May 25, 2011
In the pursuit of trophy whitetails, the passage of time is always relative to the events -- or lack of events -- unfolding around you. Countless hours of inactivity spent on foot or on stand can crawl by at a snail's pace, but with so little as the flick of a tail, the pace accelerates and the moment of truth arrives -- and sometimes passes -- in a heartbeat.
Such was the case on Nov. 19, 2010. The day began like so many others at our home in Brainard, Nebraska, with my sons, 20-year-old Dillon and 17-year-old Mason, heading afield in different directions to spend a few hours hunting whitetails. I had driven Mason about a quarter of a mile down the road from our home so that he could more easily access a deer stand we had set up.
The spot was one of Mason's favorites. Two years ago, he had killed a 169 3/8-inch buck from that very stand, and this year, he was hoping to get a shot at a nice 5x5 that we had captured on our trail cameras.
Meanwhile, Dillon had decided to drive six miles south of the house to my father's farm, but as he approached the farm, he spotted a bull in the road. Dillon called me to let me know that deer had once again torn down our electric fence and that he needed my help getting the bull back inside the fence.
As the call came through, my wife, Donna, and I were just pulling out of the driveway, where we had been watching a small 4x4 buck breed a doe in the pasture next to our house. I told Dillon to stay put, that we would be there shortly to help put the bull back in and fix the fence.
As Donna and I drove towards Dillon's location, Mason's hunt was heating up. As he walked toward the stand location, he spotted five deer -- four does and one unbelievable buck. Mason estimated the shot on the buck at at least 250 yards. He shouldered his rifle and carefully squeezed off a shot, but it was a clean miss.
Mason quickly ejected the spent cartridge from his Weatherby bolt-action .22-250, but as he did so, part of the cartridge tore off and remained in the chamber. When he jacked another shell into the chamber, the gun jammed, rendering a second shot impossible as the massive buck disappeared into a draw behind the four does.
Mason headed back to the road where I had dropped him off and called me on his cell phone.
Donna and I were within a couple miles of Dillon's location when Mason's call came through. He said he seen a big buck but his gun had jammed. "Get home now!" he told me, as Dillon drove past us on his way back to the house.
Once Mason, Dillon and I met at the house, we went over the details of what had happened. Mason told us what he had seen and explained that the buck had entered the draw on its southwestern side. There was never any question about whether the buck was a trophy. My boys know good deer, and we've passed up a lot of 140-class bucks in an effort to kill mature, heavy-racked bucks. We took Mason at his word.
Based on Mason's version of the events, we came up with a plan for locating and getting a shot at the buck. Our land has a lot of rolling hills and draws, both small and large. The draw we were targeting basically runs south, but it has a finger from the west and east on its northern side, and it's thick with cedar trees. Based on our past experience, we've learned that deer like to follow the draw south and emerge along a fence line headed southeast. Pastures border all four sides of the draw, each of which are either on my land or my father's.
We decided that Mason would walk back towards the draw from the west side, and Dillon would drive around to the south and enter the draw from my father's bean field following the fence line. I would drive to the northeast side and walk the draw headed south.
I set out with my Remington Model 788 bolt-action .22-250 loaded with four 55-grain ballistic-tip bullets. The four does emerged right away, but there was no sign of the buck. As I continued walking, I saw a deer, but I didn't see any antlers, so I assumed it was a doe. The body didn't look that big, but I kept watching the deer in the distance. The deer was walking west, but it suddenly stopped and turned back to the east. It was then that I knew it was a buck, but I couldn't tell how large it was. The buck picked up its pace, weaving through cedar trees and thick cover. Finally, I got another glimpse of the rack, and I decided that it must be the buck Mason had described.
The buck was now running full speed. I shouldered my rifle and waited for him to enter an opening between cedar trees. In an instant, he was in the opening; I pulled the trigger, and he was gone.
I had no idea if I had hit or missed the buck. Dillon, who had also gotten a look at the buck, was maneuvering for a shot when he heard my gun report and saw the buck go down. Dillon approached the buck to make sure he was down for good, then he began walking in my direction. As he emerged, I yelled to him, asking if he had seen the buck.
"He's right here," Dillon replied, "and he's big, big, big!"
The bullet had entered in the front of the shoulder and passed into the lungs, bringing the buck down quickly. As we walked up on the buck, there was definitely no ground shrinkage, but we still didn't quite grasp how significant this buck was. We tagged the buck, loaded him into the truck and headed to my father's farm six miles away to put the bull back in our field and fix the fence before dark.
It wasn't until we stopped by a friend's place later to see what the other hunters in the area had shot that we realized just how impressive the buck was. People started calling their friends and taking pictures, and the excitement snowballed. The game warden and taxidermist left a Ducks Unlimited banquet to view the deer. Someone broke out the measuring tape and said, "You've got 105 inches on one side -- without the spread. You've got something here."
Looking back on the hunt, it's clear that the pivotal factor in bringing down this giant Nebraska buck was our knowledge of deer movement on the property.
If we hadn't known how deer typically traveled the draw, we would never have gotten a shot on this buck. That's why it's so important that hunters know the lay of the land on which they're hunting and the usual behavior and movement patterns of the deer inhabiting it.
We dedicated that part of our pasture to whitetails by deliberately not cutting down cedar trees, and we try to stay out of that section of the pasture as much as possible, especially before and during the season, unless something like this arises. The hunt was successful because of our knowledge of the land and the way deer travel and because all three of us were in the right place at the right time.
We've gotten photos on our trail cameras of nice 4x4 and 5x5 bucks, but we had no idea this buck was around. We hadn't even heard of anyone seeing this buck in the neighborhood before the season. It was quite a shock to us when we walked up to him after the shot.
The buck was shot with a 1960s Remington Model 788 .22-250-caliber bolt-action rifle with a 3.5x10x50 Tasco scope. My sons were both carrying Weatherby .22-250 bolt-action rifles. We were all using reloaded shells with 55-grain ballistic tip bullets. I've been told a lot of times that a .22-250 isn't enough to knock down a deer, but it has been our experience that if the shot is placed correctly, it will drop a deer as easily as a .270 caliber. We like our .22-250 guns. They have little kick, and they work great for deer and coyotes.
Official Boone & Crockett scorer Ricky Krueger tallied a net green score of 203 4/8 inches, based on a green gross score of 220 7/8 inches.
The buck could threaten the Nebraska state record for typical whitetails if the score stays above 200 inches after the 60-day drying period. According to the Nebraska Game and Parks Department, the top typical is a 199 2/8-inch buck taken by Vernon Virka in 1993 in Saunders County.
The typical 7x7 frame boasts a 21-inch inside spread, 24-inch outside spread and 26 3/8- and 24 7/8-inch main beams, respectively. The longest tine -- the right G-4 -- measures 12 6/8 inches.
"It pretty much filled up the whole score sheet," Krueger said. "It's a jaw-dropper. Any 200-inch deer is really neat, but when it's a 200-inch typical and you can put a state record behind it, that adds up to a lot.
Seeing my name at the top of the Nebraska record book would be pretty cool, but what makes it really special is that it was a great hunt with my boys and it ended perfectly. It could have been any of us that got the shot. I was just the lucky one.
I never imagined it would be me, because I'm not a very lucky person. Until now.