In early December of 2010, Mike Holland climbed into his Brooks County deer stand for a late afternoon hunt. This was Mike’s first season on the recently acquired hunting lease and after several weeks of scouting and hunting the area, he was more than pleased with the numbers and size of deer that he and his companions had seen.
“Prior to leasing the property, I checked with several of the surrounding landowners,” Mike noted. “Just about all of them had some type of management plan or hunting criteria that limited the taking of young bucks, which exactly matched the guidelines that we planned to follow.”
On this particular afternoon, the hunter was positioned near the tip of a small finger of pines, overlooking one arm of a large harrowed cotton field. Shortly before dark, he saw a buck step out of the trees, approximately 300 yards away along the opposite woods line. Within seconds, another buck walked into view just behind the first deer.
“The lead buck headed out into the field, but the second deer turned to the right and remained near the edge of the woods,” Mike said. “The first buck continued across the field, somewhat diagonal to my position, and stopped at about 160 yards. It was the biggest deer I had seen the entire season, definitely a 150-class buck. Under normal circumstances, I would have never hesitated to shoot, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the second buck, which was clearly bigger. Twice, the distant deer looked in my general direction and I could see the rack’s incredibly long brow tines.”
The hunter eventually lost track of the first buck as his focus shifted entirely to the bigger deer. Unfortunately, the buck remained near the opposite woods line and with light fading fast, his brief opportunity ended.
“I had a .243 caliber rifle with me that afternoon,” Mike said. “I quite possibly could have hit the deer, but considering the extreme distance and low light conditions, there’s just no way I would have risked wounding a buck of that size.”
Despite hunting the location several more times during the remainder of the season, Mike never spotted the big deer again. Additionally, the buck was never photographed by a trail camera or sighted by any of the other hunters.
“Basically, we were pretty satisfied with our initial season,” Mike noted. “We only took two bucks; however, our expectations were not really high simply because the plan was to shoot only mature bucks, judged solely by body size and conformation. On the other hand, a number of younger bucks were sighted with racks that showed great potential.”
Prior to the beginning of the 2011 season, trail cameras on the lease had recorded several bucks in the 130-plus-size class, but not the big buck Mike had sighted the previous December. Nevertheless, most of the surrounding land holdings included the same type of old plantation habitat; upland tracts of mature timber, with hardwood lined drainages, interspersed with various acreages of fields and agricultural crops. The general feeling was that the big deer might still be nearby, but in all likelihood the best chance of encountering the buck would be during the November rut.
With this in mind, Mike arrived at the deer camp late in the evening on the second Thursday in November. The following morning, before dawn he went to the same field where he had seen the big deer. In this instance, the cotton was still standing; however, due to extremely dry weather during the growing season, the plants were not very high.
“Having not hunted the site recently, I moved approximately 300 yards east of the narrow finger of pines to a stand bordering the biggest section of the cotton field,” Mike said. “The primary purpose of changing stands was that this location provided a greater view of the surrounding field borders, which increased my chances of spotting deer activity.”
About 30 minutes after daybreak, Mike saw a doe walk out of the woods approximately 100 yards to his left. After taking several steps, the deer stopped and looked back.
“It was the classic pose that all hunters hope to see,” Mike said. “But nothing else appeared, and the doe continued on along the edge of the field in my direction. As she got closer, I began to feel very conspicuous sitting on top of the ladder stand, because I hadn’t taken time to hang any burlap or camouflage around the platform area. Sure enough, 12 feet from the base of my stand, the doe abruptly stopped and looked directly up at me.”
At practically the same time, Mike detected movement off to his left, near the spot where the doe had first appeared. However, the bright early morning sun had created dark shadows along the edge of the field and he was unable to clearly see anything.
“I was pretty sure I could make out the outline of a walking deer, but that was all,” Mike said. “Within seconds, the deer broke out of the shadows into full sunlight and stopped about 80 yards away. My first sight of the buck was incredible, one I will never forget; the long tines and massive antlers were breathtaking.”
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