By Justin Hogan
The last time Justin Hogan of Densmore, Kan., appeared in this magazine, he was standing beside the shoulder mount of an enormous whitetail that he'd found. Now he's posing with a spectacular mule deer. And because he actually squeezed a trigger this time (three times, in fact), his smile seems even brighter. Photo Courtesy of: Justin Hogan
Short of an emergency, there was only one reason for my wife to call home on the day she'd gone to town to get prints of whatever my trail camera had photographed. I tensed when the telephone rang.
"There are a bunch of does, fawns and one big buck," she reported. "It's really wide and has a lot of points."
Not sure whether or not to believe her, I had to wait almost an hour and a half for her to get home so I could see for myself. When she finally arrived, I tore into the envelope. Sure enough, she was right. The rack was big, wide and had lots of points, just like she'd said.
My brother, Travis, and I hung a stand in a travel corridor between a bedding area and a milo field. I also scouted several other pieces of my ground in hopes of stumbling across another big whitetail or mule deer.
When the season opened Sept. 15, I awoke at 3:30 a.m. to thunder, lightning and rain. By 5:30, it had quit raining and I was dressed and ready for action. On my way to the corridor stand, I triggered my trail camera. After the flash, I froze and waited for about 15 minutes.
When I made it to the tree, I checked my camera and saw that it was loaded with pictures. After no action at all that morning, I got down and collected my camera's picture card. I was anxious to see if there were any more good bucks on film.
Turns out, at 6:17 that very morning - two minutes before I arrived on the scene - the big buck had passed by my stand!
Photo Courtesy of: Justin Hogan
I hunted two more mornings and a couple of evenings without seeing the big boy.
On Sept. 19, Travis and I spent the morning cruising milo, corn stubble and CRP fields, looking for other bucks. Discouraged and daydreaming, I asked Travis, "Why can't there be a big old bachelor group of muleys in that milo field with about a 240-inch non-typical?"
"Fat chance," Travis laughed.
The following dawn, I was glassing milo and cornfields alone, looking for deer, when I spotted eight bucks - mule deer - heading from my milo field to my pasture. At first glance through binoculars, from three-quarters of a mile away, I thought one of them looked pretty good; the others were nothing spectacular.
When I looked back at the big buck, it had taken off on a dead run toward a hill.
I could tell that its rack had a bunch of points and a drop tine, enough to convince me to try to get a closer look and a shot.
After watching the direction the deer went, I had a pretty good idea of their destination. But after stalking them for about a mile and a half, I began questioning my judgment.
But as soon as I popped over a ridge, one of the small bucks spotted me and spooked. I was within 50 yards of the group. A second later, I saw the big one and immediately took the shot. I heard the bullet strike home.
The buck flinched, ran about 30 feet and stopped. I was shaking like a leaf, fumbling to reload my muzzleloader ... powder, bullet, primer ... okay, I'm ready!
Even though I knew my first shot had been true, I didn't hesitate to fire again.
That time, the buck fell.
The deer might have been on the ground at that point, but I took no chances. I reloaded the rifle before walking over to the buck. It was like walking on stilts. I could barely keep my legs from swaying.
Thirty yards from the deer, I saw that it was still alive. So I shot it a third time, only to stare in disbelief as it jumped up and disappeared over the hill.
Even more depressing was that after three good hits at close range, I could find only a couple of drops of blood in its wake!
Rather than plow ahead, and since I was out of loads, I went to the shop to get Travis and my dog, Hanna. Travis knew it must have been a good one. I was wracked with buck fever and babbling about the antlers. I told him I thought it might go 220 inches. It had seven or eight points on each side, including a drop tine.
After a very short trailing job by Hanna, we found the buck. I'd seriously underestimated. It was a 24-pointer, a 13x11, and green-scored 239 and change. If that score holds, it could be a runner-up to the Kansas state record!
Travis was thrilled for me, but he was even happier to realize that he'd just gained the exclusive right to pursue the big whitetail we'd been hunting.
Editor's Note: I've known Justin Hogan for several years, ever since he was awarded the BTR's Golden Laurel Citation for having discovered the former world record Typical (pickup) while stalking through a Kansas creek bottom. We've often discussed my joining him to hunt out there, most recently last summer. He called to invite me for the early muzzleloader season. I had to beg off, however, because I'd committed to bowhunt this fall in eastern Kansas, and the sometimes hard-to-get tags are limited by zone. The minute I saw photos of his muley, forwarded by a mutual friend (without Justin's name added), I knew his smile immediately. And winced.
- Mike Handley
-- Reprinted from the December 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine