Arkansas man didn’t need to look at this buck’s chest, back or belly before squeezing the trigger.
The seven members of Ryan Keeter’s hunting club decided a long time ago to pass up young bucks. As a result, they not only see more deer, but they have also become adept at spotting the differences between juvenile and mature whitetails.
“We all used to get excited whenever we saw a 140-inch deer,” says the 26-year-old farmer from Grady, Arkansas. “It took a lot of restraint to allow those bucks to grow at least one more year.
“That was our first step,” he added.
The club’s land in Lincoln County is a scant 20 minutes from Ryan’s home. Even so, he doesn’t make the drive as often as he’d like to. Prior to the state’s mid-November rifle opener, he’d bowhunted only five or six times.
“Being a farmer, I just don’t have many chances to go out there during harvest time,” he said.
Ryan rarely misses opening day of the rifle season, however. By that time, he and other family members have inventoried the bucks passing in front of their cameras.
When Ryan drove to the club about 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 12, 2016, his most wanted was a 10-pointer he thought would tally in the 160s.
After parking his side-by-side, he walked three-quarters of a mile to an elevated fiberglass box stand overlooking a food plot planted in clover and turnips. He’d chosen that setup after his name was drawn out of a hat the previous night.
“My father-in-law, Doug Nickle, drew the names — mine, my dad’s and my brother’s — in my living room,” he said. “Winner got the right to choose first.”
The stand is about 10 feet off the ground.
“It was warm (65 degrees), but the rut had already started. It was early that year,” he said.
Ryan began seeing deer almost immediately, but none caused him to reach for his .270 WSM. Several small bucks, the best among them a 135-incher, were continually pestering does. All the activity was in a lane and on the road in front of him, so he mostly kept his back to the food plot.
About 4:40, he glanced around just in time to see a doe cross through the plot. It didn’t occur to Ryan, at first, that a buck might’ve been pursuing her, so he returned his attention to the 15 or 16 deer in front of him.
“When I turned to look back at the plot, I saw a buck cutting across the far corner,” he said. “There was no time to study anything. I had about three seconds to pull up and shoot.
“I really thought it was the deer I was hunting, the 160 10-pointer,” he continued. “The 10-pointer was palmated, too, but not as much. We definitely have a palmation gene there.
“After I shot, I thought Wow, this just happened!” Ryan beamed.
After he reached the fallen deer, he realized immediately it wasn’t the 5x5 he thought it was. He was elated at the size of the buck’s antlers, although its stature was disconcerting.
He called his brother, Justin, and told him he didn’t know which deer he’d shot. They keep tabs on the deer that walk in front of their cameras, and the one at Ryan’s feet had never been photographed.
He then called his dad, Jeff.
“Nobody knew this deer existed,” he said. “Its body was really small. Only 168 pounds. For a second, I was really disappointed in myself for shooting a 2 1/2-year-old. But those antlers … We learned later it was at least 6 1/2 years old.”
They soon discovered disease and malnutrition — not age — were to blame for the buck’s diminutive size.
“When we began dressing it, we discovered an infected wound in its brisket, and both knees were scabby. We think the wounds were from fighting. It could’ve been gored, but we don’t know for sure.
“Also, when I started skinning it, I could run my hand between the skin and meat. Its hide was just hanging off,” he continued. “I really don’t think it would’ve survived another year.”
They didn’t save the meat.
Ryan credits the club’s management plan for the quality bucks their tract is yielding. His is the second to push the 200-inch benchmark in recent years.
This article was published in the October 2017 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
• Deer in the Drink: Pennsylvania man’s foray into new territory lands him smack in the middle of the bull of the woods’ comfort zone.
• Building a Better Deer Trap: Don’t listen to people who say scrape hunting is overrated. Even if you have to build it, they will come.
• Making Do: When one door closes, another one opens.