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Not Afraid of the Dark

By Mike Handley

Hunter: Jeff Smith
Jeff was so impressed with the sheds that he and his son, Hunter, found in 2005 that he had them mounted with another deer's cape (left). One more year saw the clean 5x5 put on an extra typical point as well as seven irregular ones. The similarities between the two sets of antlers are remarkable.

Very few deer hunters are willing to rise when roosters and sane men sleep in order to climb a tree and hug themselves in the dark a full two hours before dawn.

They might, if they were targeting a specific buck - a really big buck - and if that were the only means of sneaking into bow range.

But that wasn't the case when Jeff Smith decided to do it.

The bowhunter from Crossett, Ark., wanted to be aloft long before sunrise so that he wouldn't spook the wild turkeys he suspected were roosting in the wooded draw he wanted to hunt. Ironically, it was the plentiful turkeys - not whitetails - that lured him to Kansas in the first place.

When Jeff first visited the 7,000-acre, mostly wide open tract, he wasn't looking to lease deer-hunting rights. But while scouting for turkey sign, he stumbled across so many big rubs that it almost looked like the landowner had run amok with his tractor, nicking every cedar tree within reach of a blade.

He knew he wasn't in Arkansas any more.

"When we were looking this property over and saw the long line of cedars that had been ravaged by antlers, we joked that the farmer must've done it," Jeff said. "That was until we met the landowner and saw a 196-inch non-typical rack in his basement."

Hunter: Jeff Smith
You can bet that Jeff Smith doesn't regret expanding his Kansas turkey lease to include whitetails.

Understandably, Jeff shifted gears like a 15-year-old who's just mastered a clutch. Suddenly, jerkily, the proposed turkey lease became a "turkey AND deer lease."

Jeff made the drive up from Arkansas by himself in November 2006. It was a bit early in the school year for his 13-year-old son, Hunter, to accompany him. The kid would have to wait for the Thanksgiving holidays. And, rest assured, it would take an F-5 tornado rolling into downtown Crossett to stop that annual father-son exodus.

Three mornings into his solo hunt, Jeff's choice of locations was dictated by the 15-mph wind report he'd heard on NOAA radio. The best setup, he decided, was a fixed platform not all that far from the cabin where he was spending his nights. It was also close to a ladder stand which had been promised to Hunter.

The two stands were strategically placed along the edge of a hardwood draw between pastures - within 100 yards of where father and son had found some tremendous sheds the previous spring. They recognized the antlers immediately.

Hunter saw the giant 10-pointer twice in 2005. Both times, the enormous buck was within 20 yards. But the brush was too thick, and he had no shot. Jeff had seen it, too.

Before leaving for Kansas, Jeff had sworn to his son that he would not shoot a deer in that area UNLESS it was wearing at least 170 inches of antler (spread included). Anything less was Hunter's.

Knowing that the draw was a favorite roosting site for turkeys, Jeff decided to get there early enough so that if he spooked them, there would be plenty of time for things to settle down and return to normal. That meant getting in place a full two hours before daybreak - 120 minutes of warding off the wind chill on an otherwise 35-degree pre-dawn.

Halfway to his stand, Jeff stopped and pulled his heavy clothes from his backpack. He'd need more than Scent-Lok on this day. Always concerned about scent, he didn't want to work up a sweat en route.

Sure enough, Jeff found himself surrounded by turkeys when black sky finally faded to gray. About 7:00, he reached for his camera to photograph the birds.

That's when he spotted a buck - at least 200 yards away - bounding along a path that might ... "Please, God" ... bring it to a scrape within range of Jeff's bow.

Jeff's prayers were answered a few minutes later.

When the impressive deer was within range, Jeff smacked it. He saw the carbon arrow bury deep into the buck before the whitetail whirled to flee - a maneuver that snapped the shaft. The buck zoomed almost underneath Jeff, racing out another 60 yards.

But the retreat came to an abrupt halt.

Read More Stories From RACK Magazine"After bucking like a wild bronco, the deer fell over stone dead," he said. "It wasn't until afterward that I realized I'd taken the 10-pointer, only it wasn't a 10-pointer anymore."

Hunter: Jeff Smith
Official Score: 176 2/8"
Composite Score: 198 6/8"
Compound Bow

-- Reprinted from the September 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine

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