By John Hutcheson
Photos by Rick Taylor
This is not a story of a teenager who goes out into the woods deer hunting a couple of times a season and kills a huge deer while riding out of the woods on a four-wheeler. This is a story about chasing, thinking and maneuvering on a particular and special deer for more than two years before finally having the success about which most can only dream.
It is also a story about a lot of time and lots of hard work. I welcome blind luck as quickly as anyone, but I am not bragging when I say Lady Luck was on vacation on Jan. 8, 2009.
I have the opportunity to spend a lot of time in Davidson County in middle Tennessee, checking good looking deer spots. I see quite a few deer and, occasionally, I'll spot a very nice buck.
While glassing one of the areas on a late summer day in 2006, I saw a buck that sent shivers down my spine. In that area I would usually see four or five bucks feeding together in a pasture almost every afternoon. All of the deer were what I would call shooters with a 6-pointer, a couple of 4x4s and a couple of 10-pointers - one of which was exceptional.
This particular afternoon, another buck joined them and came out of the woods right at dark. With the help of a spotting scope, I saw what I almost couldn't believe. I counted approximately 20 points on a mainframe 5x5 with a spread wider than any I had seen on a deer.
The height of this buck's antlers and the mass were unbelievable. I watched the deer feed deeper into the pasture as darkness fell. Long after they were invisible, I found myself still not wanting to leave. I knew that I had just seen a once-in-a-lifetime whitetail.
I called my dad, who is my hunting partner, and we had the first of many conversations that would take place over the next couple of years.
I continued to glass the bachelor group for the remainder of the summer, but I saw the monster only a few times, always at dusk. I obtained permission to hunt two neighboring farms, but I could not gain access to the pasture where I was seeing the big buck and its buddies.
As Dad and I scouted, we found more and more sign that we believed belonged to the big guy. We began to narrow our areas on the farms to where we thought it was hanging out. When the last Saturday in September rolled around (which starts Tennessee's archery season), we hoped we would be ready.
Yet that entire deer season came and went without encountering the buck. I could still see it on rare occasions with my spotting scope, right at dark, usually after legal hunting hours. But I never saw it during the daytime. It was always within half a mile from one of the farms I could hunt, so I held out hope that the following season would end differently.
Late summer 2007, I again started seeing the big buck and its companions in the same areas. But the deer eluded me.
In the fall of 2008, just before the archery season, Dad and I were determined to get all of the information possible. I knew that the buck was an impressive monster two years earlier, so I was afraid that its rack might be on the backside of its peak. I was seeing it less often, too.
We had pulled aerial photographs and studied them many times and had put in a lot of off-season scouting trying to pinpoint the buck's bedroom. We had hundreds of conversations ... "What do you think? Could the buck be bedding in here?"
During 2008's late bow season, we got our first break.
While scouting a really dense pine thicket, I came upon a rub line that I felt had to belong to the big guy. There were probably 15 pine trees rubbed very aggressively, the smallest the size of a volleyball. Most were basketball-sized trees. That cinched where I'd be hunting!
This thicket is custom made for bowhunting. And since that is all we do anyway, it should work out great. Smaller bucks and does would come through at all hours of the day, but not the big one. Not until Nov. 20.
It was about 9:30 in the morning. I had just finished a short non-aggressive rattling sequence when I put my antlers down and picked up my bow. I looked out into an opening approximately 80 yards away and there was no mistaking the buck standing there. It burst into the small opening, looked around, and I grunted.
But the deer ignored me. It then put its nose down and followed the scent of some does that had entered the thicket a few minutes earlier. I couldn't believe it.
I know that just seeing a huge deer shouldn't affect a grown man like it did me, but after the time and effort I had put into getting close to this deer, I kind of felt weak. One thing I knew for sure was that I would be in that area every chance until gun season closed Jan. 11, 2009. I also gave some thought to trading in my bow for my rifle when the gun season started, but I didn't. Not at first.
Dad and I hunted the area throughout the rut and all of December, and it was really beginning to look like we had been skunked again. We got to hunt Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 7, and we were going to finish out the season the next day with an all-day sit. I would then have to forget about that buck for another year and go back to work on Friday.
During the night, I made a tough decision for which I'll always be thankful.
I decided to take my rifle.
Thursday morning was around 40 degrees and sunny. I had moved my stand to the outside of the pine thicket so that I could cover a couple of hundred yards. There is something about having a rifle in your lap that just gives you confidence. I knew that if the buck appeared within 100 yards to either side, I would have a good shot.
About 7 a.m., I started thinking of how I'd seen this deer only one other time in two years during shooting hours. I know that this sounds corny, but at that time I realized just how privileged I was to have had the opportunity to hunt the deer.
As I sat there thinking about the buck and its 8-point traveling companion, I looked up the ridge to my right and saw two bucks. Sure enough, one was an 8-pointer. The other was the monster for which I'd dedicated two years of eyestrain and boot leather. They were standing 100 yards away, and I had a rifle in my hand.
Folks ask me what I thought when I saw that deer. The only thing I remember thinking is: "Don't mess this up!"
I had to be careful with the 8-pointer walking toward me. I slowly raised my rifle, picked a spot on the big buck's chest and squeezed the trigger. The deer dropped.
My emotions were racing. There was so much joy, but it also felt like I had just lost a friend.
I realize that I will never find another deer like this because I cannot afford to travel to the big buck states to look for one. But I do know that I will be out there in Tennessee next season with bow in hand, looking for the big guy's offspring and being just as fired up about it as I was this year.
Hunter: John Hutcheson
Official Score: 182 2/8"
Composite Score: 201 6/8"
-- Reprinted from the October 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.