September 22, 2010
For 20 years, Paul Brown hunted Alberta and Saskatchewan, trying to take a buck that would qualify for the all-time B&C records. Unbelievably, he finally did it last January in his own back yard on his farm in central Mississippi.
The dream of taking a B&C buck began for me more than three decades ago while attending Mississippi State University. Visions of a heavy-racked buck making a beeline for my stand filled the empty hours sitting in a tree stand while hunting Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge. Fantasy turned to reality as I began my quest by journeying to places I thought offered the best chance to kill a "book" buck.
After hunting this nocturnal 17-point bruiser for most of the 2007 season, the author had all but given up on trying to kill him. Then, on Jan. 16, 2008, the author drove eight hours from St. Louis to his farm so that he could hunt late that afternoon one last time. The giant appeared moments before dark!
A trophy animal should never be judged by score alone -- far from it. I've taken whitetail bucks I consider trophies that didn't come close to making any record books. But to kill a buck that would qualify for listing in the all-time B&C records . . . well, that would be special.
My mission to take a B&C buck has taken me far and wide, and I wouldn't change a thing. I've hunted with some of the best outfitters and guides in North America, forging lifetime friendships, creating lasting memories, and experiencing a few close encounters with B&C bucks. But I never closed the deal. A miss at 350 yards, a fleeting glimpse, and cover so thick that a laser beam couldn't get through are some of the excuses.
I've been an outdoors writer, book author and wildlife photographer for 30-plus years. Writing articles for North American Whitetail and other magazines featuring hunters who have killed B&C bucks kept my interest alive. But the allure of taking the ultimate whitetail faded as the years flew by. I never lost the passion for hunting, however. My focus simply turned more to photography and writing books.
QUEST FOR THE "20-POINT" BUCK
All of that changed on Feb. 11, 2007. Suddenly I was re-energized, and deer hunting became the fixation again. On that day, longtime hunting buddy Tim Biard and I were shed hunting on my property in Holmes County, Mississippi. We'd split up and mostly scoured food plots. Tim met me back at my cabin, grinning and holding up the right shed from a nice mature buck sporting 5 long tines. I was thrilled. Then Tim's smile widened as he brought his other hand from behind his back and thrust forward the left shed from a really nice buck. That one beam contained 10 points! No one had seen this buck during the previous hunting season. Nor had we gotten any trail pictures. The hunt began that day!
After measuring 90 inches of antler on that single shed, my obsession to hunt this buck grew exponentially. Assuming an equal matched shed from the right side -- 20 total points (1 inch or more) -- and a conservative 17-inch inside spread, the buck would gross 197 non-typical. And if he grew just a little more, we'd have a 200-inch buck on our hands.
I immediately called Chad Dacus, the deer program coordinator and wildlife biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Chad, who hunts just down the hill from my place, examined the shed and said he couldn't say for sure, but his best guess was that the buck was 4 1/2 years old at the time he shed his antlers. Chad's smile reflected my exhilaration.
PRIORITIES AND STRATEGIES
To enhance our chances of seeing this buck, we had to make sure that our perennial food plots were in tiptop condition. We had to ensure that the lack of nourishing food would not be a reason for this buck to leave my 200-acre piece of "heaven." In the fall of 2006, I'd planted about 10 acres in four locations of Mossy Oak BioLogic's Clover Plus -- a perennial blend of New Zealand red and white clovers and chicory -- to provide a year-round food source for deer and turkeys.
The fight with various forms of invasive grasses began in earnest in early summer. Selective herbicides such as 2,4-D and Select were used in the battle to control unwanted grasses that would compete with the clovers and chicory. This big buck would need all the nutrition he could get during the summer months -- antler growing season -- to reach full potential. In May 2007 I planted a five-acre field of BioMax -- a mixture of soybeans and corn -- to add more sustenance. Then came the drought. . . .
The guys at the co-op are probably still talking about that crazy gray-haired man who asked about a tank truck to water food plots. The chicory thrived in the dry climate, but much of the clover wilted in the parched fields. There was enough left, however, to withstand grazing. The soybeans and corn fared well in the shaded areas and did okay elsewhere.
The author was floored on Sept. 8, 2007, when this trail camera photo popped up on his computer screen. It was the first of many of the huge 17-point buck.
A FAMILY ENDEAVOR
Overall I felt good about the available groceries on the ground for the "20-point" buck, but I knew we'd have to sweat through the summer. Anything could go wrong. The buck could die from who knows what, become injured, or just not develop into the buck of a lifetime. All summer my excitement and obsession were shared with my two youngest kids, Mark, 23, and Jessi, 19, both students at Mississippi State University. My oldest son, Paul Jr., 36, was interested enough to help move stands, erect new ones, and help with food plots; he just wasn't obsessed like the rest of us.
We put our heads together and unanimously picked Mark as the designated shooter. He seemed to want it more and had hunted hard and passed on bucks most hunters would have shot the year before. Jessi had taken two quality bucks -- one for the video camera and TV show "All That Matters Outdoors." Though Mark had taken plenty of quality bucks, he had yet to kill a buck off this particular piece of property.
We were all going to hunt, but we were all pulling for Mark. I didn't know it at the time, but Mark wanted me to kill the buck. He'd silently watched me put the time and resources into a quality deer management program, and he felt I'd earned the opportunity to kill the deer -- impressive for a young man who loves hunting as much as anyone his age.
Mark and I preferred to hunt the buck with archery gear. I had one problem: an aching right shoulder that needed surgery. N
o way was I going under the scalpel until after the season. My doctor ordered physical therapy (PT) in an effort to strengthen the shoulder enough to draw my compound. Finally after six weeks of PT, I could muster just enough strength to draw my bow and accurately shoot a handful of arrows. I deemed myself "good to go."
TIME TO GET SERIOUS
When the calendar turned to September, I figured the buck's antlers would be fully developed, and I wanted to see them. On Sep. 1, I blew the dust off the Cuddeback no-flash digital scouting cameras and began positioning them along trails leading to the clover fields in hopes of proving that our dream buck really existed.
|THE PAUL BROWN BUCK|
|Scorable Points:||17 (8R, 9L)||TOTAL LENGTH OF ABNORMAL POINTS: 5 3/8|
|Tip-To-Tip Spread:||9 6/8|
|Greatest Spread:||21 4/8|
|Inside Spread:||18 1/8|
|Main Beam||24 1/8||24 6/8||5/8|
|1st Point (G-1)||6 5/8||6 1/8||4/8|
|2nd Point (G-2)||11 2/8||9 4/8||1 6/8|
|3rd Point (G-3)||9 6/8||9 7/8||1/8|
|4th Point (G-4)||8 3/8||8 1/8||2/8|
|5th Point (G-5)||2 6/8||5 0/8||2 2/8|
|6th Point (G-6)||--||3 2/8||3 2/8|
|1st circ. (H-1)||4 4/8||4 3/8||1/8|
|2nd circ. (H-2)||4 1/8||4 1/8||--|
|3rd circ. (H-3)||5 3/8||5 5/8||2/8|
|4th circ. (H-4)||6 1/8||5 1/8||1 0/8|
|TOTALS:||83 0/8||85 7/8||10 1/8|
|Gross Typical Score:||187 0/8|
|Subtract side-to-side differences:||-10 1/8|
|Subtract abnormal points||-5 3/8|
|FINAL NET TYPICAL SCORE:||171 4/8|
|TAKEN BY: Paul T. Brown, DATE: January 16, 2008, LOCATION: Holmes County, Mississippi |
The following Saturday, Sept. 8, as I collected the 1-gigabyte cards, I didn't see much deer sign in front of the three camera locations. My expectations were low, but to my surprise, the first card -- taken from the trail leading into the clover field where we found the shed -- contained more than 500 images. As I scrolled through the first 400, I saw only does and young bucks.
Then image number 460 hit the screen with the blast of a thunderbolt. I almost fell out of my chair. There stood the buck we all hoped to see. He was real! The monster had been captured for the first time on camera at 1:55 a.m. Half a dozen pictures revealed a massive rack with at least 16 points. Further scrutiny led us to call the buck a main-frame typical 12-point with one extra vertical point and three additional stickers.
There was no doubt the shed we had found seven months earlier belonged to him. I anxiously saved the images, forwarded them to Chad Dacus, and asked him to take a stab at scoring the buck. He soon wrote back saying he and another biologist estimated the rack would gross in the mid-190s and net in the low to mid-170s.
My enthusiasm kicked up another level as I asked myself, Could I actually have a book buck on my own place? I continued capturing images of the buck on camera and soon established a movement pattern and a good idea of where he lived and what food source he favored. But he was only traveling in front of the cameras under the shroud of darkness.
A WORKABLE PLAN
Over the next four months, I captured 40 to 50 pictures of the big buck. The only images captured during daylight were taken Sept. 20 when he was shedding his velvet. I've hunted bucks one-on-one many times in the past with some success, but this deer was different. He was likely a record-book buck, and he lived on my property, in my back yard.
What would our strategy be? Based on the camera study, the buck didn't travel far and, I'm convinced, seldom left the property. Our approach was to hunt the periphery of
what we believed to be the buck's bedding area and home territory and to pay particular attention to wind direction. And keeping the property calm and quiet was paramount. Four-wheeler travel was eliminated. Scouting was off; the cameras would do that for us. We'd have to be disciplined about not hunting an area when conditions weren't just right. And we were.
Mississippi biologist Chad Dacus (left) and the author compare the shed found on Feb. 11, 2007, to the buck's 2007-08 rack. Taken on Jan. 16, 2008, Paul's buck grossed 192 3/8 and netted 171 4/8 typical.
I'm not a big fan of hunting food plots. I prefer taking a stand in the woods. But the topography of my property dictated food-plot hunting. My place is rough, dominated by steep, winding gullies that have an eerie way of changing wind direction and spreading human scent all over the county.
Archery season opened on Monday, Oct. 1, but Mark and I decided to wait until the weekend of Oct. 6 to climb a tree. But with the temperature in the low 90s, we called off the hunt and focused on planting approximately 18 acres of annual food plots. We didn't hang from a limb for three more weeks, which allowed more PT for me and saw the temps fall to comfortable levels.
I kept working the Cuddeback cameras while we hunted with bow and arrow. As feared, the big buck only moved at night, often walking right in front of some of our stand locations.
A NOCTURNAL GHOST
Gun season opened Nov. 17, so we swapped bows for rifles. As gun season progressed without a sighting of the big buck, I became frustrated. But our rut was still a month away, and trying to remain positive, I was sure he would make a mistake soon. Then came primitive weapons season on Dec. 1 and that produced the same result. The buck was feeding primarily in the clover fields; I had proof. But it was always at night or just before sunrise. And he was feeding in all four clover fields!
The responsibilities of college kept Mark and Jessi on campus more than they wanted, so it became more of a one-on-one hunt for me. Often I was the only one hunting. I couldn't even persuade friends to join me. For some reason, they reckoned I'd disown them if they killed my buck.
I had to figure a way to get the buck -- and the does -- to feed in one field instead of all over the place. I decided to fertilize the clover field where I'd taken the most pictures of the buck. I had never fertilized these fields in midseason and wasn't sure it would work, but I was out of ideas and desperate. After talking with several experts, we broadcast urea at a rate of 300 pounds per acre in the field we call "the tank stand," named after the water-tank-shaped "shoot" house overlooking the field.
Just before Christmas, I noticed a richer color to the clover and utilization had picked up. I held onto the slim hope that someone would at least get a glimpse of the big boy in the fertile clover. A north wind was bad for the tank stand, so we hunted it frequently during other wind directions. In early January, while the rut was still ongoing, I sat in the shoot house four straight afternoons without seeing a single deer.
LAST HUNT, LAST CHANCE
As the season wound down, I threw in the towel and accepted defeat. It was over. The buck wasn't going to show in daylight. The rut was coming to a halt, and we hadn't seen hide nor hair of him. I even took out the cameras. I'd gotten enough pictures of him at 10:30 at night and 2 a.m. in the morning.
A book-signing event took me to St. Louis on Jan. 15. Fellow photographer Richard Day and I'd planned to photograph waterfowl for a few days in southern Illinois starting Tuesday Jan. 16. Rifle season in Mississippi ended on Jan. 17, so I had pretty much given up on the buck for the season.
But Richard called late Tuesday night and left a message that I didn't pick up until about 5:30 Wednesday morning. He had come down with the flu and had to cancel our photo shoot. Faced with nothing to do, I packed the truck and headed back to Mississippi around 6:30 a.m. My truck thermometer read 16 degrees when I left the hotel.
On the drive down, I calculated that if I made good time, I could end up close to my place around 2:30 in the afternoon. Hmmm, I thought. Maybe I'll get in one last hunt. The weather was perfect in Missouri, but I wasn't sure what it held back home.
Midmorning I called my friend and neighbor Johnny Granberry, an accomplished wildlife artist, and asked him for a weather report. "It sucks," he said bluntly. "Around 40 degrees, drizzling rain, and a strong east-southeast wind. Oh, and there are really dark, heavy, low clouds."
"Well, this is my last chance to hunt," I said. "Why don't you come go with me?" I'd been inviting Johnny all year, but he was one of my friends who seemed to be afraid that if he killed the big buck, I'd never speak to him again. And likely he was right!
"Come on, man, hunt with me this one time," I insisted. "I'll give you your choice of stands. Be thinking about where you want to go."
DOWN TO THE WIRE
"All right. What time?"
"Meet me at my gate at 3 o'clock."
I arrived at the gate at 2:30 on the dot. Johnny rolled in shortly after. "You decided where you wanna go?" I asked.
"Yeah, I think I'll go to the clover field where you found the shed."
"Where're you gonna go?"
"I'll go to the landing strip," I said, referring to a lush field planted in a fall crop of BioLogic Green Patch Plus; this field butted into the tank-stand clover field. I wasn't going to sit in that tank stand another fruitless day.
Side benefits from one of BioLogic's mixes are tasty brassicas -- turnip greens and rape. We eat them all winter. Johnny loves the stuff. He wanted to pick a sack full, so I tried to hurry him along and get the task over with. It was past time to take our stands. So we headed up the hill with our Wal-Mart bags fluttering in the breeze, only a couple of hundred yards from the cabin.
Just before reaching the turnip patch, a pack of barking dogs, hot on the heels of a deer, were headed straight for us. We watched as a doe, with dogs in pursuit, skirted the edge of the turnip patch and headed directly to the landing strip.
"Great!" I said. "Here it is prime time and dogs run right through our hunting territory. What else can happen?"
"Well, we're here," Johnny offered. "Let me get a few more greens and we'll go."
"I should've gone home," I said, having just driven eight hours in a rush to get on a deer s
A TWIST OF FATE
By now, it was close to 3:30. Official sunset was 5:15, with legal shooting time over at 5:45. Johnny and I split up and headed to our stands. I had to walk past the tank stand and through the clover field to get to the landing strip. As I passed the 12-foot-high stand, I whispered "Good riddance" under my breath. I got almost to the landing strip stand when I noticed the wind was blowing consistently out of the east -- the worst wind for that stand. I stood in the field for a moment to reflect on the day.
I had no choice but to do a U-turn and go back to the tank stand. I was perturbed. What a fitting way to end the season. Had Johnny not been there, I might've called it a season. Might've. . . .
I climbed into the tank -- that afternoon I changed the name to "the penalty box" -- for one final hunt. I watched as the east wind whipped the treetops on the opposite side of the field. As expected, I didn't see a deer the first two hours. I checked my watch -- it was 5:30 and darker than usual for that time of the day.
About five minutes later, I saw two deer in the landing strip slicing through the dimness straight toward my field. I found the deer in my binoculars and thought, They're both bucks, and the one on the right is a pretty good one.
I studied the two as they took turns servicing a scrape and limb licking. I thought it odd for two mature bucks to be traveling peacefully together at this time of the year. As I continued to watch through the binoculars, the bucks entered my field and made a 90-degree turn to my right. "That's him!" I whispered aloud. I dropped the binoculars to my chest and reached for my 7mm Magnum.
By the time I got the gun out the narrow window, the two bucks had walked another 50 yards. At first, I put the crosshairs on the wrong buck. Finally, I found the right buck and placed the crosshairs behind his shoulder, but I was doing figure-eights all over the buck's front shoulder. I'd never had a worse case of buck fever. The anticipation, the planning, the dreaming were all on my shoulders at that moment.
NOW OR NEVER . . .
I told myself, "You've got to get hold of yourself if you're going to shoot this deer!" I took a deep breath. Then I said a short prayer: "Lord, please guide this bullet."
I fired. The buck wheeled 180 degrees and went down. I didn't try to process all of my emotions; I simply embraced them. I was on a high only hunters can understand. I climbed out of the shoot house at 5:45 and jogged over to put my hands on the buck that had eluded me all season. What a trophy!
Johnny had chosen the wrong stand, and I almost did, too. The tank stand turned out to be the right place after all. Funny how things work out!
The next morning I called my friend Rick Dillard, an official scorer for Boone and Crockett. He agreed to come to my place to green-score the deer. At that point, I didn't care if the buck made the book or not. I felt blessed to have just been a part of a hunt that lasted nearly a year.
Rick arrived around noon on Thursday. He took a few pictures and began measuring. After checking and rechecking his figures, Rick revealed a gross score of 192 3/8 and a net of 171 4/8. The score held after the 60-day drying period and has been accepted by Boone and Crockett. The buck becomes the first typical B&C ever registered from Holmes County. The 17 scoreable points are the most of any typical book buck killed in Mississippi. I'll concede that luck plays an important role in taking a B&C buck. But so, too, do good neighbors, a quality deer management strategy, and passing on young bucks.
My pursuit of a book buck outside the borders of Mississippi was fun, exciting and rewarding in so many ways. In the end, though, I never really had to leave home to realize my dream!
(Editor's note: Paul Brown is a bestselling author and award-winning photographer. His books include Escape in Iraq, Church of Lies, I'm Still Standing, Conserving Wild America, Wild Visions and others. To learn more about Paul's work, go to www.trueexposures.com.)