Lessons from a sin­gle gi­ant buck

ON HIS WAY TO A STATE-RECORD BUCK, A MICHI­GAN HUNTER GETS A GRAD­U­ATE DE­GREE IN DEER BE­HAV­IOR

Outdoor Life - - CONTENTS - BY TONY HANSEN

CHET KULIKOWSKI is an or­di­nary hunter who had the op­por­tu­nity to hunt an ex­tra­or­di­nary deer. In De­cem­ber 2016, he ended a two-year quest for a buck that would be­come Michi­gan’s new cross­bow state record. Bag­ging the buck—which he called Rib Cage, for the wall of tines ris­ing from its main beams—was the cul­mi­na­tion of Kulikowski’s ed­u­ca­tion in deer be­hav­ior.

Here’s what he learned from hunt­ing a sin­gle re­mark­able buck—more or less ex­clu­sively—for two years.

LES­SON 1 UN­DER­STAND HOME RANGE

Kulikowski, who hunts semiru­ral coun­try in south­east Michi­gan, first cap­tured trail cam im­ages of the buck in the fall of 2015. But Rib Cage wasn’t like other bucks.

“I could not fig­ure this deer out. I couldn’t pat­tern him at all. I didn’t know where he was liv­ing. I was get­ting trail cam­era pic­tures of him off and on, but they were all at night.”

Kulikowski fo­cused on the buck through­out the re­main­der of Michi­gan’s deer sea­son, but he didn’t see Rib Cage in person for a full year.

The Takeaway: Ma­ture bucks, es­pe­cially those liv­ing in heav­ily hunted ar­eas, of­ten use mul­ti­ple core ar­eas through­out the year. Be­cause Kulikowski most fre­quently cap­tured im­ages of the buck dur­ing the state’s gun sea­son, it’s likely the deer had iden­ti­fied the area Kulikowski hunts as a safe zone—a the­ory fur­ther sup­ported by the fact that the lo­cale is bowhunt­ing-only.

LES­SON 2 READ BUCK BE­HAV­IOR

“This buck never just came barg­ing in. He was al­ways cau­tious, al­ways sneak­ing in. Even when I shot him, he was on high alert, know­ing that some­thing wasn’t quite right.”

Kulikowski fig­ured he’d need to adapt his hunt­ing tac­tics if he hoped to get a shot at the recluse. He also dis­cov­ered a key de­tail. “When I was see­ing other deer—does, fawns, smaller bucks—i knew I wasn’t go­ing to see Rib Cage. He didn’t come around when other deer were there. Un­der­stand­ing that helped me to vi­su­al­ize the cir­cum­stances in which I’d fi­nally en­counter the deer, and what I would do when he did show up.”

The Takeaway: When you put in­tense fo­cus on a sin­gle an­i­mal, you be­gin to un­der­stand that each deer has its own per­son­al­ity. By adapt­ing your tac­tics to that deer’s in­di­vid­ual traits, you in­crease your odds of suc­cess.

LES­SON 3 SWEAT THE DE­TAILS

“Once I found out that buck was around, I never, ever went to the woods without first tak­ing a scent-free shower. I had been sort of aware of scent con­trol but had never taken it to that level be­fore,” he says. “I swear by it now be­cause I saw more deer, and they had no idea I was around.”

Kulikowski also paid more at­ten­tion to his en­try and exit routes than ever be­fore. His blind lo­ca­tions were more care­fully cho­sen as well.

The Takeaway: The lit­tle things can add up. In his pur­suit of the gi­ant, Kulikowski had more en­coun­ters and in­ter­ac­tions with deer than he had had in pre­vi­ous sea­sons, and they were at close dis­tances, en­abling him to re­ally watch be­hav­iors. The fo­cus on de­tails like min­i­miz­ing his scent and im­pact, and al­low­ing the con­di­tions to dic­tate his ac­tions, not only helped him tag a state record, it helped nor­mal­ize prac­tices and meth­ods that put more deer in front of him.

LES­SON 4 STAY PER­SIS­TENT

Kulikowski went nearly 12 months without ev­i­dence that the multi-tined gi­ant was still around. Then, when he fi­nally en­coun­tered Rib Cage, Kulikowski missed a gimme shot, whiff­ing mid­way through the Novem­ber gun sea­son.

“I was be­side my­self,” he says. “I just couldn’t be­lieve it. I couldn’t stop think­ing about it. I couldn’t sleep. But I just willed my­self to get back out there.”

The Takeaway: Kulikowski had plenty of rea­son to give up on the chase, whether it was a lack of con­fir­ma­tion that the buck was still alive or the be­lief that a blown op­por­tu­nity would make the buck avoid his hunt­ing area. Quit­ting would have been easy. In­stead, he stuck it out. The re­sult? A buck that tops that ven­er­a­ble 200inch mark, and a whole lot of lessons that have made him a more ef­fec­tive deer hunter.

Chet Kulikowski’s 18-point buck is the largest ever killed with a cross­bow in Michi­gan.

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