Our State's No. 1 Velvet Buck

Our State's No. 1 Velvet Buck

Hurley Combs Jr.'s giant 18-pointer from Casey County is a true Bluegrass State velvet trophy -- the largest ever taken in the Commonwealth. Here's his story! (July 2008)

Bowhunter Hurley Combs Jr.

of Somerset took this fine

non-typical velvet buck, which scores a whopping 205 6/8 P&Y.

Taxidermy by Mark Thomas.

Photo courtesy of Hurley Combs Jr.

On a busy workday in late August, Hurley Combs Jr., -- who manages the 84 Lumber Store in Somerset -- paused momentarily to check a message on his answering machine.

He immediately recognized the voice of Hagan Wonn, a friend and hunting companion. But Hagan's entire message included only a few words: "Hurley, it's awesome, awesome. I'm speechless!"

"For a moment or two, I was puzzled," Combs said. "Then it dawned on me. Hagan must have checked the trail cameras we'd set up on our Casey County hunting tract the previous week. Needless to say, I was interested to see what had prompted his remarks."

When the two men got together that night, Hagan's comments became immediately understandable.

Over a period of approximately nine days, the cameras had recorded numerous photos of deer, including one truly giant buck.

"The big deer's rack was massive and had exceptional tine length," Combs noted.

"Neither of us had a good estimate as to what those antlers might score, but we both agreed that the deer was definitely the buck of a lifetime.

"Additionally, there were photos of several other bucks, including a typical 10-pointer that we thought would score over 160," Combs went on.

"Since both big deer were often captured in the same photo, it seemed reasonable to assume that they were traveling together."

During the fall of 2006, the hunters' trail cameras had also recorded a number of antlered deer on the property. Most of those photos included bucks that appeared to be in the 1 1/2- and 2 1/2-year age-classes, but also a couple of older deer with racks definitely pushing the 150 mark.

"Neither of us took a single buck on the tract last year," Combs noted, "so we were looking forward to the upcoming season with a great deal of optimism.

"We fully anticipated having some trophy-class bucks on the property, but the giant deer photographed by our trail cameras greatly exceeded our wildest expectations."

After completing a quick survey of the photos and noting the camera's recorded times, it became obvious that the big whitetail was following a very predictable movement pattern.

With opening day of bow season only three days away, the timing for a successful hunt couldn't seem any better. But unfortunately, there were additional complications.

"Due to an out-of-state business trip, Hagan could not hunt on opening weekend," Combs recalled. "Needless to say, the buck had both of us pretty excited. Because of Hagan's work situation, I planned to wait until he returned, so we could hunt the big deer together. However, he insisted that I hunt the property that weekend, before the buck had a chance to alter its movement pattern."

The trail cameras' photos indicated that the buck's two predominant periods of activity were in midmorning and late afternoon.

A few other photos had been recorded at other times, including after nightfall. But these incidents were widely scattered, as compared to the deer's primary pattern of activity.

On opening morning, Combs didn't hunt so that he could help coach his two sons, Jacob, 7, and Kalob, 5, in the local youth football league. Both boys won their respective games -- which turned out to be a great start to the weekend.

Shortly after noon, Combs showered, loaded his equipment and left for the hunting tract. Knowing the importance of eliminating as much human odor as possible, the hunter kept his Scent-Lok hunting clothes in a sealed bag until he arrived at his destination. Additionally, after applying a cover scent, he sprayed the bottom of his boots with a small amount of raccoon scent.

By 2 p.m., the hunter had climbed into his tree stand and was settled in position. Combs' stand was situated in a shallow hardwood drain on an old farm site, about 40 yards from the edge of a grown-up field.

The wooded drain continued downhill, where it eventually intersected a much larger hollow. This hollow partially circled the hilltop where the hunter was positioned. A barn and several old farm fields covered the upland area.

Deer commonly used the drain as a travel corridor to reach the fields and to visit an old nearby salt lick -- the location of one of the two trail cameras that had frequently photographed the big whitetail. The other trail camera that the buck often passed was in one of the old fields, approximately a half mile away.

Two hundred yards downhill from the hunter's stand, near the junction of the drain and hollow, lay a dense thicket of briars, brush, saplings and vines. Combs felt confident that deer were using the thicket as a bedding area -- which meant the location could be hunted only when the prevailing wind direction was favorable.

For over three hours, Combs waited patiently, all the while contemplating what events the afternoon might hold.

One truism about bowhunting is always to expect the unexpected.

Shortly after 5 p.m., the hunter experienced just such an event, as the wind suddenly made a dramatic shift in direction.

"It wasn't a good situation at all," Combs said. "I seriously considered climbing down and leaving. But having studied the times recorded on the camera photos, I knew I was very near that period of the afternoon when I might expect to see deer activity. Finally I decided to stay, hoping that my odor-eliminating measures would keep me from being detected."

Some 90 minutes passed without any sign of deer in the surrounding woods. The hunter couldn't help wondering if the afternoon breeze had revealed his presence.

Suddenly, as if to answer his unspoken question, Combs detected a distant noise.

It was a subtle, yet seemed to stand out from everything else. Within seconds, there came the additional sound of a

branch breaking.

The trail cameras' photos indicated that the buck's two predominant periods of activity were in midmorning and late afternoon.

"Almost immediately, I could hear deer walking in the leaves down the hill behind me," Combs said. "Glancing over my shoulder, I spotted both of the big bucks about 80 yards away, walking up the drain directly toward my location. The deer were moving at a quick pace, with the giant buck in the lead and the 10-pointer following several yards behind."

Since the bucks were moving slightly uphill, following the drain's natural terrain, Comb's position was well within the deer's natural range of vision. Because of this, he was reluctant to make any attempt to stand up, fearing that one of the deer would spot his movement.

"I was sitting there, the bow between my legs," Combs said, "trying to figure out how I could stand up without blowing the whole hunt.

"Finally, with the big deer only 10 to 15 yards behind me, I decided to remain still and let the buck pass completely by the stand."

With the buck now nearly below him, Combs glanced backward, trying to locate the 10-pointer out of the corner of his eye.

At that moment, just as the buck was passing the stand, the huge deer abruptly stopped and looked directly up at the concealed hunter.

"I didn't move," Combs said. "But I wasn't wearing a face mask.

"I remember thinking, It's over. This deer is about to be gone."

But amazingly, instead of running, the big deer seemed to pause, turning its head to look back down the hollow in the other buck's general direction.

Unfortunately, this lapse in the deer's concentration proved to be only momentary. Within seconds, the big buck jerked its head back, stared directly at Combs and began to stomp its foot.

"At this point, I was trying to figure out why this buck hadn't run into the next county," Combs said "Surprisingly, I'd managed to stay pretty mentally calm, but I could feel myself getting anxious. I decided that at the deer's next move -- whatever that happened to be -- I was going to stand and draw."

A moment later, the buck slightly turned its head to look backward. The archer quickly rose to his feet and came to full draw.

Only yards away, the giant whitetail detected his movement and bounded into the air.

"This time, I thought the buck was gone for sure," Combs noted. "But after five jumps, the deer stopped behind several trees, about 20 yards away. Although I was in shooting position, all I could see was the buck's nose and rear end."

Not sure what the deer would do next, Combs continued to stand and hold his bow at full draw. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the deer took a cautious step forward

"It took about four or five steps for the buck to move out from behind the trees," Combs said. "The instant I had an open shot opportunity, I touched my release. I use Lumenok nocks on my arrows and I watched the red glow disappear into the deer's side."

At the shot, the buck lunged forward and quickly vanished into the trees and brush.

Until now, the hunter had managed to remain relatively calm. But with the hunt over, his nerves and excitement level made him need to sit for several minutes before trying to climb out of the stand.

The hunter remained standing, listening to the sounds of the deer running across the distant hillside.

"Knowing where my arrow hit, I couldn't believe how far the buck ran," Combs recalled. "However, I was pretty sure I did hear the deer go down.

"Just as I started to sit down, I heard something move behind the stand and spotted the big 10-pointer slipping back down the drain. In all the excitement, I had completely lost track of the second buck."

Until now, the hunter had managed to remain relatively calm. But with the hunt over, his nerves and excitement level made him need to sit for several minutes before trying to climb out of the stand.

During that time, he called his wife Jackie to tell her the good news.

After reaching the ground and retrieving his arrow, Combs tried to follow the deer's blood trail. But thick ground vegetation made the going extremely difficult.

Wanting to find the buck before dark, the hunter finally decided to leave the trail and walk to where he had heard the deer fall.

"By this time, I had gotten hot, in addition to being excited -- and somehow, managed to get completely disoriented," Combs said.

"After ending up in an area of woods far removed from where I was trying to go, I walked back to my stand and took a couple of minutes to calm down."

His second search attempt ended successfully as he located the big whitetail lying just over an adjacent ridgetop. Amazingly, the buck had traveled over 150 yards after being shot.

While Combs had certainly been aware of the buck's size, seeing its velvet rack up close for the first time was an entirely different experience.

"Words really can't describe my feelings at that time," Combs said.

"I just sat there holding the rack, trying to believe what I had done. I was very thankful to a great many people who had allowed me to experience that moment."

Eventually, after getting the buck loaded in his truck, Combs took time to call his hunting companion Hagan, tell him the news and briefly recount the hunt story. Minutes later, Combs' wife and his two sons arrived to get a firsthand look at the buck. Needless to say, it was an exciting evening the family will always remember.

Because the buck's rack was still in full velvet, it was necessary to put the antlers through a "freeze-drying" process to make sure the velvet would be permanently preserved.

This procedure actually exceeded the normal 60-day drying period that's required to have a rack scored, so Combs then made arrangements to have the antlers officially measured.

The following impressive statistics are derived from that antler-taping session. The rack has 18 scorable points, 11 of which comprise the 6x5 typical frame. The long main beams tape 26 7/8 and 26 5/8 inches. The antler spread is 20 4/8 inches outside, and 18 1/8 inches inside.

The rack also exhibits great tine length, with brows (G-1s) of 8 1/8 and 6 5/8 inches and p

aired G-2s and G-3s that measure between 12 6/8 and 9 2/8 inches.

Antler mass is also exceptional, with basal circumferences that exceed 5 inches, plus measurements of 6 1/8 and 5 0/8 inches midway along the main beam. In regard to scoring, the 11-point typical frame grosses 187 0/8 and nets 175 5/8.

The rack also includes 7 abnormal points totaling 30 1/8 inches. When added to the net figure, that brings the final non-typical Pope and Young (P&Y) score to 205 6/8.

Combs' great buck ranks as the state's top all-time velvet non-typical bow kill, and places fourth on the all- time list that includes all non-typical bow kills. The deer also stands as the biggest non-typical ever recorded for Casey County.

The buck's final non-typical score also exceeds the minimum entry level for the Boone and Crockett (B&C) Club's All-Time record book.

Unfortunately, however, B&C differs from P&Y in that they do not accept velvet trophies.

Combs' giant non-typical buck was not the only big velvet bow kill from last season. Be sure to see the August 2008 issue of Kentucky Game & Fish for photos and stories of other velvet trophies.

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