaways from this hunt.
1) When the mercury drops in a big way, get into the woods. Early season, rut, late season, weather trumps it all when it comes to whitetail movement.
2) Less is more when it comes to intrusion. Mike’s buck was headed back to bed in the thicket. Yes, cold had him on his feet, but he also felt completely at home because that was the first time he had encountered a human in that area all year.
Mike’s buck green scored 153 ⅛ and tipped the scales at 195 pounds field dressed. Easily his largest deer to date
Congratulations Mike on a fantastic hunt and for sharing your story with us.
Good luck out there everyone and Stay Afflicted with Whitetail OCD!
Stay Afflicted with Whitetail OCD!
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