Today a giant whitetail can show up just about anywhere in deer country. We see them often in the pages of North American Whitetail, sometimes taken by first-time hunters who hit a stroke of luck.
Often hunters just happen to be at the right place at the right time, killing record-busting bruisers that had been totally unknown to them before the shot.
On the flip side of that coin, we hear too of veteran deer hunters who pour all of their wisdom and knowledge into the pursuit of known giants. Such hunters depend more on skill than luck, and they stay the course until success is earned.
That's one of the real beauties of hunting whitetails in our world today: If you're willing and able to put in the work, you're capable of achieving greatness. Of course, as the age-old proverb claims, "It's better to be lucky than good." Such a statement holds real weight, because luck often accompanies amazing stories.
Jacob Ayecock of Winchester, Arkansas, is a prime example of both skill and luck. He's greatly involved in his family's farming operation, which spans through three counties of delta dirt in southern Arkansas.
The 34-year-old was introduced to deer and duck hunting at a young age, and he learned to call ducks using only his natural voice. In fact, to this day he's good enough that he doesn't need a call to entice waterfowl to cup their wings and hover over a decoy setup. He killed his first buck at the age of 12: a heavy-antlered 9-pointer that now graces the wall of his man cave. That buck started a long-standing tradition of trophy game harvests.
Jacob honed his skills for patterning and harvesting mature bucks at the hunting club he'd been a member of for several years. But he wanted more. He realized that to kill bigger bucks, he had to do something different. Albert Einstein is widely credited with defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. But regardless of who actually said it, the adage resonated with the young hunter.
"I was in a hunting club for a long time, but I realized that I probably would never kill a deer over 150 inches," Jacob says. "A flood wiped out our deer camp in 2010, so I took that as a good-enough reason to change places. I knew there were bigger bucks in farming country, and that was where I was going to hunt."
Early in the 2011 season, the determined hunter confirmed his belief in farming country, as he killed a wild-looking non-typical buck. He used his muzzleloader to harvest that 169-inch brute, which had split main beams and a lot of stickers. Jacob had put his existing wisdom and knowledge to use in hunting the new ground, and his success skyrocketed from that point forward.
"I learned to use trail cameras, topo maps and aerial photos to find the biggest bucks," the hunter explains. "And I always hunt pinch points, which are not too hard to find in farming country. You just need to know what you are looking for."
The next season, Jacob again used his muzzleloader to down trophy whitetails. He killed a mature 145-inch 8-pointer during early season and followed up on that success with a 169-inch typical 12-pointer in January.
The next year, Jacob killed another whopper 8-pointer with his smokepole. This one scored an impressive 157. This particular buck had been eating soybeans Jacob had spilled while working on the farm. The hunter noticed deer were eating the wasted beans, so he immediately set up his trail camera there. The first picture he got was of the massive, long-tined 8-pointer eating beans.
"There was no place to put a stand, so I decided to park my combine there," Jacob remembers. "Farmland deer are not bothered by tractors, trucks or equipment, so I sat on the combine. And the buck paid no attention to it. I shot him off the back of the combine at about 125 yards." (Note: Hunting from a non-moving vehicle is legal in Arkansas.)
Last November, Jacob was invited on a Drew County gun hunt by good friend Adam Frazer. Adam also asked his cousin Rusty Hunnicut to join them. The lifelong friends had hunted together many times over the years, so it seemed natural for them to go deer hunting together again.
The trio put their combined scouting knowledge to use and quickly found three pinch points deer were using. Jacob and Adam put up trail cameras on the Monday before the season opened and got their first photo of a buck on Wednesday. The picture was foggy and blurred, so they didn't really know what they were looking at. But on Wednesday night, that changed. They got a photo of what looked to be a monster non-typical.
Jacob recalls, "I saw that picture and instantly knew the buck was a 200-incher!"
Other hunters would also be hunting the same piece of ground during the modern gun season, so the men knew they had to act quickly if they wanted to kill this deer before someone else did.
"We decided Adam would hunt from a box blind where we had gotten a picture of the big buck," Jacob explains. "Rusty was going to use his climbing stand in another pinch point. I decided to pull in a portable stand on wheels, and I placed it in a strategic pinch point where the bayou makes a big circle and comes back to within 200 yards of the opposite bank. Half of the area was clear, and the other half was wooded. That made it easier to watch.
"Midday Tuesday, I took a flatbottom boat in so we could cross the bayou. It had been raining, and as I drove around to where I wanted to go, I saw something glowing. I knew it had to be a rub, so I stopped. I spotted a softball-sized cedar tree that had been rubbed so much and so hard that is was bent into an 'S' shape.
The buck had rubbed it so much that there were flat spots and deeply cut ridges in the tree. And there were scrapes going to the right and left of the location. I knew that I had found the exact spot where I could kill the giant. I immediately put my blind into place, and went back the next day to brush it in. The deer in farming country can pick a blind out quickly if you don't brush it in."
With his blind now hidden, Jacob hunted the rest of the day but had no sighting of the big buck. However, he felt it would only be a matter of time before the giant showed his face. Jacob predicted the deer was regularly using the strip of timber that bordered Bayou Bartholomew, and he couldn't help but have faith in the fresh deer sign he'd found.
During Friday evening's hunt, Jacob received a text message from Adam that he could hear branches being thrashed by something in the brush. A few minutes later, Jacob also heard branches thrashing. He knew it was a buck rubbing. In response, Jacob grabbed his grunt tube and called a couple times.
In the midst of this, the hunter bumped his rifle, which made a slight noise as it shifted against the blind. The thrashing halted. Worried he'd spooked the buck, Jacob was surprised to see a massive rack moving his way through the brush.
"I saw this giant rack coming out of the CRP," he says. "I saw one side, then the other, and knew it was him!
"I propped my rifle up so I would be ready to shoot. The buck stopped and stared a hole right through me. He didn't move for roughly 20 minutes. I was watching with my binoculars, and I could only see his neck and rack. I have never shot a deer in the neck, and I wasn't about to start with this one.
"He knew exactly where the grunt and the noise came from, and he just stood there staring right at me. I always get as scent-free as possible, and I hunt with an Ozonics unit. I had the unit running in my blind, which helped conceal my scent. The weather was warm, though, and I was afraid he would smell me as the wind shifted. I was pretty nervous, because he was standing dead downwind of my position. It was growing darker by the second, and I really got anxious watching him. I finally started to settle down a bit, and I tried to focus on getting a shot.
"He was locked up at 125 yards when he finally turned and started walking behind some trees," Jacob continues "I quickly got my gun up, and when he came out from behind the trees I saw his body for the first time. I settled in behind his shoulder and squeezed the trigger.
"When my gun went off the window of the blind fell down, and I jumped back. The window had slammed shut at the report of the rifle, and everything turned pitch black. I had no idea where the buck went when I shot, but I knew I was on him. But I knew I would be in trouble if he made it to the water."
Jacob felt confident he'd been holding his crosshairs right behind the buck's shoulder when he pulled the trigger. He has perfect confidence in his Weatherby Mark V rifle and Swarovski scope, a combination that has yielded several trophies in the past. He simply had to trust that the gun had done its job.
"I sat in the stand until Adam and Rusty got there," Jacob recalls. "We went to the spot where I had shot him and immediately found pink lung tissue and a massive blood trail. We found him on the edge of the bayou. He died only 30 yards from his favorite rubbing tree. I just stood there looking at this monster buck, trying to let it sink in that I had really killed such an awesome deer. He was just huge.
"Adam asked why I was just standing there," Jacob recalls. "He said, 'I would be jumping up and down going crazy if I had just killed a deer like that!'"
But Jacob simply wanted to admire the deer. So he, Adam and Rusty just stood in awe of what lay before them: a 5 1/2-year-old, 250-pound buck with a rut-swollen neck and giant rack.
Perhaps the most commanding of all the buck's features was the matched set of drooping "tines" at the ends of the main beams. At first, the men were convinced these were drop tines, but they couldn't tell for sure. The buck had long daggers for brow tines, a wide inside spread and heavy main beams with long upright tines on both sides, as well as what was clearly a drop tine way back on his left antler. He was the most impressive buck any of them had ever seen. There was no doubt in their minds that he'd gross over 200 inches.
So just how big is this amazing rack? Boone & Crockett scorers Dan Doughty, Dave Boland and Keith Sanford scored him at the 2016 Arkansas Big Buck Classic in Little Rock. They felt the "drop tines" at the beam tips were the beams themselves; they'd simply turned downward. The trio documented the rack with many photos to show the bloodlines running from the bases all the way to the ends of the beams.
B&C officials reviewed the documentation and photos and agreed that the beams turned down on both sides. That meant the buck would be scored as a typical 6x6. The only non-typical point is the 5 6/8-inch drop tine on the left beam.
That point is all that keeps the Ayecock buck from netting 201 inches. As is, the rack grosses over 207 inches typical and nets 195 2/8. This blew the long-standing Thomas Sparks "Ozark Legend" state record out of the saddle by more than six inches.
So it came as no surprise when Jacob won all three of the major big-buck contests held in Arkansas annually. Without question, his typical is one of the greatest in the long history of the South.
Southern Whitetail History
To understand just how big Jacob Ayecock's buck is, it helps to take a look at some of the history behind big Southern bucks. Not only is this new deer easily an Arkansas record, a search of the Boone & Crockett record book confirms that only two typicals from south of the 35th parallel net out higher than this one.
Both of these larger bucks were shot in South Texas, and they now have some serious age on them. One scored 196 4/8 net and was killed in 1963 by Tom McCulloch; the other, taken in 1906 by Milton George, nets 196 1/8. So of the literally millions of whitetails shot or even found dead south of the 35th Parallel since 1963, Jacob's has the highest official typical score.
Of course, racks of this class are incredibly rare in any region. In fact, according to B&C measurer Dan Doughty, since 2011 there's been no typical hunter-taken B&C entry bigger than the Ayecock buck from anywhere in North America. During that span, the only known typical rack with a higher net score (198 7/8) was from a deer poached in Kansas in 2011.