A 24-Day Vigil For The Freak

What do you do when you're hunting private land and you know that a monster lives there? In the case of 26-year-old Justin Malouf, you keep hunting until you get him!

Justin is an avid whitetail hunter who lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi. He's fortunate to have access to 1,500 acres in deer-rich Madison County on land owned by his father-in-law.

"I'm about the only person who hunts this property seriously," Justin said. "My father-in-law and his brother hunt the land some, but they're not as serious about deer hunting as I am. The property has some good deer. I was bowhunting last year, and I arrowed a 140-class 9-point and a 138-class 10-point within 13 hours of each other. Later, when I found this big buck's photo on a trail camera, I set out to hunt him until I got him."

When Justin saw the first trail camera photo of this huge buck, he breathed a giant sigh of relief. You'll understand why in the next two paragraphs.

"A friend of mine had just gotten home from a hunt in Illinois on Nov. 26, and he felt that he needed to shoot his rifle to be sure the scope was sighted in. We went out to our property, and he zeroed his rifle. I suggested that we hunt awhile that afternoon, since we were already out there. My friend got in a box stand while I sat on a tripod a few hundred yards away. When we got down at dark, all we had seen were a couple of small bucks.

"The next day, I went out to the property to check my trail camera and found the picture of the big buck. What really shook me up was that the imprint of the time on the photo showed that the buck had visited the scrape where the camera was located exactly nine minutes after my friend had left the stand. Nine minutes! That's how close he came to having that monster walk out on him!" (Could it be that this obviously woods-wise mature buck waited for Justin's friend to leave the area before going over to his scrape?)

For Justin, that photo triggered a series of events that would culminate 24 days later after many hours of sitting in a stand.

"I went back out and placed two cameras, one on each side of an old road that goes through the property," Justin continued. "On one camera, there were pictures of several deer, but on the other, which was placed overlooking a 60-acre patch of old field where nobody had hunted, I got pictures of the big buck every night at a scrape under a lone oak out in the field. He was the only deer that ever appeared in photos from this camera, and that told me he was the bull of the woods in the area. We started calling this buck 'the Freak' because of the unusual mass and configuration of antlers he carried."

In order to have the best chance at this Mississippi giant, Justin put up six lock-on stands in a 200-yard circle around the scrape the buck was using.

"I wanted to be able to play the wind," Justin said. "And by having stands surrounding the area, I could set up downwind of the buck no matter what direction the wind was blowing on any particular day I hunted."

Justin hunted hard for three weeks without getting so much as a single glimpse of the Freak. One day, he got some news that almost sent him into a state of depression. "My business partner called me with the sad news that the Freak was dead. He told me somebody had brought in a monster buck to a local taxidermist and the assumption was it was the buck I had been chasing for three weeks.

"I drove down to the taxidermist's shop and inquired about the deer. Unfortunately, the hunter who had shot the deer had taken the antlers home with him. However, when I showed the taxidermist the trail camera photo of my buck, he studied it awhile and told me that he didn't think it was the same deer, although he couldn't be completely sure. I left the shop totally dejected. I remained that way until the next day when I checked my trail cameras."

Justin found a photo of his buck that was taken the night after he visited the taxidermist. He knew the Freak was alive and well! Justin then decided to do something that, although risky, he felt that he had to do in order to have a decent chance at this unusual deer.

"I went out with my tractor and cut 300-yard lanes through the tall grass around each of my lock-on stands. I probably cut 15 or 20 lanes in wagon-wheel patterns out from each stand. If he came out, I'd at least be able to see him. By now I had hunted this buck for three straight weeks, but I hadn't seen him and I felt that this might give me my only chance for a shot.

"It was supposed to rain the following day, Saturday, and we only had one box stand in the area. However, my father-in-law decided to hunt that day, and he chose the box stand. You know what that meant. I sat all day in a lock-on in the rain. Neither of us saw a deer that day."

Justin had narrowed down the area where he felt the buck was spending time because he found oak saplings with thumb-sized branches twisted and stripped off lying 20 yards away from the saplings. He knew it took an unusual set of antlers to inflict this sort of damage to the tough oak branches, and he felt certain he was observing the handiwork of the Freak.

"The following morning, the day after my father-in-law and I hunted without seeing anything, I was in one of the lock-ons when the big buck stepped out. It was my first look at the deer in the flesh.

He was 200 yards away in one of my lanes, but he disappeared without ever giving me a decent shot. However, he went into the woods within 50 yards of another one of my lock-on stands. I slipped out of the woods, went back to the barn, signed out on the stand I'd been hunting, and signed in on the one near where I'd last seen him. I climbed into this stand around 9 a.m. and hunted until dark, but I never saw a deer."

By this time, Justin noted, he was really beginning to become stressed and was started to face the fact that the season might well end without having a crack at this big buck.

"I've deer hunted since I was 5 years old and I've taken lots of good bucks," Justin said. "I consider myself to be a seasoned hunter. However, this buck had me buffaloed. He had gotten into my head really bad."

The following morning, Justin, who is a real estate agent, had a closing at 10 a.m. After the transaction was completed, he hurried home, changed into his hunting clothes, and headed out to his hunting property.

"I was in my stand by 11 a.m. with plans to sit all day if I had to," he said. "Around 5 p.m., two does steppe

d out into a food plot. This was somewhat unusual since we had a tremendous acorn crop last year and the deer had generally been shunning the food plots in favor of acorns. Seeing these does moving onto the plot told me that the deer were apparently moving that afternoon.

"About that time, at least 100 robins flew in and were making all kind of noise in the leaves around my stand. This nearly drove me crazy. Then as suddenly as they had flown in, they all left. The breeze settled down and it became unusually quiet, almost eerily quiet. It was almost as if something special was about to happen.

"I looked behind me and saw two bucks hop across the trail I'd walked in on. I hit my grunt call and picked up my Primos Can call and hit it. I looked back at the food plot to see if the does were still there. I didn't see them, but when I turned back down the trail behind me, there he was -- the Freak -- walking straight toward me. My rangefinder indicated that he was about 290 yards away, but he was steadily coming toward me. I knew that if he gave me a decent shot, I'd better take it because a buck that big doesn't give you many chances.

"I practice a lot with my rifle, a .300 Winchester Short Mag., and I feel comfortable with it. I had eased around in my lock-on until I was sitting on the platform facing behind the stand and got my crosshairs on his brisket. The trail was narrow, and I knew all he'd have to do was take one step in either direction and he'd be gone.

"At a distance of about 260 yards, I found a small opening to the left. If he stepped that way, I knew I'd have a shot. Fortunately, that's exactly what he did. I put the crosshairs on his shoulder and squeezed the trigger. After the shot, all was quiet. Because of the distance and because everything had happened so fast, I wasn't sure if I'd hit him or not.

"I called my dad, who was hunting in the next county, and told him I'd shot at the Freak but was afraid I'd missed. However, I knew that if the Freak had been after a hot doe, he'd still be chasing her -- that is, if he wasn't wounded. I got down and walked to where I thought the deer had been standing and found no evidence of a hit.

"Dejected, I dug out my flashlight, since it had gotten quite late, and began retracing my steps back to the stand. That's when I walked upon a big puddle of lung blood. Now, all the bad stuff you think about under those conditions began running through my mind. I was on the phone with Dad, expressing my fears of wounding but never finding this special buck, when I walked right up on him. He was dead in the tall grass.

"My dad told me later he wished he'd had a tape recorder to tape my reaction when I stumbled upon the buck," Justin said, laughing.

Later, Justin's buck measured just over 200 inches gross and was scored as a main-frame 6x6 with a total of 24 points. The inside spread was only 12 2/8 inches with fairly short main beams of 20€‚1/2 and 17 inches. However, the bases measured a whopping 9 inches on one side and 8€‚1/2 inches on the other. The buck's neck was also huge, measuring 25 inches in circumference.

"The Freak had been injured, and he had a sunken-in area on one of his hips from an old wound," Justin said. "Perhaps he had been hit by a car. As a result, he had the forequarters of a buck that might have weighed around 300 pounds, but from the forequarters back, he was extremely slim. He only weighed 190 pounds.

"For me, this was a nearly four-week quest," Justin said. "It was daylight to dark nearly every day, but I made it work. Just knowing a 200-inch deer was in the neighborhood kept me going. Ultimately, my 24-day vigil was very worthwhile!"

Scorable Points:23 (12R, 11L)TOTAL LENGTH OF ABNORMAL POINTS: 90 0/8
Tip-To-Tip Spread:7 6/8
Greatest Spread:18 0/8
Inside Spread:12 7/8
Main Beam20 1/820 3/82/8
1st Point (G-1)5 1/84 2/87/8
2nd Point (G-2)10 4/84 0/86 4/8
3rd Point (G-3)------
4th Point (G-4)------
1st circ. (H-1)6 1/85 2/87/8
2nd circ. (H-2)6 7/86 5/82/8
3rd circ. (H-3)4 2/83 1/81 1/8
4th circ. (H-4)4 2/83 1/81 1/8
TOTALS:57 2/846 6/8<font size="1" color="#FFDD85"11 0/8
Gross Typical Score:116 7/8

Subtract side-to-side differences:

-11 0/8
Add abnormal points+90 0/8
TAKEN BY: Justin Malour, DATE: December 17, 2007, LOCATION: Madison County, Mississippi

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