May 30, 2023
Has your mother ever called you at school to tell you about a huge buck appearing in a trail camera photo? Not likely for most of us, right? But that is exactly what happened to John Hartman late in the summer of 2020. His mother, Karen, is prone to making trips to their family land in Franklin County, Virginia. She enjoys the time a field hiking and checking out the wildlife, keeping her eyes open for trespassers, and even cooking meals at the cabin when family and friends are hunting. The world needs more people like Karen, for sure!
On a hot August day during one of these off-season jaunts, Karen decided to check trail cameras. What she found on one SD card was a real surprise. A huge non-typical buck had passed through the property just a few days earlier. She knew the deer was much larger than anything they’d seen on their property before, so she had to let John know about it right away. The fact that he was in the first days of the new school year was not an issue! GO MOM!
John shared that pic with his friend, Tyler Mitchell. The boys agreed that a sticker on the right G-2 of its incredible rack reminded them of a cue from the game Shuffleboard, earning the buck his name. A scheme to take down “Shuffleboard” was soon hatched.
The place where the buck’s photo was captured seemed like the most logical location to take him, so their first move was to set a ladder stand in place right there. At that time, John thought the hunt would be short and sweet, but the big deer was not going to go down that easily. That appearance at the farm was just a random visit, and he had moved to a different area. He was not caught on that trail camera again until November. What at first had seemed like a sure thing was now a whole new ball game; seeds of doubt took root.
John is a man of Faith. But like most of us, he knows that taking big bucks can be tough under even the best of circumstances. He discussed his concerns with his older hunting partner and mentor, Eric Daniels, who advised him to stay after the buck. He reassured John that he could get it done but that he had to be patient. But when you’re after a true giant, knowing you need to stay patient and actually doing it are two different things.
The next photo of the non-typical came on Dec. 26. Unlike the previous pictures, this one was shot midday. Unfortunately, these few random appearances revealed no pattern for the big buck, and the 2020 season closed without anyone actually laying eyes on him. There was some good news, though. Apparently, no one else had killed him, either.
John kept trail cameras out throughout the year, anticipating more contact. But the deer was nowhere to be found on the property — until late the following summer. This time the non-typical buck showed up in a bachelor group with two other bucks. And the big buck was sporting more antler than ever! The bachelor group kept things interesting through September and October, showing up about three times a week on trail camera, always after sunset.
Hoping to spot them coming in earlier, John set up a climbing stand in a secondary location overlooking a clover and hay field. If the buck would move in the daylight, John thought he might have an opportunity to take him down with his bow early in the season. But once the bucks shed velvet, the bachelor group split up, and the non-typical was gone once more. Again, John became discouraged. But Eric repeated that if he stuck with it, he might still get to tag the buck. There was more that worried John, however. He was only able to hunt two or three afternoons a week. One of his neighbors hunted every day, and John feared the deer might end up in the other hunter’s truck. There was little he could do about that, but it was a big concern. He decided to pray about the situation.
In the first week of November, while watching some online hunting videos, John came across a new strategy that involved using weather patterns to predict behavior. That led him to research the weather for every day the buck had appeared on the property, and he found a common factor. In every circumstance there had been an easterly wind of some sort.
An unusual heat wave throughout early November was taking a toll on rut activity. Action was very slow, and bucks were not moving like they normally would be during daylight hours. John was beginning to think he would never see the buck again. Then, on Wednesday Nov. 17, a day when John was not hunting, Shuffleboard appeared in a daylight pic — the first ever encountered — just 20 yards out from the ladder stand. The wind that day was from the southeast. Prayers answered! John’s despair quickly turned to hope.
The following day, John was busy at school and could not hunt, and the day seemed to last forever. But the next morning he and Tyler were out there before daylight, and ready. Shuffleboard didn’t show. They headed to school and decided to try again that afternoon. This time Eric joined them for the hunt. There was a change in the weather and a big increase in deer activity, but again, no sign of the giant.
By Saturday morning, the temperature was in the 20s. John planned to sit all day, but by mid-day he was cold and ready for a break. He got out of his stand, talked to his mother and grabbed some food. The crew of hunters was split up that day, but Eric had told Tyler to make sure John stayed with it. So, after a short break, John returned to his ladder stand to sit for the evening.
Later that afternoon a small doe came out into the eld. John decided that a few bleats and some soft rattling might be just the thing to make his target deer show. He made a soft bleat, a louder bleat and then, using his Extinguisher call, threw in a croaker breeding grunt at the end. That sequence must have done the trick, because he immediately spotted antlers coming into view just at the edge of the brush about 60 yards away. Then, when the buck turned his head, a very familiar drop tine was exposed. Shuffleboard had arrived!
The dark rack moved out a little more, and the buck stared directly at John in the stand. After a few seconds, he dropped his nose to the ground and John raised his rifle. The sound of the shot rang out, and Shuffleboard fell in place. After saying a prayer of thanks, John thought about Matthew 19:26, and how his prayer had been answered. “With men this is impossible; With God all things are possible.”
Karen heard the shot from the cabin, and even before John confirmed it, she knew the hunt was over. Eric and Tyler headed to the farm as soon as they found out to help him celebrate. The huge buck has beautiful dark antlers, with plenty of character. A beam that turns down, a split brow tine and multiple long stickers on each G-2 combine to make a very unusual rack, scoring 192 3/8 inches. Momma sure knew what she was talking about!