By Mike Handley
Photos Courtesy of Gregg Johnson
The late Robert Ruark, journalist-turned-Bwana back when all film was black and white, once described Africa's ornery Cape buffalo as being able to look at you as if you owe them money.
Cows in Kansas wear a more vacant expression. They look at you as if you're a tip-starved waitress at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Gregg Johnson knows that bovine stare all too well. The Louisiana bowhunter found himself at the end of his rope last December when a couple of rogue cows decided to invade his little patch of woods.
Stopping just short of shouting at or shooting them, he finally managed to convey through pinwheeling arm signals that the big man-thing in the tree did not want them there!
He won the battle. Afterward, however, he thought the war lost.
He'd forgotten that he was in the Land of Opportunity.
A year earlier, Gregg and brothers Chris and Brad leased 850 acres in Butler County. Most of the tract is in pasture or farmland, but the 80 or so acres of timber offer just enough room for the Louisiana farmers to roam.
The '07 season was very kind to Gregg, but 2008 was even better - no thanks to the cows.
He and Chris made the first 10 1/2-hour drive from Oak Grove, La., to Douglass, Kan., in mid-November to devote a full week to hunting rutting whitetails. Unsuccessful, they returned on Nov. 30 for another go at them.
Chris was no stranger to the Sunflower State. He discovered it about eight years before Gregg tagged along in 2007. That maiden trip forever changed the way Gregg viewed deer hunting. He saw no less than 35 bucks during his first trip there, and he left with a 9-pointer that was his best ever.
He couldn't even bring himself to purchase a Louisiana license this past year.
"When you go up and see what it's like there, you're ruined," he said.
"Not that it's a sure thing, by any means. But the potential is always there, and you know it."
This past season, Gregg became enamored with a fixed-position stand and spent most of his time aloft in it. It was tucked in a wooded bottom between pastures and below a cornfield, requiring a 3/4-mile hike to reach. It overlooked a perfect funnel.
He and Chris arrived on Sunday, Nov. 30, and Gregg was back in his favorite stand on Monday morning.
It was during his afternoon vigil - the 12th time in '08 he'd climbed into that tree - when the two cows sauntered onstage. They were rogues the landowner wasn't able to corral. The man had agreed to move his cattle off the property prior to the hunting season, but these critters wouldn't cooperate.
Frustrated, Gregg stood up in his stand and waved his arms, trying everything short of shouting to spook them away from his honey hole.
After the cows left, Gregg considered the afternoon a bust. Less enthusiastic than he'd typically be for a trip's first day afield, he dug out a paperback book and began reading.
About 20 minutes later, he glanced up and saw a buck coming toward him. He pegged it for the 10-pointer he'd passed up earlier in the year, at first, but then the deer lifted its head. It was far bigger.
"As soon as I saw those brow tines, I never looked at the rack again," he said. "You know how that goes."
The buck came straight to him. And when it was within 13 steps, Gregg looked at it through his 20-yard pin, dropped the sight a bit and released his arrow.
"I knew it was dead when it took off," he said.
Afterward, he sat down and sent Chris a text message: "Just shot one.
Hope it's big enough."
"If you're hoping, it's not," came the reply.
"I knew it was a good deer when I shot it," Gregg said, "but I thought it was a 10-pointer. I had no idea it had 13 points. It's the only one I ever shot that grew between the time I saw it and when I found it."
When Chris laid eyes on the animal, which had traveled about 80 yards after the hit, Gregg casually said, "Big enough?"
"Big enough," Chris agreed.
They later bought a soft tape measure to verify Chris' estimate of 160-plus. He was close, too, until they realized he'd not even measured a couple of points. The taxidermist out there who caped the deer for Gregg told them its live weight would've pushed the 320 mark.
"It's not one of those tales where I hunted this deer hard for weeks and weeks," Gregg said. "It just kind of happened. It showed, and I made the shot. End of story."
For the next six days, while Chris continued trying to fill his tag, Gregg found other things to do - like checking out Silverados at the local Chevrolet dealership. He was so eager to get home, he even thought about buying one (for his son) and driving back to Oak Grove.
He ultimately decided to stay and help his brother, just in case the other Johnson drew blood.
Hunter: Gregg Johnson
Official Score: 160 5/8"
Composite Score: 177 5/8"
-- Reprinted from the October 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.