By Jill J. Easton
It started with one of those telephone calls that either strikes terror or carries great tidings. In this case, it was excellent news.
“We gotta talk, and you need to see the pictures of this buck,” said Michael Hanlon’s buddy, Mack Marsh. “I got a picture of a 20-plus-pointer going down the road. It’s awesome!”
Mack had set up a trail camera near a ditch bank on one of Michael’s farms, and, almost immediately, a huge buck got its picture taken. The deer had distinctive eye guards and reminded Michael of a shed he’d found when he was out fertilizing corn. The shed got tossed on the floor of the tractor and forgotten until that moment.
Michael soon located the antler in the mix of trash and cans in the tractor cab and compared it to the picture. The antler had a similar heavy base and the same distinctive eye guard. The shed looked like it came from the same deer, which indicated its home range was right there on the farm.
The two hunting buddies pondered and plotted the best way to get to the buck, but there were obstacles. It was living on an overgrown, north-south ditch bank surrounded by open fields. Since prevailing winds in northeastern Louisiana come from the west, the buck could see or smell anybody or anything that came its way.
It was almost impossible to approach, since the wind was always in the deer’s favor.
“I saw the buck the first day of the 2008 bow season,” Michael said. “Some nights, it stayed by the feeder and got its picture taken all night. Soon, I spent all my spare time hunting that buck.”
Michael thinks of himself as a one-deer-a-year man. He hunts quality deer, and he’ll stay with one until the hunt becomes impossible or the buck is lying on the ground. In his hunting career, he has taken four deer off his farms that meet the Buckmasters minimum.
Deer need the right genes, good groceries and someplace to hide in order to grow trophy-class racks.
Madison Parish has all the essentials: rich bottomland, courtesy of flooding of the Mississippi and Tensas rivers; lots of soybeans and corn for protein and fat; and plenty of WRP land for cover. To boot, many local hunters set out protein feeders to boost body weights and antler growth.
Michael knows all this, but it doesn’t mean he always reaps the benefits.
Michael had an evening wedding to attend on Dec. 15. But rather than sit home and watch the clock, he took advantage of an unusual east wind and donned his camo.
He stuck his truck in the mud en route, but that didn’t stop him. He could still put time in the stand before swapping boots for dress shoes, and he planned to take every available second.
“I was hunting on the ground using a round hay bale for cover. It was a cold, clear and pretty afternoon ... just right for a quick hunt,” he said. “At 4:15, when I had maybe 30 minutes before I had to get home and change clothes, I saw the ditch buck at 350 yards. It was following the scent of some does that had been in the field earlier.”
It didn’t stay in the clear for long, however.
Convinced the buck was gone for good, Michael was ready to give up and head to the house.
“I figured my chances of seeing the buck again were slim to none,” he said. “But for some reason, I waited.”
Just long enough.
“Suddenly, there it was, loping toward me,” Michael said. “When it was at 300 yards, I put my sights right behind the shoulder and fired. The buck ran back to the edge of the ditch, and then it dropped out of sight.”
Despite the long shot, Michael thought he’d connected.
Or did he?
“Crazy thoughts run through your mind when you shoot a deer that size,” he said. “Questions like Did I hold steady? Did I squeeze rather than jerk the trigger? Should I have waited on it to stop?”
Before he went to look for the buck, he called Mack.
“I hollered, ‘Come get me, I’m stuck,’” Michael said. “Then I yelled, ‘I got him. I killed THE buck!’”
Mack didn’t believe his friend and, at first, refused to come to the rescue. But he was soon spinning through the gumbo to pick up Michael, help him find the buck and pull his truck out of the mud.
“When Mack got there, we went out to where I last saw the deer,” Michael said. “When we found the buck, it was lying on its left side, which put the distinctive eye guard in the air. It was the same buck that showed up in so many of the trail cam pictures.”
Mack snapped one picture of the buck with his cell phone’s camera, but it was badly out of focus, no doubt a testament to what big antlers can do to a man’s nerves. He forwarded it to a few friends. Before they loaded the deer, demands were coming in to see it.
Wedding forgotten, the two pals spent the next few hours riding around town, showing off the buck and getting pictures taken.
“I have been lucky enough to harvest more than one Buckmasters trophy, and the feeling gets better each time,” Michael said. “After I pick my deer and put all the time and effort into harvesting it, there is a big sense of accomplishment that compares to graduating college or rearing kids.”
Michael says there is only one thing that could be better than taking a trophy buck.
“The ultimate hunting moment will come when I share in my boys’ harvesting their own trophies,” he said.
Hunter: Michael Hanlon
Official Score: 185 7/8
BTR Composite Score: 204 5/8
— Photos Courtesy of Michael Hanlon
This article was published in the July 2012 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.