by Justin Samples
The common dream of every deer hunter is to take a record-book buck.
On the morning of Dec. 1, 2001, I started the day with no idea the dream was about to become a reality for me.
Ask any hunter where one could most likely find a “‘trophy” buck. Most West Tennessee hunters will chuckle and tell you, “Hunt the swamps and deep woods.”
Well, I didn’t know ahead of time I was going to see the biggest deer killed by a hunter in Tennessee that season, but I did know which “thicket” I wanted to hunt.
As on any other morning, I awoke to begin the process of gathering clothing, calls, binoculars and anything else that I might need to lure in a trophy buck. I had called my girlfriend, Kristi, to see if she wanted to join me. She’s a serious hunter in her own right; however, to my disappointment, she had decided to hunt elsewhere that morning.
I soon arrived at the plot of land I’d decided to hunt. I began to climb into my stand around 5:30 a.m. As I got settled, I heard the familiar sounds of a family of hoot owls nesting in a nearby cedar tree. Light began to fill the sky, and I heard another familiar sound – deer rummaging around, feeding in the dark. Thoughts of what might be out there began to fill my head. I could just begin to see the faint silhouettes of a couple of does on a nearby hillside.
As the morning progressed, I saw several smaller, young bucks, but nothing in the trophy range I was hoping to see. In fact, by 9:30 a.m., I had hoped to see a larger buck step out. Nope, only more does.
Then wind began to pick up and shift directions. To my disappointment, it shifted toward the does. With a sudden jerk, the lead doe threw up her nose. “I’m busted” was my initial thought. The does bobbed their heads and snorted. However, after what seemed like forever, the does went on about their business.
By 10:30 a.m., I had given up all hope of encountering a big buck. I then climbed down out of my stand and began to walk to a joining field. Maybe a large buck would be there, and if I was careful, I’d be able to see him before he spotted me.
Suddenly, of all things, I began to hear the muffled sound of my cell phone ringing. I struggled to get it out of my pocket, and finally I answered, “Hello?”
“Hey, man.” It was my friend Jeremy. Jeremy’s not a hunter, but he had called to see how my morning hunt had gone. As we chatted away, I began to toss my can call.
Jeremy, who could hear the sound of the call over the phone, asked, “Does that thing actually work?”
Just as soon as I finished replying to him, I heard something come crashing through the heavy thicket behind me – a noise that could only be made by a whitetail. I quickly turned to make out the blurred image of a huge deer.
The phone hit the ground as I scrambled to pull my .270’s sling off of my shoulder and put the rifle to my shoulder. I’m not totally sure the monster really knew what I was. He proceeded to raise and lower his head and then stomp his feet. He stood with his head lowered, trying to find a scent that matched the noise he’d heard.
The moment that he raised his head would be the “moment of truth.” What seemed forever was only a few seconds, and then my shot rang across the thicket. I lowered my gun to see the buck fall to the ground. “Is he dead?” was my first thought. I gave him a few minutes and then cautiously walked to the beast.
As I approached the deer and could tell for certain he was dead, I went crazy! I had just killed the biggest deer I had ever seen.
I began to catch my breath and proceeded to give Jeremy a call back. I nervously counted points two and three times over, counting higher every time. There were at least 45 points big enough to hang a ring on. Jeremy, in disbelief, congratulated me, not knowing what exactly it was that I had just killed. I then called Kristi. I was still very excited, but I soon caught my breath and told Kristi over the cell phone that I had just killed at least a 45-point deer. She told me to quit lying. But somewhere I knew she believed me. “Run around or something,” Kristi said.
And I did just that.
Twenty minutes went by, and finally Kristi and her mother, Lora, came pulling up to me on the fourwheeler. Kristi claims she had found me because she could see me jumping up and down in excitement.
After loading the 185-pound monster onto the four-wheeler, we began the trip to the checking station.
In the 30 minutes it took to get from the check station to the house, word had spread all over town that a huge non-typical deer had been killed. As we had expected, 20 or so family and friends had gathered together to see my “moose” of a deer.
For nearly two hours and most of the night, people stopped by to see the buck. No one had believed that a deer of such magnitude had actually been killed in this area. In fact, for the next three days, people had stopped by to view this creature in a bit of awe and disbelief.
Although I had killed the buck of my lifetime, I will still have the anticipation of awaking to another day of deer hunting to see if there is actually another like him out there.
Editor’s Note: The official Boone & Crockett score for Justin Samples’ buck, taken after the 60-day drying period, was 232 7/8, making this deer the largest killed in Tennessee last year and the second largest ever killed in Tennessee by a hunter.
The rack had 18 scorable points on the right antler and 19 on the left. Although the official score sheet recognized “just” 37 points – they must be at least an inch long to score under the Boone & Crockett system – as Justin noted right after shooting his buck, the rack has a number of points that are almost long enough to score, and some tines are quite well developed, running as long as 10 inches.
In fact, Justin’s deer is the largest Tennessee deer ever taken by a modern rifle. The previou
s rifle-kill record was Luther E. Fuller’s buck, a 223 4/8 trophy taken in Hawkins County in 1984.
The largest non-typical ever killed by a hunter in Tennessee was David Wachtel’s muzzleloader buck, which was killed in the 2000 season. It scored 244 3/8.
Interestingly, even though a buck the size of Justin’s is always a surprise, Haywood County, where Justin was hunting, has produced at least one other record-class deer in the past few years. During the 1999 gun season, Brownsville resident Mark Powell shot a typical whitetail that scored 172 4/8. Powell’s buck was one of the 10 largest typicals ever killed in Tennessee, and it was the largest typical taken by a rifle hunter in 20 years.
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