December 30, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
If you’ve followed the North American Whitetail headlines in recent years, then you’re probably well aware of the fact that Oklahoma has a growing reputation as a big buck hotspot.
In fact, there have been enough big buck stories coming out of the Sooner State in recent years that it’s easy to assume that giant whitetails are walking around almost everywhere. But the reality is that the state has only a modest whitetail herd of about 500,000 deer — some counties have better trophy buck prospects than others — and finding a place to hunt a world-class monster is still something of a needle in a haystack kind of search.
That being said, there’s plenty of hard work involved in finding, setting up, and scoring on a big Oklahoma buck no matter what part of the state a hunter is hunting in. But sometimes, all of those ingredients come together along with some good genetics and the end result is the kind of buck that still generates “Stop the Presses!” kind of headlines.
That’s the kind of deer-hunting story that Lance Young has to tell as the 2020-21 deer season winds down — a tale of a November monster that came about because of plenty of sweat equity, a knowledge of what makes big whitetail bucks tick, and some good old fashioned deer-hunting luck.
While some of the details of his hunt for a Sooner State monster buck will be saved for a future issue of North American Whitetail magazine, here’s how his quest for a giant whitetail dubbed “COVID” unfolded this past year.
Like any other state that attracts a non-resident hunter, Young had to start by finding a place to hunt. To do that, he and his wife Kelly made contact with John Bivens — a gentleman getting into the lease brokering business through his Land Scout company.
“He was starting a leasing company, so I called and talked to him for about an hour almost weekly (as we went over available properties),” said Young, a traveling cardiac nurse whose home base is in Millbrook. “Finally, me and my wife went out to turkey hunt on a piece of property back in the spring and look at deer hunting properties. We liked some pieces of property that he was going to lease and we eventually picked two, one that we ended up getting, the other one that we did not.’
But even getting hunting access to that small piece of property was somewhat fortuitous since another hunter actually spoke up to lease it first. But when he decided to back out and pursue another piece of property, the door reopened for Young and his wife to sign on the dotted line.
“Long story short, the piece of property that this deer got killed on is about 160 acres in size,” said Young.
Part of the intrigue of this story is that Bivens had discovered a game camera when surveying the property, one that didn’t belong to the landowner or his grandkids. The suspicion is that it might have belonged to a poacher since the area has trouble with road hunters cruising down back country roads in search of a quick and illegal kill. Interestingly enough, there was a photo of the buck that would later become known as COVID, although he wasn’t nearly as big when that photo was taken.
“Other than that, the place didn’t look so great,” said Young. “It had about 130ish acres of crops, (sorghum) and just one creek that runs west to east on the property along with some grassy bottomlands, a hill, and some brush and a burr oak tree or two. On the aerial map, it didn’t look like a great property at all, so I guess you could say that it was overlooked.”
When the chance came to get the property, Young jumped at it in a hunting decision that he’ll never regret.
“I had my eye on it all the time because of the genetics and plus it was close to (a well-known river) that everybody talks about,” he said. “When the guy ended up backing out of the lease agreement, (John) called and said ‘Hey, this place is up for lease if you want it.’”
Young did. And that leads to the next chapter in his hunting story, traveling to Oklahoma during the summer months to set up a few hunting stands with Bivens' help, putting up a game camera or two, and get a feeder tossing corn — a hunting technique that is a virtual way of deer-hunting life in Oklahoma.
Trouble is, that even for a southerner used to the summertime heat, the thermometer was soaring into triple-digit territory every day as Young flew to Oklahoma for a deer lease work weekend. While the health care worker is normally very cautious about staying hydrated, his drive to get the property set up in the limited amount of time he had led to a dangerous situation.
“We’re working hard and I just get to working and don’t pay attention to the fact that I’ve only drank one bottle of water that morning and the heat is in the triple digits,” said Young. “All of a sudden, I get to where I’m not feeling too good, and after getting the feeder up, I couldn’t go on and just sat down on the ground.
“He (Bivens) was like ‘Are you good?’ and I can’t get up and could barely respond. Now I’m a nurse, and I should have known better since I usually drink 8 to 12 waters a day when I’m inside. So, I probably needed double that working outside on such a hot day.”
At that point, what was an inconvenience started turning into something of a medical crisis as heat exhaustion threatened to turn into a severe heat stroke. Young said things started getting woozy, he threw up, and he told Bivens that they needed to go.
“He gets me on the 4-wheeler,” said Young. “I don’t even remember the ride out and I don’t remember leaving the place.”
After getting water to drink and cool off, Bivens got Young to a motel where he rested and cooled off for a period of time. When he felt better, Young got up and summoned Bivens.
“We worked until after dark,” said Young. “We got all of the cameras up and all of that. I was very, very blessed and lucky that I didn’t have a heat stroke. It could have been a lot worse and I definitely learned some lessons from that experience.”
When Young flew home, he quickly forgot about the scary incident and headed for Atlanta where he had a nursing assignment in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. One afternoon, as he traveled down a busy Georgia thoroughfare, Oklahoma was very much on his mind again when a moment came that would change his deer-hunting life for good.
“It was on July 25th and I had just gotten off work,” said Young. “I was working 8-hour days, with all of the COVID testing and stuff, and I had just gotten some Chick-fil-A and I’m going back to the hotel and my camera alert goes off. I got to a red light and looked down and went ‘Oh my gosh!’”
That reaction is understandable as he saw a photo of the buck soon to be known as COVID, a giant multi-point non-typical in velvet that almost took Young’s breath away.
“In that photo, you can only see it from one side,” he said. “Now I’ve gotten enough pictures of deer in my life, but I couldn’t really figure out what I was seeing and said ‘Something ain’t right, that looks like way too much bone here.’”
Then came the other photos that offered a little more clarification about the kind of world-class whitetail that Young was looking at.
“I pulled over and the next picture that I get, I see him looking up (at the camera) and I just stopped everything I was doing,” said Young. “I didn’t call or text anyone, I was just looking at this photo — I think I sat there for something like a good 10 minutes.
“It was kind of one of those moments that happen and you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.”
And that leads to the next chapter in Young’s quest for the giant non-typical that quickly became known by the moniker of "COVID," the name of another giant making headlines in the world during 2020. Except in this case, instead of a virus that wouldn’t go away and was causing misery across the country, the word became code for Young, his wife, his dad, and a good friend about a whitetail so enormous that it was disrupting the hunter’s life and causing all kinds of stress and anxiety as a hunting plan and travel arrangements were formulated.
“I was like ‘We’ve got something special here,’ to the people that knew about him,” said Young. “I was so shook up that as I was going home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the deer and I was already planning on how to kill him. I don’t think I really slept well that night or the next night. I was just trying to figure out what I needed to do to make it happen and I even started recording myself on my phone to remember what I was thinking (and what my strategy was).
“The hardest part is that I couldn’t really tell anybody (outside of that small circle) — how do you tell someone about a 240-inch deer?”
Fast forward to November 7th and past the crossbow hunt details that we’ll unveil in a future issue of NAW — including hours of hard hunting and short nights of limited sleep — and Young found himself standing over a whitetail that is so big and impressive that it seemed like a dream. But it wasn’t a dream as the soon-to-happen 60-day scoring session will prove, possibly confirming early green-score numbers in the upper 230s.
At those figures, the Young buck would be the tops in the county it was killed in — a secret for now — a “Top 3” archery buck in Oklahoma’s Cy Curtis listings, and the No. 10 all-time non-typical buck in the Sooner State’s building deer-hunting history.
Young’s COVID buck from Oklahoma will also be one of the best non-typicals taken anywhere in the country during the 2020-21 season. And as Young noted on an Instagram post, earlier game-camera photos of the buck in the fall of 2020 showed that it could have even been better. That’s because the deer appears to have broken off an additional 14 to 20 inches of bone material at some point earlier in the fall. That might have put COVID into Oklahoma state record territory, possibly scoring more than 250 inches on the non-typical scale.
While it will never be known what the Young buck could have been, there’s ample reason to believe that it could have edged past Michael Crossland’s non-typical benchmark of 248 6/8 inches, an Oklahoma gun kill back in Nov. 2004. It would have almost certainly put the COVID buck beyond Jeff Parker's 245 3/8-inch archery record.
As it is, Young’s monster in November 2020 is plenty big enough and also swings the pendulum back from the typical side of the Oklahoma record book ledger where it seemed to rest most of last year.
Regular readers of NAW might remember a couple of “Top 5” all-time typical bucks taken on family hunting property last fall during the 2019 season. The first was Guner Womack’s 188 5/8-inch archery state record typical, an October bow kill by the Oklahoma State University college student. The second one followed a few weeks later when Panhandle region rancher Troy Bryant downed a giant gun kill buck that scored 190 6/8 inches.
Now add in Young’s amazing COVID buck from the 2020 season and it’s obvious that Oklahoma has got big-buck game and then some. For sure, Young plans to keep hunting the state lying at the bottom of the Great Plains, thanks to his own big non-typical and the great 10-point typical that his wife, Kelly, shot in early November.
As Young looks at the coming taxidermy bills, he’ll remember a crazy year of deer hunting that had many twists and turns. After many hours of sweaty work and mental thought processes, the young man from Alabama was able to bring it all to a successful conclusion as he made good on the shot opportunity of a lifetime.
“As you can see, I did a lot of homework on this deer,” laughed Young. “It’s kind of crazy. Some might say it is an unhealthy obsession, you know? But when you’re passionate about something (like hunting big deer), you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get it done. If not, you’ll run yourself crazy."
Maybe so, but when there’s a 240-inch non-typical whitetail at stake — especially in the middle of a world-wide pandemic — deer hunters everywhere understand such emotional commitment and a one-track mind type of hunting obsession.
It’s what makes deer hunting across North America so incredibly great, right? Lance Young certainly thinks so and he’s got nearly 240 inches of world-class antler to prove it.