2020 #5 – Justin Ramsdorfer

by | Oct 12, 2021 | 2020 Tethrd Ten



SADDLE GEAR: Phantom Saddle, Squirrel Steps Ring of Steps

This story begins from a mapping standpoint, I am a huge public access/public land archery hunting fanatic around the Johnstown Pennsylvania area (WMU’s 2C & 2E) and have been blessed over 16 seasons of archery hunting to be able to harvest 9 bucks with my bow, 5 of which are over 121” gross.One of my greatest tools for success as most fanatics will probably agree is the use of aerial and topo maps, and I am always searching for pieces of ground that look to have potential for good bucks.

For this particular spot I had eyed it with both aerials and topos and really liked the terrain features that would neck down a cruising bucks movement as he began searching for the first estrus does. This piece also boasted additional benefits because it seemed very easy to overlook, difficult to access, and appeared to have excellent security cover. Though the access was difficult it also caught my eye because it was the perfect back door option to slide into for a morning hunt, and I felt strongly that no other hunters were utilizing it in this way so the deer would not expect it. All in all it looked like an awesome set up to kill a good buck, but now I just had to find the right conditions and time to power scout what I had marked.

Having a family, a house, a full time job, as well as hunting every evening after work, it can be difficult to find the time to get out and scout even more spots when I’m already bouncing 20-30 areas a season as it is. In the back of my mind though I knew I needed to get in and take a look at that piece that seemed so good from the maps. Due to not being able to hunt every Sunday in Pennsylvania (this season is the first we can hunt any Sunday, and only one for archery) typically Sundays are the days that are dedicated to family time and catching up on everything that was falling behind from my focus being in the woods.

On this Sunday October the 25th the family and I had just gotten back home from fall festivities throughout the morning, with our kids laying down for a nap and feeling like risking my life with an already hunting season aggravated wife, I asked if I could run out quickly to power scout an area that I “needed to scout”. Even though my wife could care less because it is all she hears about year round, I explained to her that this spot had “serious potential for me to kill a giant buck”, her response being “you’ll be pissed if I say no so go ahead”. So with the partial green light from her and perfect rainy conditions I rushed out anxious to power scout the areas that I had marked. 

The pinches in the section as well as the bedding/security cover were even better than what I had expected. Though I found only one small scrape and a handful of rubs I felt confident that something good would be there so I set a cell cam at one of the primary pinch points. On my way out I marked the best entry and exit options on my map which included crossing a stream and slipping up through a drainage to the terrain funnel I wanted to set up on. After some research I was happy to find that the stream I was crossing had a usgs stream gauge on it, so I took down the gauge height it was at when I crossed it in order to have reference for crossing attempts in the future.

A few days went by with nothing more than a few small bucks and an odd doe or two on my cell cam, so I began to question if this spot I was so excited about was actually holding anything worthwhile. Having multiple other areas pre-scouted and showing better sign of big bucks I watched with high anticipation as a major front was forecasted to hit our area the last few days of October, primarily an extensive rain front that was to hit on Thursday October 29th followed by a 20-30 degree temperature drop and a major pressure spike up into the 30.4 range for Friday the 30th and Saturday the 31st (a hunters dream!). As the front pushed out on Friday the 30th I was heading back into a different set for the evening with no intentions of going to “the pinch” in the near future. I was watching a doe that I had snuck up on along my access path and cautiously scanning the area hoping that a buck might be lingering nearby when my phone lit up with a cell cam notification. I couldn’t believe it when I opened it up, there was an absolute giant cruising through the new spot I had scouted, and it was at 12:53 in the afternoon! Even though the rest of the evening was an excellent sit with 5 different bucks sighted, I couldn’t get my mind off of how I was going to get in and set up on this giant in the new spot I had scouted only 4 days prior.

I checked the stream gauge for my access and from all of the rain on the 29th the gauge height was nearly quadruple what I had marked it at, that was out! I kicked around other options of whether I should just work my way in at first light from an alternative access since I didn’t know the area very well, or if I should wait and try something else in the meantime. My final decision was to go very early in the morning, giving myself ample time for the unfamiliar route and in hopes to not disturb anything because the deer should still be a good distance off at expected feeding locations. 

With a game plan in place, on Halloween morning my alarm went off at 2:40am and by 4:00am I was setting off into the woods with my cold gear on my back, bow in my hand, and saddle around my waist. It took me almost 2 hours to get to where I wanted to be, find the tree that I felt presented the best opportunities, and get set up, but I felt confident as I nestled into my phantom and waited for the woods to awaken. With a full moon for Halloween and much colder temps for the days high, I was anticipating late morning movement. It wasn’t surprising when the first two hours of daylight were slow, and as expected around 9 o’clock the movement started to heat up as a spike came down by me and worked its way off to the thick cover below. Not long after that I sighted a nice 7 point cruising above me, watching as he became alert and looked in my direction, presumably having caught a whiff of my thermals.

As messages began to drift between myself and friends of what everyone was seeing, I caught movement to my right. I instantly knew from the large sweeping frame and long points that this was the buck I was targeting that had been on my cell camera less than 24 hours prior! As the buck stood at 25 yards I positioned myself in my saddle to put the tree between the buck and I, flipped on my tactacam, and prepared myself for a strong side shot. The buck stood and slowly smelled my ground scent, seemingly checking every inch of earth determining if what he was smelling was worth considering a threat. Thankful for my consideration with rubber boots and scent control, the buck cautiously proceeded along the trail inching closer. Well within 20 yards I could hear the ever so quiet squeak of friction between my arrow and the drop away rest as I put on and took off pressure on my string, wrestling with the subconscious urge to bring my bow to full draw. I reminded myself in my head, “he’s going to give you the perfect opportunity just wait for it” as I watched him continue along the trail. 

As the buck neared 8 yards I knew the opportunity I had held off for was coming to fruition, so I came to full draw and bared down on him swinging my pins into position on his vitals. Steadily awaiting the perfect opportunity I followed him into an opening along the trail at 6 yards, as I saw my opening I settled my pin aiming for my exit hole and released my arrow. I watched as he mule kicked and took off with all of the arrow except the fletchings hanging out of his opposite side. The adrenaline hit as I replayed the mental image of the arrow burying slightly high behind the crease of the shoulder with the perfect exit on his opposite side. I celebrated uncontrollably and made the infamous “I got one phone call”, I couldn’t believe that it had actually worked out! 

After 30 minutes of excited conversations between family and friends about what had just happened, I climbed down and checked the area where he was standing when I hit him. Finding only a big puff of hair, I pushed on about 20 yards further just to get an idea of what first blood looked like prior to heading out to meet up with my father. Though the first blood I did get on looked bright and reassuring of the lung hit I thought I had made, I wasn’t finding much blood due to the ground being damp from the morning frost which caused doubt to begin to creep in. 

After packing out to meet up with my father and to shed my cold gear, I threw on the only lightweight clothes I had in my car which were my jeans from work the day before. With help in tow we hiked back in and quickly got on good blood just after where I had left off. It wasn’t long until we came across my arrow, the fletchings covered in bubbles and bright blood officially confirmed the hit I felt I had made, happily looking up at my father as we analyzed it I said “Dad I crushed this thing”. 

We only made it another 30 yards when the distinct white belly of a fallen deer came into view and the celebration began. There was no mistaking the rack that could be seen sticking up in the distance, it was him! He had even more junk and points than I was expecting, with 15 scorable including a droptine, and coming in with a rough green score of 153”, a true monarch for public access ground in Pennsylvania! I still and always will feel beyond blessed to have had it all pan out, this was the 26th different buck I had seen this season and the adrenaline rush of taking a buck like him is the reason I continue to love the challenge of the sport! There truly is nothing like that feeling of making it happen when you are busting your butt for it! Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoy it![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]