Photo by Kathy Butt.
On the afternoon of Nov. 7, just four days before the opening of Kentucky’s 2006 rifle season, Mike Riley grabbed his bow and headed to one of his favorite hunting spots. Riley was filled with great anticipation of an active afternoon, primarily because of a major change in the weather and the fact that the rut was about to kick into full swing.
This particular afternoon, Riley headed to his stand much earlier than usual. It was much cooler, the air was drizzly and damp, and as Riley approached his tree stand, he was surprised to see the deer already out feeding. This was definitely encouraging!
He had been watching deer for almost two hours when he spotted an impressive buck at the far end of the food plot. When the sportsman pulled out his binoculars to take a closer look, he quickly realized he’d seen this buck before. On two different occasions, he’d captured footage of the same buck on his Cuddeback digital game monitor.
Many in the Russellville area know Mike Riley for his love of the outdoors and his passion for hunting, but in Logan County, he is perhaps more recognized for his successful auction and realty business. During the last three to four years, Riley has also developed a booming business for locating and listing prime hunting properties in the Bluegrass State.
Riley devotes much of his time to his family and business, yet spends as much time as possible in the woods each spring and fall. He’s almost as passionate about spring turkey season as he is about his deer season. He quickly admits he feels blessed to have a wife who’s been so understanding and tolerant of his passion for hunting.
When talking to Riley, it’s also quite obvious that spending time with his family is at the top of his agenda. So now that his 9-year-old son Michael has also become interested in hunting, Riley squeezes in as much father/son time in the woods as he can. Michael shares his dad’s passion for hunting, so he totally understands why his dad spends much of his spare time in his deer stand each fall.
And this year’s deer season was turning out to be one of his dad’s most exciting ever!
Mature bucks typically become more active with the onset of the pre-rut (normally occurring the first of November in Kentucky). Knowing that, and the arrival of a major cold front, were factors that boosted Riley’s optimism and gave him high hope of seeing the buck during daylight hours. Perhaps he’d even being so lucky as to see the buck standing within bow range.
Riley realizes he’s fortunate to own and lease prime properties in the Logan County area. Deciding where to hunt is often difficult, but capturing this elusive buck for the second time on camera prompted him to concentrate primarily on the spot where the buck had shown up once again.
“Last year, I got two pictures of what looked to be a really nice deer that had 6 points on each side, and I’m sure it’s the same deer. Both pictures captured on film last year were taken on the same night. When I got the picture this year and first looked at it, it looked as though it was a 5×5. I showed the photo to a couple of my hunting buddies. We all agreed that it looked as though it would score as a 160-class deer. And after seeing this latest photo, I decided I would spend all the time I could on this farm hunting this particular deer.”
The day Riley finally came face to face with the elusive buck is one he’s sure to remember for years to come.
“It was a misty, drizzly, messy afternoon,” he recalls, “but the wind was right for hunting this spot. The deer activity was non-stop. I saw a lot of deer, and a lot of bucks cruising.
“I had a good friend of mine, one of my best bowhunting buddies, Phillip Pillow, hunting with me that afternoon. It was close to 3 p.m., when we got to our stands. There were deer already in the field.
“Late in the afternoon, I looked across the grown-up field and saw what I knew was a good buck entering the field. I picked up the binoculars to get a better look. I quickly realized it was the same deer I’d gotten pictures of on my digital camera. When I first saw the buck, he was approximately 200 yards away and veering away from my stand.”
Riley knew he had to act fast and quickly pulled his Lost River Game Calls buck grunt out of his jacket. “I hit that call until I saw the buck stop and look in my direction,” he recalls.
“I’m a firm believer in using a grunt call at this time of the year; I’ll normally grunt at a buck until he stops. Then I call once more to reel him in. It worked! The buck turned in my direction, left the grown-up field and entered the food plot.
“He was approximately 100 yards from my stand, but turned again and headed away from my stand. I grunted one more time, and he did an about-face and headed straight for me, just as though he was on a string.
“And just when I thought everything was falling into place, the buck stopped within 25 yards of my stand and looked straight up at me. And although I was already to draw — my release already attached to my string and my bow in position — seeing this deer and realizing how nice he was, the thought quickly occurred to me I might not get a shot at him.
“The buck would drop his head, then immediately look back up at me. I didn’t move a muscle and tried my best not to look at the buck. This stare-down seemed to go on forever!”
And just as Riley’s heart sank, thinking he wasn’t going to get a shot at what would have been the biggest buck of his life, a smaller buck chased a doe right in behind the big buck. And the situation suddenly changed in Riley’s favor.
This distraction caused the buck to turn away. And as it took two or three steps, Riley found his opportunity to come to full draw. And when the buck stopped, Riley settled his sight pin on the buck, now standing at 22 yards and quartering away. He released the string and watched as his arrow, tipped with a Lumenock nock, buried deep into the buck’s vital area behind the shoulder.
“This is actually the first year I’d ever used Lumenocks on my hunting arrows,” recalls Riley. “But man, I sure was glad I had used them this time. Not only did it help me know exactly where my arrow hit the deer, it also helpe
d tremendously in the recovery of this buck. The arrow stayed in the deer as he ran off, so I felt it must have hit the shoulder on the exit side, preventing a complete pass-through. That arrow nock was lit up like a Christmas tree, so I could easily see the buck as it ran across the field, then entered the woods on the opposite side of the field.”
Riley didn’t waste any time in calling Phillip on his cell phone. He left a message, but was just too nervous to wait for his friend to call him back. So after what seemed an eternity (actually only two or three minutes), he called him again.
On Riley’s second attempt, Phillip answered his phone. “You’ve got to get over here,” Riley remembers telling him. “I’ve shot a Boone-and-Crockett-class deer!”
But after Phillip arrived, Riley admitted to him that although this buck might not gross high enough to make B&C, he would score pretty darned close to it.
The two hunting buddies walked across the field to track the buck. The rain was picking up momentum, and it was beginning to get dark. Riley confessed to becoming especially worried about the possibility of not recovering his deer.
“I’d already walked across the field and never did find a drop of blood. At least not until I reached the edge of the woods where the buck left the field. I used a piece of surveying tape to mark a little cedar tree at the far end of the field, about 200 yards away, where I spotted a few drops of blood. By the time Phillip had arrived, it was getting pretty dark.
“We decided not to wait and started off through the woods to look for my deer. The blood trail was sparse, mostly just drops here and there. I have to admit, I was getting pretty anxious about the small amount of blood we were finding. I really didn’t know what to do. I would normally back out and wait. But because of the rain, we finally decided to continue the search.
“We hadn’t gone far when I looked ahead and saw the illuminated nock on my arrow about 100 yards away. I got so excited. It was shining like a beacon through the dark woods.
“All of a sudden I grabbed Phillip and shouted, ‘There’s my nock! There’s my nock!’
“Phillip was confused and looked at me like I’d gone absolutely crazy. He didn’t have a clue what I was shouting about, since he’d never shot a Lumenock before. I quickly explained to him that I had Lumenocks on my arrows and how they worked.”
Riley laughingly recalls pushing Phillip in the direction of that beacon and literally begging him to go look at that arrow . . . and to please come back and tell him there was a dead deer lying under it.
It didn’t take long for the two hunting buddies to reach the lighted arrow nock. And just as Riley had hoped, there at the other end of that beacon, was indeed a monster buck.
Needless to say, there was a lot of whooping and hollering going on in the woods that night. Riley’s Logan County buck was, indeed, a heavy-antlered, huge-bodied 14-point buck — and the biggest buck of his hunting career. It took Riley, Pillow and two more buddies, Jeff and Eric Harris, to get the buck out of the woods and into the back of Riley’s pickup.
Once they got back into town and were able to weigh it, they discovered the buck field-dressed at a whopping 205 pounds!
Riley’s trophy buck was scored after the required 60-day waiting period by Stan Yoder, an official Pope and Young (P&Y) scorer from the Middleton area. The results show the buck tallied in with 167 1/8 as a typical 14-pointer, scoring in excess of the requirements for the P&Y Record Book.
And although it officially scored just shy of the required 170 0/8 requirement to make the B&C Record Book, it did score high enough to make the B&C Awards Book.
It’s interesting to note that an increasing number of P&Y candidates are being taken each year in Kentucky. As a location, south-central Kentucky is gathering quite a lot of attention for the impressive bucks being taken there each year. News of hunters taking other impressive bucks from the south-central Kentucky counties of Todd, Butler, Logan and Muhlenberg is quickly putting Kentucky on the map as a place to go for trophy whitetails.
While the western portion of the Bluegrass State may have in the past been more highly recognized for its healthy population of trophy-class whitetails, many sportsmen are definitely keeping a close eye on south-central Kentucky.
Riley takes great pride in his whitetail management program, which includes planting a variety of lush food sources for deer and turkeys on his properties. He talks about how much he enjoys checking his digital game cameras throughout the summer and early fall. He feels that digital game monitors have been valuable for getting a good look at the impressive-antlered bucks as they gather in his food plots to feed. He especially enjoys watching their antlers grow as these bucks are captured on film over weeks, months and years.
Each spring and summer, he devotes many hours to planting 15 to 20 acres of various food plots with soybeans, clover, Austrian winter peas, Lablab and oats. He personally believes nutrition is one of the essential keys to having big bucks on his property. He’s also an avid supporter of Kentucky’s one-buck restriction and commends the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources for maintaining this regulation, despite the many pleas from Kentucky hunters to raise their buck bag limit.
Riley firmly believes the one-buck restriction is the primary reason Kentucky hunters continue to tag impressive-antlered bucks each season.
I recently talked with Bill Cooper, a fellow outdoor writer and biologist, who is quite knowledgeable about Kentucky’s trophy-class whitetails. He mentioned that there’s been a steady stream of trophy deer taken out of the Green River Region (Todd, Logan, Butler and Muhlenberg counties), and that each year, there have been some pretty impressive bucks showing up from this area.
Cooper emphasized that since the 1960s, approximately 20 bucks from this region have scored high enough to make the B&C Awards Book. (In order for a buck to make the Awards Book, it must officially score 160 0/8 or better.)
Without a doubt, Logan County has what it takes to produce legendary whitetails. The deer there have the genetics, agriculture, ideal habitat and a quality game-management program, such as the one implemented by the KDFWR. And like so many other states that enforce a one-buck restriction, Kentucky will continue to produce heavy-bodied and massive-antlered whitetail bucks — which are bound to impress us all.