We’re continuing our pro-staff introductions with a post written by pro-staffer T.J. Esfeller. The following is the story of how he harvested a late season trophy in Alabama just a few weeks ago. T.J. would tell you that he just got lucky, but luck is simply preparation meeting opportunity. This is a prime example of that, with a little persistence thrown in.
By: T.J. Esfeller My deer season began on October 25th in the hill country of Texas. I was invited to hunt a 16,000 acre ranch along with Nature’s Eye owner Blake Hamilton and fellow pro-staff members Lance Howard and Zach Bond. As we arrived at the ranch I couldn’t help but be amazed at how different the landscape and deer habitat was than what I was used to hunting. After a sleepless night full of excitement and anticipation, the first morning hunt was all that I expected it to be. There were deer absolutely everywhere. Over the course of the weekend I had several 3 ½ year old and younger bucks in bow range. Although I saw several mature bucks, none of them came close enough for a shot. I wasn’t able to fill my tag in Texas, but it was an awesome hunt and a great experience to see a place that dedicates so much time and effort into providing quality wildlife habitat. Strike 1. My next scheduled trip was to Kirwin, Kansas with two of my buddies, Charlie and Clarke. This was my first trip to Kansas. To say I was excited would be an understatement, given the reputation that Kansas has for producing giant deer. As we were driving up we saw several mature bucks chasing does so I felt confident that we had hit the rut in perfect timing. When we arrived the weather was absolutely brutal with a wind chill factor of negative 4 degrees. Over the course of the week, Charlie and Clarke both connected on mature deer scoring in the mid 140’s. I, on the other hand, had an opportunity but just couldn’t put it together. Strike 2 At this point in my season I was starting to get a little discouraged, but with an upcoming trip to my family’s farm in Grayson County, Kentucky I was still optimistic. All through the early season at the Kentucky farm I had several mature bucks on camera. I had pictures of one particular nine point, with whom I’ve had a couple years of history, and he was at the top of my list. My first afternoon hunt in Kentucky I saw the big nine out in a cut corn field bumping a couple of does around. I had a marginal shot opportunity so I decided to pass him, knowing I still had a week of hunting left. That afternoon would be the last time I saw the big nine. Strike 3. This wasn’t exactly how I envisioned my season would be going. I’d been to a whitetail heaven in Texas, the land of the giants in Kansas, and my own piece of dirt in Kentucky, and had yet to fill a tag. Discouraged is an understatement at this point. I just plain felt sorry for myself. Thankfully, however, hunting isn’t baseball and strike 3 doesn’t send you to the bench. I still had one more opportunity left with the upcoming hunt during the rut in Alabama. To be honest, I was worn out by this time of the season; but it was the second to last weekend in the Alabama season and there had been a lot of rut activity seen in the part of the state I was going to hunt. So, I hunted hard for a few days, but by Saturday morning, January 31st, I decided I needed some rest and opted to sleep in. I woke up that morning and had breakfast with my girlfriend, then headed to the woods around 8 o’clock. I originally planned on hunting an area that was known to be a good travel corridor. However, on the way to that spot I realized that the wind would be out of the wrong direction for that stand, so I decided to hunt a two acre food plot where I knew the wind would be right. I felt like I was just running through the motions, but I knew I needed to be in the woods somewhere this time of year. As I was easing my way to the stand, I noticed two does feeding in the food plot. They didn’t spook, but they knew something wasn’t right and just walked back into the woods. I felt good about the hunt, because those does lead me to believe that the deer were still feeding and moving. After about 45 minutes of sitting in my stand I noticed a doe trotting through the pines. All of a sudden she stopped and looked back. I threw binoculars up and noticed a buck giving chase. As I focused in on the deer I noticed two kickers off of his right G2 and G3 and instantly recognized him as a buck we had named “Big”. At that point he just kind of vanished like a ghost, like mature bucks are known to do. An hour later, a lone doe appeared at the far end of the field. She started feeding in the plot and grazed for around ten minutes. Then, all of sudden, she started looking back into the wood line from where she had emerged minutes earlier. That’s when I noticed “Big” standing on the edge of the field watching the doe. As soon as I noticed him the doe started scampering away from him and he followed at a slow trot. As quickly and quietly as I could, I got my gun up to prepare for a shot. By this time the doe had made it out of the field. I began to try and stop him with a doe bleat, but he was so keyed in on the doe that he didn’t hear me. A mere 10 yards separated him from the wood line before I was able to get his attention. As soon as he stopped, no more than a half second passed before I squeezed the trigger. I was confident in the shot and in his reaction, and I knew that I had just taken the biggest buck of my life. As I sit and reflect back on the hunt, I don’t feel as if I outsmarted “Big”, but that with the time I put in, my persistence, and a stroke of luck, I was able to capitalize when he was most vulnerable. An old wise man once told me that a mature buck has to get lucky every day, but I, on the other hand, have to get lucky just one day.