Honobia Hatrack

Think all the big deer in Oklahoma live on private land? Then check out this huge buck that Jimmy Hudson shot at Honobia Creek WMA last fall -- and think again!

Midwest City muzzleloader hunter Jimmy Hudson was afield with a host of relatives at Honobia Creek WMA last year when he downed this tremendous 17-pointer. The buck's net score totaled 185 1/8, making it one of the greatest bucks ever killed on public land in the Sooner State.
Photo by Mike Lambeth

As Oklahoma's deer herd continues to expand, the availability of free hunting on private lands continues to dwindle. The good old days of knocking on a few doors and finding a quality deer hunting spot are just about gone.

Most hunters without private-land access are left with two choices: Either they can hunt our often-overcrowded public lands, or they can rely on the mercy of friends with private-land access to invite them to tag along occasionally.

Given a choice, Midwest City hunter Jimmy Hudson would rather hunt on public lands than anywhere else on the Sooner landscape. His family has a longstanding tradition of hunting public lands together each fall. This family hunting trip is a cherished time for the Hudson clan. They make deer camp a family affair, with each member sharing in the successes of the others.

Hudson has hunted the Honobia Hills area in McCurtain County -- where the Kiamichi Mountains provide a spectacular panorama -- since he was 8 years old. This rugged spot in Southeastern Oklahoma has yielded several deer to Jimmy, but he'll never forget one monster buck that he almost bagged there two years ago.

"The big buck actually got within 5 yards of me before I botched the nearly point-blank shot," he recalled. "I was sick afterwards, and wondered if I would ever have another chance to take a trophy buck."

He needn't have worried about future encounters with giant whitetails -- but he couldn't have known it at the time.

Jimmy learned about the area's big-buck potential from his grandfather, who hunted there in the 1950s and '60s. "The entire area is good, and actually contains a large number of mature bucks," Hudson asserted. "The deer hunting there did take a downturn in the early 1990s, due to timber companies clearcutting too much, but changes were made to cut more selectively, and the deer hunting became good again."

Hudson says that over the past 10 years the deer have increased in body size as a result of the improvement in the forage.

The area previously produced a Cy Curtis buck for Jimmy's uncle, and that started bringing in a considerable amount of hunting pressure during rifle season. The influx of new hunters caused Hudson to hunt elsewhere for a few years. However, Jimmy learned that during blackpowder season the area is virtually untouched.

Last fall Hudson's blackpowder hunt produced memories that he'll treasure for a lifetime: He took a gargantuan buck there -- one that will undoubtedly rank as one of the biggest public-land non-typicals in Oklahoma history.

Here's a recap of that fateful morning, which, I hope, will display the virtues of being in the right place at the right time.

The fog hung thick and eerie on the pine-studded mountain, reminiscent of a horror movie from days gone by. The weather had been unseasonably warm as Oklahoma's nine-day black powder season began. Opening weekend had been dismal for Jimmy Hudson, but after spotting a buck hidden by a tree, he decided to move his stand to a better spot, there to await the buck's return.

Hudson had high hopes. Opening weekend gave him the opportunity to share a deer camp with his family. Hudson's uncle got a nice buck, which Jimmy helped drag to a nearby vehicle.

"My uncle's success gave me hope there were other good bucks in the area," Hudson confided.

Monday morning dawned to cooler temperatures, varying atmospheric and ground temperatures forming an almost impenetrable fog that threatened to put a damper on deer hunting -- especially as it affected the operation of blackpowder rifles. Jimmy's day was already off to a bad start: While walking to his deer stand location, he somehow lost the breakfast he'd planned to eat at his stand. Slightly disgruntled, he climbed into his tree stand overlooking a well-used travel corridor and began his morning vigil.

Nearly 30 minutes later, a tickle developed in the back of his throat, and he began to fight the urge to cough. After stifling the reflex as long as possible, he coughed loudly several times -- and figured that his deer hunt was probably over for the morning. He elected to stay on his stand for 30 minutes longer so he would not mess up the chances for his nearby relatives.

At 8 a. m. Hudson was alerted to a twig snapping on the ridge above him. As he turned to look, he noticed a buck walking toward his stand.

"The buck was standing right beneath my tree stand location," Jimmy recalled, "where I'd hunted the previous two days!"

If he was to stand any chance at taking the buck, Hudson, a left-handed shooter, had to reposition himself to shoot right-handed. The buck's ears shot up erect, obviously alerted to something awry. The deer had stopped behind a tree, motionless, while searching for the intruder whose smells and sounds threatened its well-being.

The nervous buck then turned to depart in the direction he had just come from. As massive amounts of adrenaline coursed through his veins, Hudson took careful aim and fired his muzzleloader. At the gun's roar, thick gray smoke blended into the foggy morning, making a view of the buck impossible until the haze cleared.

Mortally hit, the buck traveled only 20 yards before expiring with a big crash on the forest's thick, leafy floor.


"The big buck actually got within 5 yards of me before I botched the nearly point-blank shot. I was sick afterwards, and wondered if I would ever have another chance to take a trophy buck." --Jimmy Hudson
 

Hudson reloaded his blackpowder rifle and waited for the buck to stiffen up; unable to contain his enthusiasm, he waited for maybe 20 minutes. He knew the deer looked decent, but hadn't been afforded much time to size up the buck's headgear.

Walking to the deer, Hudson glimpsed the buck's rack and could not believe th

e width and mass the huge antlers featured. He recalls still the emotions of the moment.

"It was unreal," he said. "I knew it was a good buck, but I never thought I would take a buck like that. I thought, 'Maybe I have finally taken a buck good enough to have mounted.' I was literally in awe as I looked at my biggest buck ever. His rack looked huge. I couldn't wait to call my wife and tell her the good news."

As Hudson looked around in jubilation, he noticed his grandfather's old tree stand a short distance away. That tree stand had been productive for his grandfather; he'd taken a buck from that location almost every season since 1950!

The monster buck sported heavy antlers adorned with 17 points. Its rack featured an inside spread of 17 3/8 inches and bases measuring nearly 7 inches. The rack was crowned with nearly 18 inches of abnormal points, which contributed to a gross score of 198 4/8 and a net of 185 1/8.

According to Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation biologists Mike Shaw and Jack Waymire, the buck is certainly one of the largest ever taken on department land. Waymire says that the Honobia Creek area is a wonderful place for deer hunting, owing to its habitat and its large complement of mature bucks. "The timbered forests of Honobia Creek have some of the best forage for sustaining whitetail deer," he observed.

Mike Shaw, the state's whitetail expert, says that the Honobia area has one of the lowest deer densities of any area in the state but, ironically, exhibits the best age-structure of mature bucks.

Honobia Creek WMA spans 175,000 acres in three counties -- Pushmataha, LeFlore, and McCurtain. It may be accessed for a $16 annual fee for residents and a $25 access fee for non-residents. Residents under 18 years of age or 64 years of age or older are exempt from permit requirements.

Jimmy Hudson counts the days until deer season opens again, when he and his family will set up their deer camp in the same familiar area in southeast Oklahoma. Luck may be on Jimmy's side again next season, and maybe, on a crisp fall morning, he'll have an encounter with another Honobia hatrack.

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