By Colby Brandt
Let me start with a little background on the property and its sentimental value to me. I have walked this property ever since I was born and still do. It all started when my dad, who was 18 at the time, saw promise in a practically forgotten piece of property with a run-down house and a yard that was riddled with thorn bushes. After an initial rejection, he was given the opportunity by the out of town owner that if he wanted to take the time to clean it up and rent the house to “have at it”. So, he and a few friends spent most of their time fixing up the house and clearing out a good acre or so for the “back yard” which left the rest of the 50 acres of forest untouched and would later become my favorite place to be growing up.
While all his friends later moved on my father decided to stay, he continued to rent, and made this place his home. He even started a pig farm which he ran for several years. He named his farm “The Dead-End Ranch”. He started a pig farm and that’s where The Dead-End Ranch comes into play. Shortly after I was born the pig market fell and he was forced to sell his pigs and find new work.
As I grew up I would spend my days walking every inch of that 50 acres and the surrounding property and knew it like the back of my hand. At age 14 I began hunting. While he wasn’t much of a hunter himself, my dad always helped me when it came time to build my tree stands and making sure I had the right equipment I needed.
n 2001 I moved away to be with the woman I now call my wife of 12 years. I always make the drive back every year though to hunt this property because I just love to be on the land; especially in the fall it is so peaceful and beautiful. Not to mention being with my friends, family and the awesome locals, it still feels like home no matter how much time passes.
Sadly, in 2006 the homeowners passed away and the property was passed down to their grandson who eventually decided to take the property back and live in it himself. When I first heard, I was extremely heartbroken believing that I would lose my hunting ground along with all the things I had brought along with me from childhood. Thankfully, this was not the case. The new owner graciously allowed me to continue to utilize this property as if my dad still lived there. While I was weary of this at first, through the years we have grown to have a mutual respect of each other and the land.
So, now that you know the history, let me begin my story. In 2008, I was sitting on top of a hill overlooking a bowl. It was a nice cold morning during the second week of gun season and as I sat there the biggest whitetail deer I have ever seen walked out at 300 yards away. I grunted, no response. I hit the bleat and he turned and started coming towards me. He was tucked behind big trees and as he walked closer I still could not get a good view, let alone a shot at him. It was a shotgun only zone so I wait as he neared the bottom of the hill at about 75 yards. Then, he popped his head around the tree, only his head, and looks up the hill. I waited patiently for him to just take one more step but he didn’t. Instead he started to turn around and leave. I reach for the bleat can, only to knock it down the hill. That deer didn’t even hesitate to see what the noise was, he took three bounds and was out of view.
At the time my buddy, who I forgot to mention, was 300 yards away and just finishing up gutting a doe he shot shortly before. This gave me hope the deer would run away from that area, so I tried to run up the outside to cut him off at the creek crossing. I heard the shot. Shortly after I got a phone call from my friend and you could hear the excitement in his voice, “I just shot the biggest buck I’ve ever seen in the woods, but he took off towards the river crossing”.
We met up as he was following a small blood trail and of course it started to snow. We walked and walked and walked for hours following the tracks and every so often as I walk ahead of him he would see a blood spot come up from where I stepped. Knowing we were on the right trail, we continued across the creek and through the nastiest briar patches and across the road. Another quarter mile in the woods we came to a huge thorn patch that was just unreal, words can’t even describe it. I looked at my buddy and said, “Whose deer is this going to be if I shoot it? Yours or mine?” He said, “Well I didn’t think of that, but I’m going to say mine because I got first shot”. Now I know the “RULES”... but this is a good buddy of mine and we’re not the type to lose friendships over a deer, and the experience alone seemed worth it, so I said, “I’m ok with that but if it’s your deer then you’re going in that beast of a bush and kicking him out or finding him dead”. We both laughed, me more than him, then he said, “Okay, here I go."
As he crawled on his hands and knees, I got a stomach cramp from laughing so hard hearing him cry and yell about getting pricked. He made his way in and I walked just on the outside of the patch in the open pine trees laughing still. All of a sudden it sounded like he fell hard and I heard him yell, “Here he comes!." As I turn toward the patch I see this massive deer running straight at me less than 10 yards away so I try to shoot from my hip as he passes a few feet from me. Of course, my safety was on so I push it off, begin to bring it up, and had to take a few steps to the side because of a tree, and only get a shot at his back end. He drops and the weight is lifted, here comes my bald buddy out of the bush looking like he went to war with the blood all over his bald head from the thorns.
Laughing and celebrating we walk up to this beautiful 10-point and discover I was only an inch and a half below my intended target and my buddies bullet was laying on top of the buck’s rib cage just under the skin. Good thing we dogged him. So, after that experience with the 10-pointer I decide I would try my luck hunting up the road for the next few years and let the new homeowner and his friends have the property to themselves. I then became a father so my ability to go there for the next couple years was slim by choice of being close to home in case something was to ever happen while I was hunting. Still successful at getting meat just not seeing the caliber of bucks I would have liked. I didn’t go back until 2013 when I decided to try the property again.
The first year I missed a nice one with my bow, and the second year is when hunting became more than just hunting to me. I wanted something I could hang on the wall, so I started doing my research and putting my time in and started monitoring deer movement. After the 2013 season, I put up a trail cam on what I believed was the entrance and exit of my property and when I returned a few months later low and behold, everything I remembered as a kid was correct! There were 594 videos, not pictures, which caused me to stick more to the video surveillance as they told a lot more of the story than just the pictures.
I can’t tell you how many times I had big bucks come to the edge of my property, walk up and hold their nose in the air, only to turn around and walk right back to where they came from. I'm not saying it happens all the time, but it happens more then you realize. So, I start buying more cameras to try and pinpoint the time frame that they enter, exit, and how long they seem to stay in one place. Now, this is also depending on the wind, which is a whole different story I’ve found and still don’t completely understand.
At the beginning of the 2014 hunting season I started to move my cameras onto scrape and rub lines. This yielded some awesome videos and I began to recognize the deer that were “regulars”. That year there were about five deer that I would consider shooters. I know some wouldn’t have called them worthy, but for me anything close to that 10-point from a few years before was worth it. So, I would say there were three real shooters and two that I would have no problem shooting especially with my bow.
There were two that especially caught my attention because of their distinct horns. One was “Earthquake” as we called him because of the way he liked to destroy the land and would make your heart stop every time you saw him on camera. I captured great videos of him tearing up the ground and breaking branches. That bow season I didn’t see one deer worth shooting; lots on camera, just not when I was there. I was kind of bummed only because I knew that once gun season started I was going to have company on the property with me. That didn’t bother me too much because I figured the deer would still move especially during rut, but that proved to be not true. I think the pressure made the bucks hold off on my property until after dark.
The next season I put up quite a few more cameras and thought I had everything figured out... not true. I saw no big bucks at all, but did end up shooting my first buck with a bow, a 6 pointer, but to me this was still a great accomplishment. We can’t always shoot monsters, right?
In 2015 I put all my cameras around the edge of my property trying to pinpoint them even more. I had two big ones that seemed to frequent the property. Suddenly there he was... Earthquake... who every time I moved my camera would stop dead in his tracks and look right at it, and I mean every time; then poof he was gone. I would move my camera and catch him again, with a smile from him of course, and then nothing. Only at night would he show himself. One afternoon on my drive out during bow season I passed the adjoining orchard to my property only to find the whole thing fenced off all the way to the drive way which had a gate. Now, I knew this would totally change the deer movement so I made sure to have cameras at my key spots to see the patterns as they changed. And just like that I was getting some of the best footage I had ever gotten. Hundreds and hundreds of does and bucks. What was most interesting though was that the patterns where pretty much the same, there was just more movement on my property.
Now here we are, it’s 2016. I was hoping this would finally be the year that my luck would change. For the first part of bow season I sat where I thought this big boy was going to walk through, but only seemed to see does. Against my better judgement of not putting cameras up during the season I decided to put up just a few more. To my surprise, I started getting some good bucks again, but not where I was sitting. The action was mostly on the other side of the property.
Watching the wind I had a day where I thought my spot would produce for me. And sure enough, 50 yards away, a deer we had named “Reindeer Games” walked out, tore up a tree, then the ground. With nothing but trees in the way and no good shot, I just watched for what felt like an eternity. Finally, he started to jog across the path in front of me and as I blatted to stop him he took off like a rocket and was gone. I went back religiously to these spots for the rest of the season trying to outsmart one of these two bucks but with no luck.
During the gun season, I was only able to make it out when my work schedule would allow and the gun I was borrowing was available. I really wanted to get one of these bucks with my good friend Kevin Dodge's muzzle loader. It was down to the last two weekends of the season and I started to think again that it wasn't my year to get a big buck. Then one day I decide to sneak up a hill to see what I could see. When I got there I spotted a couple does eating in a thicket so I sat and watched for a bit. There was a knoll to my right that I kept wanting to peak over but was enjoying just watching the does. As time went by and I notice another group of does walking into the thicket and decided to take that peak over the knoll. I poked my head up over the knoll to see a good size buck standing there. I wasn't sure if it was Earthquake, but he was big enough for me. I stopped looking at the rack and that’s when he spotted me. I pulled up and took a shot that missed a couple inches over his back then watched him run off out of my sight. I was so mad at myself, but thankful I hadn't wounded him. I thought that was it, he’s not going to come back before the end of the season which was only a week away.
The following weekend my buddy talked me into going out. We decided that Sunday would be our last day for the season. Sunday came and I just didn’t have the energy to get up. I woke up late and decided to stay home with the family instead of making the long drive out. I unpacked my whole truck taking everything that had to do with hunting out and I mean everything. The next day I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in myself for not going out for one final try.
I was headed to work the next day and got a call from a friend who tells me he is going hunting. I laughed and told him how the season had ended and he can’t legally hunt. He then told me that not only is the season still open but we have the next day too! In disbelief, I looked at my pocket D.E.C app on my tablet and realize it was open until the next day. Word to the wise, always check yourself instead of believing everyone else. Now I was pumped and making sure I got all my work done in hopes that I would be able to go out for one more shot at Earthquake.
I called my buddy Kevin and ask if he had any plans to use his muzzle loader. That night he brought over his muzzle loader and after discussing my less than optimal binoculars he even went so far as to let me borrow his. The next day I check on work to make sure I’m good to go, and head out only to forget the binoculars and have to go back for them, and thank goodness I did.
I didn't waste any time getting to the property, my plan was to go to see what was in the thicket. I spotted a doe on my way out and start to put the sneak on with the idea of shooting a doe for my buddy. As I sneaked closer to the tree where she was bedded I realized I wasn’t so sneaky, she was gone. I pull up the binoculars to see where her foot prints went in the snow. Did I mention there was about 16” of snow on the ground? I could see she took off in the direction of that thicket. I started to panic thinking she might alert all the other deer of my presence. I high-tailed it up and around trying to cut her off. I slowed down as I got to the thicket to catch my breath and take time to enjoy the awesome day in the woods as I look around at the snow-covered trees.
A few moments later I glassed the thicket before the knoll and spotted a deer at about 200 yards behind the thorn bushes. I couldn't tell if it was a buck or doe. I tucked behind a tree and watched for a while. The deer didn’t move and didn’t seemed like it saw me either. I move towards the hill with binoculars in hand to see what might be there. I didn't see anything. I kept looking back at the other deer every so often to make sure it hadn't seen me or moved.
After twenty minutes I start to get depressed that the big bucks were not there or I had scared them away with my shots the weekend before. I move towards the knoll to my right to see if there was anything that way, nothing there either. I continued scanning the area with the binoculars starting to see does in the thorn bushes. I started getting anxious wondering "Where’s Earthquake?" As the deer start working their way down the hill toward the valley, I was at the top just waiting to get a 40-yard shot at one of the mature does for my friend. I watch for a while longer, at this point I counted about 6 or 7 does in the thicket. “How many of you are there?” Then another doe runs down the hill towards the thicket. As I watch her, wondering what was chasing her, with the binoculars I see this monster Buck come flying over the hill. I had to get a shot! I tried getting back to a tree behind me to steady myself. The doe ran into the only opening in the thicket, I knew once she reached the creek her and the buck were not coming back to my property. I had no choice but to jump down on the ground military style and try to get as steady as possible before the buck ran out and I lost my opportunity.
He came down the hill past the other does out of the thicket and "BOOM"... I let the lead fly. When the smoke clears I see him go down and I started counting the does running out of the thicket just to see how many there were. I counted fourteen in total and I only had eyes on six or seven of them. At this point I didn’t know which buck this was or if I knew him from my trail cam pictures. But that didn’t matter to me, again I was pumped. As I got closer I could see half the rack is in the snow. Now I can see that it’s him... it’s Earthquake! I couldn’t believe it. No way could I be so lucky.
I couldn’t wait to tell everyone but I knew they wouldn’t believe me if I didn’t send a picture with me in it. I tried to take a selfie and failed miserably. Only because I couldn’t fit his rack and me in the picture at the same time, but I did manage a couple. And that my friends is how I got “Earthquake: The Dead-End Ranch Buck”.
But the story doesn’t stop there! My good buddy Steve Forget had always talked about a guy who was a local shed hunter and hunted the same deer as us. His name was Shawn Guerin and he shot one of the other 10-pointers I had on my hit list. Steve would tell me stories about Shawn and always said I should meet him. Well, after word had gotten around about my monster, Shawn told Steve he had sheds from the buck I shot and thought I might be interested in them. Steve introduced the two of us finally and as it turned out he had two years worth of sheds from my buck and possibly half his rack from when he was a year and a half old. I can't express how much appreciation I have for this deer and the joy of pursuing him.
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