Arkansas'™ 2006-07 Big-Buck Roundup

Here are some of the best bucks killed in the Natural State last season. (September 2007)

Mark Craft admires a full-body mount of his monster 170-class buck. Joining in the appreciation is Mark's son Jade.
Photo courtesy of Kenn Young.

If I remember correctly, this is my ninth year of doing the big-buck roundup for Arkansas Sportsman. It's as enjoyable as any piece that I write, and over the years I've had the opportunity to visit with some fine people, just about all of whom were simply thrilled and thankful to have been able to harvest a great deer.

Back in 1996, seven Natural State bucks large enough for inclusion into the all-time record book of the Boone and Crockett Club were killed -- the most ever taken in a single season. However, one of those was the big bow kill taken just a few days after the New Year by Donald Ray Sweetin of Tichnor. Even though included in the totals for 1996, it was actually taken during the 1995-96 season.

Last fall, six potential B&C bucks were taken, which ties the most ever actually taken in a single season. Two of those, the Jordening and Gennings deer, have been featured in other articles in this magazine. That leaves some very impressive deer for inclusion into the 2006-07 Arkansas big-buck roundup!

TRAVIS MITCHELL

Sixty four-year-old Travis Mitchell makes his home in Hot Springs, but spends most of his "quality time" at the Yellow Creek Hunt Club, 2,500 acres of fields and hardwoods located down in Hempstead County, a few miles from McNab. The club, which has some 50 members -- most of them duck hunters -- has been in existence for more than 60 years, with Travis himself acting as the deer manager on the property for some 20 years.

Back in the mid-'80s the group brought in James Kroll, who at that time was still a few years away from being "Dr. Deer," and had him provide a slide show to all the clubs in the area in an effort to convince their members to adopt a quality management program. After that, an 8-point rule was initiated, along with a 15-inch inside-spread requirement.

One day in early December of last year Travis went on a "walkabout" to look over 40 acres of overgrown farmland adjacent to a soybean field, having seen a large deer cross the road leading to the field a few days before. At one point he found several good rubs barely back into the trees along the edge of the opening. A "club stand" overlooked the field, so he decided to use that.

On the evening of Dec. 8, a nice-looking 10-pointer followed four does into a small cleared spot close by the rub. Travis was trying to get a good look at him when he became aware of another deer back in the edge of the timber. "You know how it is," Travis said with a laugh. "The one you can't quite see is always bigger than the one you can see." The "bigger" buck in the timber never came out, and Travis didn't fire, but the next evening, Dec. 9, he was back on the same stand.

"It was déjà vu all over again," Travis recalled. "The does came out a little after 4:00 o'clock, but this time the big boy came out with them, about 150 yards away."

Hunting another stand some 400 yards away, two friends, Robee Carter and Ronnie Ralph, watched the buck come out of the woods through their binoculars, and actually saw it jump as Travis fired. The hard-hit buck barely made it to the treeline before going down.

Carter and Ralph, as excited as the happy hunter was, helped Travis load the buck up and take it back to the cabin. And there was good reason to be excited: The 6x7 rack was later scored at 171 7/8 net typical points.

Travis, a pharmacist with the Arkansas bioterrorism department/ Homeland Security, had waited 50 years for his buck of a lifetime. "We kill deer like this in our dreams," he concluded with a chuckle, "but my dream became reality!"

DANIEL BAXTER

Daniel Baxter, 29, farms near the small Monroe County community of Bisco, where he makes his home. Having hunted since he was 6 or 7 years old, he can't remember the exact number of deer that he's felled during that two-decade-plus period.

On the afternoon of Dec. 12, a Saturday, he was sitting in a box blind overlooking some fallow ground alongside dense woods at the back of his property. It was a beautiful day, the sky clear and the temperature in the 50s.

At 4:20, Daniel saw a doe walk out of the woods about 130 yards away. She was immediately followed by a buck that, even at that distance, was plainly a nice one. The problem was that the two animals turned and walked directly away from him. Not wanting to take a "Texas heart shot," he decided to wait.

The pair went back into the woods at one point, and Daniel feared that he'd lost his opportunity. But then the doe came back out, the buck still right behind her -- and this time it turned broadside. Daniel steadied his Remington .270 and fired. At the blast of the rifle the animals immediately whirled and disappeared into some dense woods.

"The place where the buck went in was so dense you wouldn't believe it," Daniel said, "so I called my brother James on my cell phone and asked him to come help me. When he got there, I sat in the box and directed him to the spot where the buck had been standing when I shot. We found some tracks gouged deep in the damp earth, but no blood."

The two brothers worked their way slowly in the direction the buck had gone, into brush so thick that they literally had to push their way through it.

"I was getting worried," Daniel stated in what may well have been understatement, "but then I heard James yell, 'If I find him, can I keep him?' The buck had gone about 150 yards, never leaving a blood trail at all."

Gaunt from the rigors of the rut, the Monroe County buck still tipped the scales at nearly 200 pounds. On the basis of tooth wear, the animal was estimated to be at least 7 years old. The 23-point rack, assessed by B&C scorer Clinton Latham of Wynne, netted 198 5/8 non-typical points.

ERIC JONES

Searcy resident Eric Jones, 39, makes a living working for Bryce Company and spends many of his off-duty hours afield. He's now hunted for more than 20 years, taking some 15 deer during that span.

On Nov. 12 he was on private land belonging to a friend of his mother and father, Bob and Teresa Jones. Lying in the same area that Eric grew up in, the tract consists of open hayfields and cropland surrounded by fairly dense hardwoods.

"This was probably the quickest hunt I have ever been on," Eric recalled. "I was running late, and it was already getting light when I parked the truck and got out. I had about a 500-yard walk, so I didn't get on my stand until about 6:15.

"I had sat there just a few minutes when I heard something coming down a fencerow in front of me. I had seen a coyote in that same area several times when I was bowhunting, and I thought at first it was him."

It turned out to be a small doe, which passed about 10 yards in front of the tree in which Eric sat. As the deer disappeared from sight, the hunter heard a buck grunting. "There was a large oak between me and the fencerow," he said, "and I had to lean forward to see around it. When I did there was a buck there -- no more than 20 feet away! I held my breath until he finally stepped out; then I raised my Remington 7600 and fired."

The buck ran directly in front of Eric, who fired again. At the second shot the animal turned a somersault, landing no more than 10 steps away.

Eric called his brother Greg, who was hunting a half-mile away, with his cell phone, which he also used to take a picture of the downed buck. After 20 minutes of waiting to see if the big animal might have life left in it yet, the rifleman climbed down and walked to where his kill lay.

"He was laying on his side when I got there," Eric remembered, "and I could only see one side of his rack. But when I picked the head up, the antlers looked like something you see on TV!"

The 180-pound White County buck has 15 scorable points: 8 on the right side, 7 on the left. At one time the rack had matching drop tines, but one side had broken off. Officially scored at the Big Buck Classic, the antlers netted 195 4/8 B&C non-typical points.

MARK CRAFT

For some 54 years Mark Craft's parents, Woodrow and Maxine, operated Craft Grocery in Knob, a small community located about as far up in the northeast part of the state as you can get. It was one of those wonderful old-time country stores, where his dad also traded guns, knives and coins.

"When he would trade for a gun, I would have to shoot it before the deal was finalized," Mark recalled, "to make sure it shot. I also checked in deer at the store -- and when they opened the first Zone 4 season here back in 1987 there were some real monsters brought in. Those first few years, it was nothing unusual to see 15 to 20 deer in the 150-160 class. I killed my first deer that first year; it was the first buck checked at our store."

When Woodrow passed away five years ago the store was closed, and today Mark farms in the same area where he grew up.

"One day last fall," he began, "a group of us were sitting around a cabin I've got, and several of the men started talking about big bucks they had seen in a particular area nearby. The property they were talking about belongs to a good friend of mine, Steve Crancer, and I had permission to hunt it, so I decided to ease down there the next morning."

His son having harvested his first deer the previous day, Mark took the glands and urine from 6-year-old Jade's kill, mixed it with Tinks 69 deer lure and, when he got to his hunting site, poured the concoction over the trees and brush around his stand.

"It was clear and cool," he said, "and I had sat there only about 20 minutes when I saw a buck's nose in the brush, pointed right at me; he was smelling all that scent. Just then a coyote ran by, and the buck turned his head to look at it. When he did, I knew that it was a big buck.

"That coyote ran all the way around him and he turned broadside as he watched it. I shot him at about 65 yards, and he went down. But he tried to get up, and I shot again -- and that was when I knocked one tine off!" The buck did finally struggle to its feet, and Mark shot three more times with his Remington 11-87, putting the deer down for good.

The 3 1/2-year-old monster, which weighed in at 195 pounds field-dressed, wore a 7x6 rack scoring 170 3/8 net typical points at the Big Buck Classic. It's the first Clay County typical to be entered into the all-time B&C record book.

VONDA GAIL HOUCHIN

Dr. Houchin makes her home in Weiner, where she's on staff at the Harrisburg Family Practice Center. The day before the two-day Zone 4 shotgun season opened, she took off early, and she and her husband Keith sighted in their shotguns.

"I only shoot my Winchester 12 gauge during the slug season," Vonda said, laughing, "and for some reason I couldn't hit anything that day. Keith got pretty upset with me!"

Keith had also scouted on some property the Houchins' farm, where he'd found one spot showing quite a bit of buck sign. He put up several stands in the area, one of those a ladder stand, at a spot overlooking several fields and woodlots. "Keith pretty much did all the work," Vonda admitted "And he reminds me of that -- quite a bit."

Opening morning was cool, with the temperature in the mid 30s as Vonda got to her stand about 6:15. Her husband, in another stand a short distance away, called Vonda on her cell phone at about 8:30 to tell her that he'd just seen a good buck heading her way, and that she should hold off on shooting a doe. But the phone went dead before Vonda got the whole message, so she didn't hear the part about the big buck -- and an 8-pointer stood right there in front of her.

Just about to shoot, she heard something walking through the leaves behind her. "I thought it was squirrels at first," Vonda recalled, "but then two does walked right beside me. There was another deer behind them, and as the does continued on out into the field, he walked up to within 10 to 12 steps of where I was sitting. It was a big buck!"

Unfortunately, the buck came up on the wrong side -- but he was watching the two does so intently that Vonda was able to get to her feet and turn completely around. When she shot, he dropped on the spot.

Scored at the Big Buck Classic, the massive 5x7 Poinsett County monster netted 180 4/8 B&C points as a non-typical. Only Vonda's second buck, it was both the largest whitetail taken by a woman during the 2006-07 season and the second-largest non-typical ever taken by a woman in Arkansas.

EDDIE BEAN

Eddie Bean, 43, a lifelong hunter who resides in the small Marion County community of Snow, owns some property near his home, and along the back side of that are some powerlines. He and his son Ethan have planted some food plots along the openings, and have also put up a two-man stand overlooking a small valley.

On the morning of Oct. 22, the last Saturday of the early muzzleloading season, the two went hunting early, as Ethan had a football game later. It was a cool morning, and fog rolled up from Crooked Creek, winding maybe a half-mile away; for a while they couldn'

t see anything through the swirling mist. But finally the wind blew it away, and at about 7:00 o'clock they saw a lone doe come out of a cedar glade northeast of them and then run up the powerline clearing.

Thirty minutes later a buck came out of the cedars at the same spot, standing there broadside at about 75 yards, looking toward the waiting hunters. Eddie quickly raised his Remington model 700ML, took a deep breath, and fired. The buck whirled and disappeared, but when they climbed down from their stand and walked to the spot where he had been standing they found a good blood trail. They trailed it for only about 70 yards before finding the buck lying on a little hillside.

Until that time, neither of the hunters knew just how big the buck was, and they high-fived and hugged as they stood over the massive animal. It was a heavy-horned main-frame 6x6 with two drop tines, one of which had been broken off. With an impressive 23 5/8-inch inside spread, the rack grossed 195 4/8 on the B&C scale, but an overall lack of symmetry lowered the final net typical score to 168 5/8 points. But that figure still ranks Eddie Bean's Marion County monster as the state's No. 3 muzzleloader kill of all time.

CONCLUSIONS

As I said earlier, 2006-07 was a banner year for big bucks in Arkansas. Because of that sheer quantity, numerous others that could easily have been included in this article weren't.

Among those: a pair of fine bow kills taken by Todd Norris and Rob Jones. Those two bucks scored within 1/8 point of one another, at 165 1/8 for Todd's; 165 0/8 for Rob's. Doug Smith took a tremendous 168 7/8 typical with modern gun in Monroe County, and Kerry Scroggins of Conway took a monster 8-point that netted 149 6/8, the largest youth whitetail.

Find more about Arkansas fishing and hunting at: ArkansasSportsmanMag.com.

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