While western Kentucky has come into its own in recent years as a veritable big-buck factory, eastern Kentucky's mountain region has also produced some true wallhangers. Here are two giants from 2005.
Greg Wilson shot his unbelievable non-typical trophy on Nov. 20, 2005. Amazingly, that day also happened to be his 39th birthday. Who said that eastern Kentucky doesn't produce any big bucks?
Photo by Bill Cooper.
GREG WILSON'S BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER!
Stretching to the southwest across Kentucky, the Cumberland Plateau separates the gently rolling farmlands of the Bluegrass and Pennyroyal regions in the central and western portions of the state from the forested hills of the rugged Appalachian Mountains. Situated along the Plateau, Greg Wilson's farm includes a series of steep hills and deep hollows that lie adjacent to Sturgeon Creek.
In addition to being the home of Greg's family, this same tract of land has witnessed five generations of the Wilson clan, spanning a period of time that extends back to before Kentucky achieved statehood. Considering current economic patterns and the continuing downward trend in the number of small family owned farms, this is an incredible example of long-term land ownership.
Historically, whitetails were scarce or totally absent in this area during much of the farm's early periods of occupancy. However, since the early 1990s, local whitetail populations have increased significantly. One section of the Wilson farm includes a high hill that parallels a creek for approximately three-quarters of a mile. Midway along the hillside, and running the entire length of the ridge, are scars of old strip-mining operations that took place during the 1970s and '80s.
Most of these strip sites were reclaimed and planted in grass. Today you'll find scattered trees, pockets of saplings and brush growing on them. Hardwoods grow above and below the mining strips, with dense thickets of hemlock, mountain laurel and hardwoods extending downward to the bank of the creek. This lower hillside is particularly steep and rugged.
ENHANCING THE LAND
"Several years ago I established some food plots in a clearing on top of the ridge," Greg noted. "Each November, whoever happens to be hunting -- usually my son, brother or myself -- takes a stand along the ridge, basically above the strip site. We follow an old logging road when traveling to or from the ridge top, and over the last few seasons it's become quite common to jump deer along the way, especially between the creek and the strip site.
"Unfortunately, these deer quickly disappear in the dense undergrowth covering the bottom of the hill. Because of these frequent encounters, not to mention the annual presence of several rubs and scrapes, in the fall of 2005 I decided to build a permanent tree stand along the old road."
In September, after a brief scouting trip, Greg elected to locate the new stand about 75 yards above the creek, near a small grove of white oaks that border a thicket of young hemlock trees. After completion, he did not return to the site until a few days before the opening of gun season.
"In 2004, I don't believe it was possible to find an acorn anywhere on the farm," Greg said. "But in November 2005, the ground under the white oaks was literally covered with nuts. Additionally, I found a number of fresh rubs and scrapes, some of them quite large, scattered along the logging road."
BAD LUCK ON OPENING DAY
Greg positioned himself in the new stand well before daybreak on Nov. 12, opening morning of the 2005 firearms season. His son, Nick, climbed the hill to hunt one of the more familiar ridge top locations. The weather was clear and cool with only a slight breeze blowing.
"About 8 o'clock, a doe appeared and began feeding on acorns under the oaks," Greg said. "After watching her for about 20 minutes, I noticed she would occasionally throw her head up and stare downhill toward the creek. I could hear what I thought was another deer walking in the leaves, but the hemlock and mountain laurel were too thick for me to see more than 30 yards in that direction."
Greg continued to watch and listen, hoping the unseen deer would eventually join the doe. Unfortunately, at that precise moment, someone on the adjoining property across the creek began firing a rifle. After several minutes of sporadic shooting, the doe eventually disappeared, and Greg could no longer hear sounds of the second deer.
"There is another strip site on the opposite hillside where people occasionally test-fire their rifles, but I never would have imagined anyone picking the opening morning of deer season to do some target shooting," Greg said. "Considering the ongoing disturbance, I decided to head back to the house for a few hours and then return to the stand early in the afternoon."
Upon hearing his son's report of seeing nine does and a small buck from his ridge top stand, Greg was anxious to resume hunting. That afternoon, he returned to the new stand location. He saw a spike and three does, but nothing more. Nevertheless, Greg was confident that the buck responsible for all of the nearby rubs and scrapes would eventually make an appearance.
Rain was predicted for the following morning. However, by daybreak there was no sign of any precipitation. Unfortunately, there was also no sign of any early deer movement, but that certainly wasn't the case in regard to squirrel activity.
"Squirrels were running around under my stand, and with the woods being so dry, the noise they were making made it difficult to hear anything else," Greg said. "But shortly before 8 o'clock, there was a noise behind me that I knew was something other than a squirrel."
Cautiously glancing over his shoulder, Greg saw a large buck, approximately 80 yards away, walking down the road toward him. Ever so slowly, the hunter began turning around in the stand as he attempted to maneuver into shooting position with his Remington Model 700 .270.
"The deer was walking with its head down, which kept me from getting a very good look at the rack," Greg noted. "Even so, I knew it was the biggest buck I had ever seen while hunting, and I kept reminding myself to not rush and blow this opportunity."
At 50 yards, the buck momentarily stopped, but the branches of a hemlock blocked Greg's view of the deer's head and chest. Within seconds, the buck resumed its approach as the hunter tracked the deer through his Bushnell 3x9 scope. On three occasions, Greg whistled loudly, but the deer gave no indication of hearing him or of slowing its pace.
IT'S NOW OR NEVER
"Finally, at 15 yards, as the buck was about to pass below my stand, I picked out an opening between the tops of two small hemlock trees," Greg related. "As the deer entered the sight picture, I pulled the trigger. At the shot, the buck jumped at least 10 feet into the air and took off running toward the creek. Before I could bolt another round into the chamber, he was out of sight."
Because of the dry woods, Greg had no trouble listening to the sounds of the deer running down the hillside. Seconds later, he heard the big whitetail crash to the ground somewhere near the creek. For several minutes, the hunter remained in the stand, attempting to calm down while continuing to listen, in case the deer got back up.
"I was fine until I heard the buck fall. Then my nerves just went haywire," Greg recalled. "I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest. I had been concentrating so hard on making the shot, I never really looked at the rack. But as the buck was running off, I couldn't help but see the antlers, and they appeared much bigger than I realized. That's when I really started getting excited!"
Greg cautiously eased down the hillside until he could see the white underside of the deer through the dense undergrowth. Then he quickly closed the distance. Part of the deer's body had lodged under a log, and only one side of the huge rack was visible.
A TRUE REVELATION
"I had to get down on my knees to pull the buck's rack out from under the log, and when I saw all of the points my nerves went crazy all over again," Greg said. "I honestly thought the deer might have a big 10- or 12-point rack. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that it might have more than 20 points."
Hearing his dad shoot, Nick left his stand and walked down the hill to investigate. Seeing Greg standing in the logging road, Nick asked what he had shot. Greg's only response was to hold up two fingers.
"Two points?" Nick asked. "You shot a spike?"
"Twenty-two points!" Greg responded with a smile.
Actually, Greg was still so excited at having shot the buck that he wasn't able to get an accurate count. He arrived at a different number every time he attempted to add up the points. Later, following the official measuring process, the rack was determined to have a total of 30 points, 18 on the left antler and 12 on the right.
A WORLD-CLASS RACK
Greg's buck is truly awesome. The 6x5 typical frame has an unusually wide spread of 25 6/8 inches outside and 22 1/8 inches inside. Most impressive is a 16-inch abnormal tine growing up from the front of the burr on the left antler. It contains four additional abnormal tines. The remaining 14 abnormal points include drop tines, forked tines, burr points and kickers. Tine length is impressive, with four of the normal tines measuring between 10 and 9 1/8 inches, and antler mass is exceptional throughout the entire rack.
Significant differences between the right and left antlers (18 4/8 inches) drop the 11-point typical frame's gross score of 180 1/8 down to 161 5/8. However, when you add back the 19 additional abnormal points that total 70 7/8 inches, the final non-typical B&C score jumps to an amazing 232 4/8.
For Greg, who has been hunting since he was 10 years old, the huge whitetail was certainly the buck of a lifetime, but there were two contributing factors that made the 2005 season particularly meaningful. First of all, taking the big deer on his family's farm was especially rewarding. Second, the hunt took place on the morning of Greg's 39th birthday. It will certainly be a noteworthy event if he ever receives a better birthday present!
DALE MUSTARD'S WIDE-SPREADING GIANT!
Along Kentucky's northeastern border, a series of high-forested hills paralleling the Ohio River combine with the rough and rocky terrain of the eastern mountains. Local resident Dale Mustard has lived and hunted in this rugged area of the state his entire life.
At daybreak on an outing during the second weekend of the 2005 November gun season, Dale parked his 4-wheeler near the junction of two high ridge tops and began to slowly still-hunt along the crest of the hill. Whenever a particularly good vantage point was reached, he would pause briefly to do some rattling. After covering several hundred yards without seeing any sign of deer activity, the hunter decided to turn around and retrace his path back along the ridge.
"I had walked about 100 yards when I noticed sunlight reflecting off something through the trees on the opposite ridge about 300 yards away," Dale related. "Unfortunately, I had left my binoculars in the 4-wheeler. It was one of those strange lighting situations where the object was in a patch of bright sunlight, and I was pretty sure it was a deer. So I turned the variable scope on my rifle up to 6X and leaned the rifle against a tree to steady it as I attempted to get a better look."
The deer was standing motionless. Because of the distance, Dale had a difficult time determining much detail through the scope.
TRUE BUCK OF A LIFETIME
"As I was watching, the deer suddenly turned its head, enabling me to see a giant set of antlers," Dale said. "In spite of the distance, it was obvious that the rack extended well out beyond the deer's head and body. I remember thinking, 'My gosh, what a buck!' I simply couldn't believe the deer's size."
Hurriedly maneuvering into a shooting position with a solid rest for the rifle, Dale carefully aimed his CZ .223 and squeezed the trigger. He had debated about which rifle to use that morning. Fortunately, he had chosen his highly accurate CZ. At the shot, the buck bolted forward, running up the hillside. Quickly working the rifle's bolt, Dale managed two more shots before the giant buck disappeared over the top of the ridge.
Later, after crossing the hollow and climbing to the top of the hill, Dale arrived at the approximate location where he had last seen the big deer. Slowly walking along the ridge, he scanned the ground, hoping to find some sign of a good hit. Initially, there was nothing. After several minutes of searching, however, Dale discovered one small splotch of blood in the leaves.
"Finding that drop of blood gave me a specific direction in which to continue the search," Dale said. "That particular ridge top was rather narrow, and as I started down the other hillside I spotted antler tines sticking up in the air from behind an old blown-down tree. Apparently the buck had flipped over as he was falling, and as his body slid downhill it skidded under the trunk of the tree. (Ironically, almost the same thing had happened with Greg Wilson's buck!) His huge antlers had actually stopped the forward motion by coming to rest against the horizontal tree trunk."
ANTLERS TO DIE FOR
Just like Greg Wilson's huge non-typical, the rack of Dale Mustard's amazing typical is absolutely awesome. The
combination of spread, tine length and antler mass makes this old mountain ridge-runner truly unique. Most hunters would consider any buck with 9-inch G-2s to be a respectable trophy. Amazingly, this measurement represents the Lewis County buck's G-4s! The G-3 tines measure 13 4/8 and 12 2/8 inches, and the G-2s tape a whopping 15 1/8 and 11 6/8 inches. Additionally, the 12-point frame has extremely long main beams and an antler spread of 23 inches!
Dale's rack grosses an impressive 199 7/8 points. Unfortunately, a number of side-to-side deductions, plus one 3-inch abnormal point, drop the final typical B&C score to 187 3/8. Nevertheless, this is still a tremendous score, ranking the deer as the largest typical buck taken in the Bluegrass State in 2005 and the 11th-largest typical whitetail ever!