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Laughing All the Way to the Record Book

Jason Hastings' father and friend laughed first when he claimed he'd shot a monster buck, but you can see who laughed last.
By Jason B. Hastings

-- My father and I own more than 600 acres in North Bangor, N.Y., and we've been managing it for whitetails for the past five years. There are half a dozen food plots and a couple of corn fields we purposely leave for deer. Most of our treestands are on the edges of fields because more than 200 acres of our land is a cedar swamp. For a different hunting tactic in 2004, we used about 300 old pallets to construct a makeshift bridge. Then we built some enclosed treestands.

We cut out three 200-yard shooting lanes and saw more deer than we'd ever seen in the woods. After building our permanent stand, we began putting up portable ones for bow season. My best friend Adam Southworth wanted to be the first to hunt the property during bow season. I told him that was fine since I'd be taking vacation time for most of the hunting season.

On the much anticipated opening day of bow season, I spotted three small 4- and 6-pointers, but none that I wanted to shoot. Back at my house that night, Adam burst through the door, breathing hard, his eyes as big as eggs. All he could say was "Big buck, big buck!"

"What happened?" I asked.

He yelled, "I just shot the biggest buck I've ever seen!"

"Did you hit it?"

Adam didn't have a clue. "Well, I shot it at 25 yards, and it ran off!"

We gathered floodlights and headed out to where he thought he'd shot it. I immediately spotted his arrow, and it was covered in dark red blood. We soon found the trail, and only 20 yards later, there lay a beautiful 10-pointer.

We were ecstatic. We immediately field-dressed it, and then brought the buck back to my house. Adam's buck weighed 208 pounds and made the New York State Big Buck Club. The rack measured 125 1/8 after drying.

We let the area cool down until the first day of rifle season. But that week was so warm, deer just weren't moving, and all I saw was a spike. I didn't go back until Nov. 13. The morning started out warm and slow, but just before dark, the temperature dropped rapidly and it began snowing. Suddenly the deer began to move, and I saw 10 or 11 does and four small bucks crossing the shooting lanes.

A doe wandered out with a 10- or 12-pointer right behind her. The doe stopped dead in its tracks and so did the buck. It was getting darker, but since there was a cedar tree blocking the buck's vitals, I decided to wait. I hoped he'd step forward so I could take a shot. Suddenly, the doe raised her head, turned and ran. The buck immediately followed, but I never had a shot. I was sick that I had to pass up such a beautiful buck.

I told Adam and my dad about the huge buck, and they agreed it wasn't worth wounding or scaring a buck like that. That night I tossed and turned. In the morning, the temperature had dropped about 20 degrees and snow was still falling. I left my house around 2:30 p.m. to get to my stand with the high hopes that I would at least get to see the buck again.

On the way to my stand, I saw two fresh scrapes next to a cedar tree about 18 to 20 inches in diameter, rubbed to shreds. I'd never seen a tree that size rubbed like that in my entire life! What got my hopes up and heart pumping even harder is that there wasn't any snow in the rubs, and it had been snowing a little all day. I finally got into my stand, shut the door, and glanced toward the shooting lanes, where a doe was running toward the end of the middle one.

I couldn't move. The biggest buck I'd ever seen was about 10 yards behind her. I was shaking. I actually shut my eyes in disbelief. I slowly lifted my binoculars because I truly thought it had to be a moose. But to my amazement it was a buck - a trophy in every sense.

By this time, the doe had already hit the woods. There were only about 30 yards of woods before the last shooting lane. I slowly slid my binoculars to the floor and grabbed my gun. I only had time to put one round in, put the gun out the window, and watch the doe enter the woods. As soon as I looked down the scope, the buck was following close behind. I put the crosshairs on its shoulder and pulled the trigger. He never even flinched.

My heart was pounding 100 times a second, and, in disbelief, I began trying to piece together what just happened. I was only in the stand a couple minutes and had shot the biggest buck of my life. Leaving all my gear, I climbed down and headed to the woods where the buck had entered about 250 yards distant. I'm a big guy, and I've never moved like I did down to the cedar woods, but I was disappointed when I got there.

All I could find were a few brown hairs and a couple of drops of blood. My stomach started to flop and tighten into knots; I thought I had wounded the buck of a lifetime. I took about 10 steps in the direction he entered the woods before I saw what appeared to be a huge dried cedar tree in the closing darkness. As I got closer, though, I realized the cedar had antlers! When standing next to the buck, the rack almost came up to my waist. Usually people say bucks have ground shrinkage. Not this one; he had ground growth.

I was going to need help dragging, so I went home. When I told dad and Adam I'd shot a huge buck, they asked if it was the one I had seen before. I laughed and said, "No way, that buck was small compared to this one."

Not believing me, they began laughing and taunting me.

The laughing stopped, however, when they finally saw my buck. Instead, their jaws dropped. When we got the deer home, we hung up the deer and were astounded at its size - 235 pounds. I began inviting friends over to view this monster buck. Everyone was shocked when they saw it.

I had hundreds of pictures of deer from my trail camera during that summer, but I'd never seen that buck. BTR scorer Kenneth Hammel measured the rack; it tallied 159 4/8 as an 11-pointer in the Perfect antler classification. In the New York State Big Buck Club, it scored 167 4/8 Typical and is recognized as the biggest buck shot in New York in 2004 with a gun.

It just goes to show that it's often a good idea to change your hunting patterns. In the past I've stuck to the same spot and same times, but this buck was found by trying something different.

Jason Hastings
North Bangor, New York

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