June 07, 2023
In October 2020, an acquaintance shared a picture of a nice buck that was said to be from within our county here in North Carolina. At 3 1/2 years old, the buck showed some great potential and some unusual nontypical characteristics, but I didn’t pay too much attention at the time. Little did I know, this would be the start of one of my most memorable hunts. Fast forward to early September 2021, when I received a picture of the same deer. I couldn’t believe my eyes!
In less than a year he had grown into a giant. His rack was so big and had so many tines going everywhere that I began to question whether the picture had even come from this state, let alone the reported county and area. Even so, I had cameras running on hunting properties in the general area, just in case.
In November I was blessed to take an 8-point monster-body 5-year-old with a muzzleloader. I also had just started getting pictures of a big 10- pointer in another county. I shifted my attention from our multiple properties to focus on the 10-pointer, and I started keeping tabs on his behaviors and patterns. During this time, I was also taking frequent hunting trips with my son Boone, trying to get him on a buck. On the evening of November 19, Boone was blessed to harvest an old buck we had tons of history with. After loading it up we stopped by a friend’s house so Boone could show off his deer and share his hunting stories.
Just after dark, as we all stood around the tailgate admiring the buck, I got a notification from one of my cameras. To my surprise and utter disbelief, it was a picture of the giant non-typical! As the pictures continued popping up, I was more and more amazed by this deer. I looked up from the phone to my wife, Kasey, and my buddy, and said, “We just got a picture of a 170- to 180-inch deer.”
It was nearing the peak of the rut. Was this too good to be true? My mind was flooded with questions and doubts. Would he appear again or was he a “one hit wonder”? Had he been pressured out of his home range, or was he just cruising for does? And if he did come back, would there be any kind of pattern? Would a lucky neighbor get him first? He showed up again the next evening, just after dark. Getting pictures two days in a row gave me hope that he had stayed close and might frequent the area. With a little more than a month of season left, I became consumed with how to take him down. I pulled cameras off my other properties and strategically placed them around the area. I hoped to cover the entire 40 acres to pinpoint his direction of travel and see if he crossed any other parts of the property.
Opening weekend of rifle season was approaching, combined with peak rut. My nerves were on edge. It was the weekend before Thanksgiving, and anyone who hunts would be in the woods. Not good. But I also knew that this would contribute a lot of pressure on neighboring properties and hunting clubs. I would have to eliminate as much pressure as possible in my area and provide this deer with a sanctuary of sorts.
For the next few days, I continued getting pictures of him at one corner, near my box stand. I treaded lightly and hunted only on the very best wind. I made every effort to be as scent-free as possible and eliminated the sound my four-wheeler would make by covering the entire distance up the mountain on foot. My chances were already slim enough — no sense getting lazy and messing it up. During the next two or three weeks I hunted hard, but to no avail. The big buck continued to appear on my trail cameras sporadically after dark, but he never showed himself in daylight.
I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d done something wrong. Had I spooked him while walking to my stand, or had he been taken by another hunter?
It was now December, and I was bumping deer every time I came out after dark. This couldn’t be helping. With no pictures of the giant since Dec. 5 and the activity slowing so much, I feared I had spooked him. During one sit a bear even strolled by, and I climbed down and chased him off, hoping that would keep him from returning. It was also unseasonably warm, which I’m sure affected deer movement. When cooler weather came, the action picked up.
One evening, just as shooting light faded, I watched a good buck and several does browse nearby as I waited for an opportunity to slip out. At 10:00 p.m. I could still hear deer walking, chasing and grunting all around. I knew I couldn’t take a chance at bumping the deer again, so I decided to spend the night in the stand. I let my wife know where I was and that I’d be staying. I laid on the floor of the box and uncomfortably went to sleep.
Around 4:30 a.m. I woke up nearly frozen. The temperature was a mere 23 degrees, and I moved around a bit to try to get my blood flowing. As daylight finally broke, I could see I was covered up with deer, and realized this may be a key to killing this buck. Eliminating my walk up the mountain in the early hours made a huge difference in the amount of deer movement.
By mid-morning everything had calmed down. I eased out of my stand at about 10:00 and headed home to catch up on orders for our apple business. As night began to fall, I started getting pictures of him again. He visited several times during the night and right at daybreak the next morning. It had become a cat and mouse game, and I was anxious to get back in the woods. This deer was driving me nuts, and it felt like he was gaining the upper hand. At lunchtime I received a camera notification, and there he was again. His frequent visits suggested he had become comfortable again and that perhaps he was bedding close by. Once I showed the pics to Kasey she said, “Don’t worry about things here with the business — go and don’t come back until you’ve killed him or when the season is over.”
She recognizes and appreciates the work I put into hunting these big deer, and I felt that she wanted this for me as much as I wanted it for myself. I immediately began loading up my gear, along with some blankets and a pillow — just in case.
Carrying my duffle bag, some groceries and my heavy layers up the mountain, I had to move slowly to keep from sweating, so the hike up the mountain took twice as long as usual. Still, I arrived at my stand around 3:30 p.m. and got settled in. I immediately began seeing deer. Throughout the evening I saw several does and a couple of really nice bucks, including the 140-inch 10-pointer. He was an impressive deer that would have been the largest buck I had ever passed up in North Carolina, and he stayed within shooting range for over an hour. But he got a free pass because he wasn’t the one.
Right at dark I was covered up again and knew I wouldn’t be getting down. Since I was prepared, I decided to sleep in the stand. At this point I felt my best strategy came down to time. Because the buck’s appearance was so sporadic, I needed to spend all the time I could in the stand. That way, if he did make another appearance in the daylight, I would be there to take advantage. I knew that sooner or later he would make a mistake, and when he did, I’d be ready.
I slept remarkably well that night despite being crammed diagonally in the box. Just before daylight, I went through my pics, but he hadn’t been there overnight. At daybreak I watched two small bucks work their way in to feed. Around 7:30 that morning, I looked out my right window and could see a group of eight does coming up the ridge toward my stand. They were entering from the direction I would have walked in from, and I realized these must be some of the same deer I had been spooking in the early hours. They neared the stand and got right in front of me at about 15 yards, calmly browsing around for a few minutes. The two smaller bucks were still feeding about 60 yards away.
Suddenly the does perked up — looking, bobbing their heads and stomping. They were peering past my stand toward a hillside that was across a deep thick hollow behind me. I wondered if they had caught my scent, or if maybe the bear was coming back. They stood there for a minute, then in one quick burst they scattered and started blowing. Some ran off the bank, some returned to where they were, but one little doe stopped about 30 yards to my right with her tail up. She was looking off the edge of the ridge behind me, appearing to be watching something. I looked back to my left and the two small bucks were still there, unfazed.
As I was considering what the cause might be, I heard rustling coming from the little doe’s direction. I looked, and there he was. He was standing quartered away, close to the doe. There was no mistaking which buck this was. I immediately reached for my CVA Cascade 6.5 Creedmoor rifle, while quietly and slowly opening the blind window. Meanwhile, the buck turned and started following the small doe.
I now had the crosshairs on him with the safety off, just praying he would turn and open up just enough for a good quartering shot. As he got to about 55 or 60 yards out, he stepped left just enough for a hard quartering-away shot. He looked off the hill to his left and stopped. The moment that had played in my head a million times, the opportunity I had dreamed about since I first saw him, had finally arrived. I settled the crosshairs in behind the last rib and squeezed the trigger. At the crack of the gun, I saw through my scope a huge amount of blood spraying as the big deer bolted straight away down the ridge. As he disappeared out of sight, I knew without a doubt it was over for him.
A wave of emotion poured over me so suddenly and so deeply that I almost got nauseous. It almost seemed like a dream. As badly as I’d wanted this moment to happen, I wasn’t convinced it ever would. I checked the time and noted the shot was around 7:55 a.m. I phoned my wife, but with no answer I got my rifle and climbed down. I could see the painted blood trail starting at the location of impact and followed it for a few yards. When I spotted the buck a short distance away, I was surprised to see he was in a nearly upright position, then quickly realized that his antlers were lodged between two trees!
There was no doubt he was dead. Still stunned that it was actually over, I sat down beside him and thanked God for the blessings. Then I took a few minutes to process everything that had happened. After gaining my composure, I made some calls and FaceTimed Kasey and some friends who had been invested in the pursuit of this deer. Knowing a buck of this caliber from this area would be big talk, including a lot of speculation, my next call was the game warden. I wanted everything documented so that any false stories or rumors could be nipped in the bud.
I then took pictures and a video of the buck lodged in the tree. The buck had been running full speed when he got jammed in there, and when I tried to dislodge him, he wouldn’t budge. In my truck I found a drill with a drill bit and used it to slowly drill chucks of tree away from the antlers until I freed the rack. Next I met up with the game warden, and then headed home with what I considered a once-in-a-lifetime buck.
We rough-green scored him right at 177 inches. He had 17 scoreable points, a few with the tips broken off. There were also six points completely broken off, which would have made him a 23-pointer. When I took him to the Dixie Deer Classic in North Carolina, he officially dry-gross scored 172 5/8.
Judging from the earlier pictures we had, we could see that he’d lost around 25 inches of antler. Had he not broken those tines, he would have scored well into the 190s. Once word got out, several neighbors shared pictures they’d captured of him on their trail cameras. From these I figured out that his core area was a couple of miles from where I ended up killing him.
This was my biggest buck ever. In 2016, I killed a 162-inch typical in the same county, several miles from there, as well as a 157-incher in 2018. At the time I had considered them once-in-a-lifetime bucks, and never in a million years would I have thought I’d top those deer in this county.
This whole experience was mentally and physically exhausting, yet extremely rewarding. I owe a huge thanks to the Good Lord above, my wife, family, friends, CVA and Dead End Game Calls, as they all played a role in this humbling experience.