Tate County'™s Monster Buck

Tate County'™s Monster Buck

Little did Jody Freeman know that the buck he saw on last season's opening day would turn into an obsession. Fortunately, that fixation ended quickly on the day after Thanksgiving! (August 2006)

Jody Freeman's impressive Tate County whitetail sported a 20-point rack with 27-inch main beams.
Photo courtesy of Jody Freeman.

Opening day of the 2005 rifle season in Mississippi provided glimpse of a buck that started an unhealthy obsession for me -- but I'm getting ahead of myself.

A large portion of our family lives on or near the family farm owned by my grandfather and managed as a small cattle operation. In fact, I grew on the farm. It is just outside Independence, a very small town about 30 minutes south of Memphis.

The farm covers a little over 500 acres; about 320 of those are huntable, while another 80 are set aside in the Conservation Reserve Program to benefit wildlife.

A major highway separates the tract into two parts, with the majority visible from the road. Most of it is in pastures, with a few soybean fields and some small blocks of woods. Overall, the property is just so open that it's tough to hunt. Over the years my dad, Wayne Freeman, and I have taken a few decent deer on the farm, but nothing that grossed over about 135 inches of antlers.

On opening morning of 2005, my dad picked me up about an hour before daylight to head to another piece of land we had permission to hunt about 30 miles south of Independence. We always saw more deer there than we do on the farm at home. Though we saw deer that day, neither of us took one

We were passing our farm on our way home at about 10:30 a.m. when my dad spotted some deer, and we pulled off the road to check them out with binoculars. At first look we agreed that one of the deer was a buck and bigger than anything we had ever seen around there. Also, there appeared to be a drop tine from the main beam, but even at 800 yards, it looked too big to be a single point.

The deer next turned and ran into a very small block of woods. Quickly we devised a plan for dad to walk to the thicket, while I took the truck and drove around to the opposite side. Making my best guess as to where the deer were headed, I sat down on a small pond levee about 60 yards out of the thicket.

After about 15 minutes I started to hear deer running through the woods straight toward me. They were does, but at the same time I saw a deer to my left running hard and probably 150 yards out. The area was too thick to get a shot, but the deer ran through a small opening, and I saw his rack. He kept running hard and came out of the thicket 250 yards away and I only caught a glimpse of his left side him before he disappeared over the hill.

Rushing to over the hill, I spotted him standing on the next ridge about 600 yards away in our pasture right next to the thickest cutover that borders our land. The buck stood there for about three or four minutes waiting on his does to catch up, and then jumped the fence and disappeared.

When my dad arrived, he could tell from the look on my face that I had seen the deer. In response to his questions I described the rack as having not one but three drop tines, and even if it had no mass or long tines, it would still measure more than 170 inches. We decided then and there that one of us would kill the buck during the season. We also made a pact not to tell anyone around Independence about the deer, other than my wife, Jamie, my mom, Joann, and close friend and hunting buddy Clint Hawkins.

When I did tell Clint, he thought I was lying! He was the first to point out how hard it was going to be to even see the buck again as open as the place is.

That same afternoon I hunted from a tripod stand next to where we'd seen the big deer go into the cutover, and my dad hunted in a white oak tree about 500 yards away. We didn't see anything.

After church the next day, Dad and I met up and hung one ladder stand overlooking the cutover and about 300 yards from the edge. It was a good stand, but the wind would have to be perfect. On the south end of the thicket we couldn't find anywhere to even hang a stand. Dad suggested putting up a ground blind ordinarily used for turkey hunting. We placed one on the far side of a small pond under an old cedar tree about 300 yards from the cutover. We hunted those stands that afternoon, but again had no success.

The following week I had to work Monday and Tuesday, but Dad was able to hunt both mornings and afternoons depending on the wind. Each evening at about 10 p.m. he called me, but both times reported that he'd seen a few deer, but not the big boy. I was off that Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for Thanksgiving, and could not wait to go hunting.

That Wednesday morning I hunted the ladder stand and my dad hunted the ground blind. I saw nothing, but my dad had some does walk right beside the blind. That afternoon we both saw nothing.

The next morning, Thanksgiving Day, we used the same stands again and saw a couple of does and no bucks. That afternoon the wind was coming straight out of the west, which made it impossible for us to use the area. We knew the right thing was to stay away from the cutover if the wind wasn't right, so we hunted elsewhere.

By this time our family and friends were starting to get real suspicious. Everyone was wondering why we were only hunting on that one spot. Reality was also setting in about our chances of ever seeing the buck again. My stomach would drop every time I heard a shot on any adjoining land. It was starting to make me crazy. All I could think about was this deer and how I had let a trophy of a lifetime slip right through my fingers.

On Friday morning Jamie woke me up asked if I was going hunting -- I had overslept by about 30 minutes. I raced down to our parking spot in the pasture, and my Dad's truck was already there, pointed in the direction of the stand at the white oak thicket. I made my way over the hill to the ground blind under the cedar tree, getting there just 15 minutes before daylight.

Just as day was breaking, I spotted a deer on our side of the fence and feeding at 250 yards out. Through binoculars I finally identified it in the early light as a spike. Suddenly my binoculars filled up with antlers. I knew immediately: This was the one!

The big buck jumped the fence onto our land. He was in no rush. He just stood there alternately looking in my direction and feeding. I kept trying to get my gun steady, but every time he'd raise that wide rack, I'd start shaking again.

I let my gun down to rest it on my knee to get steady, but when I put the gun back up, the deer was gone! I started scanning the woodline frantically, thinking that surely I hadn't let this deer get away again.

Then I caught him in my scope as he was walking broadside down the fenceline, going away from me. It was then or never, so I grunted loudly to stop the buck. He didn't respond. I took aim and fired anyway.

The deer dropped immediately. Upon later inspection, the shot was at 253 yards. I couldn't wait to get back over the hill, where I knew my dad would be waiting. Needless to say, the deer made the rounds of our circle of family and friends that afternoon!

The buck's rack had 20 points, and plenty of character. There were three drop tines on his right side, it had split G-2 tines, a 7-inch kicker off the left G-2 and an outside spread of more than 27 inches. Finally, there was a small hole in the antlers as well.

All in all, it was an awesome trophy, and a true Tate County monster buck of a lifetime!

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