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Indiana Man Finds Opening Morning Luck in the Timber

Nicholas Martino and his dad debated their stand selection for opening morning for a while before making a decision. Ultimately, Nick's choice led to him bagging his best buck ever just 20 minutes after shooting light began.

Indiana Man Finds Opening Morning Luck in the Timber

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At just 22 years old, my son Nicholas Martino has killed some pretty impressive bucks with his Thompson-Center muzzleloader in Indiana. However, the one he killed during the fall of 2023 tops them all.

On the opening day of Indiana’s general firearms season, Nicholas and I were contemplating where to sit. We selected two spots we each felt would be best given how deer would react to high hunting pressure on neighboring properties. We really hadn’t seen a big buck during the entire archery season, but we knew that opening day of gun season could get big deer on their feet.

I kept asking Nicholas where he wanted to sit, and we bantered back and forth as we each wanted the other to be in the best position to kill a buck. Nicholas finally decided to sit on the south end of a large tract of timber, and I would go sit along a ditch overlooking a CRP field close to the neighboring property to the north.

Before I even got to my stand, I was glad I was hunting that spot and not Nicholas. A hunter’s flashlight and loud footsteps were ambling about right behind my stand. As it turned out, the hunter had gotten turned around on the way to his stand on the neighboring property, scattering deer all around.

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Nicholas Martino took this impressive buck on the opening morning of Indiana’s firearms season. Photo courtesy of Joe Martino

Not even 20 minutes after legal shooting light, I heard Nicholas’ muzzleloader sound off. My heart raced as I knew it had to be a big deer. Before I could even get my text typed out to see if it was him that shot, he called me. His voice was trembling severely as he said, “Giant.” Yet, when I asked how big, he replied, “I don’t know, he is somewhere between 130 and 160!” I just instantly knew he was a shooter.

That’s a pretty wide range when it comes to antler inches, but the deer was 60 yards through the woods and there just wasn’t time to size him up. I was starting to climb down when our good friend Donnie, who had already tagged out, called and told me to stay put for a while and that he would go help Nicholas track the deer.

After an hour-and-a-half of trying to track the deer, there was no blood or sign of a hit to be found. Donnie was convinced Nicholas missed the buck; I wasn’t. Even though a freehand shot through the timber is a tough one, something told me Nicholas hit the deer. I know him and that muzzleloader, and how well they work together.

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Nicholas’ buck grosses in the 170s and field-dressed 245 pounds. Photo courtesy of Joe Martino

I begged them to keep looking. Finally, over 200 yards from where Nicholas had shot the deer, they found blood. They tracked the deer for a while, but lost blood after about 150 yards. We looked for a couple more hours, grid-searching a tiny woodlot close by without luck. It was now lunch time, and we called for a tracking dog. The tracker couldn’t come until after dark, so we left and had a very nerve-wracking rest of the day.




When the dog arrived well after dark, we began the search again. After a couple hours and no luck, we decided to head back to the truck with our heads hung low. We assumed the deer was still alive and not mortally wounded.

On the walk back, we were walking along the edge of the little woodlot where our search ended earlier that morning. I told the handler that we needed to cross through the woodlot to get back to the truck. We cut into the edge of the woods, but the fence was too high to get the dog across, so we walked up another 40 or 50 yards to a spot where I knew it was down. As we crossed the fence and took a few steps, we spotted Nicholas’ Buck!

We couldn’t believe it; what a recovery! The dog had given up the track over a half-mile in the opposite direction, and we merely happened upon the deer close to the truck. What’s more, I had walked within 50 yards of the buck that morning and had not seen it.

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What a deer it is! The typical 10-pointer grosses in the 170s and field-dressed a whopping 245 pounds! It has the largest neck our taxidermist has ever seen on a whitetail. When searching for the deer, Nicholas kept saying, “He looked like a black bear the way he is built.”

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The Martinos’ taxidermist said the neck on Nicholas’ buck was the biggest he’d ever seen. Photo courtesy of Joe Martino

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