May 10, 2022
By Dan Cole
Watching the giant buck through his riflescope, Trenton Lenz followed every step the deer took. He wanted to shoot, but the deer was walking toward him, only offering a straight-on and less-than-ideal target. The closer the buck came, the more excited Trenton seemed to become. As the buck continued to approach, the combination of adrenaline, nerves and the crescendo of his pounding heartbeat had the hunter hyperventilating! Trenton managed to calm himself down enough to realize that his moment of opportunity was at hand.
Applying the fundamentals of firearm handling and using proper form, the hunter aligned his crosshairs on the buck when it stopped walking. Fighting to hold his barrel on target, Trenton held his nerves steady enough to release a slight exhale of breath, while slowly squeezing the trigger.
Half startled by the loud crack of the rifle, Trenton’s body recoiled from the jolt caused by firing the powerful weapon. As his body recovered from the recoil, and he was again able to see down his riflescope, imagine Trenton’s shock to find the buck now running directly toward him. His shot had been a clean miss.
Yes, he missed! He had just missed his chance at a world-class whitetail! Fortunately, the buck continued running toward him, and Trenton wasn’t taking any chances this time. He once more touched his face to the cheekpiece of the rifle. This time when the buck stopped running, he would never run again.
Southwestern Nebraska probably isn’t on too many trophy hunters’ bucket lists of places they want to hunt. It’s an area that doesn’t get much publicity, but that isn’t because of a lack of quality bucks. While northwest Kansas and northeastern Colorado usually steal the regional whitetail spotlight, one could assume the cedar-covered draws of southwest Nebraska can produce quality deer.
For Trenton, 2020 was the first year he was able to hunt the property where he was now staring down the giant buck. For several years Trenton didn’t have access to the land, either for hunting or for shed antler hunting. But through an odd series of events, that all changed in one day.
“I had always wanted to own a place of around 40 acres or so; someplace with a house and with a creek or river running through it,” Trenton says. “Then a couple of years ago I was able to find exactly what I was looking for, and it was priced right. So, we bought it.”
For a while, life in the country was normal. But it wasn’t long before Trenton and his wife, Misty, noticed a disturbing trend; it seemed as though someone within their household was always sick with a respiratory illness. After a long process of elimination, it was discovered their home had a black mold infestation, and it was that which was causing the health issues.
One by one each room of the house was gutted, rebuilt and completely remodeled. Even though Trenton, who operates his own construction business based out of Curtis, Nebraska, was able to do most of the work, it was still a huge project taking up large amounts of time and finances. By the time the family was finished working on their home they had remodeled every room in the house. Even though the home was now like a newly constructed house, the family made the tough decision to sell the property and recover their investment. Then the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“We initially thought our decision to sell was bad timing, but it all worked out pretty well,” explains Trenton. “Once a few states began lockdowns and some people began looking for other states to live in, we found that our property was quite popular, and the offers quickly exceeded our asking price.”
Once Trenton accepted an offer, the completion of the sale was quick and easy. Ironically, the same day they signed the closing paperwork, another property was simultaneously being put on the market. It was a nice piece of land that consisted of a few hundred acres of old cow pastures and farm fields separated by the steep, cedar choked draws and ravines the region is known for. It was also a piece of land that Trenton was very familiar with.
“The property sat right in the middle of my favorite shed hunting area,” says Trenton. “I had not been able to access it, though. I had always thought it would be nice to someday own it. But I never thought that would be possible. However, because of the way the sale of our own property had gone, we figured we could make it work.”
The Lenz family talked it over and quickly made their decision. The same day they signed the papers to sell their own property, they signed the papers to buy the other available property.
“This piece of land hadn’t been hunted since I’ve been around here, and all I knew of it was what I could see when shed hunting the surrounding properties. We had found three consecutive years of sheds from a big buck on the neighboring properties, and we figured that deer was living on the place we just bought. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see what the hunting season would bring,” Trenton recalls.
The Breathtaking Buck
By utilizing trail cameras and occasional long-range glassing, Trenton quickly learned of an area favored by the local deer. It was a 65-acre overgrown pasture that was surrounded by a cedar-filled canyon on one side, steep draws along two sides, and a standing cornfield bordering the fourth side. It was a natural sanctuary, and because it held several deer, Trenton focused his attention on this area.
In late October, one of his trail cameras snapped a night photo of a giant buck. Trenton knew immediately what deer he was looking at; it was the big buck he and his boys had found sheds from for three consecutive years. But now he was a monster non-typical with stickers protruding everywhere.
The deer was hardly recognizable from his previous years’ sheds, but the tall brow points, high-rising beams and several matching character qualities clearly gave him away. Trenton could hardly control his excitement!
By the first of November, trail cameras had shown a noticeable increase in deer activity, and that included the big buck. By then the buck was a regular on several cameras, and it was obvious he was living within the vicinity of Trenton’s property. Because of the dry conditions and overall scarcity of water within the region, Trenton had placed a trail camera on a water tank located near a pasture. That camera had taken several pictures of the buck as it regularly utilized the water source.
One week before the firearms opener on November 14, Trenton took up his bow and went after the buck. Two days into his archery hunt, the bowhunter was very close to taking the deer with an arrow. That evening as he watched the giant buck approach the water tank and come within 20 yards of his ground blind, Trenton had his first experience with “hyperventilating” when facing the giant antlered deer. All he could do was watch as the buck walked behind the water tank and continued walking safely out of sight.
“I tried grunting at the buck as he walked away, but he either didn’t hear me or just didn’t pay attention,” explains Trenton. “Either way, he was gone. I sat the rest of the evening and about half an hour before dark I saw him with a couple of does. The does came to the water tank, but he wouldn’t come close.” The unexpected hyperventilating had possibly cost Trenton a monster!
November 14 was the opening date of the 2020 Nebraska firearms season, and Trenton had his rifle, location and plan all in order. By the light of dawn, he was sitting on a high point overlooking the water tank and part of the canyon on his property. The hunter’s strategy was to glass the surrounding area in hopes of catching the buck returning to a bedding area, which Trenton figured was either within the cornfield or within the cover of the cedar-filled canyon.
It didn’t take long before Trenton spotted his first deer. Just as he identified it as being a doe, Trenton saw a huge set of antlers materialize out of the cedars. The doe was headed up the canyon, and the buck he was looking for was spitting distance behind her! As the doe made her way up the canyon, Trenton prepared himself for a possible shot. As he waited for the doe to appear in front of him, his breathing began to increase. When the doe stepped into the pasture, Trenton’s breathing went from fast to rapid. However, 20 seconds later the buck stopped in front of him, and Trenton was fully hyperventilating! He had to settle himself down enough to make a good shot.
“I was pretty excited when I took the first shot, but it still surprised me when I missed,” Trenton recalls. “Missing is what snapped me out of it, and I realized I had better make this happen before he caught on. Fortunately, the buck was running towards me and getting closer. This time when he stopped, I was ready, and the buck went straight down.
“I just sat there for a while trying to take it all in. The longer I sat there, the more excited I became,” the hunter continues. “I couldn’t wait to get down there and see him up close.”
Before going to the buck, Trenton called his dad and two sons to come help with the recovery. A short time later, Trenton walked up to the buck with his two boys at his side. “That was a pretty special moment for me as a father. To be able to share that experience with my boys will be my greatest hunting moment. I couldn’t imagine what it would take to beat that experience.”
And what a buck it was! With 32 measurable points and only a 13-inch inside spread, the buck carries an incredible look. Official measuring took place in February 2021, and the official numbers are staggering. The total gross antler is 253 5/8, while its record book net score is 236 inches. That net score ranks the buck as No. 6 all-time in Nebraska.
That entire pile of antler is compacted onto a 173 5/8-inch frame that is only 13 inches inside the beams and stands 21 inches tall. Record book whitetails that carry inside spreads of 13 inches or less are extremely rare, and only a couple have ever been recorded. The number of deer known to exceed 250 inches of antler with an inside spread of 13 inches or less could probably be counted with three fingers, if not fewer.
I have always been intrigued by the circumstances surrounding the taking of a large buck. That’s why I enjoy hearing and reading stories from successful hunters. I’ve heard a lot of stories, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time, and possibly the last time, that black mold had a direct influence on the taking of a world-class whitetail!