Giant shed leads hunter to set a whole new set of goals for the following deer season.
Story and photo by Otha Barham
The hunter sat still in the lock-on stand. He had put 22 screw-in steps in the tree that elevated him to some 30 feet above the forest floor, where a fresh buck scrape lay in plain view. It was getting late in the afternoon of Dec. 7, 2005, and Wayne Stewart Jr.’s anticipation was growing by the minute.
Suddenly something caught his eye as he scanned the thick briars and brush. Only the deer’s shockingly large rack was visible as he fed on greenbriar, twisting his massive rack back and forth.
The rangefinder read 47 yards, and Stewart readied his bow. But the cover was too thick for a sure shot. “He wouldn’t reveal a target area,” recalled the bowhunter. “I would see him and then he would disappear in the cover.”
Suddenly a sound drew Stewart’s attention to another spot in the briar patch. A second big buck was feeding just 20 yards from the other. He was a mature 8-pointer with a heavy rack that would probably score 120 inches. Both deer were near a trail that led right to the scrape beneath Stewart’s perch, but the pair continued to eat greenbriar leaves as the sunlight faded.
It looked like Stewart would run out of daylight before getting a shot, but he remained focussed on the deer with the monstrous rack.
He had taken several trophy bucks from his property, but none that measured up to this one. Suddenly, the closer buck snorted and grunted, and Stewart saw a bobcat underneath his tree. The 8-pointer came in and chased the bobcat away. Stewart turned down a shot opportunity and waited for the monster buck to clear the cover.
Temporarily losing track of the big one, he wondered again how such a deer could get his antlers through the tangle of briars.
Just then he saw the deer twist its head and squeeze out of the thick stuff and onto the path that led to his tree. Stewart ranged the trail at the spot where he would shoot if the buck walked in as he expected – 18 yards. But light was fading fast.
How Wayne Stewart came to be within range of the biggest whitetail of his life is a story that started the previous spring.
In the spring of 2005, while hunting turkeys on his property, he found a huge shed antler. “I didn’t know such a buck was there on my own land,” he said. Relatives had hunted the property with him, and no one had seen the buck. The shed had dropped near a planted green patch in a sharp bend of a creek just a stone’s throw from a pine plantation.
Stewart determined that the big buck must surely bed in the pines, which stood in thick undergrowth. Earlier, loggers had left several oaks in the bend of the creek because it was wet there and the logs would have been difficult to harvest. There were several white oaks, a big water oak and best of all, a number of Shumard oaks, a tree that Stewart knew from experience produced acorns that were a favorite of deer. Shumard oaks seemed to always be around where he had arrowed big bucks.
He had named the big deer Shed Horn Deer and figured it would feed in that hot spot come fall. He put up his lock-on stand before the season started. All the oaks produced acorns that fall, but then Hurricane Katrina hit the forest. The acorns were blown off all the trees except for the Shumard oaks. Stewart checked the spot for sign through bow season and hunted it once in mid-November, seeing only does. Then, in early December, with some Shumard acorns still falling, he found a fresh scrape right beneath his stand.
Although Stewart had numerous other stands on the large property, he decided when he found the scrape that he would hunt that stand when the wind was right. Fortunately, the wind was from the northeast that very day – perfect for hunting there.
Finally reaching the trail, the big buck plodded toward the Shumard acorns that lay in the leaves. Stewart tried to squeeze his rangefinder into a pocket on his right hip, but the pocket was covered by his safety belt, so he nervously laid the instrument between his feet on the tiny stand. He checked his bow, arrow and sight once again. Behind him, he heard the other buck break an acorn with its teeth and quickly put it out of his mind.
“I told myself to hold low because of the steep angle,” remembered Stewart. “I felt a lot of pressure. I was excited and worried at the same time.” He didn’t want to hit the shoulder blade and not get penetration, so he sighted 4 inches back from the heart.
The shot looked right in the 8-inch opening as the hunter smoothly touched his release. The buck jumped and kicked, but Stewart didn’t hear the arrow hit. The deer dashed away and stopped 50 yards out, facing away.
Just then Stewart saw a doe nearby. Shifting his eyes quickly back to the buck, he aimed his bow for 47 yards and let another arrow fly, this time hearing a familiar thump. The buck picked his head up and dashed away.
It was getting dark quickly, and Stewart couldn’t find his first arrow. Even knowing the second arrow was a hit, he tiptoed out to wait for morning.
“Just at first light the next morning, I sneaked in while the birds were singing, so any noise I would make would be covered,” he said. Then he found the first arrow and blood, and the second arrow and blood, plus a lot of white hair. The blood trail led 80 yards to the dead buck.
The first arrow had passed through both lungs, while the second had skimmed the belly, entered the buck’s body and traveled to the heart/lung area. Stewart’s excitement was almost uncontrollable. He called a friend, Charlie Perkins, and the two got the buck out of the tangled briars.
Wayne Stewart’s giant deer fell less than 30 miles from where Tony Fulton’s world record buck was taken in adjoining Winston County in 1997. Stewart’s land lies between the Noxubee and Tombigbee rivers. The limestone-based soil on his property is part of the famous black belt land formation that curves through East Mississippi and into West Alabama. It produces big antlers on the area’s deer.
“It’s the hunting part, not the killing part,” commented this dedicated bowhunter. “I like to hunt big bucks, and I try to take one really big one each year.” He has taken several bucks that qualify for the books but has never measured them.
This article was published in the July 2006 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.