By Bernie Barringer
Getting away from hunting pressure on public land often involves crossing a barrier of some sort. This could be anything that most hunters won’t cross. It might be rough country or a stream that’s too deep to walk through; a barrier might even be distance. Mike Odom of Knoxville, Tennessee got in a boat. He was rewarded for the extra effort with a big buck.
Mike and some friends make the 2-hour trip to Center Hill Reservoir, for the opening of muzzleloader season each year. The reservoir is surrounded by over 6,000 acres of mostly hard-to-access public hunting land. The friends camp at the lake for a long weekend and access their hunting spots by boat.
“There are not many places you can walk into this property,” says Mike. “The boats allow us to get to places where we seldom see other hunters.”
The area he mostly hunts would require a trek across private land, and a long one at that. Mike has found a couple pockets of really good hunting and has killed some nice deer back in there, but the one he killed on opening day of the 2019 muzzleloader season will be remembered a long time.
“I’ve killed a few deer there, including an 11-pointer during bow season,” Mike explains. “But I’m not a trophy hunter. If the first buck to walk by would have been a 5-point, I would have shot it.”
The spot he’s chosen to spend most of his time is a natural funnel in which the lakeshore moves deer traffic into a narrow neck laced with trails.
“I found this spot seven years ago,” he remembers. “It’s beautiful. You can see out across the lake, and there’s a highway of trails through there along with rubs and scrapes. I have been hunting it hard for the past four years.”
On Nov. 9, opening day of muzzleloader season, Mike pushed his boat off shore in the predawn darkness with plans to sit all day in his favorite spot. Motoring up the lake, he was full of anticipation about what the day might bring. He arrived and quietly put up a scrape dripper on a scrape just 30 yards away. The dripper was filled with Wildlife Research Center’s Active Scrape lure. Then he got his climber up the tree and settled in. The does started moving through as he relaxed and let them pass.
At 8:55 he saw a buck with a big rack coming toward him. The buck walked with a purpose in his step, but when he presented a good shot, Mike sent the ball on its way and the buck fell in a heap. He knew it was a big one, but he’d never seen the deer before. He doesn’t run trail cameras in that area.
Mike called his wife, and he was so excited he could barely tell her what happened.
“I was talking so crazy she thought I’d gotten hurt or something,” he laughs. When I got up to the buck, I was all to pieces. It was an unreal feeling to put my hands on a buck like that. I normally just shoot any buck, which doesn’t give a person many opportunities like this one.”
The buck isn’t built for net score, but he has dark antlers, good mass and a lot of points. He’s a dream buck for a part of the world that rarely produces whitetails of this caliber — particularly on public land.
Mike later learned that a neighboring landowner had a lot of trail camera photos of the deer. He’d passed him a couple times, including as a 9-pointer in ’18. The neighbor thought the buck might have been pushed off the private land a day before muzzeloader season opened, as some workers were clearing brush in the area.
Mike fully understands how that might feel to a person who has a lot of history with a deer, only to see it shot on neighboring land. “I actually lost some sleep thinking about how he grew that deer and passed it,” the hunter says. But in the end, the neighbor was kind enough to congratulate Mike and send him some live photos. That’s true sportsmanship in action, folks.
Exceptional bucks are often gifted to those people who go a little farther, cross barriers and put in the time most other hunters won’t. In this case, towing a boat for ofver two hours, camping out and motoring up a lake in the pre-dawn darkness to reach a difficult-to-access spot paid big dividends for Mike.
“You can’t just walk into this spot,” he points out. “But the effort is worth it. Usually bucks like this come off managed farms. In fact, I was planning to go on a guided hunt in Kentucky next year,” he says. “Now I don’t know if I will.”
Mike believes the best part of this story is the property, the land that produced this deer and the specific location he found seven years ago. Not surprisingly, he plans to keep hunting it. You never know if lightning might strike the same place twice.