By Marvin Seibers
Photo: Carson Bradford of Cumberland Gap, Tenn., knew that this rut-crazed Illinois buck was wearing a kickstand when he shot it. But it wasn't until he knelt beside it that he saw the myriad sticker points, a discovery that shut down his mathematical functions.
-- After twice bumping a 10-pointer that was every bit of 40 inches BIGGER than the 130ish 4x4 he'd shot during his trip to Illinois in 2003, Carson Bradford was painfully aware of how short three days can be. That's how long the state's first (of two) shotgun season lasts.
It's hard to rebound from such a misstep when you're trying to attach a tag on a mature buck.
This was the 28-year-old Tennessean's fourth visit to the Promised Land of deer hunting. He'd been hoping for a chance at a 150-class whitetail.
Carson and his dad, Steve, left Tennessee on the morning of Nov. 17, 2005, the day before the opener. They arrived in Schuyler County a few hours before dark with just enough time to do a little scouting. Their bowhunting buddies had enjoyed the run of the place for a week.
When the Bradfords went to their usual hunting spot, their friends were already set up there, so Steve took Carson to another place about 500 yards away, where there had been very little hunting pressure. The amount of big buck sign they saw was plenty of incentive to return.
On opening morning, they saw a few does and a small 8-pointer. Carson wasn't satisfied with his setup, so he moved his stand to another place where the landowner had collected a trail camera photograph of a brute with an 8-inch drop tine. There weren't any good trees in the area, so he had to settle for one out in the open.
That evening, he saw a few deer, but the bucks were small. He got down a few minutes before dark and, on the way out, jumped a beautiful 10-pointer that might've worn about 170 inches of antler.
The next morning, he slipped very quietly to his stand. Guess what was under his tree? Yep, the big 10 he'd seen the previous evening. It was bedded right there.
Frustrated, but thankful for seeing the monster, he climbed his tree in full view of a small buck.
About 45 minutes later, a huge buck suddenly materialized in the field in front of him. It was going in circles like a beagle trying to hit a hot rabbit's trail. This frantic search lasted about two minutes. What happened next was exactly the wrong thing: The big buck started directly away from Carson -- too far for a shot.
On the verge of panic, Carson grabbed his grunt call. The first grunt did nothing. The deer was too far away. The second time also fell on deaf ears. Not to be ignored, he blew so hard on the grunt the third time that it didn't even sound like a deer -- at least none he'd ever heard. And that did the trick.
The monster stopped, looked his way for a few seconds and then started coming to Carson on a string.
At that point, he started trying to concentrate on what his dad had taught him: When a good buck is coming, don't look at the rack. Just ... make ... the ... shot.
Although the buck soon was within range, Carson couldn't see it. He could hear it grunting, and he saw the tree with which it was having a shoving match.
Finally, the big whitetail stepped into a clear lane. The drop tine confirmed that it was the buck in the landowner's photograph.
Before completely losing his cool, Carson settled the crosshairs on the buck's shoulder and fired. Immediately, the deer bolted toward Carson, until it saw the hunter frantically working another shell into his shotgun. The buck whirled and changed direction before Carson was able to get off a follow-up shot.
Still, the buck kept going. But did it wobble?
Carson could barely hold onto his gun as he called his dad to tell him that he'd just shot the trail camera buck. After getting down from the stand and finding no sign of a hit, he told his dad the disappointing news. Steve told him to not push things.
Nevertheless, Carson eased down the trail. He hadn't gone 20 yards before he saw the deer's feet sticking out of some brush. He'd found it!
When he called his dad back, Steve wanted to know how many points it had.
"I don't know ... a bunch," Carson muttered. (Isn't it funny how a 200-incher can confuse even the sharpest mathematical mind, preventing someone from counting to 26!)
Steve took a 140-class 10-pointer the next morning out of the same stand.
BTR Score: 197 6/8
By Marvin Seibers