Smokepole Trophies Of The Bayou State

Smokepole Trophies Of The Bayou State

Some of the biggest deer killed each year in the state are downed by hunters using muzzleloaders. Here are a few such trophies from recent years.

And to think this awesome 13-pointer -- in death, at least -- almost eluded Johnny Vead
Photo by Glynn Harris

The deer hunters who arm themselves with muzzleloaders are only one step removed from the ones who take up bow and arrow to pursue their quarry. Granted, bowhunters have it harder, since their targets usually have to be within 35 yards for their weapons to be effective. Too, the motion of pulling back a bow is not nearly as discreet as that involved in easing off the safety on a firearm. However, using a muzzleloader to hunt deer means that you've got only one shot at a deer that has to be fairly close; blow the shot, and you rarely have the chance to follow up.

Even so, smokepolers around Louisiana continue to bring in eye-popping bucks year after year. Perhaps you're thinking that if you had access to prime private acreage on which the bucks grow big and feel little hunting pressure, you might score on a big blackpowder buck as well. You may be surprised to know that over the past several hunting seasons, some of the most impressive bucks taken in Louisiana were brought down by hunters using primitive firearms. But even more astounding, many of these wallhanger bucks were taken on public land, where hunting pressure can be intense.

The following are accounts of several monster bucks that were taken off public lands by blackpowder weapons over the past few seasons.

JOHNNY VEAD/RED RIVER WMA

It was on Dec. 7, 2003, while hunting with his muzzleloader at the Red River Wildlife Management Area, that good fortune came Johnny Vead's way. "I was in an area with lots of deer tracks and since it was either sex hunting that day, I would have been satisfied with a doe," he recalled.

Vead explained that while he was sitting on a log after sneaking along for a while, he heard something walking in the water that had flooded the bottoms after recent rains. Then he glimpsed a deer as it moved closer. When the deer stopped in a small clearing 30 yards away, the hunter from Marksville saw antlers, but had no idea how many or the size. He fired, and when the smoke cleared, the deer was running away from him through the water. It was only then that he got his first glimpse of the rack.

"'Man -- it's a big one!' I remember thinking," he said. "I found lung tissue and hair floating on the water, and we found blood on the other side where he hit dry ground. However, we eventually lost his trail, although I looked for him the rest of that day. I came back the next day and looked but was unable to find the buck."

On Dec. 26, a full 19 days after shooting the big buck, Vead was hunting the same area, having given up on ever finding his buck. "I noticed buzzards in trees, so I went over to investigate. Imagine my surprise and relief when I saw a buzzard sitting on the antlers of my buck. They had about picked him clean, and it was a smelly job, but I cut off the head and finally claimed my trophy." Vead's buck, a 13-pointer, scored an unofficial 172 3/8 points.

BILL JORDAN Jr./CAMP BEAUREGARD WMA

Bill Jordan Jr. lives less than 400 yards from the property line of the Camp Beauregard WMA. "My brother-in-law, Eddie Feazell, had invited me to hunt with him the morning of Dec. 1, 2001," he said. "I got up well before daylight and was about ready to leave. Eddie called to say his daughter was sick, and he couldn't go hunting."

So Jordan decided to hunt alone. But when he got to the area he'd planned on, he saw beams from the flashlights of several other hunters who'd beaten him there. "I decided to loop around these hunters and head for the other end of the same ridge. I hadn't scouted this area, so I just had to take pot luck and hope for the best."

Around 7:30, Jordan heard something moving and caught a glimpse of a buck about 120 yards away. The deer stepped into a clearing, but the animal was too far off for a muzzleloader shot. Finally spotting the deer again, he put the scope on the deer's shoulder -- and, dismayed, realized that his scope had fogged up.

"I couldn't see a thing," he said. "I used my orange vest to clear the scope, and couldn't believe it when I saw the buck still standing there broadside at 60 yards. I squeezed the trigger and at the shot, the buck took off, running right under my tree. He was running hard like nothing was wrong so I assumed I'd missed."

However, when he walked to where the deer had stood, he detected evidence of a hit. "I didn't see the deer until I stepped around a big tree, and there he was. His rack was massive, and he was a big-bodied deer as well." The non-typical, estimated at 235 pounds, sported 16 points, and was later green-scored at 216 1/8 on the Boone and Crockett scale. Jordan's buck easily eclipsed the then-current state-record muzzleloader buck, a 168 5/8 taken by Michael Willis in 1997.

RUDY BONNETTE/LAKE OPHELIA NWR

On the same day that Bill Jordan claimed his prize, Rudy Bonnette, armed with a borrowed muzzleloader, was afield 35 miles away at the Lake Ophelia National Wildlife Refuge.

"I loaded up my three-wheeler and my pirogue and headed for Lake Ophelia," said the Cottonport smokepoler. "Soon after I got there, I could hear deer moving around in the water so I took my pirogue and paddled as quietly as I could, checking the ridges for deer.

"The first two ridges I checked, I didn't see anything. As I approached the third ridge from about 65 yards, I noticed three logs bunched together in 5 feet of water about 10 feet from land. I was surprised to see this big buck lying down on two of the logs with his head resting on the third. His eyes were closed.

"I eased out of the pirogue and began sneaking toward him to get close. I stepped on a stick; it snapped, and the deer opened his eyes and lifted his head. When I saw the white of his throat as he looked at me, I put the sight on that spot and fired."

The animal's estimated live weight was approximately 250 pounds. Carrying 9 typical points along with 9 non-typical tines, the rack green-scored 183.

RANDY CATCHET/KISATCHIE NF

On Oct. 23, 2004, 23-year-old Randy Catchet downed a genuine trophy, complete with an 8-inch drop tine, in the Kisatchie National Forest south of Winnfield.

"It was a warm day with lots of mosquitoes as I waited for my dad to come pick me up," recalled the Slidell resident. "At 11 a.m., I saw something move, and this big buck stepped out at 65 yards. I got my sights on him, shot -- and he ran like there was noth

ing wrong with him.

"My heart sank, and I'm thinking: Here I've sat all this time, and have just missed the biggest buck I ever saw in my life. However, when I walked over to where he was standing when I shot, there was evidence of a good hit. He didn't go far at all where I found him piled up."

The buck was indeed a trophy; sporting 12 points, which included the impressive drop tine, it scored 165 5/8. Biologists determined the deer to be least 8 1/2 years old.

LANNY ROBERTS/RED DIRT NWR

Blackpowder aficionado Lanny Roberts was also on public land -- the Red Dirt NWR south of Natchitoches -- when he bagged his impressive buck this past season.

"I was hunting with a friend," offered the Moss Bluff deerslayer, "and had just missed a doe at 30 yards. I had been having problems with the bullets I'd been using and felt this was why I'd missed.

"Then I heard my friend shoot, and he called on the radio to tell me he'd just shot a small buck. I decided to get down and go help him drag his buck out. I had lowered my fanny pack to the ground and was about to descend with my climbing stand when a doe came running out near me.

"I was turning slowly, hoping I'd get a shot at her, when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It was a big buck, and he stopped just 20 steps from my stand. I shot, but couldn't see anything until the smoke cleared. After missing the doe, I assumed I'd missed the buck. But when the smoke had cleared, there he lay."

Roberts' buck's rack had 11 points, weighed 192 pounds and scored 164 3/8.

So, Mr. Front-Stuffer: Still think you can't bag an impressive buck anywhere but on plush private properties? Given the testimony of these successful public-land blackpowder hunters, you might want to rethink that!

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