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When You’re Hot, You’re Hot

Hunter Phelps took this big 10-pointer during the January rut of Alabama’s 2008-’09 season.
By Hunter Phelps

-- If you hunt, you’re going to have streaks of good and bad luck. I’m currently enjoying the former, having taken two awesome Alabama whitetails over the past two seasons. I'm 20 years old and have been hunting Alabama’s famous Black Belt region since I was 7. The current property we hunt is located in Barbour County just outside of Bakerhill, Ala.

On Jan. 12, 2008, I tagged a 135-inch mainframe 10-pointer that has a split brow tine. I got a picture of the buck on my game camera in the fall and figured it would be the biggest Alabama buck I would ever get — but I was wrong.

On Jan. 23, 2009, I killed a typical 8-pointer that measured 144 inches! The story behind the big 8-pointer is pretty wild. I believe it was just meant to happen and was set up by a higher power. To start things off, I had hung a climber in a bottom about four years earlier. I had hunted the stand about three times without seeing many deer before the 2008-’09 hunting season began.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I decided I was going to hunt it one more time. Just after daylight, a doe eased through my shooting lane. About an hour later, a shooter 8-pointer walked out — I took him. It wasn’t a giant buck but definitely a shooter for where we hunt. As I was dragging the deer out of the bottom, I stopped to catch my breath. As a sat down, I glanced over in the pines a saw what looked like tines sticking up from the ground. I stood up and walked toward it, and it was a giant shed antler.

I immediately knew where I would hunt for the rest of the year (wind permitting). That afternoon during my drive back to school in Gainesville, Fla., that buck was all I could think about. That Thursday, I made my four-hour drive back to the hunting camp just in time to talk to my uncle before I went to bed. We were looking at the shed, and he commented that a buck that size is almost always nocturnal and that I probably wouldn’t ever seem in daylight. All that did was motivate me to sit in the stand all day.

Phelps has been on a string of good luck, having taken this big Alabama 8-pointer during the 2008 rifle season.
The next morning, I woke up and turned on the radio to hear the weather forecast. It was calling for a southwest wind of 5 to 10 mph — perfect for my chosen stand. I eased in before daylight, just in time to watch a jake fly down from his roost. I had never seen that and thought it was pretty cool.

At about 8:30, a doe crossed my shooting lane with a buck grunting behind. I got ready just before the buck stepped out. It was an 8-pointer with about a 105-inch rack, but it wasn’t the shed buck. I didn’t shoot, and by 10:30 I was pretty aggravated. About an hour later, I heard something moving through the bottom, which turned out to be four does. The newcomers fed on acorns for about 45 minutes before something got their attention. They stopped feeding, and all eyes and ears pointed up the hill in front of them.

About two minutes later, I heard something coming. As it got closer, I heard the unmistakable sound of buck grunts. I cant even begin to describe what I felt when the big buck stepped out. It was like something on a Monster Bucks video. I calmly freaked out in my tree as the buck was about to cross the only opening where I had a clear shot.

Just as it hit the opening, I made a loud grunt sound with my mouth. The buck took two steps past the opening before finally stopping behind a bush. That was it; I had no more open shots, and I knew I had just missed my chance at the monster buck.

Luckily, however, my horrible mouth grunt scared the buck enough that it turned around to head back to where it came from. As it started to trot off, I made up my mind that I was going to get a shot. As the buck paused in a small opening, I took the shot.

Instead of the instant reaction I expected, it was like nothing happened. The deer just stood there. So I took another shot. Still unfazed but not wanting to hang around with all the noise, the buck trotted up the hill.

I sat in my climber for about 20 minutes, completely disgusted by what had just happened and praying to the good Lord that I was wrong about what I had just seen. When I started to look for sign of a hit, I realized that I didn’t have a clue where the buck had been standing when I shot. I was so shook up that I just hadn’t thought to mark the spot before I climbed down from the stand.

I decided my only course of action was to check out the hill where the buck had disappeared when it took off. Just before I was about to admit defeat, I looked up the hill about 15 yards to see the buck expired and not going anywhere.

I ran over and grabbed the antlers in disbelief. After I thanked God for helping me find the deer, I drug it behind a tree and hid its antlers as best I could so I could go get some help.

I got back to the truck and drove to the camp jammin’ some Ted Nugent — I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re suppose to do after killing the biggest buck of your life. I pulled in blowing the horn to wake everyone up and asked my uncle and cousin to help me drag out my deer. My little brother was the only one I actually told about the size of the antlers.

As my uncle walked around the tree, he froze and looked at me immediately. We high-fived and celebrated, and he looked at me and said, "Do you realize what you have done?" I got back to the camp with the deer just in time for my dad to pull up and celebrate with us. And that’s why the last two years of hunting will probably be the two greatest I’ll ever have.

--Hunter Phelps

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