I'm a sucker for big-buck stories, especially when they come from states other than Iowa, Kansas or Illinois. This one comes from one of my favorite deer states: Nebraska. Though most deer hunters imagine 120- to 140-inch bucks when they think about the Cornhusker State, let's not forget that it produces world-class bucks.
Take, for example, the buck my friend Adam Stohs arrowed during the 2015 hunting season. That monarch boasted an official net score of 218 4/8 inches — the third largest buck ever taken in Nebraska. Sure, Nebraska doesn't yield bucks this big every year, but it does annually produce bucks surpassing that coveted 170-inch mark.
One example is the buck Brett Cannon arrowed during a 2017 early-season bowhunt on his 40-acre lease in Nebraska.
Acquiring the Lease
The story began while Cannon was turkey hunting on land which he'd gained permission to hunt. Cannon killed a bird and became friends with the landowner. He later signed a lease on 40 acres of property with friend Randy McKillip.
"It's only 40 acres," Cannon told, "but it's the right 40 acres. It's on a river bottom, so it's naturally great deer habitat. The landowners on either side always pull their harvests out, but the landowner I lease from leaves alfalfa along the river. It's common to see 20-30 deer out there in the evenings."
2017 Hunting Season Begins
McKillip lives in Nebraska and monitors trail cameras on the 40-acre lease, updating Cannon on most recent deer-movement information. A large buck with a small drop tine was frequenting the area.
"Once bucks shed their velvet, they usually disappear or become nocturnal," Cannon said. "I didn't expect to have a reasonable chance to kill that world-class deer."
Cannon kicked off his 2017 hunting season with one of the most difficult bowhunts in the states: an elk hunt in a Colorado OTC unit with a 6 percent success rate. Unbelievably, Cannon joined that 6 percent.
"That hunt was absolutely crazy," Cannon assured. "I killed a nice 280-inch bull in a unit with low success odds, and he lunged off a rock and broke off part of his rack. It was an extreme hunt by every stretch of the word. In seven days of hunting, I hiked 110 miles on foot. I was very worn out from that hunt when I heard from McKillip.
"As I was leaving Colorado, he called me and said that the buck was consistently coming out during daylight, and that I should swing in to Nebraska to make a play on it," Cannon recalled. "McKillip had even put the run on several people who were glassing the deer from the road, fearing they had plans to poach it."
Seizing the Opportunity
Cannon rolled into Nebraska and began analyzing all the details to determine where he could hunt the buck and on what wind directions.
"The buck was using four or five different trails to enter the alfalfa field, so I had to position a few different sets," he shared.
Cat and Mouse
On the first afternoon of hunting, the buck appeared at last light, as monsters often do. "I had approximately 25 deer in the field," Cannon continued. "Witnessing the buck in person helped me realize just how big he was. I knew that if I was lucky enough to harvest him that he'd be my biggest buck ever by far. I vowed that I had to kill that deer."
One would imagine that the more you're in the woods, the more likely you'll get your chance at a specific buck, but that isn't always true. In fact, Cannon skipped morning hunts. "There were simply too many deer in there, and it was just too risky to access any of my stands," he said. "When you're working with 40 acres, you can't make even one mistake, or you'll lose your chance. That deer obviously felt comfortable on the property, and I didn't want to ruin or alter that. Afternoons were my only chance."
On the second afternoon of hunting, Cannon was surrounded by deer, but the giant didn't appear. "I had a 150-class buck feeding 30 yards away," Cannon said. "I remember thinking that I was crazy for not taking the shot, but I was hunting for one specific buck, and this one wasn't him."
During Cannon's third afternoon on stand, the bruiser was feeding 80 yards away, but didn't move closer before darkness fell. "Part of my exit strategy was to have McKillip drive in to pick me up," Cannon told. "The deer on this property are accustomed to the farmer driving in the fields, so it was a good way to nudge them off the field without introducing unnatural commotion. Still, I was nervous that the buck would change his habits."
Cannon's fourth afternoon treated him to many deer sightings, including his target buck. "He appeared approximately 30 minutes before dark, and he was held up and feeding 80 yards away," he said. "It was wearing me out. I had does all around me, some as close as 10 yards. About 10 minutes before shooting light faded, deer began working toward me, stopping to feed on leaves from branches the farmer had recently trimmed. The buck followed suit.
"Fortunately, a person drove a Polaris Ranger down a nearby road and stopped to look at the buck," Cannon added. "It caused the deer to slowly move within bow range, and about 5 minutes of shooting light remained when I got my opportunity. I had to lean out and was slightly off balance, plus I was fighting my nerves. I believe I may have torqued the bow, because my arrow hit farther forward than where I'd aimed. Still, the hit looked lethal."
Inevitably, Cannon was unsure of the hit and began second-guessing everything that had just happened. "I blacked out," he remembered. "The buck disappeared in the timber, and I sat down and waited for a while before climbing down. I was able to locate some blood, but I was still unsure, so I backed out and ate dinner with McKillip before returning 2 hours later to take up the trail.
"We found good blood," he continued. "We'd been on the trail for about 150 yards, and just as we neared the creek, I became suspicious. I noticed the blood looked slightly wet. I didn't think the deer could be alive, but with such a small property, I wasn't going to risk pushing him to another property if he was. We backed out."
The following morning, Cannon resumed his search where it had halted the evening prior, and after following the blood trail just 20 yards farther, he found the fallen giant. "I was very relieved," Cannon said. "He's my largest buck ever, and he gross-scored 182 inches."
Most bowhunters never encounter a deer of that caliber, let alone take one during the early archery season in an over-the-counter state. Good work, Cannon. Your hard work and dedication paid off!