July 17, 2023
When it comes to hunting big game in New Mexico, there is a lot of opportunity. Monster bull elk, giant pronghorn antelope, and free-ranging herds of aoudad, oryx and Persian ibex all come to mind. If the topic of white-tailed deer ever comes up, it is most often of the smaller subspecies, the Coues deer. What isn’t known well about New Mexico hunting is the fact that the state has a small resident population of whitetails along its eastern landscape.
In December of 2021, New Mexico native Logan Harlan, along with his dad, Larry, and sister-in-law, Lorri, headed to the flats of eastern New Mexico. The hope was to find a decent whitetail buck that Logan could wrap his late-season tag on. Finding whitetails wasn’t an issue. Finding them on public land, however, was another ordeal. Logan and his dad spent the first two days of the hunt picking apart checker-boarded areas of public ground. They had seen well over a hundred deer in just those couple of days of hunting. The problem was every single deer they saw was on private property.
Knowing it was just a matter of time before they caught a buck on public land, the Harlans optimistically continued the search. On the morning of the third day they found a decent buck with three does. The deer weren’t on public land, but it looked like there was a chance they might pass onto a section of public property. Logan and his dad made a play on the herd, hoping that the deer would cross onto public land. They were able to get into position for a shot, but the buck never jumped the fence onto huntable dirt. With the rut just starting to kick on, the buck instead followed the does out of sight.
The duo decided to give the area they were hunting a break, so they headed to a spot that had proved tried and true for their family. They returned to a section of public land where they had consistently killed deer in the past. The part of the state they were hunting is wide-open with minimal cover. The country is grassland, interspersed with yucca, sage and the occasional juniper. This makes it somewhat simple to spot deer, but quite the opposite to sneak in close.
As they glassed up a gradual slope that rose out of a river bottom drainage, Logan spotted some whitetail ears protruding from the grass. They were just beneath the top of a knob, laying underneath a small juniper tree. With little cover available, Logan and his dad contemplated how they might make a move to get a closer look without getting caught.
After a few minutes of discussing how to cut the distance between them and the deer, which was about a 1/4-mile, Logan pulled his binoculars up to make sure the does were still laying in the same spot.
When he did, he was surprised by a huge set of antlers silhouetted against the skyline. Shortly after, each deer stood up and moved over top of the knob. After waiting a few minutes to make sure the deer were out of sight, Logan, Larry and Lorri quickly covered the ground up to the juniper that was rooted atop the rise. When they peered over the other side, they quickly spotted the deer. There turned out to be more sets of eyes than they expected. At 350 yards, they observed 11 does and three bucks feeding. Two of the bucks were dinks, a forky and a one-antlered 3-point. However, the other one was the big mature buck they had seen on the skyline. Logan set up for a shot, but the big buck was chasing does and never paused long enough for a clean shot.
Unfortunately, while Logan was struggling to get his Nosler 6.5 Creedmoor lined up on the buck, the wind swirled and cut straight to the herd of deer. All 11 does bolted, heading to the private land 3/4 of a mile away. Surprisingly, after the three bucks moved out a few hundred yards, they milled around for a moment and bedded down next to a dead sage bush. With not much other than blades of grass covering the 600 yards between Logan and the bucks, he, his dad and Lorri belly-crawled to get within comfortable shooting distance. Once back to the 350-yard mark, Logan worked to find an area that gave him enough of an unobstructed view of the bucks above the grass, a difficult task on mostly flat terrain.
Finally, Logan found a small berm where he had enough of a rise to get a good shot angle. He dug his bipod into the ground and waited. At one point, Larry tried to get the buck to stand for Logan by whistling and howling like a coyote, but the buck never budged. After that unsuccessful tactic, Logan and Larry decided it wasn’t worth the risk of blowing the deer out of there, so they stuck to the waiting game.
Three hours later, the big buck stood up, turned straight away from Logan and laid back down. There was no time for a reasonable shot. Logan was then able to shorten the distance some more, crawling to another small dirt clump that put him 297 yards away from the buck. After laying under the sun for another 2 1/2 hours, the buck stood again.
With private land just a couple hundred yards away from the deer, Logan got locked in as the buck presented a broadside shot. As Logan was about to squeeze the trigger, the buck pivoted, facing him head-on. Looking like he might bed back down, the buck wandered a bit, then turned to the right, once again providing a shot. Holding the crosshair on the top of the buck’s shoulder, Logan sent a 147-grain Hornady ELD-X on its way and watched as the buck dropped where he stood.
The exhaustion and anticipation that Logan held over that 5 1/2-hour period was relieved by the thrill of excitement. He realized that everything had come together, and he had a big whitetail buck on the ground! It was also a special opportunity for Lorri, who had never before experienced all that goes into a successful hunt.
Logan and Larry were blown away when they walked up to the buck. They didn’t fully know how huge the buck was until they made it up to him. Even though they had been able to watch the buck for over 5 hours, the heat waves and the movement of the buck had prevented them from getting a real understanding of just how big he was. He is a giant by the standards of almost any whitetail hunter. Had he not busted off his left main beam, the buck would have been a perfect 12-point. Regardless, he is a whitetail of a lifetime, killed in a state where most don’t even realize whitetails exist.
After the drying period, Logan’s buck scores 176 7/8 net B&C. This officially beats the previous state record, which was killed in 2019 by Samuel Beatty and scores 176 3/8. At the time of this writing, Boone and Crockett doesn’t have any entries for non-typical whitetail deer, so Logan’s buck is the New Mexico state record for all whitetail bucks.