Several weeks ago I was contacted with a proposal to put together a hunt for whitetail deer at the Deer
Tracks Ranch in Michigan. The property was described to me as 1500 acres behind high fence that
was rugged and varied terrain incorporating forest, swamp, and a small amount of pasture land. The
deer population was healthy, genetically superior, and wild. The gentlemen that first brought the Deer
Track Ranch to my attention is an outdoor writer Iâ€™d meet over the phone a couple of years back,
and he emphasized to me that this was a fair chase hunt in a spectacular setting. I asked if I could bring
a couple of other airgunners with me, and the owner of the ranch agreed.
The owners name is Dave Tuxbury, and heâ€™s owned the ranch for the last fifteen years. Daveâ€™s
goal has been to grow the best herd in the Region, and provide a fantastic hunting experience to all that
visit. There is a comfortable lodge on the property where meals, prepared by a talented private chef,
are served. This is the command post from which hunts are launched. There are a number of tree
stands and European style blinds spread around the property as well as a number of portable ground
blinds. The hunter can also get on the ground and spot and stalk if desired, and there is a 1:1 ratio with
a cadre of experienced guides to hunt with. The sleeping quarters are in a beautiful log cabin that is
located off the property about a half mile away, and is really fantastic. My hunting companions and I
agreed this is the lodge weâ€™d build for ourselves if we hit the lottery! Lots of wood, stone, glass, a
huge fireplace, and beautiful trophies everywhere.
As far as company on this trip, my frequent hunting buddy Eric Henderson shifted things around so he
could make it, and drove up from Texas collecting me along the way. Weâ€™ve hunted Texas and
Africa together and I was looking forward to meeting up with him again. A guy that weâ€™d spoken
with a few times but never met in person named Robert Vogel, also arranged to drive up for the hunt.
Itâ€™s always a gamble when you bring a guy you donâ€™t know into the mix, Eric and I know what
to expect from each other; the good, bad, and ugly â€¦â€¦. But it turned out that Robert was a great fit;
a savvy hunter, a knowledgeable airgunner, and a fun guy to hang with. When we arrived a little late,
we found that Robert had been visiting with a group of lady hunters from a womanâ€™s outdoor
magazine all morning â€¦.. tough duty! But eventually every one else left the ranch and we found
ourselves in soul possession.
We all took off with or own guides in different directions. Our first hunt that afternoon was non
productive for me, but Robert and Eric tagged a couple nice bucks. We reviewed Roberts hunt on
video that night; the shot from his Quackenbush .457 was a well placed broadside that rattled the buck
who ran about thirty yards and stood blowing blood and looking like he was going to fall at any time,
but after a few minutes bolted for the woods. Robert and his guide spent the rest of the afternoon and
into the evening searching without luck. As it was dark and had been a good hit, it was decided to wait
until morning and go find the buck. It was everybodyâ€™s expectation to find him piled up inside of a
In the meanwhile, Eric was sitting in a pop up ground blind in a wooded area and had several deer
passing through, when he spotted a massive buck. When the buck paused at 55 yards, Eric brought up
his DAQ .457 and squeezed off what turned out to be a double lung shot that clipped the heart. He
was shooting the 300 grain flat nose Hunter Supply cast bullet from his tuned Quackenbush, getting
about 815 fps. The deer ran about 50 yards stood a couple seconds, then tumbled over DOA. This
buck weighed over 270 lbs and was a 10 point buck that went about 140, an absolutely great deer!
The next morning it was decided that I would head out at daybreak to pursue my buck, and that after
breakfast weâ€™d all go out and find Roberts deer. My guide and I were hunting from a ground blind
an as daylight started to break I could see a lot of deer coming in, including a couple very bigt ones.
My guide pointed at one and said, if that deer comes close take him. I waited â€¦â€¦ and waited, but
there were too many deer to take a shot. The big buck walked inside of 35 yards but I couldnâ€™t get
a clear line, and finally they started to walk away. At about 70 yards the deer stopped before walking
into the woods, and I heard â€œtake himâ€�! I stoked the trigger and saw the pellet hit right behind
the shoulder, the buck jumped up then dived into the woods. We waited over a half hour before
walking out to collect him, but he was no where in sight. We could not pick up a blood trail, and
searched for a couple of hours before heading back to the lodge for breakfast and more help to comb
We returned to the lodge, ate, and then headed out to pick up Roberts deer with the plan of looking for
mine afterwards. But what we thought was going to be an easy task turned out not to be. The blood
trail petered out and the buck was not to be found, and it would not be until two days later when the
activities of the crows directed one of the guides to the deer. The coyotes had gotten to him and all that
was left was the head, but at least that had been retrieved. As it turned out, it was more success than
we had with my deer. We continued the search until the afternoon meal at about 3:00, then gave up to
go back and eat before getting ready for the evening hunt.
I was pretty broken up, In 30 years of hunting this was the first and only deer Iâ€™d ever lost. Not to
mention the biggest deer I ever shot, and maybe the biggest I would ever shoot. I didnâ€™t feel like
eating or hunting, so decided to go back to our digs and reflect. The Ranch was fantastic, the owner
and guides were excellent, but at that moment I didnâ€™t feel like hunting. That evening Tux came by
and asked if I wanted to go sit in a blind with him, and still not feeling like hunting I left my rifle and
went deer watching. And there were lots of deer to watch, including a truly spectacular buck that was
in the 170 range.
Robert was in a tree blind at that moment, watching a doe slowly make her way into range. At about
50 yards she paused for a moment, and he hit her with a shot from his .457. The deer ran about 70
yards and keeled over. We all met up at the cleaning shed and talked as the doe was hung up and
prepped for a visit to the onsite processing facility.
The next morning we headed out again, Eric and I to take a doe while Robert got to sleep in. In my
stand I had a lot deer come in, but all bucks! So I didnâ€™t get a shot. But Eric did. As he and his
guide were driving back in they came to an opening with a few deer feeding along the edges of a cut,
and jumping out with his .457 Destroyer took aim through the open sites and hit her with a well placed
356 grain bullet. She bolted into the forest and they followed her course off to the left, and after letting
some time pass went in pursuit. The deer had vanished, and again, left virtually no blood to track. The
group went out again that afternoon in force and searched, but found nothing. Robert however, took off
in the opposite direction and after a while came across the doe a couple hundred yards away.
At that point we had shot five deer and had three take off even after being well hit. Now here is the
thing; we were seeing on the animals we recovered that the bullets were penetrating, and placement
was good if not perfect. But without the hydrostatic shock, the damage and subsequent bleeding is
what killed the animal. And even when there was substantial internal bleeding, there was not a lot of
external blood. The fact that there were so many deer and the foliage was still abundant; made tracking
difficult over the wild landscape.
Whitetail Hunt at Michigans Deer Tracks Ranch!
Jim, Eric Henderson, and Robert Vogel Head up North for some great big
bore airgunning excitement!
This is a cull buck
taken on the
property with the
Shinsung Big Bore
909 PCP air rifle
roundball. The buck
was hit at 25 yards
and ran about 70
yards before piling
up in the brush. I
was a happy camper!
Robert and Eric look on as Erics monster
buck is hoisted in the processing shed. This
deer will score around Buckmaster 140
and weighed in at 270+ pounds. I am
pretty sure this is the biggest buck taken
with an air rifle (Quackenbush LA .427).
Roberts bucks rack is shown, and I'll post
additional photos as soon as they're
available. Robert was using a DAQ .457
and nail;ed this guy with a perfect
I saw so many great bucks like the one
below I lost count! The herd at Deer Tacks
Ranch was really exceptional and a
challange to hunt.
This is a more comprehensive write up of our hunt in Michigan in October of 2008. In this piece
I'll relate the hunts, and dicuss my views on the use of airgun for big game hunting, whitetail
deer in particular.
It was decided that the last hunt that evening, Tux and I would go to an archery stand that offered a
good shooting lane on deer at 30 yards as they moved out to feed. We approached this hunt as a bow
hunt, deciding to stay inside of 30 yards. I was using my ShinSung Big Bore 909 and .454 roundball on
this outing. The gun was generating about 165 fpe, and I had used it to take a nice 8 point buck a
couple years before. Sitting in the stand we saw a lot of deer passing by, and I was just getting ready to
line up on the only doe Iâ€™d seen that afternoon. But Tux stopped me and pointed to a nice 10 point
buck, whispering â€œI donâ€™t like the genetics on that one, itâ€™s a management buck if you want
to take himâ€�. I slowly brought up the gun and felt my heart start to thump in my chest as the buck
froze and looked out sensing some danger. He stepped around and gave me a perfect broadside at 25
yards, which I took. I saw the ball hit right behind the shoulder and heard the peculiar thud of the
projectile hitting as the deer took off at a flat out run. We lost him behind a tree, and with deer running
everywhere it was hard to tell which way heâ€™d gone, but then we heard a crash in the woods. After
about a half hour we climbed down and looked for blood, but could not find a trail, I felt my stomach
turn with a sick feeling of de ja vu. But about 20 yards further on found a couple drops of blood, not
made any easier by all the red fall leaves covering the ground. And about 40 yards past this I found the
buck piled up. Back at the cleaning shed we found that the ball had broken clean through a rib, gone
through both lungs, and come too rest under the skin on the off side.
So in the end, six deer were shot; 3 dropped cleanly, 2 took off and were very difficult to recover, and
1 (mine) was not recovered. At this point I speak only for myself and not my two companions as they
may well have another perspective. First, the size of the deer didnâ€™t seem to matter; out of the three
quick kills there were 2 bucks and 1 doe. Out of the three less optimal hits there were 2 bucks and 1
doe. All the shots that killed promptly were closer range (inside of 50 yards) and hit both lungs. All six
shots were in a firearm kill zone, shots that were not perfectly placed resulted in deer that could move
some distance. With a very light blood trail, lots of red leaves on the ground, and thick bush tracking
were a challenge. I think that shots placed within the smaller airgun effective kill zone on the deer killed
quickly, and that one is more likely to hit this zone at closer range. I have been slowly moving towards
this opinion since my last trip top South Africa, where I had a couple long range shots that were decent
hits in a firearms context but resulted in long tracking sessions with a light blood trail. Itâ€™s not a
matter of power but exact shot placement, and for that reason my personal guideline is to keep my
shots inside of 40 - 50 yards and view big game airgun hunting as a close range pursuit. For me the idea
of airgun hunting is to increase the challenge, not to decrease the probability of a clean one shot kill.
I believe that with encroaching development and increasing deer populations in these areas, the use of
big bore airguns will continue to gain acceptance, certainly for suburban hunts. I am heading back to the
ranch in a couple weeks with a number of guns to help cull the doe population and will try a variety of
guns, shooting scenarios, and shot placements to help me more clearly establish and articulate my own
set of guidelines for deer hunting in future. But having said all this, it was a great trip, with great
companions, and a great host and excellent staff at a superb hunting venue. Weâ€™ll put together more
hunts next year, and if you can make it will find a truly great whitetail airgun hunting experience.
Clockwise from top: Eric showing off his
buck, a beautiful animal taken with a perfect
shot using his Quackenbush .457. This huge
animal tipped the scales at over 270 lbs.
Robert back at the processing shed with his
doe, happy hunter but at this time we still
hadn't found his buck, the smile got even
bigger a couple hours later when the birds
led them to it. Gelow is Eric with his doe
taken with his .457 Destroyer.