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Ugly Buckling Grow Up

Hunter: John Shelton
John Shelton's 22-pointer is not only a Missouri state record, but it's also No. 8 in the world among Irregulars felled by crossbow. The job of immortalizing Limpy fell to Camdenton, Mo., taxidermist Roy Moorehead (Wildlife Creations). Photo by Katie Shelton Photography

Missouri's No. 1 Irregular by Crossbow
By Mike Handley

Starved for sleep, bad hips and knees seesawing, John Shelton stumbled to the bedroom door, which, moments earlier, had been rocking on its hinges with the impact of frantic knocking. Expecting what surely had to be bad news, he twisted the knob and pulled open the door to see his son, Joey, looking way too cheerful.

That John didn't slam it in his son's smiling face is testament only to their shared love of deer hunting. It might have been July, several weeks before any of Missouri's 2007 seasons opened, but Joey had no problem at all in convincing his dad to get dressed and to accompany him.

A few minutes later, John completely understood Joey's exuberance.

Fortunately, the enormous whitetail still was right where Joey had seen it. The buck's rack was covered in velvet, but it carried a lot of junk - meaning stickers and kickers - amidst an unbelievably strong array of typical points.

The biggest surprise, however, came when the deer started walking away from the pair of gawkers. John recognized the animal's peculiar gait immediately.

Hunter: John SheltonThere was no mistake. They were looking at Limpy, a buck they'd come to know well in recent years. It had survived only because it chose to buddy up to a much larger whitetail in previous seasons, and nobody wanted to settle for the smaller of the two.

But now the once gangly Limpy, a deer that John almost shot two years earlier out of pity, was all grown up - bonafide centerfold material for deer hunting magazines. Father and son groaned with delight.

All the neighbors knew the distinctive whitetail by name. In 2005, John saw it almost every week. The following year, Limpy put on a very respectable 10-point rack - the kind of antlers that would make it an instant target in most any other season. But the crippled buck was traveling with an even bigger buck then, so it was safe.

John could relate to the deer. Since he was 10 years old, he's suffered from a bone disease. Kids normally outgrow it, but his turned into degenerative arthritis. He has two artificial hips, and bad shoulders and elbows.

Nevertheless, the 48-year-old pastor cannot imagine life without hunting.

"I just have to be more creative," he says.

One side effect of his arthritis, for example, is the noise he makes while walking through the woods. To compensate, John always carries a push-button turkey call. He uses it to put potentially spooked deer at ease.

More recently, because he hunts from the ground, he relies heavily on Scent-Lok clothing. He never wanted to give up treestands, but the last time he climbed, he fell and shattered an ankle.

He also does most of his scouting from inside a vehicle, searching out both deer and deer crossings. If he sees a nice buck on property he can't hunt, he'll ask for permission, which is what happened when he caught sight of Limpy in October 2007.

The very next morning, John was in the woods flanking the field where he'd seen Limpy. He saw the buck, too, as well as a big 8-pointer and a doe. All three entered the field.

Hunter: John Shelton
Photo by Katie Shelton Photography

John grunted and stopped the other two deer, but Limpy kept on walking, well beyond the range of a crossbow.

The transition to a crossbow was hard for John, who had always been an instinctive archer. But drawing a conventional bow is no longer an option, which is why he went over to the Dark Side.

"Everybody hates crossbow hunters," he said. "I was always told that it's like cheating ... a 100-yard weapon ... no challenge ... like a gun, etc.  It's easy to believe until you try it yourself. There is no way I'd shoot a deer past 30 yards with it. The noise is unbelievable."

When John returned to that woodlot for the evening, he noticed kids playing in the yards of nearby houses.

"It was like I wasn't even hunting," he said. "So I decided to move to the woods across the road."

He hadn't gone far into the other woodlot when he heard a car stop on the road. And then another one stopped. He found out later that a couple of bucks were trying to corral a hot doe. A third buck was watching the circus. And when the cars left, it ran out and chased off the little bucks.

Although he didn't exactly have a ringside seat, John knew what was happening. Being a proactive hunter, he decided to slip closer to the action.

When he reached the bench he thought would afford the perfect vantage point, he couldn't see any deer. He thought he'd messed up, which is why he pulled out his deer call.

He flipped his can, and a 6-pointer ran toward him, with Limpy giving chase.

The monstrous buck passed within 20 feet of John, but the woods were too thick there to allow a shot, and Limpy went back to the doe.

"The 6-pointer was licking its nose like ice cream on a hot afternoon," John said. "I thought, 'Man, this isn't supposed to happen 'til November!'"

It was just Oct. 9, and it wasn't the first day he'd seen signs of the rut in full swing. Earlier that week, he'd passed on a 160ish 9-pointer that had been chasing a doe.

A few minutes later, another small buck came barreling past John, also being chased by Limpy.

This time, Limpy passed through the only clear lane to be found, and at a mere 23 yards from John, who whistled. Limpy stopped, and he shot.

"It sounded like a board hitting concrete," said John.

Subscribe Today!Limpy raced back into the brambles.

Shortly afterward, a kneeling John was almost run over by the 6-pointer Limpy had chased past him earlier. This time, the young buck passed almost within arm's reach.

As soon as his breathing and pulse rate returned to normal, John called his wife, Vickie. And then he phoned Joey, his "dragger." That's their routine: John cleans; Joey drags.

Joey arrived a short while later with two buddies. The tracking job was short. Limpy had traveled only 30 yards after the shot.

As John was putting his tag on the buck, he felt a little empty. The deer that had consumed so much of his time and imagination was gone. But he wouldn't have traded that afternoon for all the tea in China, even though news of the big buck's demise - or rather, the realization that such an enormous whitetail could've come from those parts -has since led to the posting of much of the land.

"God threw me a bone," John smiles. "And I'm not complaining."

Hunter: John Shelton
Official Score: 204 6/8"
Composite Score: 222 6/8"

-- Reprinted from the October 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine