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Fighting Chance

By Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson
Jeff Johnson of Kindred, N.D., shot this 18-pointer before work on Nov. 11, 2005. The mainframe 5x5 is enhanced by three irregular points on the right side and five on the left. Photo by: Scott Archer Wheat Stock Photography

I've been hunting for more than 30 years. I have always been blessed while afield, coming home with game about 90 percent of the time.

I have never been a trophy seeker like most hunters I know. I'm always pleased to fill my freezer with venison. A decent rack is simply a bonus in my book.

In 2005, as usual, I wound up working construction for the first few days - missing opening weekend entirely. It seems the local whitetails always get the jump on me. The ones who survive opening weekend are usually the wiser.

A couple days earlier, I'd done some late-evening hunting and seen a few does and one small buck in the distance. Neither rattling nor grunting had elicited any response.

I struck out early on a warmer-than-average Veterans Day, Nov. 11, because I was supposed to go to work at some point. The work site was 50 miles away from Oswald Graff's piece of Richland County, for which I'd gained permission to hunt.

Not long after daybreak, I came upon two large bucks fighting, with an audience of a couple of does. None of the deer knew I was there, at first. When they busted me, the pushing and shoving ceased.

While I tried to maneuver into position to take a poke at one of them from 75 yards, the shooter bucks stood and glared at each other - too exhausted to keep at it. Their heads hung halfway down. Their tongues were out, and they were breathing heavily.

Jeff Johnson
Photo by: Scott Archer Wheat Stock Photography

The big whitetails knew I was there, but to budge might have signaled defeat. And neither was willing to concede. One wore a tall 5x5 crown; the other's headgear was far wider and included points too numerous to count.

That's the one.

I pulled up my old .30-40 Krag-Jorgensen (the same model bolt-action rifle Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders carried up San Juan hill during the Spanish American War) and stuck it against my shoulder. When the Krag spoke, the larger of the two bucks ran about 25 yards and tumbled over a little knoll. The exhausted 10-pointer ran off, almost reluctantly.

When I ran over to the downed buck, my excitement kicked into high gear. It's always like that with me. No jitters until afterward.

"Thank you, Jesus," I whispered.

With this buck, there was no ground shrinkage, a concept with which I'm all too familiar. The rack seemed to grow with every step I took. The regal animal's head was held aloft by a 9-inch drop tine.

A broken point on the right side was insignificant in light of everything else that was there.

I was a month away from my 50th birthday, not nearly as strong as I was during my prime. I couldn't load the deer by myself, so I tagged it and drove home to get my hitch-mounted cargo rack, which is a lot closer to the ground than my truck bed.

Since I had a construction crew waiting for me at the jobsite, I sped home to field-dress the deer. I washed it out, hung it up in the garage and raced to work for the remainder of the day. After work, I hurried back home.

When I walked into the garage, the buck seemed to be even larger than it had been that morning. I struggled again to load it into my pickup to take it to Schmitty's Processors in Davenport. My wife asked why I was taking it there instead of processing it at home (my usual routine), and I broke the news to her: that I didn't want to ruin the cape.

The buck was the biggest one the processor had taken in for a while. Dressed out, it still weighed almost 200 pounds.

Read More Stories From RACK MagazineI entered it into Gander Mountain's big buck contest in Fargo, and it easily won first place - meaning the mount wasn't going to cost a dime - thanks to Rivers Edge Taxidermy.

Later, my neighbor, Paul Muscha, stopped by to say that he had video footage of my buck in velvet, taken as it fed in a late-August cornfield. The broken point was between 3 and 4 inches longer then.

Paul told me he'd been after that buck for a couple of years.

Hunter: Jeff Johnson
Official Score: 170 7/8"
Composite Score: 191 2/8"
Centerfire Rifle

-- Reprinted from the August 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine

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