This Kentucky sportsman arrowed last year's biggest typical bow kill ever from Casey County, and an all-time high-ranking buck to boot. Here's his story!(August 2006)
Exceptionally long tine lengths, up to 14 4/8 inches, plus an outside spread of 21 4/8, makes for one very impressive rack on Brad Calvert's big buck.
Photo by Bill Cooper.
While hunting in Casey County during the early muzzleloading season of 2004, Brad Calvert of Lexington directed another hunter, who was unfamiliar with the property, to a specific section of woods. The hunter had little luck sighting deer that day, but he did give Brad an impressive pair of shed antlers he had picked up in the area. Although the matching sheds (comprising a basic 5x4 typical frame) were heavily damaged by rodents, the antlers exhibited exceptional tine and beam length.
"Knowing the buck was another year older at the time the sheds were found really staggered my imagination with regard to estimating how much bigger the deer's present rack might be," Calvert said. "Unless the animal had sustained some type of injury, I felt reasonably sure there was a record-book deer walking around somewhere on the property."
Unfortunately, after hunting at every opportunity during the remainder of the 2004 gun, muzzleloading and bow seasons, Calvert found that "somewhere" was apparently a mythical location where big whitetails vanish without a trace. Not only did he never encounter the buck while hunting, but also several trail cameras were also unsuccessful at capturing the big deer, even after dark.
"Considering the amount of time I had spent in the woods, not to mention the trail cameras, I couldn't help but believe something had happened to the buck," Calvert remarked. "After the season, when I saw two Casey County bucks listed on the state's 2004 summary of big deer taken, I wondered if one of them might have been the buck I was hunting."
In late August 2005, Brad began positioning trail cameras along travel corridors and near strategic food source locations on the property. As the weeks slowly passed, the cameras recorded a number of deer sightings. However, the one buck he was hoping to see in the photographs remained as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster.
By the end of September, with no further evidence that the phantom whitetail still existed, Calvert began concentrating his hunting efforts on another very good buck he had sighted. However, in mid-October, while checking a group of recent photos from one of the trail cameras, those efforts came to a screeching halt.
"Incredibly, after a year of hunting and searching, I suddenly had six photos of the giant buck I had been looking for!" Calvert exclaimed. "There was absolutely no doubt it was the same buck that had dropped the sheds. The beams and tines had the same unique shape and incredible length. The only difference was the rack now had a matching 5x5 typical frame and was noticeably bigger. Amazingly, the buck was photographed within 200 yards of where the sheds were found. Where the deer had been during the past year is still a mystery to me."
It would be an understatement to say the hunter felt energized by this sudden development. For two weeks, he hunted from daylight until dark, utilizing several different stand locations in the hills and hollows surrounding the camera location. Unfortunately, the results were the same as before. Calvert's only guess was that the buck was moving primarily at night.
On the last weekend of October, the hunter checked a camera he had positioned near a mock scrape on a different section of the hunting tract. Earlier photos from the site had revealed a number of young bucks visiting the scrape. On this occasion, there were photos of eight more immature bucks, all 8-pointers or smaller. However, one additional deer photo caught Calvert by surprise: The big whitetail had obviously changed locations!
"The mock scrape was over a mile from where I had been hunting, but there was no mistaking the antlers in the photo," he related. "The fact that the buck visited the scrape gave me a little hope that the approaching rut and increased deer activity might have prompted the big whitetail to begin moving during the day."
Initially, weather changes and an unfavorable wind delayed hunting the site. The following Saturday, however, Calvert and his fiancée, Stacey, arrived at the location well before daybreak. Although Stacey had previously taken deer with a rifle, this was to be her first attempt with a bow.
After leaving Stacey in a ground blind along the woods line of an old overgrown field, approximately 50 yards from the mock scrape, Calvert headed off in the darkness. Not wanting to be too far from her, in case she might need some assistance, he elected to use a stand about 500 yards away on the opposite side of the field.
The hunter was positioned in a huge maple located just below the field's edge, where the terrain began sloping downward toward a deep hollow. Behind the maple, a wooded draw provides a natural travel corridor between the field and hardwood bottom. Several deer trails meander through thick undergrowth covering the slopes on both sides of the draw. Brad Calvert had hunted this stand during the October two-day muzzleloading season, and sighted six does and two bucks. Most importantly, all of the deer had passed within bow range.
Around 8:30 a.m., a doe came running through the brush with a spike buck in hot pursuit. After the deer disappeared, Brad used a cell phone to check with Stacey and report the rut activity. She replied that there had been no sightings at her location.
Minutes later, another doe appeared and eventually moved on along the same general path the first two deer had taken. That morning's wind direction was not exactly ideal, and to help compensate, Calvert had worn two scent-lock suits. Now, as the sun slowly rose in the eastern sky, so did the temperature under the hunter's clothing.
"I was hot, no doubt about it," he said. "To make matters worse, the sun had reached a point where it was shining directly in my eyes."
The sudden sound of a limb breaking somewhere downhill behind the stand quickly erased all thoughts of being uncomfortable. Turning partially around, the hunter could detect no movement or additional sounds at first. However, within seconds, he heard the distant rustlings of something walking through the leaves.
"I knew whatever I was hearing seemed to be coming my way," Calvert remarked. "Then the unmistakable deep grunt of a buck really jolted me."
iously in that direction, the hunter saw sunlight reflecting off a giant set of antlers, which were approximately 40 yards away. The big whitetail was coming up the draw, walking just inside the bordering line of brush. A mixture of shadows and sunlight under the trees made it difficult to determine the exact shooting distance. As luck would have it, Calvert had left his rangefinder with Tracey, thinking she would need it more than he.
As the buck passed behind a large fork of the maple, the archer rose to his feet and came to full draw. Looking downhill through a maze of branches and leaves, Calvert saw the deer stop abruptly.
"I had a narrow shooting lane, but the buck was standing in dark shadows, making my yardage estimate really tough," he explained. "I momentarily thought about waiting, but immediately dismissed that idea. The deer didn't appear to be heading toward the open field, and its current path was going away from my location. Finally, guessing the distance to be 35 yards, I carefully aimed and touched my release."
As Calvert watched the arrow disappear in the shadows, he thought the shot might be a little high, but still on target. A split second later, he heard a loud "thwack." The buck jumped forward about 20 yards, and then stopped.
"My initial thought was, 'Good, the deer's going to drop right there,' " Calvert related. "However, the longer I waited, the more nervous I became. As I continued to watch, the buck suddenly began jerking its head around and twitching its tail. I didn't know what to think, but I was beginning to believe that my shot had missed completely."
Unsure of what to do, Calvert picked up his call and grunted softly. Amazingly, the buck took several steps in his direction. He grunted a second time, and the buck approached a few steps closer.
"At this point, my nerves were in such a state that I'm not sure what I was thinking. But I remember being physically sick, realizing that I had somehow managed to miss the deer of a lifetime," he said. "Although the buck was now standing only about 30 yards away, tree limbs and brush made it impossible to try a second shot."
As the hunter looked on, the buck suddenly bolted forward and began running through the thick undergrowth toward the field. Fortunately, the deer was moving parallel to the stand and remained within shooting range.
"I am still unsure as to what might have caused the buck's unusual reaction," Calvert said. "I continued to follow the moving deer with my bow, hoping at some point it might pause long enough for a shot."
Luckily, when the buck reached the open field, it did exactly that. Estimating the distance to be 30 yards, the hunter hurriedly aimed and touched his release. This time, there was no doubt about the shot. He watched the arrow penetrate up to the fletching. The big whitetail whirled sideways and quickly ran out of sight.
"Words can't adequately describe my excitement level at that moment," Calvert remarked. "In fact, I had to constantly remind myself that I was 20 feet above the ground so I wouldn't fall out of the stand. I called Stacey to tell her what had happened, but I was talking so fast she couldn't understand what I was saying."
After calming down and climbing out of the stand, Calvert found his first arrow. As he suspected, it was completely clean. The sound he had heard was obviously the shaft striking a limb or a tree.
Stacey was also excited and eager to begin trailing the buck. But Calvert wasn't about to take any chances on pushing the big deer. He decided they would wait at least three hours. Both hunters readily admit it was the longest three hours they had ever spent.
Once they began to look, the trail took them through an area that had been timbered a few years earlier. Thick vegetation made the process slow and arduous. After about 80 yards, they found where the deer had laid down, just above a high bluff. From that point on, the trail angled almost straight down the hillside.
"The terrain was so steep, at times we had to literally slide down the hill," Calvert noted. "Along the way, we noticed several broken saplings and branches where the buck had stumbled. Finally, we reached a place on the hillside where it was possible to look almost straight down, and we could see the deer lying in a narrow drain at the bottom of the hill."
Reaching the huge whitetail and seeing its massive rack up close was every bit as thrilling as Brad had imagined. While he never had any doubt this was the same buck in the trail camera photos, the presence of a 1 1/2-inch sticker point on the rack's left back tine positively identified the deer.
A quick examination of the buck provided a very interesting discovery. Across the deer's back was a fresh razor-thin cut, barely breaking the skin -- obviously the result of Brad's first arrow!
"I was truly fortunate to get a second chance at the buck," Calvert said. "To say the least, I had the hunting experience of a lifetime. And what made it especially great was having Stacey with me that day. In all honesty, I thought she would have the best chance of seeing the buck that morning, but I guess the unexpected is what makes deer hunting so intriguing."
Official antler measurements, taken after the required drying period, reveal some impressive statistics. The very symmetrical 5x5 frame includes long main beams of 25 5/8 and 25 4/8 inches, and an antler spread of 21 4/8 inches outside and 19 2/8 inches inside. Tine length is exceptional, with paired G-2s that tape 14 4/8 inches each, followed by G-3s of 13 0/8 and 11 7/8 inches.
In regard to scoring, the rack grosses 182 7/8 and nets, after minor asymmetry deductions and one sticker point, a final typical Pope and Young score of 176 4/8. In addition to ranking high in the P&Y record book, the buck also qualifies for the Boone and Crockett Club's Awards and All-Time record books.
Brad Calvert's deer is the biggest whitetail ever taken with a bow in Casey County and ranks No. 5 on the state's all-time list of typical bow kills. Amazingly, this buck is one of four huge whitetails taken last season to top the magic 170 scoring mark in the typical category. Two of the bucks are also profiled in this issue, while the fourth -- a late-season bow kill -- will appear in the January 2007 issue of this magazine.
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