Kentucky's Best Velvet Buck by Bow
By Dale Weddle
Everything had gone according to plan until about 5 p.m., when the wind suddenly kicked up and changed direction. Hurley Combs, now standing on his platform 15 feet up a tree overlooking the food plot, had told himself he wouldn't hunt this deer unless everything was perfect.
"I stood up, put my things in my pouch and almost left," he said, "and then I thought, 'I've just got to do this now.' So I continued hunting."
Almost two hours after deciding to stick it out, Hurley twisted in his treestand at the distinct sound of fast-walking deer and immediately saw the gnarly whitetail coming at him from about 100 yards, followed closely by a smaller buck.
"The big one looked like a racking horse," Hurley said. "The next thing I knew, it was right under me, no more than 5 yards. I'm looking down. The deer didn't look as big as it had in the photos, but I saw the kicker on the P-2 and knew it was the one ... Just then, the deer froze and looked right up at me. I thought, 'It's gone. It's over. I'll never see it again.'"
Like many hunters, Hurley juggles time between job, family and pursuing deer. The 32-year-old native of Hazard, Ky., works a full-time job as manager for 84 Lumber Company in Somerset. He also coaches little league baseball, football and basketball.
Considering his limited spare time, Hurley became a big fan of trail cameras back in 2005.
"I like to try new things, and 2007 was my third year using trail cameras. My hunting partner, Hagan Wonn, and I had secured permission in 2006 to hunt a 400-acre farm in neighboring Casey County. We put out some food plots and salt licks. We also hung stands and put out a couple of trail cams."
The cameras paid off in late July.
"The biggest buck of the bunch was photographed when it came in to a salt lick," Hurley said. "We couldn't tell exactly how big it was, but we were impressed."
Two Saturdays before the September opener, Hagan, Hurley and Hurley's 8-year-old son, Jacob, went out to hang stands. When they got to the farm that afternoon, they retrieved the film from one camera and set out another one.
Nine days later, on the Tuesday prior to the Saturday opener, Hagan pulled the film from the farm cameras.
"I won't ever forget the telephone message he left me," Hurley said. "He just said, 'Awesome ... Awesome ... I'm speechless,' and hung up the phone."
Four hundred photos had been taken during those nine days, and there were four bucks, including the big one they'd seen earlier. This time, however, the breathtaking rack was clearly visible on several frames.
"You could pattern the big one from camera to camera. It was never away for more than seven hours. I knew it had to be bedding close by."
The big deer was coming to the food source like clockwork. It was not off more than three or four minutes in the morning, from 9:12 to about 9:15. Afternoon visits were a little less reliable, but, for the most part, the buck arrived around 7:30.
"From Wednesday to Friday, I fretted over that buck until I almost got sick to my stomach," the hunter admitted. "On Friday evening before my hunt, I carried my bow up on the roof of my house and took 20 shots at a block target. My boys, Jacob and 5-year-old Kaleb, were bringing my arrows back up to me. All of the shots were within an inch or so of the center of the target, so I told the boys, 'That's good enough. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be.'"
Hurley couldn't hunt on opening morning because Kaleb had a flag football game at 9:00; Jacob had a Pee Wee game at 10:00.
"My plans were to take off for the farm after the last game. That plan hit a snag, though, because of my mother-in-law, Nancy. She had been out hitting the yard sales that morning and had bought so much stuff that she couldn't haul it all home. After several trips in my truck, she finally informed me we had one more subdivision. I informed her it would be the last stop. All of this took about an hour and a half. I told her, 'I hope my good deed for today pays off,' and then went home to get ready.
"I took a shower and dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, putting my hunting clothes in a scent-proof bag. I got to the farm around 2 p.m. and parked at a gate about 400 yards from my stand. I put on Scent-Loc clothing, rubber boots, used scent-killing deodorant and mouth spray, and then topped it all off with a raccoon cover scent for my boots.
"The wind was perfect."
"As I sneaked down through the woods to the stand, I felt good. When I clicked through the digital camera to see what had happened the last few days, there were 201 new pictures. I flipped through them and there was the big deer, last photographed at 9:15 a.m. That was all I needed to know as I climbed into my stand.
"I got situated about 2:30 p.m. and poured some of the raccoon urine down the tree as a cover. Thereafter, I poured some of the cover scent out about every hour.
"A squirrel came by to visit, and then a groundhog appeared around 4:30. I thought about shooting the groundhog, but I didn't want to spoil my setup. Anyway, watching the groundhog occupied quite a bit of time. That's when the wind shifted and I almost called it quits.
"About 7:15, I was sitting down because I had stood most of the afternoon and was tired. That's when I heard the deer walking in behind me. The tree had me hidden and I sort of rolled around it to take a look and saw the two bucks coming with the big one in the lead, walking fast like a racking horse. When it came up, froze and looked up at me, I still was not the least bit nervous. Then it jumped sideways and started stomping its foot, trying to get me to move. That's when I about lost it. I said to myself, 'When it makes the first move, I'm going to stand up and draw.'
"When the buck dropped its head, I made my move. It saw me, took about four or five big bounds and stopped on a trail that I had ranged at 25 yards. I was now standing, but a big poplar was blocking the deer's rib cage. I was at full draw, waiting. When it took a few steps, I let 'er fly.
"Even before the deer fled, I knew I had a complete pass-through. That's when I really lost it and had to hold on to the tree. I looked down to see the smaller buck still standing below me, trying to figure out what had happened. It turned around slowly and left the same way it had come.
"Then it hit me: The only thing I could think of was, 'Christmastime came early,' an expression I'd heard at Bill's Barber Shop in Bulan, Ky., where I grew up. Bill the barber had lots of mounted deer in his shop and loved to tell hunting stories. He always ended his stories of taking deer with 'and Christmastime came early.'
"I dug out my cell phone and tried to dial my wife, Jackie, and my dad, but my fingers wouldn't work. I somehow got my Uncle Jerry Stacey.
Realizing my state of mind, he sort of talked me out of the stand.
'"You'd better be careful,' he said. 'Get down, go find the deer and call me back.' I then managed to call Dad, who offered to join me.
"I found the broadhead. My biggest concern was the fading light. I also wanted to avoid damaging the velvet. I started walking a straight line in the direction I'd last seen the buck, disturbed because I wasn't seeing any blood.
"Everything I had learned about deer hunting up to that point suddenly went out the door. I started circling. The next thing I knew, I was 100 yards below my stand. From there, I calmed down and talked myself into starting over from my tree. That's when I saw the buck.
"All told, it had run about 150 yards. I let out a victory scream, picked up its head and looked at those antlers. I don't even remember field-dressing the deer.
"Pulling it about 4 yards at a time, I made about 80 or 90 yards before sticking an arrow by its head with the lighted nock glowing, and then I ran to the truck and called Hagan. That's when I realized I did not have a key to the gate, so I took the gate off the hinges and drove as close as I could get. Somehow, running on adrenaline, I pulled the 200-pound buck the rest of the way back and loaded it in the truck.
"As I arrived home, I couldn't see my driveway for the vehicles of friends who had heard about my deer. We didn't get to bed until 4 a.m. The next day, the biggest problem was finding a freezer large enough to hold the caped-out deer!"
Hunter: Hurley Combs
Official Score: 201 2/8"
Composite Score: 219 1/8"
-- Reprinted from the September 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.