Every year, hundreds of whitetail hunters across the country make decisions to join or organize a hunt club, to acquire a new hunting lease, or to request permission to hunt a particular farm site or tract of timber. They may even book a guided or semi-guided hunt, or apply for a license drawing in a special hunt unit. Reasons vary, but there is always the underlying hope that the new location or experience might provide the opportunity to take a true trophy-class buck.
To some degree, nearly everyone is affected by the old adage “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” and there is no denying that part of the whitetail mystique is tied to the intrigue of hunting new and different locations. So last year, when Tennessee resident Robert Taylor was invited to join several friends on a Kentucky hunting lease, he readily accepted for a variety of reasons.
“I knew the group had hunted the lease for two years,” Robert said. “Although there wasn’t a single deer killed the first year, they reported seeing a number of impressive-looking young bucks, and during the 2007 season one of the guys shot a deer that grossed over 150. It seemed like a good situation and I really enjoy hunting different areas. And knowing all of the other hunters in the group made the decision pretty easy.”
In August, several weeks after placing trail cameras at various sites on the property, the group received its first inkling that the upcoming deer season might be something special.
One of the cameras had recorded a photo of a buck with antlers the size of which defied description. In fact, from that time on, the buck was referred to as “Muy,” a shortened term for Muy Grande.
“It would be an understatement to say that Muy was the subject of a lot of campfire discussions,” Robert said. “However, that single instance provided the only photo we had of the buck prior to the opening of bow season, so we naturally assumed the big deer just happened to be passing through the property. I honestly don’t think any of us really believed there was much chance of actually getting a shot at a buck that big.”
A CLOSE CALL
Located in Kentucky’s western coalfields, a great deal of the group’s leased hunting acreage had previously been strip-mined. During the mining company’s reclamation process, the land was somewhat leveled and planted in a variety of grasses and lespedeza, creating an almost savannah-like habitat. At one location, approximately 500 acres of open grassland completely encircle a two-acre patch of mature trees, the site of an old family cemetery dating back to the 1800s. This small island of trees was where the trail camera photo had been recorded of the giant buck known as Muy.
In regard to deer, the area had one additional attraction. Within 100 yards of the wooded cemetery, the landowner had established a 50-acre food plot, seeded predominantly in clover.
One of the most fascinating traits of whitetails, especially big mature whitetail bucks, is that they are totally unpredictable. During the first week of bow season, Lee Denton, the organizer and acting president of the club, was hunting in the two-acre woodlot when Muy suddenly walked into view. The hunter came to full draw as the huge deer approached to within 35 yards. Despite trying mouth grunts and every other vocalization he could think of, Lee could not get the buck to stop. Unable to get a clear shooting opportunity, he watched the big deer walk out of sight.
Later, Lee acknowledged that he had been tempted to try a desperation shot, but the possibility of wounding and losing an animal as special as a white-tailed deer, especially this deer, simply wasn’t acceptable to him.
“I certainly applaud Lee for what he did,” Robert said. “I’d like to think that I would have shown the same restraint, but that was a terribly tough situation.”
A GHOST BUCK
The big whitetail was not sighted again during bow season. However, approximately 10 days before the opening of gun season in early November, another photo of the buck was recorded on the same cemetery trail camera.
“Getting another photo only days before opening weekend of gun season certainly piqued everyone’s interest and generated a great deal of enthusiasm,” Robert said. “On the other hand, we honestly had very little on which to base any solid expectations. Two photos, both taken at night, plus one sighting over a two-month period, would hardly be considered a predictable pattern. Nevertheless, it was nice to know that the buck was still utilizing at least part of our hunting area.”
On opening weekend, Lee Denton’s dad, Ronnie, killed a big 140-class 8-pointer while hunting in the cemetery woodlot. The buck was impressive and the hunter couldn’t have been any happier if he had shot old Muy. No other bucks were taken, and Robert saw only two does the entire weekend.
Because of job obligations, Robert left for home Sunday night and did not return until the following Thursday afternoon. (Kentucky’s 16-day rifle season in 2008 ran from Saturday, Nov. 8, to Sunday, Nov. 23.) During his absence, he learned that another member of the hunting group had taken a big 10-pointer on a different area of the lease, but no one had sighted the giant non-typical. That afternoon, he returned to the same stand he had hunted on opening weekend. Unfortunately, not a single deer appeared.
A LONG AFTERNOON
“To say the least, I was a little disappointed, especially with my stand location,” Robert said. “It seemed as though everyone but me was seeing deer pretty regularly. However, a strong weather front was forecast to move through the area on Friday, so I decided to stick with the location at least one more day.”
Robert’s stand was positioned along a woods line bordering the expansive reclaimed stri
p site, approximately 1,000 yards from the small island of trees containing the cemetery.
The hunter selected the spot because of a shallow draw in the grassy terrain that he believed would help funnel deer movement, especially those animals traveling to and from the clover field.
On Friday morning, deer activity in the vicinity of Robert’s stand improved dramatically.
Although no bucks were sighted, a number of does moved out of the woods and slowly meandered through the lespedeza and broomsedge. A few eventually headed off in the general direction of the clover field.
“Considering the date, I was really surprised at the lack of rut activity, but I was certainly encouraged by the number of deer I saw throughout the morning,” Robert noted. “By mid-afternoon, when I returned to the stand, the sky had darkened, it was noticeably colder, and the wind must have been blowing at least 20 miles an hour.”
Not a single deer appeared during the afternoon, and with rain imminent and darkness less than 30 minutes away, the hunter began gathering his gear together. While doing so, a sudden flicker of movement far out in the draw-like depression in the field froze him in position.
THE SHOT OF A LIFETIME
“Two hundred yards away a deer had lifted its head,” Robert recalled. “I knew instantly, even at that distance and without the aid of binoculars, that it was the giant buck in the trail camera photos. I immediately grabbed my rifle and maneuvered into a solid shooting position.”
Using an IOR 4×14 scope with a 56mm objective, Robert cranked the variable adjustment all the way up to 14X. Broomsedge and lespedeza concealed the lower half of the deer’s body, but everything else, including the deer’s head and neck, was in the clear.
Fortunately, the buck had momentarily stopped.
“I kept telling myself over and over, ‘Don’t rush. Don’t rush. Whatever you do, don’t mess this up,’” Robert said. “For some strange reason, I felt amazingly calm.”
Holding his breath while slowly squeezing the trigger of the Remington 700, the hunter fired. He quickly bolted another shell into the chamber and fired again. At nearly the same instant, rain began falling.
“The deer simply disappeared,” Robert said. “In spite of the wind, I felt pretty confidant of the shot, but I quickly began to second-guess myself. Darkness was only minutes away, and I knew that if the buck was merely wounded the rain would quickly wash away any blood trail.”
Having marked the location, Robert climbed down and hurriedly walked to the spot where the deer had been standing. Periodically glancing back at his tree stand to keep oriented, he arrived at the spot only to begin living his worst nightmare — there was no sign of the buck!
“Not only did I not find any sign of the deer, but I couldn’t find any blood or hair to indicate that I had even hit the buck,” Robert said. “Only another hunter can truly relate to this — I honestly became physically sick believing that I had just missed the deer of a lifetime.”
A ROLLERCOASTER RIDE OF EMOTIONS
Standing in the gathering darkness with the wind and rain blowing in his face, Robert decided to recheck his position one more time. After aligning himself with the distant tree stand, he took several steps farther out into the open broomsedge. Had he walked just a few more yards on his first try, he would have fallen over the giant whitetail! And now, that is exactly what he did!
“Somehow I had misjudged the distance in the open field,” Robert noted. “Within seconds, I went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. There isn’t a drug in this world that could have made me feel any better than I did when I saw the buck lying there on the ground. Until that moment, I really hadn’t gotten excited, but standing there, looking down at the deer, I thought my legs were going to give out on me.”
Realizing he couldn’t move the buck without help, Robert began calling other members of the club for assistance. The first person he contacted was Danny Denton, Lee’s brother. Danny quickly relayed the news to his dad and brother. Their predictable response was that Robert had to be joking and that he should not be taken seriously.
Danny immediately replied, “No, I can tell from Robert’s voice that he’s not kidding. He’s definitely killed the big buck!”
Upon arriving on the scene, several rounds of congratulations and high-fives were in order. After that, the men loaded up the big whitetail and headed back to camp. In regard to the size of the buck’s amazing antlers, everyone agreed that the rack was even bigger than it had appeared in the photos.
A HUNTER’S CONFESSION
Word of the buck spread like wildfire, and the following morning a continuous procession of hunters and local residents passed through the camp to get a look at the deer. That afternoon, as Robert was leaving, an older man accompanied by his grandson approached the Denton brothers and identified himself. He went on to say that on Wednesday afternoon, two days prior to the day Robert shot the deer, he and his grandson were hunting on an adjoining farm when the huge whitetail suddenly ran into view while chasing a doe. He shot at the buck as it was running away, but only succeeded in blowing a handful of hair off the deer.
The man’s story was backed up by a 6-inch-long flesh wound on the buck’s right hip.
Everyone had noticed the bullet wound Friday night after getting the buck back to camp.
However, since Robert had fired twice at the deer, everyone assumed that the wound had been made by his second shot.
After the man left, Lee called Robert, who by then was on his way back to Tennessee.
After relating the story, Lee adde
d that the man was still pretty torn up over missing the giant buck.
“As he was walking away,” Lee said. “He turned around and told Danny and me, ‘You might not believe me, but I’m taking this worse than my last divorce!’”
Robert laughed, but he certainly could sympathize with the man, especially after remembering his own feelings when he thought he had missed the deer.
KENTUCKY’S BUCK OF THE YEAR
Following the required 60-day drying period, Robert had the antlers officially measured.
The impressive results included a total of 29 points, 11 of which made up the 6×5 typical frame. An excellent combination of tine length and antler mass yielded a gross typical score of 172 2/8. Unfortunately, significant side-to-side deductions dropped the final net figure to 157 6/8. However, the rack’s most outstanding feature was the amazing array of 18 abnormal points, including three drop tines. These points give the rack an exceptional appearance, particularly because they are evenly balanced between the right and left antlers, with 10 points on the right and 8 on the left. Totaling a whopping 92 inches, when added to the net typical score, the final non-typical B&C score was 249 6/8.
In addition to being Kentucky’s top whitetail of the 2008 season, the Butler County deer ranks No. 4 on the state’s all-time list of non-typical whitetails and is the third biggest ever taken by a hunter. (Note: The state-record non-typical, scoring 270 5/8, was found dead in Henry County in 2004).