Sometimes a guy just has to wade into the maddening crowd.
Could access to 170,000 acres of public hunting ground cause you to move three or four states away? What if one of your first trail camera photographs from the area showed a 30-point buck?
Those might not have been the reasons Jack Seppala packed his bags and moved from New Hampshire to Kentucky, but they surely were in the back of his mind.
Jack first heard about the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL) while living in South Carolina. A member of his hunting club told him.
Jack and his cousin, Dwight Hannu, decided to purchase nonresident deer tags and bowhunt the Kentucky side in 2012.
They made several scouting trips before the season opened. Since baiting was not allowed on LBL, they put out some trail cameras on deer runs and overlooking some little saddles. Soon, they retrieved a photo of a nice 10-point buck.
In July, however, they hit the jackpot. One of the cameras photographed a buck still in velvet with points going everywhere. From that moment on, they hunted for that deer.
Since Dwight runs a plumbing business and Jack works for him, the two were able to schedule several hunting trips to Kentucky. However, their year drew to a close without any chance to shoot their target buck.
Although neither of the hunters took a deer that season, the brief exposure to the vast public hunting area along with thoughts of the giant deer just whetted their appetite for more exploration.
In June of 2013, Jack and Dwight decided to move Dwight’s plumbing business to Cadiz, Kentucky, on the edge of the LBL. Business opportunities seemed to be good in the area, and the great hunting close by was icing on the cake.
Land Between the Lakes was established in 1963 after the damming of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers created Kentucky and Barkley Lakes. The subsequent formation of a peninsula between the two lakes, along with the government’s forced acquisition of properties causing the exodus of all families living within that area, resulted in a vast unpopulated woodland paradise.
The LBL was initially managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority, but more recently control has switched to the USDA Forest Service.
Hunting has always been allowed on LBL, and white-tailed deer and turkeys are the primary game sought. In the ’60s and ’70s, a small herd of fallow deer was introduced into the area and, for a while, they were also legal game.
The fallow herd failed to expand, though. With just a few of the exotic breed remaining, hunting for them was ultimately suspended.
Today, the LBL offers a generous archery season for whitetails on both the Tennessee and Kentucky sides. In addition, there is limited gun hunting by lottery: one regular weekend and one designated for youth on the Kentucky side, and two regular weekend hunts and one youth weekend hunt on the Tennessee side.
Jack and Dwight put in for the 2013 draw for a gun hunt and started spending their free time bowhunting and becoming more familiar with the area. Soon, they received the notice they had been drawn to hunt the two-day gun hunt on Nov. 23-24.
And that wasn’t the only good news. A trail cam photographed their “Brushpile Buck” during the daytime.
“By the time, the quota gun hunt date arrived. It was a little late in the rut, but the bucks were still chasing,” Jack said. “I had been bowhunting the spot where we caught the Brushpile Buck on camera, but had not seen him. Luckily, we had been drawn to hunt the area the big deer was frequenting.”
There are 10 numbered areas on the Kentucky side of LBL. Each applicant for the quota hunt had to submit their preferred choices of areas to hunt, and each area has a set number of hunters in order to evenly distribute the pressure.
However, Jack and Dwight soon found out they still had plenty of company in their designated area.
“On Saturday morning, we pulled in to where we were going to hunt before daylight,” Jack said. “We split up and headed out. It was interesting, to say the least. Everywhere I went, there was someone shining a flashlight at me. I just walked and walked until I didn’t see lights anymore.”
When it got daylight, Jack found a likely looking spot and settled in to watch. He saw a few does and a 4-point buck, but nothing that he wanted to shoot.
At 11:30, he took a break and went back to the truck to meet Dwight for lunch. His cousin had seen a nice 10-pointer, along with another buck, chasing a doe. He couldn’t get a shot because of the thick brush.
“I took only about an hour off to eat before going back for the afternoon hunt,” Jack said. “The day wore on and it was pretty uneventful. I did see a small buck chasing a doe, but that was about it.
“It was encouraging that there seemed to be some rutting going on. Hopefully, that would cause the bucks to continue to move.
“The next morning, we were out early again, and I didn’t see anything. There were a lot of shots fired around me, so someone was seeing deer. The tags were either-sex, so people might have been meat-hunting on the last day.
“That afternoon, I changed places. It was about 35 degrees with 15-mph winds when I climbed a tree. About an hour before dark, the temperature started to drop. Pretty soon, I was shivering and thinking about getting down when I heard deer coming.
“I looked up and saw a doe coming about 80 or 90 yards away, and right behind her was the Brushpile Buck.
“I thought I was shivering before, but now I was really REALLY shaking. Both deer stopped, and the buck was broadside. I absolutely knew it was him.
“He was still in velvet and had all that crazy stuff going on. I was excited, but I still managed to get the gun up, put the crosshairs on him and squeeze the trigger.
“I knew I hit him because he hunched up. He ran about 20 yards and stopped. I shot him again through the shoulder and knocked him over.
“I got down and walked over to him. Dwight had been hunting close enough that he heard the shot and texted: See anything? I texted back: Yeah, I just shot Brushpile,” he said.
The buck that Danny shot sported some amazing headgear. Still in velvet, the cactus rack had 30 scoreable points.
A recent decline in LBL deer numbers has caused many of the hunters who are drawn for the two-day quota hunt to come away disappointed. Jack is not one of them.
Hunter: Jack Seppala
BTR Score: 205
View BTR Scoresheet
This article was published in the February 2016 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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