June 19, 2012
By Bill Cooper
The farming landscape around Bowling Green, Kentucky, is similar in many ways to the picturesque horse farms of Lexington's Bluegrass country. However, just a few miles to the northwest, the gently rolling terrain begins a gradual changeover from open farmland to scattered woodlots and significant forest acreage. Not surprisingly, this shift in land use and habitat type denotes a corresponding rise in whitetail numbers.
Over the last several years, some whopper whitetails have been taken in counties bordering and to the west of Mammoth Cave National Park. Reports of big deer being sighted or recorded on trail cameras are not uncommon in this area of the state. However, in the fall and winter of 2009, rumors began to surface of a giant 200-inch-plus buck to the south, in western Warren County, only a few miles from Bowling Green. In addition to trail camera photos, a shed antler was found in the spring of 2010 that grossed over 95 inches.
By the time last fall's deer season rolled around, most landowners and area hunters had heard about the huge deer; however, the buck seemed almost like a phantom with regard to actual sightings. Two local bowhunters, Greg Brown and his son, Hunter, had trail camera photos of the deer, but neither one had encountered the buck in person.
There were no reports of the big deer being sighted during the first seven weeks of the 2010 bow season. However, around the end of October, Hunter was positioned in a treestand along a power line right-of-way, overlooking a bordering field of winter wheat.
"By that point in the season, I had grown a little tired of hearing about the big deer," Hunter said. "After spending numerous hours in the stand without ever getting a glimpse of the buck, it just didn't seem like it was going to happen for me."
As Hunter continued to watch and listen, a young 6-pointer meandered into view and began feeding along the edge of the wheat field. While watching the deer, he was suddenly distracted by a flurry of movement from a nearby hardwood thicket.
"When I turned to look, this monster of a whitetail came out of the brush, walking stiff-legged, with its ears laid back," Hunter said. "The buck advanced toward the 6-pointer and went through the entire snort-wheeze routine. I was a little surprised at the big deer's aggressive behavior since I hadn't observed any major rut activity and there were no does around. Obviously, the small buck didn't want any part of the confrontation and began to slowly move away."
During all the action, the concealed archer continued to check the yardage on his rangefinder. However, the big whitetail remained just beyond the 40-yard mark. As much as he wanted to take a shot at the huge deer, Hunter simply wasn't comfortable with the shooting distance, particularly at such a big deer.
"In the past, I've used a bleat can with some success on mature bucks," Hunter noted. "As the buck began moving away, I decided to try the call a couple of times. In each instance, the big deer would stop and look my way, before continuing on in the opposite direction. It was an awesome experience to watch the buck for several minutes until it finally walked out of sight."
The bowhunter made a couple of additional trips to the power line location, but the buck never reappeared. Approximately two weeks after the encounter and less than a week before opening weekend of the November gun season, Hunter moved his stand several hundred yards to a wooded ridgetop.
"On a cold, clear morning, I climbed into the stand before daybreak," Hunter said. "It was a perfect hunting morning with practically no wind. I knew from talking with other hunters that rut activity was definitely on the increase, but by 8:30, I had only seen one small buck. Around that same time, I received a call from my dad, who was hunting in another county. After telling him it had been a disappointing morning, he told me to hang in there, he had just taken a 140-class buck and that deer were really moving."
About 30 minutes later, Hunter spotted something that totally eliminated any feelings of disappointment. Walking through a nearby sapling thicket and headed in his direction was a doe, with the giant whitetail following a few feet behind.
"It was really hard to take my eyes off the buck's huge rack," Hunter said. "After seeing the deer the first time, I told dad that I didn't think the antlers would measure over 200 inches as everyone was saying. But in that situation, I couldn't see the mass and palmation in the rack. Now, watching the buck walking toward me, there was no doubt in my mind the score would top that figure."
The two deer continued to slowly approach until the doe abruptly stopped at about 25 yards. Although the deer exhibited no sign of being alarmed, she seemed to sense something wasn't right.
"I was afraid to breathe, much less move," Hunter said. "For whatever reason, the doe turned and started walking away. The buck was slightly over 30 yards away when he turned to follow; I had a decent rear-quartering shot angle, but there were limbs and branches everywhere. After picking out the best opening, I touched the release."
At the shot, Hunter completely lost sight of the arrow, but thought he heard it strike the deer. The buck quickly disappeared, giving no indication of what had happened.
"After climbing down, I walked over the entire area several times, but never found my arrow or a single drop of blood," Hunter noted. "Needless to say, I was really sick about the situation. I knew my chances of seeing the buck again were pretty slim, particularly with gun season only a few days away."
One hunter planning to be in the woods on opening day was David Gregory, whose farm happened to border the property where the Browns had been bowhunting. Although David knew about the giant whitetail, he was unaware of Hunter's recent encounter with the buck.
"I had seen the trail camera photos and realized the big deer was somewhere in the general area where my farm was located," David said. "But having never sighted the buck on my property, I figured, realistically, my chances of taking the deer were about the same as winning the local lottery."
After a long work day and not getting home until very late on Friday night, David decided to sleep a couple of extra hours and head to the woods after daybreak on opening morning. Most of his farm's acreage is forested, with dense, impenetrable thickets of undergrowth due to a logging operation several years ago.
"Near the front of the farm is a small pasture and a few cows," David noted. "But it's only a brief ride from my house to reach the main tract of woods. Earlier in the week, I had given hunting permission to two friends of mine, but when I reached the road entrance that morning, I was surprised to see that neither hunter's truck was parked at the gate. My primary destination was a food plot in the middle of the timber tract that I had planted in clover, turnips, and winter wheat. However, once I realized no one had been down the narrow four-wheeler path, I decided to take my time and slowly hunt my way back to the plot location."
The weather was perfect, clear and cold with no wind. By the time David started easing along the trail, the early morning sun had burned away much of the frost.
"Thanks to the beaten down four-wheeler path I was able to walk without making any noise," David said. "In many places, the understory vegetation on both sides of the trail was so thick that I only moved a step or two at a time. After covering approximately 100 yards, the road began to angle down a slight slope. As I started down the hill there was a sudden flicker of movement in the brush off to one side of the trail. Turning in that direction, the first thing I saw was antlers."
From that moment on, the hunter instinctively reacted to the situation; quickly shouldering his rifle, he aimed and fired. In a millisecond, the hunt was over, and lying on the ground 35 yards away was the buck of a lifetime.
"At that point, I don't mind saying that it took me a few minutes to gather my thoughts and fully comprehend what had happened," David said. "In retrospect, the buck was bedded down in such a thick place that I'm not sure if it ever really identified what I was. There was barely a slight breeze that morning and it was in my face, so I know the deer couldn't have gotten my scent. There's also a very real possibility that I might never have spotted the deer had it not been for the big antlers moving above the brush."
After calling a friend to assist with the big deer, David walked out of the woods to wait at his truck. However, several minutes were about all his nerves would allow before he felt compelled to walk back down the trail and check the buck again. This process was repeated several times before his friend eventually arrived.
"Later that day, after hearing the news, Hunter dropped by my house to take a look at
the deer," David noted. "I had been wondering about the open wound on the buck's rear leg and he related the entire story of his earlier encounter. I don't suppose he'll ever really know for sure whether or not his arrow was deflected, but I'm guessing that had the shot been two or three inches higher, he probably would have taken the deer. Understandably, he was quite upset, and considering the circumstances, I certainly can't blame him."
In the world of big whitetail racks, most have one particular distinctive feature, such as antler spread, tine length, or mass. However, in this instance, the giant 18-point rack is outstanding in every category. Antler spread is an amazing 27 4/8 inches outside and 24 5/8 inches inside. Tine length includes 7-inch brows (G-1s), followed by paired G-2s and G-3s that exceed 11 inches. Antler mass is exceptional with four of the eight circumference measurements exceeding 6 inches, while the smallest tops 5 inches.
In regard to scoring, the symmetrical 6x6 typical frame grosses an impressive figure of 205, and nets 199 1/8. After including the six additional abnormal points, totaling 28 7/8 inches, the final non-typical Boone & Crockett score is 228. In addition to being Kentucky's top whitetail of the 2010 season, the buck ranks 18th on the state's all-time list of non-typical bucks.
"I'll be the first to admit that taking the buck was pure luck," David said. "I've deer hunted for a number of years and in many cases it's simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. If the other hunters had shown up that morning, it would have been a completely different story. But I'm sure glad they didn't, and I am really proud to have taken such a great animal."