By Marc Murrell
Thirteen-year-old James Livingston's first-ever whitetail was one of the largest taken throughout North America in 2007.
Being in the right place at the right time generally counts for something. And this might be particularly true when it comes to hunting big whitetails.
Many tales are told of ones that got away. They were too far, too fast, or it just flat out didn't work for whatever reason. However, once in a great while a plan comes together and Lady Luck shines brightly on a hunter.
Such was the case for a 13-year-old Junction City, Kan., teen when he shot his first whitetail during the 2007 youth season near his home.
James Livingston is an eighth-grader and moved to the Sunflower State from Idaho when his father transferred to a new job. His father, Jerry, admitted Kansas' reputation as a state with a rich pheasant hunting tradition weighed on his decision to move his family there.
"We raise, train and field-trial Springer spaniels, so we've always loved pheasant hunting," Jerry said of the "carrot" his boss dangled about a possible job in the Sunflower State.
Kansas' deer hunting reputation didn't hurt, either.
"My dad told me it was like the fifth best state for white-tailed deer hunting, so that was pretty cool," James said of his impression of coming to Kansas. "I was excited."
James' memorable hunt took place during Kansas' special youth deer season. The season allows kids 16 and younger to hunt deer under the immediate supervision of an adult prior to most of the regular deer seasons.
It's the perfect opportunity to spend quality time with a young person without the confusion of the regular season. And although James had taken his first deer, a muley buck in Wyoming the previous year, he was anxious to hunt whitetails in Kansas.
"From then on, I really started liking deer hunting," James said of his initial experience. "Getting a deer was really fun, and spending time with my dad and brother was nice, too."
James and his dad scouted prior to the youth season opener, but admitted they'd never been to the location where he took the buck that put his smiling face in magazines. His goals weren't high, and the youngster hoped for nothing more than a buck of most any sort.
"Opening morning we'd been setting treestands on another spot and saw a couple of does," James said of the first trip of the season. "We decided to drive around and look for a nicer spot on public land, and we saw a place where my dad said we could probably jump a deer out of its bed or stalk one."
The Unit 8 public land was laced with trees and soybean fields, which looked promising. They first visited the area that evening with a south wind as the pair traversed a row of trees.
"We jumped up this little 6-pointer and, as soon as I pulled up my gun, it bolted off and I didn't get a shot," James said of his first encounter. "We walked farther, and I saw a couple other bucks. One was a 2 1⁄2-year-old my dad said was a good one, but it also took off before I could take a shot."
Father and son returned to town, the latter a bit dejected over not getting a deer that day. Sunday morning church plans overruled a hunt then, but James' pleading convinced his father to take him again that afternoon.
The pair encountered a west wind on their arrival and decided to park in a different location to avoid detection. They exited their vehicle and started walking the edge of a bean field.
"We saw a couple does about 200 yards away, eating beans. They did not know we were even there," James recounted. "They walked into the woods, and we never saw them again."
James' dad suggested they hold tight to see if there were any bucks in the vicinity. And they didn't have long to wait.
"My dad whispered, 'That's the buck of a lifetime out there,' and I slowly crawled over to where I could see it better," James said. "The rack on that deer was breathtaking."
The height of the beans and some tall grass didn't allow James to get a clear view of the buck through the scope on his grandfather's lever-action .243. His shooting sticks weren't high enough. The buck walked out of sight, and their instant high started heading the other way in a hurry.
"I talked my dad into going around the edge of the bean field to try and cut it off," James said. "We walked around and saw a couple of other bucks, but they were just distractions. My mind was set on getting the buck I had just seen."
James was in front of his dad when he knelt to glass the area ahead. All of a sudden, he saw the body of the buck roughly 100 yards ahead.
"I couldn't really see its rack because the light was fading and there were trees behind it," James said. "I got all set up on my shooting sticks and, right as I pulled the trigger, I realized my gun was on safety. I put it back on fire and got repositioned. When I shot, it loped around and disappeared behind some trees and bushes."
Wanting to run immediately up there, James resisted the urge - not knowing if he'd made a good shot or even hit the deer. The pair decided to back out and return to town and get a couple of good flashlights.
"When we got to where the deer had been standing, there was no blood. My heart just sank," James said. "We walked around the turn of the bean field and not 20 feet from where we last saw it, all I saw was RACK!"
James ran to his father and gave him a trophy-sized hug.
"It was surreal," James' father said of accompanying and helping his son accomplish something hunters of any age could only dream about. "It was exciting, emotional and an incredible experience."
James ran next to his buck, jumped on its back and hoisted the antlers into the air. They later dragged the deer out and returned home for a long and exciting night.
"I got two hours of sleep because we were up all night talking about my deer," James said. "I never thought in my wildest dreams that I'd take a buck like this!"
Hunter: James Livingston
Official Score: 230 6/8"
Composite Score: 246"
-- Reprinted from the July 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine