Amanda Hombirg Buck: 176-Inch Bluegrass Brute
March 31, 2015
The great whitetail moved slowly, stopping every few steps to check the wind. And he was well within shooting range. But there was one problem: from where Amanda Hombirg was waiting, only the rack was visible. The rest of the deer was obscured by thick cover.
The lone hunter could only watch as the buck followed roughly the same route taken she'd seem him take back in November. The deer had escaped her that afternoon without offering a shot. It seemed he was about to do it again. Then, he turned.
"I looked at the buck through the scope," Amanda recalls. "It felt like the gun was moving with every beat of my heart. I starting taking deep breaths to calm down, then closed my eyes and said a little prayer."
Mixing Family & Hunting
Amanda Armstrong married Brian Hombirg in 2005, and they settled into their home among the gently rolling hills of Scott County. Shortly after, Amanda began tagging along with her new husband on his deer hunting trips.
It was just a natural progression for Amanda to one day want to try hunting herself. She took her first buck in 2008 and was hopelessly hooked after that. Soon she was a full-fledged 3-season deer hunter using bow, modern rifle and muzzleloader.
The Hombirgs share a common vocation as teachers in the Scott County school system. For a while, husband and wife enjoyed hunting together. However, the addition of twins Max and Molly to the family in 2007, followed by baby sister Maggie three years later, changed the Hombirgs' approach to deer hunting. The family hunting routine became for one parent to hunt while the other babysat.
Hunting alone with her bow, Amanda soon added two more bucks to her total. One was in velvet, the other a 130-class 10-pointer.
"The farms we hunt have a variety of food sources for deer," Amanda explains. "There are lots of clover and alfalfa fields and plenty of white oak acorns. A lot of the hollows are grown up into thickets, which provide excellent cover.
"One particular spot is a favorite of mine. It consists of a long bottom with heavy cover on all sides. We have a feeder set up in the bottom. It's a tough place to hunt, because the wind changes a lot. Because deer have used it consistently over the years as a bedding area, we call it 'the sanctuary.'
"We have two basic options for getting into the area, based on wind direction," she notes. "Each one takes about the same amount of time. The place doesn't get a lot of action in the mornings; it's more suited to evening hunts."
A New Target
On January 1, 2013, Kentucky held a special statewide deer hunt for youth hunters only. That day, a friend of Brian's was out with his son on a nearby farm when the two of them jumped a huge buck. They described him as having at least 12 points. That was the first hint that a deer with trophy potential might be living within range of Amanda and Brian's hunting territory.
By the start of the 2013 bow season, that report had almost faded from the Hombirgs' memory. There had been no further reports of any big deer around. But the story came rushing back to mind one night in early October.
"Brian and I were driving home around 11 p.m. when we saw this large-bodied deer with a massive rack," Amanda recalls. "We hit the brakes just as he ran across the road. He was quickly out of sight. We just sort of sat there looking at each other, a little bit stunned. After seeing the buck cross the road and remembering that Brian's friend had seen a big whitetail the previous January, I felt like I was going to have a chance to hunt this buck in his home range."
Amanda had already been bowhunting the early 2013 archery season. Now her trips afield took on a new purpose and intensity. However, her early October bowhunting efforts produced no more evidence of her target buck. The Hombirgs took advantage of Kentucky's early blackpowder weekend to hunt for the big deer. The Saturday-Sunday hunt came and went with no sighting of the right deer. Amanda passed up several lesser bucks, hoping to put her single buck tag on the big one.
He did show up, though. At 5:20 p.m. that Sunday — on a camera in a spot no one was hunting.
"We had put out several trail cameras at different locations," Amanda says. "On Oct. 20, we got our first trail cam photo of the big buck. He was at the feeder in the bottom at the sanctuary.
"After that, we put up two ladder stands near where the buck was captured on camera. One, down close to the tree line in the bottom, we thought would be better for bowhunting. The other, which was back farther away, we intended to use for gun hunting."
Days of Despair
Amanda continued to bowhunt while Brian babysat the couple's three kids. She logged long afternoon hours in the stand, seeing small bucks and does but never the big one. He'd showed up on trail camera several times, but only seemed to be there on days when Amanda was unable to hunt. She started to wonder if he had somehow picked up on her hunting patterns.
Soon, it was time for modern gun season.
"On opening day of rifle season, I got to the stand in the sanctuary before daylight," Amanda said. "About an hour after daylight, I saw movement up on the ridge. The first thing I saw was the sun shining off his rack. It was the big buck. He was moving like he was going somewhere on a mission. The only thing I could see above the cover was his rack. He just moved with a steady pace around the hill until he was out of sight. I didn't have a chance for a shot. He never once acted like he wanted to turn and go down into the bottom.
"My heart had been racing. It gradually slowed back down, and the disappointment set in."
It had all lasted less than a minute, but Amanda was now more determined than ever. She spent a total of 9 hours in the stand that day. Back home, Brian was babysitting. "We had to fix our own lunch that day," Brian laughs. "She wouldn't come to the house. After that, every time I heard a shot in the woods, I was afraid someone else had killed him. We finished out the gun season without seeing him again.
"For a while there were no more photos of the deer, and we thought he had been killed," Amanda says. "Then, in late November, to my surprise he showed back up on camera in the sanctuary. He had survived gun season!
"I picked the bow back up; it was on again. But still no luck. I was getting tired of getting up early on weekends and spending morning and evening in the stand. I started second-guessing and thinking of all the other things I could have been doing."
What Amanda didn't realize was that her chance at whitetail history was right around the corner. Kentucky's late muzzleloader season was about to open.
A Second Chance
"This could be the day. Get moving."
"If it hadn't been for Brian's words of encouragement, I never would have made it to the stand that afternoon," Amanda admits. "But with his prompting, I got ready and headed out.
"Walking in, I jumped some does that blew at me and ran off. This wasn't unusual, as deer like to bed in the area. I quietly climbed into the stand and got settled. It was cool, not too cold, cloudy and a little windy: just a beautiful late-fall afternoon.
"I had been there about 45 minutes when I looked out about 100 yards, and here that rack came again!" Amanda says. "I saw the curled-in main beam and I knew it was him.
"He was following about the same path as when I'd seen him last, but was going much slowly and deliberately: nibble . . . stop . . . look around . . . take another step. Then, instead of going on around the hillside, he turned and started over the hill toward the bottom," she continues. "He was coming toward me and would soon be in the open! My heart started racing, and I thought, 'Oh, this is it!'
"He was standing broadside. I got the scope up and on him, but it seemed like the gun was moving every time my heart beat. I started taking deep breaths to calm down and get steady," Amanda says. "I closed my eyes and said, 'Dear Lord, thank you for this beautiful animal. Please give me the ability to shoot it.'
"I immediately felt a calmness come over me. I heard a rustling and saw two does appear out of the corner of my eye. The buck acted as though he might chase them. The gun was on him, and I pulled the trigger.
"At first, I couldn't see anything for the smoke from the black powder," the hunter says. "I let my gun down, got out of the stand and tried to refocus. He wasn't anywhere in sight. There was a hoof scratch, but no blood. I went a little farther and found some blood. Then, after walking 30 more yards with my head down, I walked right up on him."
Tale of the Tape
The Hombirg buck has all the ingredients for a trophy rack: good inside spread and main beams; long tines and great mass. The impressive rack grosses 191 3/8 inches, with a final net Boone & Crockett score of 176 5/8. That's big enough to make Amanda's trophy the largest typical ever taken by a woman in Kentucky.