Junior Key Buck: 219-Inch Non-Typical Giant
January 13, 2015
Junior Key has spent much of his life in the outdoors, working as a professional logger in the timber industry and chasing whitetails every fall.
Living in the small community of Moss, Tennessee, which is close to the Kentucky line, Junior is well acquainted with the rugged hill-and-hollow terrain bordering the nearby Cumberland River. While he and his family have hunting access to a number of farms in each state, his focus last fall was a large tract of timber and farmland along the river corridor in Monroe County, Kentucky.
Junior had an opportunity to hunt the location a few times during the 2012 season and saw a number of deer there. Although none was extremely big, numerous scrapes and rubs scattered throughout the property suggested the presence of mature bucks. And there were rumors during the season of an exceptionally large one having been sighted on adjacent landholdings.
"Having hunted for many years, I've found that reports about big deer come and go," Junior notes. "Also, the word 'big' is a pretty subjective term, which makes determining a buck's true size a very difficult proposition."
Once the 2012-13 season ended, the big-deer discussion gradually subsided. However, later that following spring, Junior happened to encounter another local hunter who had a trail camera photo of the buck. As the saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words" — and in this case, it more than validated the rumors about a giant whitetail in the area.
"There was no question about the buck's size," Junior says. "The rack had several extra points forking off the beams and tines. I wasn't told where the picture had been taken, nor did I have any idea exactly where. Basically, after that meeting I really didn't think much more about the deer. But the picture did arouse my interest in trail cameras. I'd never tried using that scouting technique, but I thought the Kentucky farm might be a good place to experiment with it."
Several weeks later, in mid-summer, Junior purchased a Bushnell trail camera and immediately set it out on the property. Although the majority of the farm is forested, approximately 100 acres within the river bottom had been planted in corn. The hunter placed the camera in a wooded hollow about 600 yards above the corn field.
About 10 days later, Junior made a return trip to the site and retrieved the camera's memory card. Admittedly not a dedicated student of modern technology, he took the card to his daughter, Angie, to have her check the photos.
Aside from having a natural interest in the camera's performance, Junior was hoping to get a few photos of bucks. As it turned out, the results were far beyond anything he might have dreamed.
"Angie was working at the computer when she suddenly let out a shriek," Junior says. "Then she told me I might need to take several aspirin with me on my hunting trips that fall . . . because if the buck she was looking at on the trail camera photos happened to walk out, I could very well have a heart attack!"
Amazingly, during the camera's very first trial run, it had recorded photos of the giant whitetail everyone had been talking about the previous season. To Junior's knowledge, the buck was in an area where he'd never been seen — but clearly it was the same animal.
"Considering the overall size, shape and extra points, there was no doubt it was the same buck in the 2012 photo," Junior says. "The rack actually appeared to be much bigger, but I knew that was partially because the antlers were still in velvet."
While discussing the photos with her dad, Angie decided to send one of them and a short note to the cell phone of her husband, Steven. Of course, this triggered an immediate response. Steven questioned what he thought was her attempt at a joke.
Angie's simple reply was, "The photo is definitely not a joke."
After arriving home that evening, Steven was shocked to view the entire group of trail camera images of the giant whitetail. Like everyone else, he was at a loss for words.
While Junior and his family were understandably excited to know the buck's location, the reality of the situation was that hunting season remained many weeks away. Given the unpredictable nature of whitetails, particularly mature bucks, there was no guarantee the deer would remain in the same area that entire time.
"Steven and I discussed the possibilities of the buck continuing to hang around into the fall," Junior remembers. "I don't think either of us thought the odds were very good. But as the weeks passed, just about every time I checked the trail camera, there were a few more new photos of the deer."
In preparation for the mid-November gun season, in October Junior put a stand in the same hollow where the camera was set up. Positioned near a small field grown up in high weeds, the site provided a clear view of both the clearing and an adjacent hillside. But the hunter's main concern was the buck's predominantly nocturnal activity pattern. Every photo to date had been taken at night.
In late October, with the Nov. 10 opening day of gun season only two weeks away, the area experienced the season's first significant cold snap. The sudden weather change not only created a few frosty mornings, it also produced Junior's first daylight trail camera photo of the big whitetail. Taken just after dawn, it was the first indication of a change in the timing of the giant's movement pattern.
"Finally getting a daylight photo of the buck really got Junior fired up," Steven says. "I think he finally began to think there might really be a chance of taking the buck.
"I have two boys, Bryce, 9, and Ben, 12, and he tried to get me to take one of them opening morning to hunt the stand. But we all felt that after 40 years of hunting, Junior had more than earned his chance at the big deer.
"Our only concern was the possibility that he might encounter another buck, become overly excited and tag out early. Even his wife, Oleta, reminded him on several occasions to not even consider shooting another deer."
Opening morning of gun season passed without incident. Junior watched a couple of spikes, a 4-pointer and several does pass through the hollow, but the big buck didn't appear. Even so, the following morning the hunter was positioned back in the stand well before dawn.
"At first light, several squirrels began barking on the ridge behind me," Junior remembers. "And minutes later, I heard a deer coming down the hillside. "Turning partially around, I got a glimpse of antlers and instinctively grabbed my rifle. I had already flipped off the safety before finally realizing the buck was just an 8-pointer."
Junior's maneuvering in the stand had attracted that deer's attention. After alertly staring in the hunter's direction for several moments, the buck abruptly bolted off through the woods, blowing and snorting with every breath.
"I figured all the commotion probably had ruined the remainder of the morning," Junior says. "But while checking the surrounding ridge and hillside, I immediately spotted a doe. She appeared to be following an old farm road that led to the clearing."
After walking several yards out into the opening, the doe stopped. She continued to stand motionless, staring off toward the distant timber. As the hunter continued to watch, he began hearing sounds in the woods from the hillside beyond the clearing. Within just minutes, a giant buck suddenly stepped into view, his attention totally focused on the doe.
"Having looked at trail camera photos of the big deer more times than I can count, there was no problem recognizing the huge rack," Junior notes. "The buck was only about 65 yards away, but most of his body was hidden by high weeds along the edge of the field."
Seconds seemed to pass like minutes as the hunter waited for the big deer to move out of the thick undergrowth. Finally, the buck resumed his approach toward the doe. Junior waited until the huge body was completely in the clear and squeezed the trigger. At the shot, the buck dropped in his tracks.
"The entire sequence of events seemed almost surreal," Junior says. "Despite all the trail camera photos, I never thought I would be lucky enough to see the buck, much less kill him. Usually in those types of situations I'm a nervous wreck and have trouble making the shot, but fortunately that wasn't the case in this instance."
After taking a few moments to calm down, the hunter took out his cell phone and began making calls. His only success in reaching anyone was with a call to landowner Shane Smith, who was hunting nearby with his son. Shane excitedly told Junior he'd be there in 30 minutes.
Due to a family outing the previous evening, Junior's son-in-law and grandsons weren't hunting that morning. But Steven happened to hear his cell phone vibrate and saw Junior had left him a voicemail.
"At first, I thought something might be wrong, because Junior was breathing like he had just completed running a 10-mile marathon," Steven recalls. "Finally, I heard him say, 'I don't know if you can hear this, but I just killed the big one.'
"Needless to say, we all loaded up and drove straight to the farm. I don't believe there would have been any more celebrating if one of us had won the lottery."
In some ways, Junior had just won the lottery: the "trophy buck of a lifetime" lottery, at least. The massive rack of his great whitetail has 20 points and exceptional tine length. The brow tines exceed 6 inches, followed by paired G-2s and G-3s that all tape between 13 2/8 and 11 3/8 inches. Circumference measurements on the 26-inch main beams fall between 5 2/8 and 4 2/8 inches.
The typical 10-point frame also displays excellent symmetry, netting an impressive score of 184 7/8. After adding in the rack's remaining 10 abnormal points, totaling 35 0/8 inches, the buck's final non-typical B&C score stands at 219 7/8.
Junior's outstanding whitetail is the biggest ever recorded from Monroe County, and he ranks as one of the Bluegrass State's top bucks from the 2013-14 season. This great non-typical also is the latest member of Kentucky's all-time Top 30 list.
Not a bad introduction to the use of trail cameras!