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Like Clockwork

Hunter: Michael Burkley

Mississippi's new state-record Semi by bow

By Mike Handley
Photos Courtesy of Michael Burkley

If you’re a deer hunter with a computer, chances are you’ve already seen Michael Burkley and his obscenely wide Mississippi buck from the 2008 season. Those images were the first to be mass-forwarded, ripped and posted on Internet sites across cyberspace last fall. Just Google the young bowhunter’s name, and it’ll reveal just how far the news spread since he arrowed the buck Oct. 4.
It was pretty cool, at first. Who wouldn’t want to harvest a new state record and be the talk of the deer hunting community?

But, as is often the case, elation turned sour.

To be fair, most of the deer hunters who saw photos of a beaming Michael squatting behind his awesome buck were thrilled for him.

Some, however, were all too eager to belittle both the hunter and his accomplishment.

Because the truck tag said Adams County, Miss., and the deer was touted as being taken in Jefferson County, there were questions about where he was actually hunting. Another person claimed the tag in the photo had a 2004 sticker on it, which cast a shadow over its being shot in 2008.

But one of the most grating comments was that Michael gut-shot the buck.

He didn’t.

It was a long poke, about 56 yards, but one that Michael had anticipated (and practiced for) once he’d patterned the deer and realized he’d have to hunt it from a ground blind tucked into the CRP. The arrow’s trajectory was perfect —whether testament to Michael’s aim or the deer’s reaction to the shot. It entered behind the last rib on the right side and drove forward to the left shoulder, which prevented a complete pass-through.

Hunter: Michael BurkleyAs the buck ran off afterward, both lungs out of commission, Michael and his father, Lou, saw the fletching and about 3-4 inches of shaft protruding.

The pain of grumpy old men’s faulty observations aside, the wattage of Michael’s smile hasn’t diminished.

Christmas in September

Michael had a wonderful present waiting for him when he checked a trail camera a couple of weeks prior to the Oct. 1 bow opener. Among the images was one showing the clear silhouette of a tremendous buck waltzing across a bean field on a hazy afternoon. At least a dozen long points were visible on the wide rack.

Totally juiced over the photograph and the fact that it had been taken while the sun was up, he went out to the bean field with a spotting scope to look for the buck at every opportunity, hoping to pattern it. He could almost make the hour-long drive from his house in Natchez (Adams County) to the tract in neighboring Jefferson County blindfolded.

“This buck would appear about 6 p.m. every day, although it never used the same trail to enter the bean field,” Michael said. “Because of that, my only real option for hunting the deer was to go with a ground blind at the edge of the CRP.”

The 27-year-old chose a Double Bull blind and “brushed it up” to help it blend in with the CRP. He’d never hunted out of a blind like that.

On Oct. 1, he and his cousin, Brian, went out between 2 and 3 p.m. and set up the blind downwind of where he hoped the buck might enter the field. Brian was there to video the hunt. An hour later, deer began filtering into the 600-acre field. The Burkleys have about 1,400 acres of cropland about a mile and a half (as a crow flies) from the Mississippi River.

“I was worried. I didn’t know which trail the buck would use. So to play it safe on that first day, we set up the blind about 75 to 80 yards away from where I really thought it might step out of the woods,” he said.

When the dinner bell rang, the buck came to the bean buffet, but it was so far away that Michael didn’t bother holding his bow.

“There was no chance of it getting closer,” he said. “And I wasn’t interested in any other deer. My mind was set on that one.”

The second day of the season, he and his dad, Lou, set the blind up about 50 yards closer to where the buck appeared the previous evening. He didn’t get a shot at the bruiser, but they got some good footage of it.

On day three, Michael and his dad were back in the blind. The buck arrived, but it was 150 yards distant.

Brian was hunting the opposite end of the field that day. Michael was on his cell phone with Brian, “getting a report,” when Lou tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to a buck approaching at 60 yards. It was a mainframe 8-pointer in velvet, between 20 and 22 inches wide, and with lots of mass.

Michael wanted it.

When the buck was feeding within what Michael guessed was 50 yards — as close as he thought it would get — he held his 40-yard pin over the deer’s back and released. When the arrow sailed over the deer, it ran off and resumed feeding in the beans.

They didn’t get the velvet-clad deer on film. Lou had brought along a new digital camera, but it didn’t have a memory card inserted, and the internal memory had filled up quickly.

As was their custom, a move calculated not to draw attention to the blind, Uncle Steve (Lou’s twin brother) drove in with the truck to collect the guys after dark.

Michael and Lou were in the blind by 4:45 on Oct. 4, a steamy afternoon. About 20 to 30 minutes after they’d settled in, they saw a yearling at the wood’s edge. The big buck was in the shadows behind it.

“This time, the buck wasn’t the last to enter the field. It was the first, and it was followed by not one, but two yearlings,” Michael said.

When it entered the field a couple of hours before dark, it was angling toward the blind.

Subscribe Today!Michael’s second grunt stopped it.

As Michael was drawing his bow, his dad whispered: “The camera’s not working.”

Michael had ranged several spots in the field. He guessed the buck was between 50 and 55 yards, so he held his 40-yard pin 8-10 inches above the broadside deer’s back and released.

At the shot, the deer turned perfectly, quartering away, and the arrow angled from last rib to off-side front leg. Michael saw the fletching protruding as the buck rocketed toward the tree line.

He and his dad waited almost an hour before getting out of the blind.

Since the arrow hadn’t passed through, the blood was sparse; just specks in the dirt. But they were tracking under the sun, and there was enough to lead them to the downed deer, which had covered about 125 yards before gravity claimed it.

Hunter: Michael Burkley
Official Score: 189 1/8"
Composite Score: 194 3/8"
Compound Bow
Semi-Irregular

-- Reprinted from the July 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.

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