December 14, 2018
By Paul E. Moore
Deer season has been open in Tennessee for a few weeks and plenty of hunters have put meat in the freezer and even some quality bone on the ground. However, the season is on the cusp of the rut and hunters are feeling the excitement of setting sights on some of the best bucks Tennessee has to offer.
Tennessee may not get the notoriety of some states when it comes to trophy deer, but there are plenty of quality deer in, along with trophies and even a few giants. Remember the Tucker Buck, the largest non-typical whitetail ever harvested by a hunter, was killed in The Volunteer State in 2016.
While there may not have been another world-class trophy taken in Tennessee last season, there were plenty of other quality bucks taken by hunters. Of course, a trophy buck is quantified differently by different hunters.
Stephen Moffitt does a little bit of archery hunting during the early season, but he primarily views these excursions as scouting expeditions. His favorite time to be in the woods is when muzzleloader season arrives. He loves the pre-rut time when bucks are seeking and chasing.
Last season, the hunter had been dealing with some seasonal illness, and still was not feeling good as the second weekend of muzzleloader season approached. Nonetheless, he headed out after work on Friday for an afternoon in the stand. He chose a ladder stand on the perimeter of the property that he considers primarily an observation stand, although he has taken deer from it before. The hunter was rewarded for his effort by seeing nine deer, which left him thinking this could be a good year.
Moffitt hunts a private farm in Sequatchie County that is comprised of steep ridges with no openings. His portion of the property is 52 acres, but it adjoins a family farm, bringing the total size to 122 acres.
He was up early and headed out to what he calls his No. 1 stand. It has been good to him in the past and was where he took the two largest bucks of his life. Little did he know that morning, but hunting that stand was about to result in him breaking his own personal record.
The stand is about midway up a hardwood ridge. On one side of the ridge is a pine thicket that deer often use as a bedding area. In the other direction is a road and across the road are farm fields where deer often feed at night. The stand gives a great vantage point to observe deer in the morning as they make their way back to the security of the pines.
About an hour after daylight, a spike meandered by behind the hunter’s stand. A little later the same deer came through in front of the stand with his nose to the ground.
The wind was carrying Moffitt’s scent uphill toward the top of the ridge, so he was keeping constant vigilance in that direction in hopes of spotting a deer on top of the ridge before it caught the scent stream. About an hour after the spike wandered off, Moffitt turned to check the ridge and there he saw a big-bodied buck with long times already close to being directly downwind.
The hunter turned, faced forward and slowly stood, hoping the tree would hide his movement. Moffitt turned about 180 degrees to his left and steadied his old CVA Kodiak Magnum against the side of tree, but the buck was nowhere to be seen. He eased a little farther around the tree and there was the buck at full attention, directly downwind and looking toward the hunter.
As quickly as possible, Moffitt centered the crosshairs and squeezed off the shot. It looked and felt good, but the buck ran all the way up the steep ridge and then slowed to a walk. Moffitt did not want to believe it, but he considered that he might have missed the biggest buck of his life. Then the buck’s tail started twitching and he took off downhill on a death run.
Once on the ground, Moffitt took up the trail and eventually found his trophy. He could not believe that even with a perfect shot the buck had covered some 200 yards. Up close though, the buck was magnificent with 9 points and measuring 147 inches.
Successfully tagging a good buck with archery gear sometimes happens by blind luck, but even then it requires the right conditions, stealth, scent management and executing the shot sequence. Scouting and purposely setting up in the right spot at the right time to take a monster buck is exponentially more difficult. A bowhunter cannot merely get in the vicinity of a buck to be successful. It requires being right up close and personal and that is obviously no easy feat.
Tribble has been hunting the same farm in Montgomery County for the past six years and admittedly spent the first three or four seasons learning by trial and error. The property is roughly 200 acres and very hard to hunt. It consists of a tree farm, — some 50,000 oak trees — a couple ponds and a creek, and it is surrounded by fields of row crops.
Tribble gained permission to hunt the property while stationed at Fort Campbell. The bowhunter believes his access to the property is in part a thank you for his service after spending nine years in the U.S. Army.
Patterning deer on this property in the early season is almost impossible according to Tribble, as there is so much food, plenty of water and the habitat is almost impenetrable. Deer do not have to move very far to find anything they need. Prior to the rut, mature bucks are almost non-existent during daylight hours.
Tribble learned to combat this problem by simply hunting other locations during the early season and saving this farm for the pre-rut. Tribble had located a 3-acre thicket that was heavily used by does as a bedding area. Over the few years, Tribble observed that as the rut approached, bucks scent-checked this bedding area by traveling along a drain when there was an east wind. He used that to his advantage in 2016 and tagged a huge 14-point scoring 155 and change.
Last year, Tribble used the same approach and stayed clear of the farm until early November. A little after daylight on November 2, Tribble spotted a buck coming along the trail, so he stood and grabbed his bow. He estimated it to be in the 120-class, so after he passed, Tribble hung up his bow.
The bow had been on the hook only seconds when Tribble heard grunting. Coming up the same trail was a much larger buck, head down and grunting every step. It took Tribble a minute to recognize the buck, but it was one he had seen the season before, but had not seen since.
The buck was on him so fast, he almost got by unscathed. He came out from behind a cedar tree and Tribble grunted, stopping the buck in his tracks. The bowhunter released an arrow and watched it hit perfectly. The buck ran only 60 yards before piling up. Tribble had taken his second trophy buck in back-to-back seasons.
The big buck was a typical 10-pointer and scored 151 5/8.
“It was like a story book,” said Tribble, “He just came in on a string just like it’s supposed to.”
Taking good-size deer is not really anything new to Jordon Locke, as he has taken several with muzzleloader and bow over the years. He also hunts some with rifle, but most have come with muzzleloader and that was what was in his hands this past season when he had no idea what was to come his way.
Locke and some buddies hunt a lease in Cheatham County that is a mixture of hardwoods and fields, but there are not a lot of row crops in the area. Deer primarily forage on hard mast and browse. To supplement natural food sources, the hunters put out food plots and mineral supplements. Several quality bucks are seen on the property every year.
The hunters prefer hang-on stands and have several positioned around the property. Some they leave up all season and others they bounce around to new locations. Occasionally, a climbing stand is employed to quickly hunt a hot location.
Locke had been getting trail camera photos of a buck for the past two seasons, but unfortunately, none actually captured a good enough view to get the full scope of the deer. He knew the deer was big, but he had no idea just how big. Even trail pictures from late in the summer did not give a good look at the rack.
On the morning of November 11, one of Locke’s buddies was hunting a stand in hopes of taking a nice buck. His wish almost came true as he got a glimpse of the big buck seen on the trail cameras. The bruiser was running a doe, but the hunter never got a shot opportunity.
Locke was positioned in a stand later that afternoon in the woods, with what he described as, “a little view.” He heard deer running in the leaves and then saw a spike buck running a doe. Soon thereafter, a larger buck showed up and chased away the spike. Locke was simply enjoying the show when an even larger buck appeared. The subordinate buck had no interest in a challenge and quickly vacated the area.
Locke did not have a great view of the buck from his stand. He knew it had a good rack and a big body size, but still did not know just how big. The hunter shouldered his Thompson Center Shockwave, took aim and squeezed the trigger. It was a perfect shot of about 60 yards. The deer reacted to the hit, ran only 20 yards and piled up.
Locke was amazed at the buck up close. The giant buck had an incredible 21 scorable points. After being measured, it netted 165 2/8 inches as a non-typical. Although Locke was accustomed to big deer, this was definitely his largest to date.
After the season was over, the hunters started going back through all the photos they had accumulated from the trail cameras. They found several pictures of the big buck and could positively identify it. Remarkably, even knowing it was the same deer, there was still no way to determine it was that big.