How to Find, Plan and Take the Buck of a Lifetime! – Michael Ahlfeldt
Editor’s Note: Michael Ahlfeldt of Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania, took his bow buck of a lifetime this deer season. To accomplish this goal, he first established how to locate a piece of property with the potential to produce a trophy bow buck, how to manipulate the habitat on that property to hold a trophy buck, how to find that trophy buck and hunt him, and how to successfully take that trophy buck. This week, Ahlfeldt will show us the steps he took that you can follow to take the buck of a lifetime with your bow.
Michael Ahlfeldt has hunted deer for about 25 years and hunted deer with a bow for more than 20 years. “I’d used several bows but never found one that I liked,” Ahlfeldt says. “I watch a number of outdoor TV shows, including Mark and Terry Drury’s TV show ‘Bow Madness’ on the Outdoor Channel. I noticed that they were successful shooting their PSE bows. One of my local bow shops was a PSE dealer, but I didn’t have the funds to buy one. However, when I shot the bow at the dealer’s store, I fell in love with it. When one of my friends, who had a PSE X-Force, wanted to trade-up, he sold me his bow. I shot the bow before I bought it, and it felt good in my hands. Once I shot the bow, I fell in love with it. I couldn’t believe the speed it produced. Shooting carbon arrows, I could shoot out to 38 yards using only one pin. This gave me a huge advantage over bows that required multiple pins to shoot accurately at different ranges.”
Ahlfeldt selected Grim Reaper Broadheads, Gold Tip Carbon Arrows and a Jim Fletcher Release. Ahlfeldt’s home state of Pennsylvania is one of the most-heavily-hunted states for deer in the nation, because there’s an abundance of public land. Too, due to the large number of hunters, most of the private land has been leased. Based on these factors, Ahlfeldt felt that his best chance of taking his dream buck would be outside of his home state in a state that historically has produced big bucks. Ahlfeldt explains, “I’ve hunted Maryland and taken some nice-sized bucks in the 130 and the 140 Boone & Crockett class there with my bow. But a few friends and I wanted to find some property to hunt where we would have a chance to hunt bucks that would score in the range of 200 B&C points. So, I did research on the Internet and found that Ohio was the closest state to me that had the possibility of producing a 200 B&C buck or at least a buck in that range.” On his off days from work, Ahlfeldt made 7-hour drives to Ohio to scout for land where he might find dream bucks for himself and his friends.
Ahlfeldt discovered the first three secrets to taking a trophy bow buck of a lifetime: find a bow that fits you and delivers the speed and the accuracy you want in a bow; match that bow with the broadhead and the arrow shaft that delivers accuracy and knock-down power; and, finally, do your research, and look for the states closest to where you live that consistently produce the size of bow bucks you want to take.
Michael Ahlfeldt Discusses the Importance of Good Habitat and Sanctuary to Take a Trophy Bow Buck with His PSE Bow
After spending time scouting for land to hunt in Ohio, Michael Ahlfeldt and his friends found a 235-acre lease they felt had the potential to produce a trophy bow buck. Ahlfeldt says, “First, we set-up a food plot and Wildgame Innovations Trail Cameras to learn what types of bucks lived on the property. Although these cameras produce videos, as well as still shots, I’ve never used them in the video mode. I prefer to have still photos instead of video. We planted our food plots in early July and began putting-out trail cameras as soon as we’d established our food plots. We saw the bucks coming to those food plots and the types of antlers those bucks were growing during the summer months. From the trail-camera photos, I saw the buck of my dreams and named him Big Louie.” Ahlfeldt was able to get daytime and nighttime photos of Big Louie while the buck was in the velvet and growing his antlers. Ahlfeldt and his friends chose this 235-acre piece of land to lease, because on the center of the property, there were 35 acres of woods in-between several overgrown crop lands that had been taken out of production. They got permission from the landowner to plow and plant green fields in some of those overgrown fields. They knew the deer living there had cover and soft-mast crops and grasses to feed-on in the overgrown fields and hard-mast food in the hardwoods. So, if they added green fields, they not only would provide additional food for the deer, but they’d have open areas where they could hunt.
“We decided to make those 35 acres of hardwoods a sanctuary for the bucks that we never would violate except to trail a wounded deer,” Ahlfeldt explains. “Rather, we’d hunt the outer edges of the hardwoods and the trails leading to our green fields. There also were some woods on the outer edge of the property we decided to hunt. That year, we only had enough money to build three food plots on the property we’d leased. One of the food plots had 1-1/2-acres, and the other two were only 1-acre each. But we invested in trail cameras and set them up on the food plots and the trails leading to the food plots and coming out of the wood lots, including our sanctuary food lots and the wood lots on the outer perimeter of our property. We planted Mossy Oak BioLogic in our food plot. We saw how well the food plots that Mark and Terry Drury planted with BioLogic had produced deer, so we decided to use the same green-field plantings they used.”
But when the green fields were only 2- to 3-inches high, the area of Ohio where Ahlfeldt and his friends had leased land experienced a severe drought. However, in spite of the drought, their food plots still produced a pretty-good crop. To successfully take a trophy buck:
* find a piece of property to lease that you can control that has hard mast, soft mast and cover;
* check with the landowner to make sure you can manipulate the habitat by planting green fields before you lease the property;
* select a green-field planting that can withstand droughts or floods;
* establish a portion of your property as a sanctuary where deer will feel no hunting pressure, which will give the deer a place to escape from hunting pressure where they know they won’t be harassed;
* use trail cameras to census the deer herd on the property you lease; putting out the trail cameras during the summer months, so you can see the bucks’ antlers as they grow; and
* decide which bucks you want to take during the upcoming bow season, and from the trail cameras, learn the trails those bucks travel on when they’re moving.
Michael Ahlfeldt’s Long Shot at a Buck with His PSE X-Force in Ohio
“The first time I saw Big Louie, the big buck I wanted to take, was in August at our Ohio leased property,” Michael Ahlfeldt remembers. “I got a trail-camera picture of him, and my friends and I decided this was the biggest buck we’d ever seen in our lives. Big Louie was a typical 12 point with two drop tines and four sticker points. From our trail-camera survey, we spotted another trophy buck that would score 182-4/8-points on Boone & Crockett. We named him Captain Hook. We couldn’t believe the property we’d leased in Ohio had these two tremendous-sized bucks on them. Bow season started in 2010 on October 2 in Ohio, and I was the only member of the club who hunted the first day of the season. I’d see two to three bucks in the morning and two to three in the evening that would score 120 to 140 B&C points. But I was waiting for Big Louie or Captain Hook. I’d already taken 120- and 140-class bucks, and the purpose for getting this lease was to take trophy bucks.” When you know trophy bucks are living on the property you hunt, you may have to pass on some nice-sized bucks to get that buck of your dreams. Besides the two monster bucks on the property, Ahlfeldt and his hunting buddies also had seen four other bucks that would score 150 B&C or better, so they knew the trophy potential on this particular piece of property was unbelievable.
“The Good Lord really blessed us by leading us to a lease that had this many big bucks living on it,” Ahlfeldt says. “This is the type of property my friends and I had dreamed about our entire lives. But we needed a major miracle for us to get the property, and after we’d leased the property, the potential of taking a buck, any buck, seemed like a long shot.” Another gentlemen had wanted to lease the land before Ahlfeldt and his friends got the lease. But this first man went to the landowner the day after Ahlfeldt had expressed interest in leasing the property and said he didn’t want to lease the land, because there were no deer on it. That’s how Ahlfeldt and his friends got the lease. Ahlfeldt made a 7-hour drive the day after he got the phone call from the landowner to pay him and secure the lease. But he didn’t see much deer sign. Even after the deer came out of the velvet, Ahlfeldt and his friends only found a few rubs and scrapes and not much deer sign. Ahlfeldt wondered if they really had leased a piece of property with no deer on it, even though the land had all the elements necessary to hold big deer. “The deer were spending most of their time in that 35-acre woodlot, because it was really thick with a lot of saplings and overabundance of briars,” Ahlfeldt explains. “This sanctuary was extremely thick, because the landowner had cleared a portion of this land to build a 6-acre pond and then decided not to build a pond. There was no good reason for the deer to come out of that sanctuary until we planted the green fields. Once the green fields were planted, and the trail cameras started photographing a large number of big bucks, Ahlfeldt and his friends knew their long shot had paid-off in big-buck dividends.
Ahlfeldt learned that:
* just because someone is ahead of you to lease a piece of prime deer land doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to lease that land, especially if the landowner knows that he has other potential lessees;
* when there’s thick cover and grown-up fields, deer may not leave as much sign as you’ll find in open woods;
* if the habitat dictates there should be trophy bucks on the property, and the land’s located in a state that historically has produced trophy bucks, no one may have leased the land, because of the lack of deer sign they can see, which may give you the opportunity to lease that land;
* until you do a trail-camera survey of the property, you can’t really know how-many bucks of what size the property’s holding; and
* when you put in green fields in conjunction with your camera survey, you may not only see the bucks living on the property, but also the bucks that come back and forth from other nearby lands to feed on that green field.
Michael Ahlfeldt Discusses Food Plot Plantings for Trophy Buck
Michael Ahlfeldt and his friends studied their Ohio property they’d leased carefully before they decided to plant their food plots. Ahlfeldt says, “We searched for bottlenecks and pinch points that would funnel deer into our food plots and also provide tree-stand sites where we could put-up our tree stands and be able to take the deer coming through the bottlenecks and the pinch points before they reached the food plots. If you’re setting-up a property for bowhunting with your PSE bow, the locations of your food plots are critically important. If you have a food plot in an area where deer can come from any direction, finding the best place to put-up your tree stand may drive you nuts. So, the first year, we wanted to establish our food plots at the ends of these pinch points and bottlenecks, so most of the deer on the property and the deer passing through the land would have to use these pinch points to reach the green fields. At one of our pinch points, deer would come-up out of a draw to reach the green field. So, we set-up our tree stands on the edges of the draw to take the deer well away from the green fields. This way, we could keep the deer coming to the green fields without anyone shooting at them. Another pinch point was on top of a ridge where deer came from either side of this ridge to go down to the green field or away from the green field.”
Because Ahlfeldt works four, 10-hour shifts a week, he was able to go to the lease every other weekend to check his trail cameras. He not only checked his trail cameras during his 4 off-days, but he also helped the landowner with fencing and electrical work. Becoming friends with the landowner and helping to solve the landowner’s problems builds a stronger relationship between the hunters who lease the land and the landowner. Those types of relationships help to ensure future opportunities to hunt the land and may open-up more land you can lease when landowners in an area get together informally and discuss leasing properties. The good will of the landowner can help build your reputation and the reputation of your hunting lease. If other property in that area becomes available for lease, you’ll have a landowner whose land you’ve hunted as a reference for new land.
“The first time I saw Big Louie on a trail camera, I couldn’t believe his size,” Ahlfeldt remembers. “After the first picture, Big Louie didn’t show-up on the trail cameras for the next 2 weeks. But the following 2 weeks, I did get pictures of him. Then just before deer season, I started getting more pictures of Big Louie. All the pictures were nighttime photos. The only daytime pictures I got were at the first of November, at the beginning of bow season. When I reached the property at about 2:30 pm one afternoon, I’d planned to hunt the power-line stand. But by the time I got the car unloaded and the camp opened-up, dark was approaching. I was tired, so I went to bed. The following morning, I got in the power-line tree stand and saw two bucks. When I got out of the tree stand, I pulled my memory card and saw that Big Louie had been there at 6:30 pm the previous day, with plenty of daylight left, and he was within easy bow range, only 5 feet from my tree stand. I was bummed-out that I hadn’t hunted the afternoon I arrived, because I had missed a great opportunity to take Big Louie.”
This was the first day of Ahlfeldt’s 5-week vacation, and he’d planned to hunt all 5 weeks, if needed to take Big Louie or Captain Hook, the two biggest bucks the trail cameras had photographed on the property.
Ahlfeldt learned that:
* green fields don’t ensure success for a bowhunter;
* the best place to plant a green field is where the terrain is necked down, forcing deer to come through a small opening to reach the green fields;
* the study of the terrain will help to determine the most-productive sites to establish green fields and the spots to hang your tree stand, so you can intercept the deer before they reach the green fields or after they leave the green fields;
* the investment of your time and talent to help a landowner, will help you build strong relationships with the landowner and possibly help ensure a long-term lease of the property, thereby increasing your odds for getting more property to lease; and
* you only may have one opportunity to take a trophy buck, and if you miss that opportunity, you may not get another chance. So, if you arrive at your hunting club during daylight hours, hunt first. Then open-up the camp, and unpack after dark.
Michael Ahlfeldt’s Ohio Deer Lease Yields Two Huge Bow Bucks
Because Michael Ahlfeldt knew he had two trophy bucks on the property he was hunting in Ohio and 5 weeks of vacation, he dedicated those 5 weeks to hunting two huge bucks – Big Louis and Captain Hook. On the afternoon of November 2, 2010, when Ahlfeldt arrived at the Ohio property, the landowner told him that he’d seen a big buck coming-out of the bottom and going across the hill headed toward the green fields they’d planted, following four does. This was also was one of the pinch points Ahlfeldt had identified as a possible stand site. So, instead of hunting that afternoon, Ahlfeldt went to the pinch point and set-up a tree stand to hunt from the following morning, instead of that afternoon. Getting into his tree stand before daylight, Ahlfeldt’s hopes were high for taking either Big Louie or Captain Hook. Just at daylight, Ahlfeldt spotted nine does headed toward a bottom with tall grass. Two bucks were following them, but he didn’t get a shot. That afternoon, he hunted from the same stand and spotted one buck coming-up out of the bottom. After night fell, Ahlfeldt took his stand down and moved it to the bottom where he’d seen the deer, believing that if the deer followed that same trail the following day, he’d be in a position to take a shot with his PSE X-Force Bow. Not only did he put-up his stand in the dark, but he cut the limbs he needed to cut to get a clear shot. Once his tree stand was set-up, and the limbs cut, he returned to camp and went to bed.
“The next morning, I woke up and took a shower with Hunter’s Specialties’ Scent-A-Way Soap,” Ahlfeldt says. “Then I sprayed down with Scent-A-Way Spray and went to my tree stand. At first light, I could hear deer moving in that high grass, over 6-feet tall, out in front of me. For some reason, I looked around behind me and saw a small doe coming off the hill at the pinch point where I’d set-up my tree stand the day before. As I continued looking, 30-yards behind the doe, I saw Big Louie. When I saw that big deer, I had to turn away from him and get a grip on my emotions. I was as excited as a kid coming down the stairs on Christmas morning and seeing mounds of presents under the Christmas tree. Big Louie came to within 18 yards of my stand. He came in from the back side of my tree and was slightly downwind from me. The doe stopped in front of him and began to test the air with her nose. Not only had I sprayed down with Scent-A-Way Spray, but I also was using Hunter’s Specialties’ Fresh Earth Scent Wafers as a cover scent. Even though the doe smelled something different, she didn’t know what she smelled, or where I was located. So, the doe walked past my tree stand. As soon as Big Louie got behind a tree where he couldn’t see me, I drew my PSE X-Force. I needed him to walk about 3 to 5 more yards for me to have a good shot. Big Louie stopped in the same place where the doe had stopped and looked right at me. But I already had my X-Force at full draw and knew the speed of the bow. I thought, ‘It’s now or never,’ so I released the arrow.”
The arrow flew true to the buck, hit right behind his front shoulder and came-out low below the buck’s heart. Big Louie ran about 40 yards before Ahlfeldt heard him fall. “I was so excited that the only way I could stay in the tree was to text my buddies and tell them what I’d just done,” Ahlfeldt says. “Then, I began to wonder if that really was the deer I heard fall or something else. I texted my friend about my fear, and he texted me back to get my butt out of the tree and go see if I could find blood. When I reached the ground, I found blood sprayed all over the ground. The buck fell in the thicket, and when I measured his antlers, he green scored 195-7/8 Boone & Crockett. For an official B&C score, we’ll have to wait until January when the antlers have dried to get the official score. The PSE X-Force had done its job. I knew the money I’d spent on my PSE bow was some of the best money I’d ever spent in my hunting life.” The taxidermist said that Big Louie was only 4-1/2- to 5-years old. But this taking Big Louie wasn’t the end of the story for this hunting lease.
No one was in the camp except Ahlfeldt and the owner of the property when he took Big Louie. The landowner was really excited that Ahlfeldt had taken the buck. The next day, Ahlfeldt’s friend Steve Bosley drove-up to the property, and after he and Ahlfeldt had done some scouting, Bosley decided to put-up a tree stand in an area they’d named Big Oaks where trail-cameras had taken quite a few trail camera pictures of Captain Hook. Big Oaks was only about 200-yards away from the spot where Ahlfeldt had taken his deer. That afternoon, Bosley got into his tree stand around 2:40 pm and texted Ahlfeldt that he had on his tree harness and was in the stand, and everything was quiet. Ten-minutes later, Bosley called Ahlfeldt on the phone and said, “I just shot Captain Hook. He’s dead. I’m so excited! I can see Captain Hook lying on the ground. Bring the four wheeler, and come get me and this deer.” Bosley only was in his tree stand for 10 minutes. If Bosley had been just a little later getting into his tree stand, he probably would’ve spooked his buck of a lifetime. The taxidermist said Captain Hook was 6-1/2- to 7-years old and scored 182-4/8 B&C. Ahlfeldt reports that they’ve seen two 160 B&C bucks on this same property and one buck the other hunters say will score more than 200 B&C points. These big bucks apparently recently moved into the area, because there were no prior trail-camera pictures of them.
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