By Dale Weddle
Photos Courtesy of Ervin Vance
Owen County, Ky., and the surrounding area have earned a solid reputation as a meat hunter's Mecca. The vicinity often referred to as the "Golden Triangle" consistently places at or near the top in the state for numbers of deer taken each fall.
For the years 2001 through 2007, Owen County had an annual harvest that fell somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 deer. This county and several others lie within a triangle bordered by Interstates 64, 75 and 71 and anchored by the cities of Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati. This Golden Triangle is not only noted for its economic prosperity in relation to other areas of the state, but also boasts some exceptional white-tailed deer habitat.
While regularly producing large numbers of deer, Owen has been overshadowed in trophy whitetail journals lately by it neighbors, Henry County to the south and Gallatin to the north.
In 2004, a new state record in the BTR's pickup category was registered when Chris Crawford found a 30-point Irregular scoring 248 2⁄8 while still-hunting below a hardwood ridge in Henry County (See the November 2006 issue of Rack). Just a few years earlier, Gallatin County had been in the spotlight for producing Troy Wilson's awesome velvet buck that shared the Golden Laurel Citation as a new world record in the blackpowder (irregular) category with an amazing tally of 303 4⁄8 inches (September 2002 issue).
On Nov. 9, 2007, Ervin Vance left his home in Beaver, Ky., for the four-hour drive to the area he intended to hunt in Owen County. Little did he know that before the week was out, the whitetail hunting network would be buzzing with news of the Vance Buck, and Owen County would join its neighbors with its own legendary trophy.
It's somewhat ironic that, more than 200 years after Daniel Boone first spent a year exploring Kentucky and pursuing its bountiful wild game, young Mr. Vance would cross much of the same territory traveling from his native Floyd County up to Owen County.
Unlike Boone, who had taken part in blazing the wilderness trail through Cumberland Gap up to the Great Meadow, Ervin traveled the Mountain Parkway to Interstate 64, and then drove up I-75 into the heart of the Golden Triangle.
"I had a good friend and neighbor who I used to play basketball with," Ervin said. "He moved to Owen County and bought some property, so he was my connection up there. Several of us started making the trip each fall to deer hunt. He lets about eight people hunt the 300 acres.
"We left a camper on the property in order to have a ready place to stay. Kentucky has an early muzzleloader season for a weekend in October, and we hunted that. But mainly we just used that weekend to scout for sign. Our plan was to come back for a more serious hunt during the modern firearms season that coincides with the rut.
"Our approach was to hunt a short while in the morning with our muzzleloaders, and then scout for sign the remainder of the days. One thing I noticed right away was the presence of big rubs there. Over the past few years, the size of rubbed trees on the property would get a little bit bigger.
"It was a beautiful weekend with lots of fall colors. I think I saw a couple of deer. My dad, who was hunting with me, might have seen three or four," he said.
The eastern Kentucky hunters went home without any venison on that first hunt, but with lots of anticipation of better things to come the following month, when the rut was underway. Before long, a crispness came to the air as temperatures fell considerably, leaves began to drop and the shorter days triggered a lust in the whitetail world as old as the species itself.
"When the gun season rolled around in mid-November, we loaded up and made the trip back to Owen County early Friday before the Saturday opener," Ervin recalled. "When we arrived, we used the rest of the day to scout some more and to choose stands for the following morning.
"Things had really picked up since October. We saw lots of new rubs and fresh scrapes along with well-used trails. Acorns were falling in the hardwood bottoms, which meant the deer had probably changed to this favored food source.
"I located a spot that looked good, cleaned off a place on the ground to sit and built a little blind. I could see lots of rubs, and there was a thicket about 125 yards downhill. The gun I was going to use was a scoped Remington 7mm Magnum.
"The next morning, we got up and were ready to go about 45 minutes before daylight. Dad and I, along with a couple of other guys who were hunting with us, walked into the woods together, and then started branching off. My flashlight had died, so I had to wait until daylight to locate the spot I had prepared the previous day.
"As I waited in the shadows, the temperature was in the low 30s, and it was very windy. The wind was really whipping the leaves. When daylight broke around 6:30, I discovered my spot was just about 25 yards over the hill from where I had been waiting. I settled in for the morning.
"About 9:20, a doe appeared. With all the leaves swirling around, she didn't suspect anything and came within about a foot of my stand. She didn't spook; just stopped, looked and continued forward. That was the closest I had ever been to a deer, and, for a moment, I considered pulling the trigger.
"About 20 minutes later, two does came by about 60 yards above me. At 10:00, I stood up to stretch my legs and saw something white in the thicket coming my way. It was another doe. Then I turned my head slightly and saw a buck about 50 yards behind her. Its huge rack was sticking up above some briars.
"There was one open spot. As soon as I could get the scope on the buck, I took my chance and shot. Afterward, it ran. I was so nervous, I didn't know whether to go after it right away or to give it awhile. Then I heard the deer kicking in the leaves, and that made up my mind.
"I could hear it a long time before I reached it. When I saw the deer still moving, I put another bullet into it to make sure it was anchored. After a moment of admiring the deer's rack, I discovered I didn't have my knife, so I contacted Dad on my walkie-talkie and told him I'd shot a monster.
"The deer was bigger than anything we had ever seen. It had a 10-point mainframe and other points that seemed to stick up from every place available on the beam. I decided on a full-body mount, and the deer has drawn a lot of attention at some of the deer shows this spring," he said.
Hunter: Ervin Vance
Official Score: 214 2/8"
Composite Score: 234 2/8"
-- Reprinted from the October 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.