By Lisa L. Price
Photos Courtesy of: Roger McKinley
If you tell other hunters you got drawn for a deer tag in Iowa, you can almost see them salivate in companionable eagerness. The same thing happens if you tell them you're going to head to Illinois or Kansas in the fall, where you'll be hunting the rut. You almost need to hand them a washcloth, to catch the drool.
But sometimes, huge bucks come out of nowhere. It's hard to understand: How did a buck get to be so big, over a period of years, and not be seen? And even more surprising, how did such a monstrous rack grow in an area which is not known for producing big bucks?
Roger McKinley of Clinton, Mo., had been hunting for 35 years and never seen a buck anywhere near as big as the one he bagged Nov. 15, 2004. Hunting has always been a way of life for the 47-year-old contractor, thanks to his parents, Jim and Pauline.
He was 12 years old when he started and 14 when he shot a buck worth mounting - the only deer that has graced his wall since 1971. Of course, now there are two.
Not to say that the 2004 season began with a lot of fanfare.
Roger McKinley poses for a quick photo with son Christopher before loading his '04 trophy and driving it to the local meat locker. Before this one, the last time Roger had a whitetail mounted was back in 1971, when he shot a 10-pointer. Thirty-three years is a long time to wait for a chance to better one's personal best.
"I hunted the first day of the season, a Saturday, stayed out all day and didn't do any good at all," Roger said. "I didn't see a deer."
Ever hopeful, however, Roger wasn't discouraged. On Sunday morning, he was back in a favorite spot on a piece of land he owns in Henry County, not far from a large tract of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land. It was a cloudy day, but with no precipitation; the temperature in the mid-40s.
"The land is mostly pasture, and I keep cattle on it," he said. "There's a fairly large creek that runs through the land, and it's timbered on both sides.
"I didn't see anything that morning, so I went home to have a break and to eat some lunch. I went back in the early afternoon," he added. "I found a place, sat and waited."
A short time later, Roger saw a doe weaving through the woods at a trot. With the rut in full swing, Roger suspected a buck was giving chase, and he was right.
"The buck was practically right behind her," he said. "When I shot, it just dropped on the spot."
Roger's .300 Magnum did the job. He hoped.
The two deer had been passing through a grassy area. When the buck dropped at 150 yards, Roger could no longer see it. While walking toward the spot, he kept his gun at the ready in case the buck tried to get up and run.
Roger was as excited as a little kid on Christmas morning when he got his first close-up look at the buck's heavy 21-point rack.
"It really surprised me, because I'd never seen a deer that big, not even running through the timber," he said. "The only bucks I'd seen like that were hanging on the wall at Cabela's or at outdoors shows.
"The biggest buck I'd ever shot before that was a 10-pointer," he added. "When I got a good look at this one, I got sort of shook up."
Roger called his wife, Pat, and son, Christopher, then 17, to come and see the deer and to help him get it out of the woods. He also called his parents.
Roger said that he knew it would be a great moment to share, even if it meant interrupting his son's own hunt.
While waiting for family members to arrive, he admired the buck and thought back over the shot.
"Everything happened really quickly," he said. "When I saw the buck, it was without the aid of the scope, but I knew the rascal had a good rack.
"Instinct took over, and I remember thinking right away: I'd like to shoot this deer," he continued. "Then I just picked my spot in the scope and didn't look at the rack again.
"As I stood there, I was amazed over and over again," he added. "I just didn't think deer like that existed around here. I had no idea."
After taking photographs, the McKinleys loaded the buck in the truck and went home. The next morning, Roger walked outside to remind himself of what he'd shot.
"I still could not believe it," he said.
Roger's next stop was the nearby Heatherington Meat Locker for processing. That evening, his son-in-law took the head and cape to (Ron) Terry's Taxidermy in Nevada, Mo.
"At Heatherington's, they'll do from 500 to 700 deer a year," Roger said.
"They'd never seen one like my buck. It definitely had the biggest set of antlers that year, even though it field-dressed at only 175 pounds."
Roger later found out that another hunter had once seen the buck on a neighboring piece of property during archery season, but, because of distance, hadn't been able to get a shot at it.
Hunter: Roger McKinley
Official Score: 196 1/8"
Composite Score: 213 5/8"
Photos Courtesy of: Roger McKinley
-- Reprinted from the December 2006 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine