By Kevin M. Stephens
-- Getting drawn for a quota hunt in Kentucky is always a good thing. I was fortunate enough to get drawn for the Kleber Wildlife Area hunt on November 3 and 4. Kleber is located in the deer-rich county of Owen. The proximity of Kleber to Lexington, Louisville, Georgetown and other surrounding towns in the Bluegrass State make it a very popular area for outdoorsmen. It has a very high doe-to-buck ratio, but if you look hard enough, you will find some true giants there.
My hunt started a little different than most, in that I didn’t have time to scout the area. My brother was drawn for the hunt as well, but since he had to work late, so he chose not to hunt the following morning. I figured I might as well give his spot a try. Isn’t that what brothers are for?
He’d wanted to hunt a small overgrown field on top of a ridgeline. There were several good trails leading to and from the field. He found an old rusty chair and positioned it among a small clump of cedars in the middle of the field. This provided decent concealment and a good view of the surroundings.
I arrived at the spot and settled into the chair about 20 minutes prior to daybreak. I unzipped my pack and hung my binoculars and my brand-new grunt tube around my neck. After giving myself a quick spray of earth cover scent, I hunkered down. It was still too dark to see well, but the frost on the grass did lighten things up a bit. It was one of those mornings where you have to wiggle your toes every now and then just to make sure you can still feel them. As the sun began to rise, the frost-filled field was transformed into a shimmering paradise beaming with life. Birds of all sizes and colors began to buzz around the field, and squirrels leaped from branch to branch. Soon, I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye. A deer was coming out of the woods behind me.
I eased around and saw that it was an unusually tall 4-pointer slowly grazing in my direction. He was maybe 20 yards away. I decided to try out my new grunt tube. I was expecting a gentle BUURRPP, but got nothing.
This is a good time to point out that you should check all equipment before going into the woods. It seems I’d purchased a grunt tube with a defective reed. Just my luck. The little buck continued on its path and was soon right behind the cedar next to my stand. When he stepped around the cedar, we were eye to eye no more than 6 feet away from each other.
The buck froze. I’m quite sure he was trying to figure out what this 6-foot-tall thing covered in orange was doing sitting in an old rusty chair in the middle of a field, I wondered that myself. He stared for maybe 15 seconds before running about 10 yards and then stopping to stomp at me. He did this for about 5 minutes before he finally wandered back into the woods.
I barely had time to stretch my legs when I saw a single doe coming into the bottom of the field. She slowly walked across the field until she got to a mowed patch where she began to graze. She was maybe 60 yards away and feeding peacefully, when all of a sudden, she froze and stared at the woods behind her. She turned, ran in my direction and then veered off into the woods 15 yards below me.
I thought that one of two things happened: 1) another hunter had spooked her; or 2) She was being pursued by a buck. Being a glass is half full kind of guy, I had to go with option No. 2.
I got my binoculars out and scanned the woods line. After 30 minutes of glassing intently, I gave up hope of spotting her and found myself once again wiggling my toes.
About an hour after daybreak, six does emerged from the woods to graze in the bright-green strip of grass below me. As luck would have it, the sun was at an angle that caused instant blindness when you tried to look at anything below it. Guess where the deer all seemed to be show up? Binoculars were out of the question, so I pulled my hat down and squinted as I watched the does leisurely make their way into the woods on the other side of the grass patch. The deer were active, and I was so pumped up, I had forgotten how cold it was.
Five minutes later, I saw glare bouncing off the white rack of a mature whitetail. I instantly raised my .270 and looked through the scope. I had to use one hand over the end of the scope as a sunshade to be able to see. The buck was still in the brush at the edge of the field, and only his head and rack were visible.
White racks always look bigger in the sun, but I knew this buck was a mature deer. It seemed to take him forever to walk those 20 or so steps to the clearing; in reality it was more like 30 seconds. I had my crosshairs waiting on him, and as soon as his shoulder was clear of the brush, I gave my best BBUURRPP and pulled the trigger.
I don’t know if it was the cold or the fact that I was shaking so bad, but as soon as I pulled the trigger, the deer disappeared. I franticly looked through the scope to get a vantage point so I could go look for blood. Suddenly out of the corner of the scope, I saw him. The buck had dropped in a low spot with only a portion of his rack sticking up.
I had never yelled in the woods until that moment, I let loose with my best good old Kentucky Woo-hooo! I can honestly say that if I could have run as fast in high school as I did to that deer, I would have been a wide receiver instead of a lineman.
I have taken a lot of whitetails in my 30 years of hunting, but never anything like him, a beautiful tall 8-pointer with a lot of mass.
Due to work and family obligations, I only get to hunt maybe five days a year, so to get a deer like that one was very special. The smile on my kid’s face when I pulled into the driveway is the best trophy of all.
--Kevin M. Stephens