By Alex Comstock
Mature bucks don’t get mature by accident right? They learn to survive and become warriors throughout the years of growing old. If you have the privilege of hunting a buck that’s mature for your area, don’t take it for granted. I had been chasing a giant mature buck for the last two seasons, and this year I truly thought I was going to send an arrow through him. That’s not quite how the story played out though…
Kobe, a North Dakota public land buck, first showed up on my trail cameras in the summer of 2016. He was clearly at least a four-year-old buck by my estimation, and his typical ten point rack sporting roughly 150” of antler was just an added bonus. He was towards the top of my target bucks, and I couldn’t have foreseen what the hunt for him would turn into.
My first encounter with Kobe came on September 23rd of 2016. It was pouring rain that day, and Kobe made his presence known as he crossed an oat field out of bow range. I saw him again the next evening just after shooting light but watched him cross the field and go right under one of my others stands. I really thought that I was on to him, and was closing in on getting a chance at him within bow range. But, like mature bucks do, he disappeared, and I didn’t have another encounter with him until November 12th. The whole time in between he was a frequent visitor on trail cameras, but I could never get in front of him during daylight. My encounter on the 12th of November last year would have been a shoe-in for harvesting him as he chased a doe right under my stand, and stopped five yards away perfectly broadside. Except it happened before it was light enough to shoot that the morning, and I could only watch him through my binoculars. After that encounter, I didn’t see Kobe again all year. He still was a trail camera regular, but the season ended with me shooting a different buck on another property, and that brings us to this season.
Going into this season, Kobe was at the forefront of every deer-related thought I had. I knew if he was back again, he would most likely be the buck I focused all of my attention on. I strategically went in and put up a couple Exodus trail cameras in early July around areas I believed him to bedding in during the summer to see if I could confirm that he was back. On a rainy day in early August, I slipped in and checked those cameras, and the first buck I had photos of was him! Kobe was back, and my season plans were starting to take shape.
After validating that Kobe was indeed back, I saw no need to go back in and check cameras again until I started hunting. I was being very cautious with this buck and didn’t want to mess anything up before I even got a chance to hunt him.
When season rolled around September 2nd, I thought I had a great game plan to put this buck down. I knew where he was bedding a majority of the time and thought that if I could hunt the fringes of it, I’d be able to eventually have a chance at him on his way to the crop fields where he would feed during the night. All throughout September and October I got trail camera pictures of him, but could never even lay eyes on him. There were times I got him in daylight, and overall my cameras captured thousands of photos of Kobe, with him appearing almost on a daily or nightly basis.
In mid-October, I had a big life change. I got a new job, and moved back to where I’m originally from in Minnesota. That put me roughly four hours away from North Dakota, and hunting Kobe took on a completely new challenge. After moving away for only a week, I was able to get back and sit a couple days during a major cold front the last weekend of October, but Kobe once again didn’t show himself. After checking a couple of cameras, he was still all over them, and was seemingly becoming more and more visible. In fact, I had him on camera twice in one day hitting a scrape twenty yards in front of one of my stands two days prior to my arrival. Knowing he was daylight active earlier in the week kept my hopes up of eventually running into him.
One of my big concerns with Kobe was actually how daylight active he was. Even though he continued to elude me, he was an active buck. North Dakota’s rifle season opened up the afternoon of Friday, November 10 and that day hovered over my head. I got back to North Dakota to hunt that weekend, and that Friday afternoon I only heard two gunshots. As I walked out of the timber that night, I was actually fairly confident Kobe was about to make a mistake.
As I got to the truck that night, my phone buzzed with a text message. I looked down to see it was a buddy who’s well connected in the area and I instantly knew. I opened the text to see a photo of a guy behind a giant with the text “he’s dead”. Kobe had been taken by a rifle hunter near where I was hunting. I just sat in the truck shell-shocked. It was like the life had been sucked out of me. After all of the hours spent scouting, shed hunting, hanging stands, running trail cameras, glassing, and hunting all for that buck, and just like that it was over.
After taking time to reflect on the situation, I became less and less sad about it, but instead took away a lot of positives. Even though I wasn’t the one to ultimately harvest Kobe, that buck taught me more about hunting than any other deer I’ve ever hunted. He taught me lessons about how to hunt mature bucks, and that ultimately nothing is a done deal until you end up at the end of a blood trail. Like I said in the beginning, if you’re in the pursuit of a mature buck, don’t take it for granted because you don’t know when it’ll end or who will end it.
All photos via @whitetail_dna