PSE’s Todd Carter on How to Hunt Trophy Bucks
By John E. Phillips
Editor’s Note: Todd Carter of Oldham County, Kentucky, manages about 7,500 acres for wildlife and has one 800-acre farm he manages intensively. He’s been a PSE pro for the last 3 years and shoots the PSE Evo. He’s also on the Mossy Oak Pro Staff.
Day 1: Todd Carter Talks about Taking the Black Widow Buck
I was hunting a 4-1/2-year-old buck named the Black Widow that eventually scored 188-7/8-points on Boone & Crockett. We had been watching this buck on trail cameras for about 2 years and found his scrapes on top of an oak ridge. We didn’t usually put our stands up until the day we planned to take a buck. On this particular day, we hung our stands at noon. I got in my stand at 4:00 pm. At 5:30, we saw this buck coming toward us from only 40-yards away. I waited until he got within 10-yards before I brought my PSE Evo to full draw. I was using a two-blade Rage Broadhead, and I had a good solid back wall. When the pin sight rested behind the deer’s front shoulder, I released the arrow. When the buck took the arrow, he did a mule kick and ran back the way from where he’d come. We waited for a good while, before we went after him. When we climbed down out of the tree, we located a really-good blood trail and went 100 yards before we found him.
I believe the secret to taking trophy bucks is living with them. I’m on my land looking at the deer and the other wildlife on these properties about 360 days in the year. I’ve learned after a buck sheds his velvet, he’ll probably set-up his home range. So, when you find a deer like this, you not only have to learn where that deer is living, you have to find markers that tell you where that deer likes to be. We had found this deer’s scrapes and rubs and knew he was using this area. When we put-up our tree stands, we got about 18-feet off the ground. I believe in the first-strike strategy for taking these older bucks. If these bucks realize they are being hunted, especially older-age-class bucks, they’re much harder to take. We want to introduce as little human odor as possible into an area. I like to get high in the tree, so one piece of equipment I always have with me is a Gorilla Safety Harness. No one intentionally falls out of a tree. Tree stand accidents occur when you least expect them and when you’re least prepared to deal with the fall. So, I always wear a harness.
Day 2: PSE’s Todd Carter and the Buck Old 22
We had 3 years of trail-camera pictures of the buck Old 22. This buck was 5-years old, and during the early part of the season, our trail cameras revealed he already had been shot by another bowhunter and had an arrow sticking out of his back. We know no one on our property had shot this deer, so we assumed a hunter on the neighboring property had done it. To be honest, we thought Old 22 was dead, after we got the pictures of the arrow in his back. We didn’t get any-more pictures of him and didn’t sight him when we were scouting. I was really surprised when I finally saw Old 22 again, since it was the first time anyone had spotted him, because he’d stopped appearing on the trail cameras.
On this particular day, I was near a water hole and spotted him at about 45 yards, headed toward the water. Old 22 had 12- or 13-inch tines, but his rack was really narrow. I could tell he had lost weight and wasn’t very healthy. Apparently the shaft of the arrow had broken off. I let him come in about 20-yards from my tree stand and released my arrow from my PSE Evo. I was shooting a G5 broadhead. He only ran about 40-yards before he went down. We watched him fall. He scored 180-3/8-points. We really wanted to take this deer, because we didn’t want him to die of his previous wounds. We know if we don’t get a good hit on a buck, we can’t assume that buck is dead until we find him. Old 22 had carried his arrow for a long time. No one likes to shoot a deer and not recover it, especially a trophy buck like Old 22, but it happens. So, anytime you see a wounded animal, take him if you possibly can, especially a really-fine buck like Old 22.
Day 3: PSE’s Todd Carter Tells about Taking Minivan – a 300-Pound Buck
We called this buck Minivan, because he was a really-big buck, well-over 300 pounds live weight. He was big and blocky and resembled a minivan. Minivan was 6-years old, and we’d tried to take him a few years earlier. He just didn’t look like he ever would have a quality rack. His rack had a lot of stickers on it and a lot of mass. The year before, he’d only had about a 120-inch rack. He had a few drop tines on the right side of his rack, but wasn’t an impressive deer. We’d labeled him as a management buck and planned to shoot him to get him off the property. I agreed to take this buck, even though I wasn’t expecting him to be very big or have good antlers. There were several-other trophy bucks on the property the landowner and his friends wanted to take themselves. Another buck living in the same area was a 4-year-old 10-point that scored 160 points. We didn’t want 6-year-old Minivan to run the 4-year-old off the property. We intensively manage the deer on the property where I hunt, and we know we can’t stockpile mature bucks in our area. To grow a trophy buck, he needs to be able to hold in his home area without being challenged by another big buck.
Minivan always had lived close to a road. I knew Minivan was living in a certain thicket, and when he came out of this thicket, he would go eat some native grass and then move to a pond below where he’d been bedding. I set-up my stand, so when the buck came out of the thicket on the way to the native grass, I’d be able to get a shot with my PSE Evo. Sure enough, he moved out of the thicket and came down the trail 15-yards from me. When I released the arrow, he took off running. He went about 70 yards and fell over in native grass. When we recovered him, we found he scored 168 points.
Day 4: PSE’s Todd Carter – the Hammer Buck
Hammer was a deer we’d been watching for 3 years that traveled to other properties too. We all had agreed to let him pass, until he got to be an older-age-class buck. The first year, we got good trail-camera pictures of him. He was 2-1/2- to 3-years old and scored 130 or more Boone & Crockett. The next year we had trail-camera pictures of him he was a 12-point, and his rack looked bigger. We found his sheds, which scored about 157 B&C. The next year he was scoring 178 B&C, so we decided to put him on the hit list. Hammer was in a thick-cover bedding area and was going toward water. On the farms I manage, there isn’t much water, so we try to take the bucks in-between the bedding area and the ponds where they water. This way we don’t disturb the bedding area or the watering sites. This buck had developed a scrape and a rub line out of the thicket, going toward the water. I took this buck at 15 yards with my PSE Evo by hitting him right behind the shoulder. He ran about 150 yards.
Once again, I believe the secret for consistently taking trophy bucks is to know what bucks you have on your property, watch them over an extended time using trail cameras and make sure they have enough food. This way they can reach their maximum potential. If you keep up with your property’s doe numbers and keep bucks from competing with better bucks, you won’t have dispersal (deer leaving your property). The final element to taking a trophy buck like this one is once you gather all the information you can about him, don’t hunt him until all the wind and the weather conditions are right and are stacked in your favor.
You can’t have trophy bucks on your property, if you don’t fulfill all the management requirements to produce them. We plant Mossy Oak BioLogic year-round to ensure there’s plenty of food for the deer on the property. We keep our doe numbers in check. Once we identify a buck we feel has trophy potential, we learn all we can about that buck. We allow him to live long enough to produce the body weight and antler development that we want him to have. If you’re patient and let that buck become a 5- or a 6-year-old, you not only have produced a trophy buck. At that point, you also will know where to put your stand and at about what time the buck should appear. If you set-up your stand within 20 yards or less of where the deer will be, and if you’re shooting a fast, flat-shooting bow like the PSE Evo, you can expect to harvest trophy bucks regularly.
Day 5: PSE’s Todd Carter Believes in Using Bowhunting as a Deer Management Tool
We manage our property for all types of wildlife. We have plenty of food and cover and very-little hunting pressure. On the 800 acres, we have about 80 does and manage them as intensively as we do our bucks. We know we have some does that consistently produce buck fawn twins. We have others that are producing three buck fawns per year. You can’t guarantee that a doe will produce just buck fawns or just doe fawns. But if you keep up with your does and watch the types of fawns they drop, you’ll see some have a tendency to produce bucks. You’ll also see some does consistently produce two or three fawns.
For our management programs, these does are just as important as the older-age-class bucks on the land. The top-producing does are on the Do Not Hit list. We only take the does that are older and have stopped having fawns, or the does that generally produce only one fawn. Most biologists recommend you try to carry two does for each buck you have on the property, but I prefer to have four does for every buck. I go against accepted wisdom on deer management because the worst thing you can do is grow a buck up to trophy size, and then have him be harvested by one of your neighbors. If there are more does that are ready to breed on an adjacent property, your bucks will leave and go where the ladies are. I’ve found if I have four does for every buck, I can keep more of the big bucks on our property, even during the rut.
I’m often asked how I’m able to manage my does and identify the ones that are dropping the most buck fawns. The answer is quite simple. Does have a home range, just like bucks do. If you photograph and observe your does after deer season ends when they are dropping fawns, as the fawns mature, you can keep-up with which does are the most-productive in the herd. I want to watch them through at least one or two breeding seasons and be able to identify each of the does on the property. I live on the farm I manage, and one of those groups of does comes and feeds at my house. I can watch those does interact and can record their personalities. For instance, I’ve been observing one doe for the last 3 years, and I know for certain that she’s produced three buck fawns. This doe is 5- to 6-years old, stays within 100 acres and is definitely off-limits for harvest. In the winter, I get camera pictures of her in the Mossy Oak BioLogic Winter Bulbs & Sugar Beets plots. She follows the food.
I’ve taken 15 does with my PSE Evo in the last year. One of the reasons I like to hunt does with my PSE bow is the arrow doesn’t make any noise. Guns going off and hunters moving around puts pressure on the deer herd and can cause dispersal of your trophy bucks. So, we prefer to bowhunt on this 800 acres. The hunters can go right to the stand we’ve put-up on the day we want to harvest that trophy buck. When they take that trophy buck with a bow, there’s no noise to spook all the other deer on the property. We can load-up the buck and the hunter and get out of the woods without spooking the other bucks. It’s not to your advantage to do an intensive-management program to produce trophy bucks and then put so much hunting pressure on those bucks that you run them off your property.
For more information on hunting deer, get John E. Phillips’ new eBook “Bowhunting Deer: The Secrets of the PSE Pros.” Too, you can go to www.amazon.com/kindle-ebooks, type in the name of the book and download it to your Kindle and/or download a Kindle app for your iPad, SmartPhone or computer.