Throughout my many years of hunting, collecting and writing about trophy whitetails, Jon Massie has been one of those guys I’ve found does things the right way. I met this fellow Kansas resident back in the early 1990s, and we’ve been great friends ever since.
Jon’s no stranger to free-ranging whitetails across the central plains, having guided a number of clients to trophies and harvesting many big ones himself. In fact, going into 2013 he’d shot two net Boone & Crocketts: one a non-typical scoring over 200, the other a typical from public land.
With such success behind him, Jon felt all of his hunting dreams already had come true. At least, he did until a buck he’d never seen showed up on one of his trail cameras.
The Quest Begins
It was in the 2012 bow season that the wide 10-point typical with several abnormal points began making daylight camera appearances. They continued for about two weeks.
“This buck should be named ‘Unlucky,’” my friend said at the time, “because he ain’t gonna last long behaving like that.”
Jon’s an advocate of harvesting only bucks that are at least 4 1/2 years of age. As he studied the photos, he started to doubt this deer’s maturity. Putting a ground blind on the edge of the alfalfa field Unlucky was frequenting, Jon decided to see if he could get a firsthand look.
Bow in hand, the hunter settled in for the evening hunt. As if scripted, the big buck came trotting right into bow range, giving Jon plenty of opportunity to study him. There also were chances to fling an arrow, but the bow remained undrawn.
“He looked younger than he did older,” my friend explains. “I decided to let him live another year. That made Unlucky now Lucky.”
How many people would let a 190-inch buck walk? Especially given the real chance Jon never would see the deer again? Bucks on that farm usually leave as the rut approaches.
And that’s what happened. The buck never showed up again during deer season. Jon couldn’t help but wonder if he’d been shot by another hunter, hit by a car or poached. It didn’t help that shed season passed with neither of the antlers being found by Jon or anyone he knew.
Finally, though, a beacon of light shined upon my friend: On April 14, 2013, Lucky appeared on a camera Jon had set for scouting turkeys. While still early in the antler-growing season, Lucky already had put on some tremendous bone.
Jon continued to watch him by camera in the same location where he’d passed the deer the previous fall. The camera was getting pictures of Lucky on a daily basis. Jon checked it only every three to four weeks, so he wouldn’t disturb the deer.
Everything was going well until one day in July. Wind in his face, Jon was easing up to his camera when Lucky bounded from the brush just 20 yards away. Ugh, the hunter thought. Spooking this deer was the last thing my friend wanted to do.
After two weeks had passed, with great anticipation Jon eased in to check the camera again. He was hoping Lucky had returned . . . but he hadn’t. However, still confident the buck eventually would be back, Jon set more stands, in order to minimize disturbance of the location just before the season.
Tightening The Noose
A strategy Jon has used over the years is getting what he calls “three points of contact” on a buck. These are simply spots where the deer has been sighted. Of course, trail cameras are the best tools for this job. Eager to identify the buck’s core area, Jon placed cameras throughout the 500-acre farm. He simply hoped to get at least one photo of Lucky somewhere else on it.
It wasn’t until mid-August that the deer showed himself again — back where Jon had jumped him up in July. With bow/muzzleloader season now only a month away, Jon decided not to visit the camera location again until a couple of days prior to season.
Upon returning to check the camera, Jon got some good news . . . and some bad. On the plus side, Lucky was still in the area. The minus was that he was now very nocturnal. Of course, that shift is common with older bucks coming out of velvet.
Just knowing he’s there is all I need, Jon reassured himself. Now let the dance begin.
As most of us know, everyday life brings work. And because of it, Jon wasn’t able to get into the stand or even check the camera the first six days of the season. The next day he did — but there were no pictures of Lucky. My friend did discover why, though. While reviewing the photos, he found some of the property owner’s daughter and other children playing and riding their ATVs.
Despite not-so-positive thoughts running through his head, Jon remained optimistic. If he’s here, I’ll find him, he told himself. I’m not giving up that easily.
It wasn’t until a month later that Lucky showed up again. The new location was over a mile from where he’d been. A week later Jon got another picture, this one in yet another location. Now he had his three points of contact and felt his plan was coming together. As crazy as it sounds, Jon still hadn’t hunted this deer once; he’d put all of his efforts into making sure everything was in place before settling into one of his stands.
Time To Hunt
On Nov. 7, Jon caught a break: He found Lucky has walked in front of two cameras 1.3 miles apart — in daylight. He was cruising a winding creek bottom, showing the classic signs of a buck anxious for the rut.
Jon does some hunting for Full Draw Adventures, a bowhunting show on Sportsman Channel, and he really wanted this hunt on video. But after making a call to videographer and fellow team member Mike Devine, Jon learned it would take the cameraman a few days to get there.
“Well, Mike, I ain’t waiting,” Jon told him. “See you when you get here. I’ll be in the tree.”
Now that Jon had multiple points of contact and several good stand locations, he simply used the wind direction to decide which setup to hunt. With bow and video camera in hand, he headed to his favorite stand site, one he called “The Hub.”
Although the giant Jon was after never showed, another great buck did: a 155-inch mainframe 8-pointer with 10-inch brows and a 3-inch drop tine. And he was mature.
What a hard deer to pass, Jon said to himself. But that’s exactly what he did. He let the buck go.
My friend decided not to hunt at all the next two days, as the wind direction was completely wrong for any of his best stands. During that break Mike was able to get to Jon’s place, and he shared his eagerness to hit the woods.
On Nov. 11, the men were on stand and set up about 30 minutes prior to daylight. At around 8:45, Jon looked at Mike and whispered, “You know, it just doesn’t feel like one of those deery mornings.” It was calm, humid and around 50 degrees.
Then, out of nowhere a doe showed up about 20 yards to the south of the stand. But no other deer appeared. The men maintained their vigil.
Some 10 minutes dragged by. Then Mike whispered, “Here he comes!”
Jon looked to the north, and 125 yards away was his dream buck — walking straight toward their stand.
The deer continued a steady walk on a path that couldn’t have been more perfect. With a light west wind, he had no chance to smell them as he passed just to their west. When Lucky was 22 yards away, Jon stopped him with a simple voice grunt and released his Black Eagle arrow.
It was a perfect shot, hitting just behind the left shoulder. The buck bolted out to 43 yards and stopped behind some brush. Through binoculars, Jon could see a lot of blood coming out of the giant’s chest. The hunter was ecstatic; at any moment, the buck was going to tip over.
Except he didn’t. Ten agonizing minutes later, he was still standing there with his mouth open, panting!
All of a sudden, the deer took three steps and was out of sight. Knowing there was a steep drainage ditch just out of sight, Jon felt confident Lucky would be lying in it, dead. But wanting another perspective on how to proceed, Jon decided to call longtime friend Scott Pedersen, a similarly avid whitetail hunter, for his input.
“Jon, get out of there,” Scott said after hearing the story. “You know a deer that’s been fatally shot just doesn’t stand there for 10 minutes!”
Jon agreed . . . but then neglected Scott’s advice. Why? Because he felt so confident in his shot. After sitting in the stand for about an hour, Jon told Mike the buck either was dead or very weak and was bedded just out of sight, where it should be possible to sneak up undetected and get another shot. So the men eased down and began to follow the blood.
Jon was just five yards from the ditch when, to his surprise, 40 yards to his hard right and on the far side of the drainage the deer stood up. Jon immediately came to full draw and shot. But the brush was thick, and the arrow hit a branch — only to deflect off one of Lucky’s back ankles!
The buck flagged and bounded out to 80 yards. In shock, Jon watched as Lucky just stood there, mouth open and head drooped. At that point, Jon realized they needed to leave quietly, to give the deer still more time to expire.
Driving home, all my friend could think about was the possibility of losing Lucky and the grief he was going to catch from Scott for having followed the trail so soon. Not knowing what had happened was eating Jon up. And it didn’t make any more sense to the men when they reviewed the footage; the shot placement appeared to be perfect. Who knew why he was still alive?
After six gut-wrenching hours, Jon and Scott returned to the farm with high hopes of a quick recovery. Following steady blood, they crossed a creek — but instead of following the trail up the embankment, the sign showed the buck had veered left through thick brush. Scott decided to follow the blood as Jon peeked over the embankment.
When he did, there was Lucky: a mere four yards from him, bedded down and looking the other way!
Jon ducked below the embankment and frantically tried to get everyone’s attention. Then he came to full draw and stood back up. The giant was still bedded — but now was looking directly “into my soul,” Jon says.
As short as the shot was, the arrow still had to go through brush. And just as before, it deflected en route. The arrow hit the ground halfway between Jon and Lucky!
The giant jumped up and began leaving in a hurry. Jon again came to full draw and released. The arrow appeared to hit its mark, and the buck stumbled . . . but kept running. Coming to full draw for the fifth time in what had become a morning of terror, Jon ran into another problem: His arrow popped off the string!
“It was totally chaotic,” he recalls. “Mike helped me get the arrow back on the string while I held at full draw, even while he was videotaping.”
Fortunately for Jon, as all of this was happening, the buck was still in bow range. With the nock securely back on the bowstring, my friend calmed himself enough to make a perfect “Texas heart shot.” Seconds later, the buck of his dreams was down for good.
As overjoyed as Jon was to end the quest for Lucky, he was bewildered by the events following his first shot. It had looked perfect, even on video replay. What had gone wrong?
In retrospect, the first shot was as good as it had looked. But this wasn’t your usual deer. Examining Lucky’s vitals, the men were surprised to find the left lung was collapsed — not from one of Jon’s arrows, but as a result of a previous injury or possibly even a birth defect.
The first arrow had been angling down steeply from the tree stand and had exited beneath the main portion of Lucky’s right lung. However, the saving grace was that Jon’s broadhead had nicked the edge of the heart on the way through. While the deer obviously was seriously hurt by that shot, it hadn’t affected his breathing to nearly the same extent as if the left lung were functional.
Being a collector of trophy antlers and having had many of the best in my hands, I must say this rack blew me away. In particular, the portion from the bases up through the brow tines is simply remarkable. Extreme mass and beautiful balance make this a real humdinger of a buck, even for Kansas. Congratulations to a great friend for earning an exceptional trophy.
Oh, and congratulations to Mike as well. Remember that buck Jon passed up while waiting for his cameraman to get there? As it turned out, Mike arrowed that deer himself just five days after Jon took Lucky — and from the same stand! What a special season for two avid bowhunters.
For Your Information
The video of Jon’s amazing bowhunt will be featured on Full Draw Adventures on Saturday, July 19th at 7:00pm ET on Sportsman Channel. Of course, this channel is also home to North American Whitetail TV.