July 22, 2022
By Clifford Neames
Breaking News Buck
Tennessee is known for many things that might appeal to deer hunters outside of the season. Country music in Nashville, Gatlinburg, the Elvis Presley mansion in Memphis, barbeque and the Jack Daniels distillery all come to mind. Here’s something else you may not be aware of: the Volunteer State also harbors a very healthy population of great whitetails. It may be considered mostly a vacation destination, but the trophy deer are there, too.
Mountains and big woods can be more challenging to hunt than the open agricultural areas of the Midwest. However, for those willing to put in some extra effort, there are plenty of long-tined bucks to be found; and on Nov. 23, 2021, John Maner killed an absolute slammer there!
Creating a Whitetail Landscape
John lives in North Alabama, another state with an awesome population of whitetails. But he has access to a great spot in the hills of Southern Tennessee, just a couple of hours from his house. The private tract in Lincoln County is perfect for growing big bucks. It is isolated enough that deer feel secure, yet not so remote that gaining access requires major leg work.
Heavily timbered hardwood ridges there are premium natural habitat, with plenty of cover and browse available. To make it even better, John has added food plots in open areas, and he planted screens so he can better access several carefully planned stand sites throughout the property. There’s a bounty of bucks, too. So, he can let them grow into maturity and target specific animals. It is all good!
Like many hunters, John incorporated cellular trail cameras into his hunting arsenal a few years ago. So, the distance between his home and hunting ground is less of an issue. The cameras allow him to watch the property in real time, take note of which deer are moving through it, and plan hunts much more effectively. They also let him leave the area less disturbed, which proved to be key to how he took his buck.
Hunting a Giant
The big deer first appeared in pictures from a small bean field in 2019, hanging out with another nice buck. The trail cameras did their job, producing
many detailed pics of their velvet racks during those visits. Long beams with multiple points and the beginnings of split brow tines set the bigger buck apart from others, and it made him easy to identify. He was already showing great potential and was a tempting target. Then, the deer disappeared.
Pictures from the field were still coming in, but John noticed the big one wasn’t with the others anymore. There were enough bucks in the que that this was not an issue, but the sudden absence was puzzling.
It turned out that John was not the only one aware of the deer. The buck was living on an adjacent tract where several neighbors were hunting it. Like giant bucks do very well, it managed to elude them over the next two seasons. Then, the buck returned to John’s property late in August of 2021. The heavy pressure they were putting on it most likely made the mature buck move, putting John back in the game.
The deer was now a fantastic main frame 6 x 6 with awesome width and two smaller points on the brow tines. John set his sights on taking the deer with his bow. The plan was to get him before the rut kicked in, because he would probably leave the area again to search for does.
John hunted through the early season as much as he could, averaging three to four days a week. The deer and a small bachelor group were coming out of the timber to feed in a small food plot regularly, but they used several different access points. The field is large enough that they could easily be out of bow range. During those hunts John passed on several other nice bucks, some multiple times, holding out for the target deer. Although John had several encounters with the smaller bucks, the elusive giant managed to stay well hidden.
Then the leaves fell, the wind grew colder and November arrived bringing in the rut. Camera images showed the big deer was still around, but his appearances were becoming less frequent. He would show up, mark his territory and be gone to the next spot.
Those visits always seemed to be on days when John was not on the property. With the buck’s range expanding, John knew that he was going to need every advantage he could get to kill the deer before it fell to one of the neighbors. He watched the wind and how he accessed his stands, but he needed something special to happen to close the deal.
The DeerCast app predicted great weather for Nov. 23, and John was ready to try one more time. He slipped into a climbing stand early that morning in a small draw between two bedding areas. That drainage led up to the food plot where the deer had been visiting. His plan was to catch the buck cruising through and scent checking the area. A few does, and some younger bucks that were very interested in them, came through early that morning; but the target buck never showed.
By 1:00 p.m., it was time for another location. So, John moved to a ladder stand right on the edge of the field. The cooler weather had made all the bucks more active, and the whole perimeter was torn up from many previous visits. There were scrapes and rubs everywhere. If the big deer came to any of them, he would be well within reach of the .308 Win. John was carrying. John settled in for the afternoon, put his face into the wind, and hoped his luck would change.
The next two hours were slow, but then John spotted movement much closer than expected. The giant buck was working his way toward the field, weaving his rack back and forth through the underbrush. He was about to step into an opening just 30 yards away. After all the waiting, the deer was going to be within bow range.
The buck eased out and went straight to a licking branch. There was no doubt which deer it was, and at such close range it looked every bit as large as John had expected. He took a deep breath, lined up the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger.
The giant buck lurched forward after the shot and ran just out of sight. John was certain the rifle had done its job, but he sat in the stand for 45 minutes to be safe. In his words: “Honestly, I was shaking really bad, and wanted to make sure I could get down the ladder.”
After texting his wife and a few friends, John went to check out the deer. The 5 1/2-year-old buck was run down from the rut, weighing only 192 pounds. That only made the huge, symmetrical rack look bigger. Long, evenly spaced and matched tines on both sides make it a beautiful typical whitetail!
The buck green scores 176 3/8, making it one of the largest typical bucks killed in Tennessee last season. The rack has not been officially scored since the end of the drying period, but it should make the Boone & Crockett record book.
Bucks of that caliber are every trophy hunter’s dream, and every deer story begs for a happy ending. John beat tremendous odds to take this huge buck in Tennessee. Is this deer a once-in-a-lifetime buck for John? It’s hard to say. However, after looking at the trail camera pictures he gets, it is hard to bet against a sequel.