Eyes On the Prize
Of all the deer in the woods, all the ones with antlers you could be pursuing, all the hours spent before and during the season, you’ve decided to hunt one specific buck.
It’s not because you don’t have options. Every tree stand you’ve hung, every bit of work on maps and boots-on-the-ground scouting, are designed to provide an opportunity. They might be for bow shots on a trail passing 16 yards from the tree with your climber. They might be food plots for you and the kids. It could be a pinch point of two ridges split by a creek where a crossing is torn up like an old buffalo trail.
Whatever it is, you have options.
But for a season, maybe longer, you’ve opted to pursue just one buck. Maybe it’s a solid “book” buck. Could be a funky-horned freak. Might be a drop-tine you’ve watched for a couple of years that hasn’t outgrown the anomaly. Of all the deer in the woods, you’ve decided to hunt one specific buck.
Pat Reeve knows about that decision. Despite the travels involved with his wife, Nicole, in filming the Driven TV hunting show each season, he’s occasionally pursued one buck that left an impression.
“With today’s increase in habitat and deer management and how the hunters have evolved, I think a lot of people are doing that same thing more than ever before,” Reeve said. “I think we have a different style of hunter and many of them are going after a particular buck. Trail cameras have revolutionized all this, too, because now we have the ability to scout throughout the year without being in the woods. But it’s a different mindset.
“One thing about hunting just one buck is it’s very tough. You may not hunt as often as you’d like, if you’re picking the best times based on wind or opportunities.
“If you have enough property and there are a few good bucks, you’re maybe better off by not burning out one spot and being able to hunt a few bucks. No matter how good a hunter you are and how hard you try to shoot a deer, Murphy’s Law doesn’t always allow that one deer to come your way. I don’t know if it’s luck, if it’s because they’re a nocturnal animal or what. One thing I’ve learned over the years is each one has different personalities. A big buck isn’t going to act like a big buck. They’re smart, survivalist critters.”
The Reeves live and hunt in Minnesota, but they also manage about 50 acres in Iowa, which Pat said they’ve done “all we can do to make that a magnet for a big buck, and deer in general.”
They’ve created bedding areas, food plots and watering holes, planted apple trees and designed trail systems to get to and from stands with certain wind directions. They hang numerous Cuddeback cameras to conduct photo surveys. Unless necessary, they stay out of certain areas and try to minimize their impact.
What this does, as with any managed land, is create a sense of comfort and food for deer while giving them the best opportunity possible for a successful hunt. That might not always translate into a buck on the ground. Success is gauged in multiple ways, including learning something new each time.
“Deer are a lot like humans because they get homey,” Reeve said. “They have their home area as well as their traveling range. We tend to stay home more when we get older and learn from our mistakes. Deer are like that. If we had someone hunting us all the time we’d do the same.
“Deer move to a non-pressured area, a safe zone, until the pressure leaves. You’re going to learn in a hurry where the safe zones are and where they’re not. It may be off your property and on a neighbor’s who doesn’t allow hunting, or they move off when someone who works all week and doesn’t hunt much or only on weekends comes in.
“All too often I hear ‘I know this deer is there and get pictures but they’re at night, and I never see him.’ The first thing I think is they’re going in there too much, pressuring them, and it pushes them off the property. He’s even more nocturnal or is going to hang out in a really thick area and won’t come out in daylight hours. Animals are creatures of habit but they learn these safe zones.”
To prove his point, Reeve recalled chasing a giant buck he and Nicole named Moses. This buck was so pressured that it became nocturnal, other than occasional sightings that titillated hunters aching to get a shot. The old buck would move at night or hang out in the thickest areas virtually inaccessible to hunters. He was like a ghost until Reeve patterned his movements based on camera photos.
“I figured out where he was living and coming or going, and started hunting the fringe of that area,” Reeve said. “I never would see him during daylight hours but would get photos of him close, but not close enough, to my stand. I contacted the adjacent landowner and asked if I could go in to hang a stand, figuring the buck was bedding high (on a ridge) so it could see. I think a lot of bucks in our bluff country like to stay up high on the ridges and points so they can see everything and get away quickly.”
It took about a year of scouting, more photo surveys and seeking access points where Reeve could get closer. He used an old dry creek bed for access to get in and hang a stand, then cleared out limbs and leaves to make his entry quieter. He waited for the right wind direction, and when the day finally came Reeve slipped in and had Moses at 15 steps.
Reeve’s shot deflected off the shoulder, and the buck got away. A photo captured him working a scrape and another one later on chasing a doe. A second opportunity, amazingly, resulted in the buck’s appearance too late to capture it on camera, so Reeve didn’t take the shot.
“He ended up getting killed by a gun hunter that year in a totally different piece of property,” Reeve said. “We really learned a lot because of all the (photo) documentation about the deer, how it traveled through the areas, his habits and how he lived and survived. In the end, a doe pulled him off his safe zone and made him move into a foreign area where he wasn’t familiar and safe.”
Reeve’s opportunity for a second shot at Moses was, in hindsight, somewhat of a rarity for several reasons. One, big bucks who get thumped with an arrow and survive obviously will be a little more wary even in their safe zone. Two, the time of the year between early bow season and winter afforded the buck another margin over his pursuers.
“I knew after that first hunt that I couldn’t go in with the same tactics,” Reeve said. “I knew that if I got the opportunity early in the season we’d have to take advantage of it due to the cover from the foliage on the trees. But once the leaves come off the trees in the bluff country it gives the deer every advantage. They can see everything. So you have to be even more stealthy because in early season the foliage is my friend. In early season they move better during the evening hunts and are bedded well before daylight. After the leaves fall, everything changes.”
Reeve knew, too, that early bow season is when the bucks would be putting on the feed bag to get ready for the breeding period and winter. Knowing not only a buck’s primary area but also the best food sources in that area, in this case hardwoods with acorns, is another step in successfully targeting one buck.
“A lot of times they’re going to gorge themselves on acorns if there’s a good harvest,” he said. “That can put the odds in your favor because they have to move to a food source instead of just getting up from their bedding area and starting to eat. If there’s a good acorn crop they’re going to hit them hard when they’re falling, but there’s often usually very little room between bedding and feeding areas. Smart bucks are going to try to find a bedding area where they feel safe that is also close to their feeding area. So you have a tougher time getting in there and a better chance of bumping them.”
When hunting along ridges, he said, the upside is bucks might not have an outstanding, safe bedding area close to the best feeding spots. Because they may have to move a little farther to get what they want to eat that gives a hunter a bit more leeway to hang stands or get into position with a climber. But that window can be small, which is again where scouting pays off.
Reeve’s bruiser was typical of so many one-buck hunters: a big deer, tough, cagey, able to slip in and out of his home turf with ease, attuned to the smells and noises of interlopers. Those things — the challenge — are what usually attract hunters who want to match wits, as best they can, with a single deer.
It’s not always a giant that turns on a hunter, though. Reeve’s daughter has the itch to pursue just one deer this season. After finding shed antlers, she claimed the buck as hers and now the hunt is on.
“We’ve done everything to put her on it and keep it, but last season he was wounded by another hunter somewhere else,” he said. “The deer got one of his legs blown off and returned to our property. We found his sheds again and he’ll be a three-legged deer.
“We’ve really concentrated on that deer but are operating on her school schedule, so we’re not able to take full advantage of the best hunting times. Between her school schedule and my schedule, it’s tough. But you have to choose the best time and the target time. We’re looking forward to the season a little more because of it.”
- Alan Clemons is D&DH’s Southern managing editor.
Pat & Nicole Get Married!
It’s nearly impossible to create the chemistry that makes for a great outdoor television show. But if a formula did exist, it might resemble the magic that happens on “Driven,” where co-hosts Pat Reeve and Nicole Jones — recent newlyweds — show viewers a passion for the outdoors that’s matched only by their fondness for each other. Both lifelong hunters, Pat and Nicole have a way of capturing the outdoor experience that millions of viewers are finding addictive.
The hunting couple brings a rich outdoor tradition to the table. Pat Reeve had already shown his expertise as a hunter in his teens. Shortly after high school, Pat had begun capturing the monster bucks of the Midwest through a growing interest in photography and videography. Pat went on to combine careers as a hunting guide for noted outfitter Tom Indrebo, as well as honing his craft as a taxidermist in the off-season. His expertise with video gear soon had him working as a freelance cameraman for Tom Miranda, followed by tenures as a videographer, hunter, and producer with Hunter’s Specialties and, later, a deer hunting TV show. Pat’s hunting credentials are stellar; he’s tagged 60-some P&Y whitetails (including a 200-inch Illinois giant, the largest typical recorded on video), as well as trophy-class big game around the world.
Nicole’s childhood is equally-rooted in the outdoors. Growing up in southern Illinois, she was following her father and older brothers into the woods and fields since she can remember. Nicole shot her first whitetail when she was only six, and was equally passionate about small game hunting, fishing, and finding mushrooms. Nicole trained to become an elementary school teacher, but she delayed that dream to chase another when she appeared on her first hunting video for a deer hunting TV show…where she met future husband Pat. Since the two began hosting “Driven” television, Nicole has taken many trophy class whitetails (including a B&C class buck) and other big game species.
Though Pat and Nicole enjoy the privilege of chasing trophies in exotic locales, they stress that whitetails—particularly those they hunt near their home in southeastern Minnesota—are their first love. “Hunting mature whitetails requires hard work and dedication,” Pat stresses. “And we’re at it year-round, scouting, shed-hunting, hanging stands, running trail cameras, planting food plots…Like deer hunters everywhere, we have our share of hurdles and times when nothing seems to go right, but that’s part of the beauty and challenge. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Even better, Pat and Nicole enjoy sharing that experience with young hunters, whether it’s with Pat’s four children or with young show-goers eager to approach Nicole. “I love seeing kid’s faces light up when they come up to the booth for photos and autographs, because I can see their passion coming out and that’s why I do what I do!”