June 14, 2023
Taking your 10-year-old child hunting is a great idea. Nothing is better than time spent in the great outdoors together, with anticipation that the experience will lead to more and better things later. When Daniel Sharkey had his son, Rilee, sitting next to him in a ladder stand during Louisiana's 2017 season, he had no idea what they were in for: the beginning of a multi-year quest for a world-class buck, nearly in their backyard.
BUILDING A HISTORY
On that afternoon they were watching a planted field next to a hollow, thick with trees and brush. The pair had been there a short while, with the usual small talk you get from a youngster, when Daniel spotted a cedar tree shaking violently about 150 yards away. With the aid of binoculars, he could make out a heavy-framed whitetail making every effort to destroy the tree.
The buck was definitely a shooter, but there was no chance for a shot since most of his body was screened by branches. All they could do was watch the action. He worked the tree over, then walked away from them, going deeper into the cover. After that brief encounter, Daniel was sure of two things: he had never seen the big deer before, and he really wanted to put a tag on it.
There were a few weeks of the season left, but the deer never showed itself before season ended. Daniel had many hunts, but apparently the deer had left the area for good. He decided the buck must have just been traveling through, and whatever brought him in was not strong enough to hold him there. Daniel was disappointed, but not discouraged, feeling that the buck would be back at some point since it had not been disturbed while it was there.
The following season was well underway when a large-racked white- tail appeared on a trail camera several times. The buck was in the same general area, but only moving after sunset. He showed up for a few days in mid-December, right as the rut began, then disappeared. Daniel was convinced it had to be the same buck, but there was no chance at shooting the deer if he was only moving at night. Daniel was also convinced that the deer was already mature and exactly what he was after.
The 2019 and 2020 seasons went the same way. The big buck would arrive at nearly the same time, and then disappear again quickly. Daniel pieced together evidence and found where the buck was coming through; and he was on a four- or five-day cycle between visits, in about a two- week window. He always appeared on the same camera, and always at night. The pattern was setting up, but the deer was apparently totally nocturnal. And, due to his habits, the buck earned the name “Ghost!”
It wasn’t all bad news, though. By the 2020 season, the buck had developed into a very good typical, with a big sticker point near the left base. Kentwood, Louisiana, is not known for producing world-class bucks, but it does have plenty of deer hunters. And just like every other community, they all like to talk about trophy deer. A buck of that size would surely have been noticed and caused a stir. However, no one in the area seemed to be aware that he was around. If they were, they weren’t talking about it. And Daniel certainly wasn’t sharing what he knew.
The Ghost remained true to his name, and the giant made it through another season unscathed.
A NOTICEABLE CHANGE
By the 2021 season, Daniel had been after the deer long enough to know when and where he should show up. He also felt that if he didn’t get him soon, the big buck might die from natural causes. Time was running out.
On Dec. 2, the pattern changed. Daniel had located a tree fallen across a fence, near where the buck had been traveling before. He suspected that the deer might use that as a place to move between the overgrown area on one side, and the more open bottom on the other. So, he set up a camera there. And, on cue, the big deer walked by shortly afterward.
Showing up earlier than usual was different for Ghost. Did this mean he would stay longer? Or would he begin making daylight appearances, too? The change was notable, and the size and shape of his new set of antlers was incredible. He had grown a third beam, added tremendous mass and the antlers were now much larger than they had ever been. So, Daniel moved a tripod stand just into the edge of the area. He was ready. All he needed was the right weather and a whole lot of luck!
TIME TO STRIKE
On Dec. 11th, there was a stiff north- west wind. A big front was blowing in. Daniel was in a local store and ran into some neighbors from Mississippi. He had been trying to figure out where the big buck was going when it wasn’t in his area. The big hollow where Daniel was getting pictures of Ghost ran north toward their place. So, he decided to show them a picture to see if they had seen the deer.
One of the brothers said he had seen Ghost in his yard under a feeder a few days prior, and it was during daylight! With this news, Daniel decided to hunt for the big buck that afternoon.
As soon as he slipped into the edge of the bottom, he could hear deer running and limbs breaking. There was no doubt that a buck was after a doe, and they were not very far away. His tripod was in the right spot, but it was so thick that he only had small openings where he could see and shoot. A doe flashed through one of the openings with a good buck on her heels, but it was not the target deer.
Daniel figured that if Ghost was around, there was no way he was not aware of the chase, so he sat quietly and waited. Just before dark, he heard a deer blowing further down in the bottom. It sounded different than the alarm call of a doe. Daniel suspected it could be the bigger buck and decided that he would return in the morning.
At supper that night, Daniel told his family and a couple of trusted buddies, the only other people who knew about the buck, that he was hunting the next morning before church. Just before dawn, the wind was still in his favor. So, he made his way to the tripod again. Daniel thought the big buck might be close, so he slipped in as quietly as possible without using a light. To sweeten the deal, he sprayed the area with doe-in-heat scent, and he grunted a few times once he could see.
The woods were dead quiet, and the time he had allocated for the hunt was slipping away. Ghost was still nowhere to be found, and there was nothing unusual about that. So, Daniel texted his friend, Seth, who was hunting nearby and told him he was getting down to head to church. Then he took a quick look around, and spotted movement down in the thicket.
He could tell it was a deer, and that it had heavy antlers. There was one small opening to take a shot. So, Daniel held the crosshairs on the buck’s shoulder and fired.
The buck bolted through the opening and raced toward the fence, busting two strands of barbed wire as it crashed ahead. Then all was quiet again. Daniel checked where the buck was standing when he shot and the fence, finding only a large patch of hair. He decided he would need help. Seth and his brother, Dale, arrived a few minutes later.
The three hunters spread out to search, and shortly afterward, Seth yelled out: “I got him! It’s him!”
The Ghost was down! Daniel’s son and his friend, Parker, showed up next. It was time to celebrate. The group began taking pictures with the trophy.
Since the buck was so big, Daniel had Parker call his father, Toby Miller, who works for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, to come out and ensure that everything was on the up and up.
The group loaded Ghost into the side-by-side, and they all headed to Daniel’s house, just a short ride away. There was already a crowd waiting there, because Rilee had put the pictures on social media and the word was getting out fast. So much for keeping things quiet!
The dark-antlered buck has a green score of 198 1/8. The third beam, the most prominent part of the rack, adds an amazing touch to the buck’s impressive headgear. Ghost was aged at 9 years old, and his teeth were almost completely gone when Daniel shot him. The Ghost was the largest buck killed in Louisiana during the 2021 season, and in all the years Daniel chased him, he never had a daytime picture of the deer!