Nick Brown Buck: 171-Inch Kentucky Velvet
December 11, 2014
Twenty feet up in a huge ash tree, Nick Brown listened to the steady drone of mosquitoes as sweat trickled down his face. Even by the standards of late summer, the weather was unbelievably hot for opening day of Kentucky's 2013 archery season.
Nick's tree was on a partially timbered hillside and approximately 70 yards above a narrow creek bottom. A dense thicket of honeysuckle, saplings and briars covered much of the hilltop, while pockets of brush and small trees filled the understory surrounding his position.
This part of Campbell County was familiar country. As a youngster, Nick had spent many of his fall and winter days hunting rabbits and squirrels in the hilly terrain with his grandfather, Ardell. Many nights had been devoted to listening to their coonhounds trailing in distant hollows.
Eventually the young hunter had graduated to a deer blind, taking his first whitetail when he was 12. Nick's dad, Randy, is an avid bowhunter, and around that time he discovered the big ash and built a wooden stand where the main trunk split into four limbs. Over the years, constant exposure to the weather has necessitated the structure being either repaired or rebuilt a number of times, but season after season, the location has proved its worth.
"Deer have always frequented this area," Nick notes. "The hilltop thickets are popular bedding areas, but the location mainly serves as a major travel corridor to the surrounding farmland. There are a number of hay fields, plus some small row crop agricultural fields, scattered throughout."
Nick gun hunted until about five years ago, when his dad finally convinced him to try bowhunting. Since then, the rifle has stayed in the house.
"When I was younger, I did some target shooting and accompanied my dad to several archery tournaments," Nicks recalls. "But I didn't have the patience to wait for a deer to get within bow range. Plus, I wasn't completely confident in my shooting ability under hunting conditions.
"Getting a few years older helped erase most of those doubts. And our long archery season greatly increased my hunting opportunities. Plus, the extreme gun pressure our area gets in November is nonexistent during bow season."
Under normal circumstances, Nick might have joined the ranks of many other Bluegrass archers on opening weekend and opted to wait a few days for cooler weather. However, the purchase of a trail camera and subsequent photos it had recorded of one particular buck placed a special priority on the opener.
"After buying the camera, I set it up a short distance below the tree stand along an old quad trail that crosses the creek and angles up the hillside," Nick remembers. "Most deer moving up or down the hill generally follow the path of the old trail. Basically, I was simply checking the camera out. I thought it would be interesting to get photos of several different bucks and watch their antlers develop through the summer."
As anticipated, the camera recorded a number of deer images, including those of several bucks. To Nick, the deer all looked similar; each animal had just started growing antlers. But when Randy looked at the photos, he immediately pointed out one deer among them as having the potential to grow a big rack.
"I honestly couldn't see any difference between that particular buck and the others," Nick admits. "But as the weeks passed, Dad's prediction certainly turned out to be correct. By midsummer, that deer's antlers had begun to dwarf several of the other bucks'."
Although the big whitetail remained in the area throughout the summer, he never exhibited any sort of predictable pattern. Trail camera photos indicated he was part of a small bachelor group that also included two or three smaller bucks.
"This wasn't a situation where I was getting a photo of the buck every day or two," Nick says. "In fact, I probably averaged only three or four photos a month. Although the pictures were taken at various times of day, late afternoon seemed to be the predominant time period.
"During August the buck disappeared for nearly three weeks, and I became really worried something had happened to cause him to change locations. Thankfully, about two weeks before the opening of the September bow season, he reappeared."
Although Nick had been unable to establish the buck's specific movement tendencies, he believed his best chance of encountering him would be during the first several days of bow season, with the deer hopefully still in velvet. The hormonal increase that occurs during velvet shedding sometimes keys a sudden behavioral change in mature bucks, such as greatly reduced activity or switching to entirely nocturnal movement.
"I took off from work the first week of the season," Nick notes. "But what I hadn't counted on was the 90 degree weather. Most of the activity on opening weekend involved sweating and swatting mosquitoes, but I did manage to see two or three small bucks and a couple of does."
Unfortunately, there was no break in the weather on Monday. Nevertheless, by 4 o'clock the bowhunter was back in the big tree. Once again, for over two hours the only activity at the site involved buzzing insects.
"Early in the season, when the trees and brush are fully leaved, my visibility from the stand is very limited," Nick says. "There's one downhill view of approximately 60 yards, but in all other directions the yardage drops to less than 35 yards. From a positive standpoint, if a deer is traveling on or near the old quad trail, I know my shot will be less than 20 yards when it passes the stand."
Around 6:30, the archer spotted a small 7-pointer about 60 yards down the hillside. The deer appeared to be feeding as he gradually advanced up the hill along the old trail. A moment later, another buck of similar size abruptly appeared a short distance behind the first.
"While watching the two deer moving slowly toward me, I happened to detect more movement behind them," Nick remembers. "Within seconds, the big buck walked into view and also began heading in my direction, following several yards behind the smaller bucks. At that point my concentration was focused entirely on the big one, but I also realized that if either of the other bucks detected anything wrong as they passed me, the hunt would be over."
Nick remained motionless as the two smaller deer walked by. As the big one closed to within 20 yards, the bowhunter turned slightly and came to full draw. At that distance, he decided not to risk a mouth bleat to stop the buck.
"I saw the arrow hit and felt like I had made a great shot," Nick recalls. "The deer bolted out of sight and down the hillside. For several seconds I listened to the sounds fading into the distance, but I never heard a crash. At that point, there were the inevitable thoughts of second-guessing the shot."
After making a quick call to his dad, Nick got out of the stand to see if he could find his arrow. Within minutes, Randy arrived on the scene. Although the arrow wasn't to be found, they did locate a blood trail. Then and there, the decision was made to wait an hour before beginning the search.
"Once we started, it didn't take long to figure out that following the trail was going to be a slow process," Nick says. "For whatever reason, the buck simply wasn't bleeding very much. Naturally, my confidence in finding him was slowly dropping by the minute."
After about 100 yards, the men reached a point where the buck had jumped a fence and crossed a small creek. At that point, he began to lose significantly more blood.
"By that time, we had reached the edge of a hay field with scattered cedars," Nick recalls. "I kept thinking that any minute we were going to look up and see the buck lying on the ground. Instead, we found a spot where the deer had bedded down and then gotten back up.
"Dad immediately said that we needed to back out and wait until morning to continue the search. He was afraid we might push the buck too hard and end up never finding him. I really didn't want to stop looking, but I knew he was probably right. So we marked the spot and left."
Not surprisingly, Nick had to endure a sleepless night. By daybreak, he and Randy were back where they'd left the trail.
"In the early-morning light, trying to see blood in the high grass was really tough, and I was becoming very discouraged," Nick admits. "Dad was several yards above me, scanning with binoculars. We hadn't been there very long when I suddenly heard him shout that he'd spotted the buck, and it was down."
Needless to say, there was an immediate celebration, with high-fives shared between father and son. The buck had traveled maybe 50 yards from where the search had been halted the previous night. While the location necessitated a strenuous 200-yard uphill drag to where the deer could be reached with an ATV, that task was completed with a big smile on each man's face.
The 13-pointer's full-velvet rack exhibits an impressive combination of height, width and mass. The exceptional main beams exceed 29 inches, and the outside spread is 24 1/8. Tine length is also outstanding, with G-2s that tape 10 2/8 and 9 2/8 inches, followed by 13-inch G-3s. The circumferences average nearly 5 inches.
Put it all together, and the deer's 5x5 typical frame grosses a remarkable 186 7/8. Asymmetry deductions, plus three abnormal points totaling 10 inches, drop the final typical Pope & Young score to 171 0/8. But as strong as that net score is, this whitetail clearly has the appearance of being even larger — especially with his rack in full velvet.
"I realize I took an exceptional buck: definitely a once-in-a-lifetime deer," Nick reflects. "But the really special part for me was being able to share the experience with my dad. That was priceless."