By Edson B. Waite Jr.
Johnny's friend, Steve Harrison of Harrison Hunting & Taxidermy in Liberty, Ind., is the artist behind this exceptional mount. Photo by: Edson B. Waite Jr.
When Johnny Thacker called his wife on Nov. 18, 2006, the tremor in his voice prompted her to ask, "What's wrong?"
"I've just killed a huge 14-pointer," he blurted.
"Are you sure?" she pressed.
"Well, that's what I think," he said. "I counted at least seven points on the side I could see."
Johnny had been too unnerved to actually approach the downed deer at that point, but too excited to postpone the telephone calls. Had he walked over and lifted the buck's head first, he might've had even more trouble speaking.
It was opening day of Indiana's 2006 gun season, and he was hunting with his cousin, Randy Buttery, Randy's sons Andy and Jason, and his brother-in-law, Pedy. The group leases 120 acres in southern Indiana that border a large state-owned tract. Lots of deer travel back and forth across the property, especially when the firearms season is under way.
"I was in a 17-foot ladder stand that I had used several weekends during bow season," Johnny said. "It's a great spot, about 60 yards into a wooded area from the edge of a cornfield. I could see the corn stubble from my stand as I watched the gully that ran down from the field to my left. At the bottom of the gully is a small stream."
Johnny, who lives in Ohio, had spent the previous night at Randy's home, which is much closer to the lease and allowed for more sleep. The whole crew was at the leased farm well before daybreak.
"I parked my truck at the edge of a cornfield along the gravel road and walked the several hundred yards to my stand. The temperature was about 45 degrees, so not too bad for walking. I attached a drag rag to my leg and saturated it with estrous doe scent," he said.
Johnny was aloft and comfortable by 6:15, a full hour before legal shooting hours. The sky was clear, so sunrise would be on schedule. Thinking back to many weekends already spent in that stand, Johnny recalled all the bucks and does he had seen but was never able to shoot for whatever reason. He hoped his luck would be better that day.
Johnny Thacker shows why he's hooked on the Hoosier State. He shot this 21-pointer on opening day of Indiana's '06 shotgun season. Photo Courtesy of Johnny Thacker
It wasn't long after daylight when the action started.
"I heard something down the hill to my right, so I stood up in the stand to be ready and started looking hard in the direction of the sound. Almost immediately, I saw a very large doe moving along the hillside to my right. She was coming toward me at a slow pace," he said. "I was not going to tag this deer, so I leaned against the tree and watched as she came closer.
"The slight breeze was at her back, so there was little chance she would wind me. It was a good opportunity to study her in her world," Johnny continued. "It was probably six or seven minutes before I noticed another deer behind her in the thicker brush. I took much more interest in that one, which wore a good set of antlers.
"It was a very nice 8-pointer, certainly a shooter on most days. I watched as the buck followed the doe's trail, raising its head and occasionally curling its tongue in the wind.
"I was watching very intently as it came to within 100 yards. For some reason I can't understand to this day, I never even raised my Remington 1100. I just held it down by my waist as I watched, fascinated as this very nice buck continued toward me. I had lost track of the doe, but I think she dropped down over the hill behind me. This whole scene timed out for maybe 20 to 25 minutes, and the 8-pointer continued forward," he said.
"Suddenly, it hung up. Its ears perked, and it turned to look to its right, straight out in front of me. I strained my neck to see what it saw or heard. For several minutes, I saw nothing, and then I almost muttered, 'Oh my God!'
"There in front of me at about 200 yards was the biggest buck I had ever seen," he continued. "The rack was awesome. I started to get nervous right away. I had to take my eyes off the antlers or I would surely become a vegetable in a treestand."
The buck was too far to shoot, but it started moving in Johnny's direction.
"I chanced a look at the 8-pointer that was only 20 yards away from my stand. It was looking at the other buck very intently, and then it dropped its head and crossed over the hill behind me. Now it was just me and this monster coming my way," he said. "I really couldn't figure why it kept coming, but it did. I had my shotgun on my shoulder at that point, and had even picked the spot where I would take the shot. All I had to do was to wait for the buck to enter the lane so I could pull the trigger, if I could."
The bruiser buck made it to the bottom of the hill, crossed the stream and continued toward Johnny's stand.
"It must have taken 20 minutes for it to travel that 150 yards. My stomach was like jelly, and my hands were sweating," he said. "I wasn't shaking yet, but that might be coming. This was the biggest buck I had ever seen.
"When that buck stepped into my chosen window, I squeezed the trigger. The blast shook me out of my dreams. The buck dropped right there on the spot, and I was dumbstruck. What had I just done?
"I backed up against the tree and stood there for a long time, trying to calm down. I didn't want to fall off the stand at that point, and I really was shaking. I then sat for several minutes before unloading my gun and making my way to the bottom and the relative safety of the ground. I could see the deer lying there, but I was not sure it was dead. I didn't want to get too close, in case it got up to run.
"After a while, I reloaded my gun and walked about 30 yards closer. I counted seven points on the side of the rack that was visible, so I knew it was big ... really big ... really, really big! I still was not sure it was dead, so I backed off and walked to my truck to wait a little longer.
"That's when I made the phone call to the wife," said Johnny. "About that time, Andy and Jason came down the gravel road to where I was parked. They told me that they had heard a deep grunt from the deer right after my shot. Funny, I didn't hear any grunt. I told them that it was a monster buck, but they didn't believe me, although they were sure in a hurry to see why I was so excited."
The guys loaded into Johnny's truck and drove over the corn stubble to the edge of the woods so they wouldn't have to drag the deer so far. Then they walked in. The boys saw the deer at the same time and were awestruck at its size. Andy was an avid bowhunter with several trophies to his credit, but the sight of the buck unhinged him.
"Man, that could be a new state record," he exclaimed. "I've never seen anything that big in Indiana!"
"We lifted the head and counted and recounted," Johnny said. "There were 21 points. That's when we exchanged high-fives. Andy was on the radio, calling his dad to tell him what was going on and to ask him to meet us at the top of the hill as soon as he could.
"It was a good thing the boys were there to help me, 'cause I was still pretty shaken up," he continued. "I might have carved myself up during the field-dressing. But the boys got that done in pretty good time, and the three of us were able to drag it out to the truck and load it in short order.
"We had just got back to the road when Randy came up the hill to where we were sitting. He pulled up behind me and just sat there. The tailgate was down, and he could see the whole rack. I could see him through the window, just sitting there staring at my prize. His jaw was hanging down, for sure," Johnny said.
Hunter: Johnny Thacker
Official Score: 205 3/8"
Composite Score: 225 1/8"
-- Reprinted from the July 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine