The Volunteer State is not known as being one of the top trophy buck destinations in the country. Hunters looking to tag a trophy often travel to Wisconsin, Ohio, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois or neighboring Kentucky. So obviously it took the deer hunting community quite by surprise when Stephen Tucker harvested a monstrously freakish 47-point world record buck in Sumner County last season. It just goes to prove that while Tennessee may not have the numbers of trophy class bucks as some other states, the state has the potential.
Tucker’s buck is obviously a one-of-a-kind. However, that does not mean there are not plenty of other trophy bucks in the state or that other hunters do not have great success at bagging a wallhanger. In fact, there are a good number of bucks taken each season that qualify for the Pope & Young and Boone and Crockett record books.
FREEMAN ARCHERY BUCK
Sumner County proved to be quite the hotspot last season. Justin Freeman had been hunting a farm in the county off and on for the past nine years. It is an old farm that “has never been tampered with” according to Freeman. It is only 84 acres with about a fourth in fields and the rest in woods. But even though not a huge parcel, it definitely attracts attention from area deer.
Freeman started capturing photos of two really nice bucks that were running together about a month before the season. He said the bigger of the two was like a ghost. The buck would show up randomly and then disappear with no apparent travel patterns at all.
Scouting near a thicket, Freeman found lots of good sign, including rubs. He hung a stand in hopes that either of the two deer he had been seeing on camera was coming through and leaving the rubs. The hunter found out quickly he had picked a poor spot for the stand, as deer coming near his perch busted him easily. He moved the stand about 40 yards, with his back to the thicket and better cover to conceal his lofty position.
Freeman took off work to hunt the first Monday and Tuesday in October. He entered his stand Monday afternoon around 3 p.m. and sat all evening without seeing a deer. With about 30 minutes of shooting light left, his attention immediately perked when he heard a stick break to his left. Looking that way, Freeman spotted the buck about 50 yards in the thicket.
As the deer slowly walked his way, all Freeman could focus on was the inside spread of the rack. The buck emerged from the thick at about 25 yards and presented a full broadside shot. Freeman was not prepared for the shot and after standing momentarily, the buck jumped back into the thicker cover.
The archer began to feel sick because he just instinctively thought he blew his one and only chance at such a buck. Freeman grew increasingly anxious as he watched the buck feed on acorns without providing a shot. The buck moved another 15 to 20 yards but still didn’t present an open shot. Finally he edged out into the open and Freeman tried to draw his bow, but the buck looked up. After a couple of attempted draws, the buck finally moved behind a cedar tree, allowing Freeman to come to full draw. Eventually, the buck moved into the open, walking at 18 yards. As he was about to grunt to stop the buck, it suddenly stopped on its own. Freeman released his arrow for a double lung shot. It took off, but crashed after only 50 yards.
The buck had a green score of 141, but grossed 139 2/8 after drying, netting 135 6/8 with deductions. The typical 8 point had 24-inch main beams, an inside spread of 19 inches and 30 inches of mass measurements.
THOMPSON MUZZLELOADER BUCK
Harold Thompson hunts a little with a rifle, but primarily prefers to hunt with a bow and muzzleloaders, especially the latter. As such, the opening day of muzzleloader season found Thompson sitting a stand on his son-in-law’s farm in Sumner County. Thompson had never deer hunted the property, but he had turkey hunted on the farm and had seen a large-bodied deer back in the spring while chasing gobblers. The big deer had no antlers yet, but Thompson knew by its size and demeanor it had to be a buck. Trail cameras had shown a big buck for the past three or four years.
Thompson applied some doe estrus to a drag rag and then got in his stand with a scent drip nearby. About 20 minutes after daybreak, Thompson saw a doe and an 8-point buck. They made their way under his stand and the hunter was about to take the buck because it was a pretty nice 8-pointer. Then the buck blew and bolted from the area. Thompson wondered what he had done wrong to alert the buck, but then he realized the doe had not spooked. Thompson looked left and saw a large-racked buck standing about 125 yards out in a wheat field watching the doe.
The buck was in no hurry and only closed about 15 yards in 15 minutes. It took some 45 minutes before the buck moved to within 25 yards of the hunter. The buck seemed to be locked on the scent drip and kept close watch on the doe. Thompson sat in what he referred to as a trance as the buck moved into position and then turned and presented a quartering shot into the shoulder.
At the shot, the buck had no reaction at all. He simply turned and walked down the fencerow and disappeared. Thompson waited for a while before getting down. Upon checking the shot site, he found no blood, so he began walking along the fence on the path the deer took, still finding no blood. Apprehension turned to amazement when the hunter finally spotted his buck piled up just beyond where he had disappeared.
Thompson was awestruck at the size of the buck. He was so elated he simply sat down and admired the buck and enjoyed the beautiful morning. He said it was at least 30 minutes before he ever called or texted anyone. He had been hunting for many years and this was the greatest day of hunting he had ever experienced. He felt truly blessed.
The buck had 15 points, with a double white patch and weighed 217 pounds. After the drying period and deductions for irregular points, it netted a Boone and Crockett score of 173. Safari Club International (SCI) and Buckmaster scoring does not take the deductions of Boone and Crockett. The SCI score was 184 and Buckmaster, with no deductions, netted a whopping 198. The buck was estimated to be six years old.
One of the first three people Thompson texted that Saturday morning was Stephen Tucker. The two are great friends and often duck hunt together. On Monday, Tucker texted Thompson back with pictures of his world record buck.
Thompson jokingly replied, “You couldn’t even give me three days without outdoing me.”
Ironically, these two massive deer were taken less than 20 miles apart.
JOHNSON RIFLE BUCK
A total of five people lease a 600-acre farm in Hickman County. Randy Johnson says the farm is ideal for growing bucks. It has about 150 to 200 acres of fields, with the rest in hardwoods and lots of oak trees supplying plenty of acorns. The hard mast and browse are bolstered by nearby bean fields, and there is a creek running through the property. The hunters have put out some small food plots and some Trophy Rock to supplement the natural offerings.
During the summer of 2016, Johnson and his brother began capturing trail camera pictures of a big-racked buck they had never seen on the property. When the hunting seasons began, the brothers were hoping to sit a stand within shooting range of this magnificent buck. Unfortunately, his brother hunted the bow season and Johnson hunted during muzzleloader season with neither brother seeing the buck.
Johnson hit the stand on November 20, opening morning of the Tennessee modern gun season, hoping this would be the day. He saw several bucks on opening day, but none were the one he was wanting. The hunter exercised patience knowing the season was still young.
The next morning Johnson saw a couple of small bucks chasing a doe. About 9:30 a doe crossed a ways out from Johnson’s stand. Some 10 minutes later a big buck came running after the doe. Johnson knew it was a good deer, but a quick look at a distance of about 115 to 120 yards made the hunter believe it was a big 8-pointer. Johnson yelled to stop the buck and the deer came to a halt offering a perfect neck shot. Johnson shouldered his Ruger 308, settled on the sweet spot and sent a 150-grain Hornady round downrange.
When he climbed down and went to retrieve his buck, Johnson was shocked to learn it was not an 8-pointer, but the big 10-point he and his brother had been chasing.
“If I had known what it was, I would probably have been more shook up,” said Johnson.
Johnson hunts nothing other than deer, and has been chasing the whitetail dream since he was around 12 or 13 years old. His largest buck previously was about 128 inches, so Johnson was amazed at what he called the buck of a lifetime.
The big buck had 10 measurable points and an inside spread of 20 1/4 inches. After drying, the net score by the Boone and Crockett measuring system was finalized at 153 1/8 inches. The score fell a little short of the B&C minimum of 160, but it is certainly a fantastic deer and trophy in its own right.
Johnson believes there is good potential for more trophy deer in Tennessee if people will manage their properties and be selective about what they harvest. Johnson’s hunting group has been managing their property with a minimum harvest size of 8 points or larger for the past seven years. His deer was the second 150-inch deer taken on their lease in the past three years.
Statewide, the number of better deer seems to be on the upswing, obviously bolstered by the two-buck limit and hunters allowing more to deer to pass by and have another season or two to grow. Perhaps some of the newer regulations from the state, word of the world record buck and success stories such as these may help create more of mindset to use some discretion when hunting. Tennessee may never overtake some of the other states for producing large numbers of trophy deer, but the potential for the quality in the harvest to improve exponentially is definitely there.