I usually write one of two types of deer-hunting features. Many are about my own experiences; the rest are stories related to me by people I didn’t know before interviewing them. But this one is different.
The hunter involved is my close friend Jason Tuttle, and I actually got to live this story along with him—even though I wasn’t hunting the buck he ended up shooting. I was able to see the ups and downs of this very long pursuit as I talked to Jason before and after virtually every hunt over two seasons, helped him check trail cameras and move stands on occasion, and was as close to the action as I could be without sitting in the stand with him. In other words, I had great seats for this dramatic hunt. I only hope I can do his story justice.
Jason is a firefighter in Lexington, Ky., and as he is also a serious deer and turkey hunter. His “24 on/48 off” schedule affords him a lot of time in the field. Jason hunts mature whitetails, and he runs trail cameras religiously.
In 2009, a very nice 2.5-year-old 10- pointer showed up on camera, and Jason mentally noted him as a potential future trophy. But my friend had no idea how this young buck would come to affect his life.
Jason was hunting a 120-acre farm. On such properties, it is not unusual to get a buck on camera, but then never see him again. It is tough trying to manage deer on small acreages, especially those surrounded by hunted properties. So when the deer showed up again in 2010, as a 3.5-year-old, Jason was pleased. And when the same buck showed up in July 2011 as a definite shooter, Jason was understandably excited. The buck had thrown a fork on his left G-3 tine, and my friend estimated him to be well into the 150-class range. It was time to get serious about hunting the deer.
The trail cameras had turned up one curious fact: The buck somehow had lost his left eye during the past eight months. That eye was “glassed over,” and it was very evident in the infrared night photos. The nickname “Cyclops” seemed quite appropriate, and it stuck.
During August 2011 the buck was feeding regularly in a ridgetop alfalfa field. A single oak with a couple cedars covering much of it stands right in the middle of the plot, making for a great stand location. It was here on opening day of Kentucky’s bow season that Jason had his first encounter with the Cyclops.
The buck came into the alfalfa with plenty of shooting light, and he ended up 40 yards from Jason’s stand in the big oak. The bowhunter never was able to get his bow and get turned completely around to take a shot, though, because there were a number of other deer much closer; he knew he’d have been picked off, spooking the whole lot. The mature buck eventually fed out of range and disappeared.
Cyclops continued to show up on trail camera virtually every night in the alfalfa field, but now he was coming in after dark. So Jason put out six cameras around the alfalfa, trying to determine where the deer was coming from. He figured if he knew the trail the buck was using, he could set a stand back in the woods a couple of hundred yards and catch him during shooting hours.
It took a few days, but the surveillance worked. Soon, Jason was fairly sure he had the approach figured out. He set his tree stand 25 yards from the trail he thought the buck was using on a severely steep hillside. Then, when the wind was perfect, he climbed in for an evening sit.
As if on cue, a full half-hour before dark Jason saw deer heading up the trail. In all there were three bucks: two younger 8-pointers and Jason’s target 11-pointer. The small bucks came through and headed toward Jason’s stand, but the big guy hung back a little. He eventually worked to inside of 25 yards from Jason, but when he stopped, all the hunter could see was his lower legs. The buck had stopped where, due to the steep hill angle, a large maple branch in full foliage blocked his vitals.
Call it the sixth sense of a mature buck, but for whatever reason, he got a little antsy and finally just turned around and went back down the trail the way he had come. The two smaller bucks followed him back down the hollow.
Jason continued to get a lot of trail cam photos of Cyclops, but throughout the rest of the 2011 season he never physically saw the buck again. In March of 2012, Jason found one of the buck’s sheds, and he had been right on in his estimation of the Cyclops’ score. Measuring the shed, figuring the other side and giving a moderate spread, we estimated the buck would gross 157 inches.
When Cyclops showed back up in July of 2012 on trail camera, Jason and I were both astonished. The buck had really blown up. He had put on a lot of tine length, both G-3s forked, and he had a couple other small kickers off the bases of the G-2s and G-3s. We were blown away that the buck was still alive at 5.5 years when he had lived his entire life in an area of such small properties.
Cyclops was very regular on trail cam through July and August, and Jason had worked his schedule with vacation time so he could hunt every day for the first two weeks of season. To me, this is where the story really gets good.
Jason set up a couple of stands in the field where the buck was feeding in the evenings, and he was bound and determined to hunt him only on perfect winds. Opening evening he sat in a stand with the wind in his face, but the buck did not show. The next day, when he checked his camera, he found that the buck had fed in front of his other stand location in broad daylight.
On the second afternoon of bow season, we experienced a torrential thunderstorm. Jason and I both went to hunt, but with all the lightning we climbed out of our stands. We sat in our trucks and talked on cell phones about what to do, but the radar looked terrible, so both of us decided to throw in the towel and go home. Of course an hour before dark, the storm passed and the sun popped out.
You guessed it, when Jason checked the camera the next day, the buck had come out 20 yards from his stand after the rain stopped. My friend was 0 for 2.
On the eighth day of season, Jason had a replay of the opener. He went to one stand because of wind direction, and the trail cam revealed that the buck had showed at his other stand. After that, the buck did not show up again in daylight until September 21st and 22nd at a creek crossing where he was coming in from another property.
For three weeks after that, Jason got fairly regular photos of the buck in a couple of locations, but there were no more daylight photos until Oct. 16. Cyclops showed up at this spot in daylight each day through the 19th. But Jason wasn’t in the stand any of those days.
The early muzzleloader season was the weekend of Oct. 20-21, so Jason and I went in at midday to set up a new stand. He hunted there both days of muzzleloader season, but with no luck. But wouldn’t you know? On Oct. 23, Cyclops showed up again in daylight at that stand.
Jason had pretty well decided this would be the stand from which he would kill the buck if it ever happened. So his approach now began to revolve around waiting for the right wind to let him hunt there.
One afternoon about this time, we sat down in my garage with a lot of trail cam photos, a calculator and notebook and made our best attempt at scoring the buck. Trying to be as realistic as possible, we came up with a gross score of a little over 186 inches. I truly felt the deer would break 190. But no matter—he was an absolute giant. We knew that for sure.
On Oct. 29, Jason hunted the stand in the morning. The weather was terrible, with the wind blowing between 30 and 40 mph. After four hours of hanging onto his tree, Jason finally decided no deer in its right mind would be moving in such conditions, so he climbed down.
At 10:38, Jason’s trail camera got a photo of him walking past on the way back to his truck. At 11:16, the same camera took a photo of Cyclops!
The wind was wrong on Oct. 30, and naturally, the buck showed himself in daylight. On Halloween, Jason decided to stay home for the festivities with his son, Jack (who is also a real deer killer), and again, the buck was right there in shooting light. By now, my friend had begun to believe the buck was some sort of mentalist.
Jason got another daylight photo on Nov. 5, only five days prior to opening day of rifle season. The first two days of gun season Jason had no luck. On the next, he sat in a ground blind somewhere else, just to stay out of the weather. You guessed it: Cyclops was at his tree stand in mid-afternoon!
At this point, the time, effort and lack of success were really wearing on Jason and his family. On Nov. 13 his wife Erin half-jokingly told him, “You need to either kill this deer or go marry him.”
Even Jack was eager for it to end. “Please kill this deer, so I can get my dad back,” he added. The situation was stressing everyone out.
On Nov. 14 the wind was right for hunting the tree stand, and Jason decided to sit all day. At about 7:30 a.m., he heard chasing over the steep hill in front of him. Then a doe came running up the hill and went past him. Jason could hear grunting from the cedars below.
After a few tense minutes, a buck stepped up on a little bench where Jason could see him. But virtually his entire rack, from two inches or so above the bases up, was obscured by cedar branches. Jason could tell the deer was mature, but with so little antler showing, he had no idea which buck it was.
With the buck at only 70 yards, Jason cranked up his scope and looked at the buck closely. Immediately he saw the glassy eye, and he knew Cyclops was his. It was a chip shot for his accurate .270 Win. After the shot, the huge buck only went about 75 yards before he crashed.
I can’t imagine how excited Jason was after this two-year ordeal, but I know that when he called to let me know Cyclops was dead, I almost had a heart attack myself. I was driving between hunts in South Dakota and Nebraska, and I literally almost ran off the road with my heart beating more RPMs than the engine.
I could tell Jason was on top of the world, and he deserved to be. He had put in 36 days hunting Cyclops in 2012 alone, and I have no idea how many trips he made checking cameras, scouting, etc.
As amazing as anything else was the fact that the buck’s “green” net non-typical score came in at 182 3/8 inches. Remember, a month earlier we’d guessed him at 186 and change. But it wouldn’t have mattered if he had been 30 inches smaller—the love/hate relationship Jason had with this deer, thousands of trail camera photos and the amount of time he had spent hunting him over two years literally made this one for the history books of deer hunting. I simply have never met anyone who deserved to kill a deer more than Jason Tuttle deserved Cyclops.