Not for nothing: If Larry Price tells you a turkey dips snuff, you’ll find the can under the bird's wing.
Aside from accompanying his stepfather a few times in his youth, hunting never interested James Irvine until he moved his family from an urban to a rural setting almost a decade ago.
“It was just seven or eight years ago that I bought a shotgun and some slugs and started to hunt deer,” he said.
But owning and knowing how to shoot a scattergun doesn’t necessarily mean fewer trips to the grocery store to buy meat in foam trays. He learned a lot about deer and building stands, but he never shot a deer with it.
“I’ve got a favorite location where I built a permanent stand up in a maple tree overlooking a pawpaw patch,” he said. “About three years ago, I had a real nice buck come by me, and I missed it at 75 yards with the shotgun.
“That really upset me,” he added. “Right then, I decided to change guns. I went and bought a single-shot 7mm-08 with a 3X9 scope. I also purchased a scoped .50-caliber muzzleloader off my friend, Larry Price.”
James has access to a couple of farms, about 400 acres total, near his home in Pulaski County, Ky. He and Larry also like to hunt the Barren River Wildlife Management Area, which is about an hour west of where they live.
While hunting the WMA in 2012, James finally collected his first deer, a 6-pointer. He dropped the little buck at 423 paces with the 7mm-08.
The following August, Larry had just left James’ house for the 20-mile drive back home when a huge buck burst across the road 15 yards in front of his truck. The startled driver could only slam on the brakes and stare in disbelief as the huge whitetail, still in velvet, stopped and looked at him.
“It was at least 21 or 22 inches wide and bigger than anything I had ever seen,” Larry remembers.
Larry reported the sighting to James and another guy, but James was the only one who really believed how big the deer was.
“I knew that Larry had hunted deer for a lot of years, that he knew what a big buck was, and that he’d had a close look at the rack,” James said. “Knowing there was a really big one around added a little something extra to my season.”
The place where James primarily hunts is all bottomland. It has creeks running in from every little finger hollow with lots of cover nearby. It’s also close to a soybean field that gets a lot of deer traffic. James’s favorite maple tree stand is near the tract’s southern border.
“At times, I’ve looked out from that stand and seen as many as 21 different deer at one time,” he said.
“I hunted that area during Kentucky’s early muzzleloading season and again when the modern gun season opened. There was an 8-pointer that had a white stripe across its nose that was easy to identify. I saw Stripe several times, along with a lot of does, but no sign of the big deer that had crossed the road in front of Larry.
“Larry and I went to Barren River WMA for three days in the middle of the week, and I killed a doe there. On the way home, we caught sight of a deer at 500 yards off in a field close to the house. At first, it looked like a doe, but after it moved around a little, we could tell it was a really big buck. Both of us agreed, it could be the one from back in August,” he added.
James was now looking forward to the late muzzleloading season with a different kind of anticipation: the knowledge that he could hunt where a huge buck was seen.
When he awoke on the opening Saturday, it had been raining and was 28 degrees. He managed to make it out to the pawpaw patch with his powder dry. Daylight came and with it a chill in the air. He pulled deeper into his jacket, sat for several hours in the maple tree stand and saw nothing.
That afternoon, he moved to the back of the bean field about a quarter-mile away and saw a couple of deer, but no shooter buck. The temperature had dropped throughout the day and continued to do so into the night, which bode well for the next morning.
“On Sunday, it was real cold, somewhere down into the 20s,” James remembered. “The wind had changed and wasn’t favorable to the stand I hunted the previous morning. So I decided to go to the other end of the field and watch a creek crossing. When I got to that end, I found an old hay bale that had been there a couple of years. I laid my grunt and can calls on top of it.”
James settled in and waited for sunrise. He had hoped for a bit of warmth and respite from the chill. It was not to be.
The hunter leaned into the side of the rolled hay to escape the chill as a faint gray dawn illuminated the bottom. The .50 caliber — charged, loaded and primed with a number 11 cap — was resting against the bale.
He breathed in the cold air, and it stung his lungs. The faint smell of grease, oil and powder — a familiar one to those who hunt with cap and ball — mingled with the musty smell of the hay.
Snowflakes began to swirl around him.
“I had been there for about an hour when I saw a doe come out in the field across the creek,” James said. “She came out about 20 yards from the woods line, turned all the way around and looked behind her. She was standing about 250 yards away from me, looking back.
“Suddenly, a buck took one step out into the field behind her. He looked like he had a bush on his head,” he continued.
The two deer started across the field toward James. The doe stopped about four times along the way, but the buck never broke stride. They were headed for the trail that crossed the creek 78 paces from James’ hiding place.
“My knees started shaking,” he said. “When they were about 100 yards away, I reached for the grunt call and raised my gun.
“When I got it in the scope, the buck was facing me,” he continued. “I didn’t trust that shot, honestly, so I waited.”
When the doe reached and began crossing the creek, the buck turned and offered a broadside target.
“It was still walking slowly, and I grunted once on the call,” James said. “His right foot was on the ground, his left foot came up, and he just froze like that as he looked my way. That’s when I squeezed the trigger.
“After I fired, I had to move my head up out of the smoke to see, and the buck was running,” James said. “I grabbed one of the quick loads that I had made to carry with me, poured it in, started hammering the bullet in, got it about an inch from being seated, and the ramrod broke.
“I had lost sight of the buck while I was reloading, and I took off toward the creek to see where it went,” he continued. “When I caught sight of it again, it was about 45 or 50 yards away and sort of sitting. I made sure I had a cap on, got the scope back on the deer and let loose.”
That time, the softer kapoof of the gun testified that the bullet hadn’t been completely seated. But it was still good enough to put the finishing touch on the big deer, which fell over and never twitched.
When James got over to the buck and lifted its head, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
Hunter: James Irvine
BTR Score: 196 4/8”
– Photos by Dale Weddle
This article was published in the November 2014 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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