By Troy Gentry
When my alarm went off, I was only half-asleep. It was 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 23, 2002, and I’d gone to bed excited about what the day might hold.
The reason for my anticipation was simple: Only three weeks before, I’d been drawn for a hunt in Area 113 (Yano Tank Range) on Kentucky’s Fort Knox Military Reservation. Fort Knox has a history of producing big bucks, and several people who’d hunted there had told me Area 113 was one of the best areas.
After showering and dressing, I checked the thermometer just outside my door. The temperature stood at 22 degrees, and there was very little wind. What a day for a deer hunt! I said to myself.
One hour and fifteen minutes later, I met my dad, Kenny Gentry, and his friend, Mike McCord, in the small town of Radcliff. There, we joined the rest of the people drawn for that day’s hunt. After we’d filled out the required paperwork and all of our equipment had been checked, it was off to our hunting area.
Fort Knox’s limited-entry hunts are set up so that a military guide accompanies all participants to the field. Guide Joe Pike was to drop us off first, and he told us to follow him into our hunting area. We followed Joe to Yano Tank Range, where he showed us our boundaries and then moved on to assist the next group of guys.
It was 6 a.m. when Dad, Mike and I parked and started discussing our options. Mike decided to walk up the road next to the tank range and try to find a thicket Joe had told us about. Dad and I decided to walk up the same road and cut into the woods about 300 yards from the truck.
The moon was just past full, and the woods were bright enough for us to see by its light alone. The deeper we went into the timber, the better it looked. Finally, we found a spot that looked perfect, and Dad decided to put up his portable stand in an oak surrounded by open hardwoods.
A small creek ran through the hardwoods, and I decided to follow it downstream. I discovered that after about another 500 yards, it joined with another small creek and then dumped into a bottom. Where the two creeks met formed a point overlooking the bottom. I hung my stand in a tree on the point, got settled and waited for daylight.
It was indeed a good morning for deer activity, as I counted 20 does and a small 6-pointer; however, nothing larger showed up. What’s more, the minor headache with which I’d begun the day had progressed into a major annoyance. So, when my dad radioed me at around 11:30 to ask if I wanted to meet him for lunch, I asked if he had anything in his truck for a headache. He told me he did, so I got down and headed back there to meet him.
After taking some medicine and talking with Dad for a few minutes, I began to still-hunt my way back to the stand. En route I saw no deer . . . but then, as I was nearing my stand, I caught movement ahead.
After a minute or so, I could make out a small doe milling around. I slipped up next to a small tree to try to break up my outline as I watched for other deer. Over the next few minutes she walked up to within 35 yards, stopped and looked directly at me. After a brief stare-down, she resumed looking for acorns.
As I continued to watch the doe, I caught movement out of the corner of my right eye. Just behind the doe, I noticed a deer hidden by a large cedar in the edge of a small thicket.
I raised my gun and put the scope on this second deer . . . and when I did, my day took a sudden turn for the better. Thirty-five yards from me was the largest buck I’d ever seen!
My 2002 season had started off a little rocky. On May 30, I’d been involved in an ATV accident in which I’d broken both bones in my lower left leg. Being all but immobile, I’d spent all summer in my truck and on my 4-wheeler with my leg propped up, watching deer on our farm.
I’d desperately wanted to be able to walk by the time Kentucky’s bow season opened on Sept. 21. After four long months and one surgery following my accident, I finally took my first steps two weeks before opening day.
What really had me anxious to hunt in 2002 was a buck I’d watched and occasionally videotaped during the summer. He was a 170-class non-typical with a 4-inch drop tine, and I hoped for a chance at him with my bow. I’d started bowhunting when I was 13, and I’ve dreamed of getting a Pope & Young whitetail every since. Naturally, I hoped “Droptine” would be the deer to fulfill that dream.
At 7:15 p.m. on Sept. 21, it seemed the dream would come true; I shot the non-typical at 25 yards. But my arrow hit low and a littl
e too far back. I literally was sick, knowing it had been a less-than-perfect hit. I decided not to look for the deer for several hours.
There was very little blood, and the deer never bedded. After two long days of looking for him, I knew my shot hadn’t been fatal. I’d told myself, Man, you blew your only chance at your buck of a lifetime! Now, almost two months later, here I was looking down my shotgun barrel at a deer that was at least 25 inches bigger than that non-typical!
I strained to find an opening in the saplings and briars, but all I could see was the buck’s head and hindquarters. The rest remained hidden by the cedar and briars. I had no ethical shot.
The buck just stood there for what seemed like an eternity, looking at the doe. Finally, he looked straight at me, and I saw his whole rack for the first time. My knees started shaking. Don’t lose it now! I told myself.
The buck turned the other way, as if to head back into the thicket he’d left. Starting to panic, I reached into my pocket for my “can” call.
When I turned it over, the buck stopped to look at the doe. I guess he just couldn’t take it, and he turned and walked out from behind the big cedar, offering me a 35-yard broadside shot. I put the crosshairs just behind the shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The deer stumbled, then ran straight away from me and disappeared into the creek bottom.
I radioed Dad that I’d just shot the biggest buck I’d ever seen. Dad asked if I wanted Mike and him to come on over. I told him yes and to hurry. I knew the deer was down.
As I walked up to where the buck had been standing, I noticed my tree stand hanging only 30 yards away. I began looking for blood and soon found sign of a very solid hit. I followed it into the creek bottom and noticed the buck lying dead in the creek. He’d made it only 60 yards before collapsing.
So many emotions ran through me that the feeling was indescribable. I picked up that beautiful set of antlers and fell to my knees in disbelief.
Dad and Mike finally arrived, and as they walked up, my dad just kept saying, “Oh, my God . . . oh, my God!” After a little celebration, we all just stood there and stared at the deer. Mike looked at him and then at me and said, “Well, I think you’ve got the 12-inch minimum spread.” (On Fort Knox, only bucks with at least that much spread are legal.)
We all laughed and enjoyed the moment. To kill a deer of this class was exciting enough, but to have had my dad there to share the experience is something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. I never forget that look on his face when he first saw my buck.
After checking in the deer, taking photos and phoning family and friends with the news, I headed home. En route, I kept thinking about my best friend and lifelong hunting partner, Allen Ray Donahue, whom we lost on July 18, 2001. This buck’s for you, buddy.
After the 60-day drying period, my buck was scored by Bill Cooper, a veteran B&C measurer and contributor to North American WHITETAIL. The basic 5×5 gross scored 198 0/8 and netted 186 6/8, making him Kentucky’s all-time No. 11 typical. He’s also the top typical ever recorded at Fort Knox. Truly the buck of a lifetime . . . even if he wasn’t the one I’d been dreaming of on opening day!