The weather was cold and miserable last Nov. 11 when Bart Bertram headed for his stand on opening day of the Kentucky firearms season. It was a day he would never forget!
The amazing 4x4 frame of BArt's drop-tined giant grossed 183 4/8 typical points. With an additional 18 inches in non typical growth, including a 7 6/8 inch drop tine, Bart's awesome buck from Cumberland County netted 197 3/8 non-typical.
Named for the wild and scenic river flowing through it, Cumberland County is located along the Tennessee border in Kentucky's Pennyroyal region. While the predominant landscape can be characterized as gently rolling, the river corridor includes several rugged areas of densely forested ridges and hollows. Wherever there is sufficient acreage, the adjacent bottomlands are utilized for pasture and row crops. Not surprisingly, the habitat supports a healthy population of whitetails.
Bart Bertram has deer hunted this area of the state all his life. Three years ago, along with his father-in-law, Johnny Pickens, and Johnny's two brothers, he acquired hunting access to several hundred acres of farm and woodlands along the Cumberland River. This included nearly 100 bottomland acres in pasture and row crops, primarily corn and beans. The remaining acreage was mostly forested, with high hardwood ridges, narrow brush-choked ravines, and scattered pockets of cedar thickets.
"Although there was never a problem seeing deer in the river bottom fields, we decided to establish a wildlife opening in one of the hollows well away from the river," Bart said. "Basically, we planted approximately two acres with a mixture of milo, clover and beans."
SALAD BAR DELIGHTS
Not surprisingly, this new supplemental food source was an immediate hit with the local whitetails. From the hunter's standpoint, the opening became an excellent additional location from which to scout for and observe deer in late summer and early fall.
"During the summer of 2005, a bachelor group of three large bucks began using the opening," Bart noted. "The biggest buck in the group was the easiest to identify, due to the presence of a long drop tine on the left beam. Unfortunately, none of us saw the buck that fall while we were hunting."
Although a couple of big deer were sighted in 2006 during midsummer, antler growth had not advanced to the point of the development of an identifiable drop tine. Since the drop-tine buck was never sighted through the remainder of summer and the first several weeks of the early fall bow season, the hunters began to believe that something must have happened to him. Another very realistic possibility was that the drop tine might have been a one-time growth event, and the deer no longer had that particular antler characteristic.
However, a mid-October encounter that Bart's father-in-law had ended all of those theories quickly. On a Friday scouting trip prior to the opening of the two-day early muzzleloader season, the hunter was making his way along a narrow creek bottom when a giant buck suddenly bolted from a nearby cane thicket. Only yards away, he had a clear view of the deer's massive rack. That rack happened to include a long drop tine!
Knowing the buck had never been sighted during the 2005 season, Bart had no reason to believe that 2006 would be any different. Nevertheless, just knowing the big deer was somewhere in the area greatly heightened his anticipation for this brand new November gun season.
For opening weekend, Bart had invited a young local hunter, 16-year-old James Dyer IV, to camp out and hunt with the group. Unfortunately, James' dad, a longtime family friend, had lost his battle with cancer the previous year.
A GOOD DAY FOR DUCKS
Well before dawn on opening morning, Bart and James climbed into a two-man ladder stand positioned along the woods line bordering the two-acre food plot. During the night, a steady rain had begun falling, triggered by a strong cold front moving through the state that also drastically dropped temperatures. Sitting in the early morning darkness, the hunters felt the rain droplets intermittently change to sleet.
"The weather was absolutely miserable to be in, but on the other hand, it was great for hunting," Bart said. "Just before daybreak, we heard a deer on the opposite hillside apparently heading in our direction. Eventually the deer walked close enough for us to hear its breathing. Then it trotted on up the ridge. The deer was obviously big-bodied, judging from its dark outline in the opening, and I hated that James didn't have a chance to see it in the daylight."
After continuing to sit in the cold, wet weather until 10 o'clock, the hunters decided to return to camp to warm up and get something to eat. Around noon, Bart walked to a stand he had located earlier along a high hardwood ridge. James had opted to do some still-hunting with one of the Pickens brothers.
Positioned in a large cedar 30 yards out from the crest of the ridge, Bart had an excellent view of the hillside, plus two saddles along the ridge top. In the hollow directly below his location some 300 yards away lay the wildlife opening where he and James had hunted that morning. Although the earlier steady rain had now tapered off to a drizzle, strong north to northwesterly winds made the cold temperatures seem a great deal colder.
A DROP-TINED WONDER
About an hour after Bart got settled in the stand, a sudden flash of movement down the ridgeline attracted his attention. Within seconds, he spotted a very large buck. The deer was approximately 100 yards away. He was walking rapidly through the timber directly toward Bart's stand.
"One glance, even at that distance, and it was obvious that the deer's rack was huge," Bart said. "From that point on, my only focus was being able to get a decent shot opportunity."
Having hunted whitetails a number of years, Bart could tell from the deer's deliberate stride and quick pace that there was little chance of stopping it. Another important consideration was the property boundary. It happened to be less than 100 yards behind Bart's stand in the same direction the buck was heading.
"I knew I'd be in trouble if the buck somehow managed to get past me," Bart said. "However, in spite of the brisk wind, I was locked into a pretty steady shooting position. As the deer passed through a clear area on the hillside 60 yards away, I fired."
Because the hunter was located near the top of the ridge and 20 feet above the ground, his shooting angle was sharply downward. As a result, the bullet struck high on the buck's back, near the spine, dropping the big deer instantly.
"As the buck fell, its head flipped backward, and that was when I noticed the big drop tine for the first time," Bart noted. "I was excited to the point that I'm still not sure how I got out of the tree, but I know I was on the ground within seconds."
KENTUCKY DREAM BUCK
Bart made a quick call on his cell phone to request help, and within 25 minutes his father-in-law arrived on the scene. After taking a long look at the giant whitetail, Johnny Pickens smiled and said, "Now this is what dreams are made of!"
Later, the rack's official measurements put Johnny's comment into perspective. The exceptionally long main beams taped 28 inches and the inside spread was 21 5/8 inches. However, tine length is what put this buck in a special class. For example, the brow tines measure 10 2/8 and 9 2/8 inches, followed by paired 15-inch G-2s, and G-3s of 10 6/8 and 9 4/8 inches. Antler mass was impressive throughout the entire rack.
The basic 8-point typical frame grosses an amazing 183 4/8. It nets 179 3/8. If the rack had not contained any abnormal points, this score would rank the buck as Kentucky's biggest ever 8-pointer. However, there are 6 abnormal points, including a 7 6/8-inch drop tine, totaling 18 inches. This brings the deer's final non-typical B&C score to 197 3/8, qualifying for B&C's all-time record book.
Interestingly, the buck's "signature" drop tine is on the right antler, while the big buck sighted in 2005 had a long drop tine on the left antler. Whether or not this is the same buck is a question that might well be answered during the 2007 season!
While Bart was elated at having taken the huge whitetail, he was also disappointed that he had not been able to produce a deer for James. That situation was solved early the following morning when the two hunters climbed the ridge and sat underneath Bart's stand at the base of the big cedar. Shortly after daybreak, the young hunter took a fine 6-pointer on the same trail the big whitetail had followed.
"At that moment," Bart said. "I don't believe there were two happier hunters in the entire state of Kentucky!"