A Ghostly Trail
September 22, 2010
A series of bizarre events almost prevented this well-known hunter from taking the biggest whitetail of his career. But in the end, he and this Kentucky "legend" were destined to cross paths one last time.
Mist hung lightly along the edge of western Kentucky's Tradewater River. Sunlight pierced through the hardwoods, creating a backlit, almost surreal setting. There he stood, poised to bolt off of the small rise overlooking the river's edge. His massive, long-tined 10-point rack seemed highlighted in gold. He snorted an alarm. It looked as if smoke was coming out of his nostrils, reminding me of a fire-breathing dragon.
The author shows off the rack of his wide-spreading Kentucky giant. Note the broken G-4 on the right antler.
There was no doubt he was the buck I was looking for, the one whose sheds we had found only a couple of hundred yards away the previous spring. Likely cast as he headed into his fourth year, they would easily score in the high 170s B&C with a minimum 14-inch inside spread. Now, as he stood less than 40 yards away, there was no doubt in my mind that he'd gross in the 180s. Side-to-side symmetry was near perfect save for a 2-inch kicker on his right G-2. He would easily garner a place in the all-time B&C record book.
I immediately alerted the cameraman to start filming. Then I maneuvered my Thompson/Center Encore .30-06 onto a log for a rock-solid rest. As I watched the deer, I knew that I had been waiting a lifetime to see a buck like this through my riflescope. The crosshairs rested gently on his shoulder. I cocked the Encore's hammer and waited for the cameraman to whisper, "Take him!"
I waited'‚.'‚.'‚. and waited. The buck snorted. Again he looked like a massive-racked fire-breathing dragon.
"I'm not on him'‚.'‚.'‚. don't shoot!" the cameraman whispered emphatically.
How could he not be on him? The deer of a lifetime was about to bolt. Still I waited, knowing how important it was for us to record the shot on camera. Just then I felt the slightest of breezes at my back, and the buck was gone, just that quick. I did my best to try to stop him with a grunt, then a snort-wheeze, but it was to no avail.
I couldn't believe it. I sat there dazed for several minutes. The biggest whitetail buck I had ever had a chance at taking in a lifetime of hunting had left unscathed.
"There's hunting, and then there's hunting for the camera! The only thing the two have in common is that you're in the woods." I had often spoken those words, and never had they been truer!
We spent the rest of the week trying to get on that same buck, but try as I might, I did not see him again the rest of the hunt. However, another hunter, Donald Shrader from Arkansas, did see him later during the Kentucky season and took a shot at him. At first Donald and others were convinced that his shot might have connected. But after a long and intense search, it was decided that Donald had probably missed.
A NEW START
That was in 2004. With the approach of the 2005 season, Kevin Gore, who helps manage Thompson/Center's Game Trails property where we had seen the big buck, began scouting. A few days later, he saw a monstrous buck near the spot where my missed opportunity had occurred.
The message Kevin had left for me said, "The 'legend' lives. Saw him not far from where you saw him last year. He's bigger with more mass, and he now has matching forks on both G-2s. I think he'll easily gross in the high 180s."
Those were magic words! The 2005 Kentucky rifle season arrived with a warming trend. Some quick scouting confirmed a tremendous mast crop. I knew the deer would be in the woods rather than in the recently harvested corn and soybean fields. I planned my hunt accordingly. Once again the hunt was to be filmed for our Thompson/Center "Game Trails" TV show, as well as for my new show, "One Good Shot," also sponsored by Thompson/Center.
For five days, the cameraman and I used my electric Bad Boy Buggy to get me silently into areas I wanted to hunt. We hunted hard and all day long and always on the ground -- still-hunting, rattling, easing into an area and setting up on the ground next to a tree where I could watch trails. I saw some really good-looking bucks, including several that would in time be absolute monsters. One long-tined 8-point sorely tempted me. But he was not yet mature. We closed the camera hunt without taking a buck.
The sixth morning arrived a bit cooler than the days before. Now hunting by myself, I headed to where I had first seen the big buck. At first light I saw a 160-class buck, but he was young. Easing out of the river bottom at 8:30, I spotted five bucks courting a doe. All were big, but only two appeared mature. From well over 700 yards away, I could see one of the bucks had massive antlers with split back tines.
I moved toward the deer, cutting the distance to about 300 yards. All I could see of the big buck was his head and rack. The rest of his body was obscured by tall grass. I felt certain it was "my" buck. He was chasing a doe. The other bucks were big also, scoring between 160 and 170.
I watched my buck and the doe disappear into a woodlot. I followed, moving slowly. Taking advantage of the wind and sun, I slipped to within 100 yards of where I thought the courting pair might be. Through the trees and underbrush, I finally spotted the buck through my binoculars. Immediately I raised my T/C Encore Pro Hunter rifle, chambered for a .280 Remington loaded with Nosler bullets. I knew that with this combination I could place a shot precisely through a small hole in the brush.
The buck walked toward a cleared power line right of way. I followed him through my scope. If he kept coming, the shot would be easy. Just then I heard what sounded like a helicopter. The buck stopped behind a dense screening of brush. The sound grew louder and louder.
I finally spotted the chopper over my right shoulder. It headed directly toward the deer and then hovered over the power line. The buck spooked into the timber. I watched in disbelief as the helicopter, oblivious to what was going on below, continued to fly along above the right of way.
My buck was gone! I could only guess where he and the doe had run. I walk to where he had been standing. Thankfully, there were tracks indicating his direction. Slowly