Ron Welch and Randy Green bagged trophy-class deer last year in the Bluegrass State. Here are their stories! (August 2007)
Bowhunter Ron Welch arrowed this giant buck on opening day of the 2006 season. It is the biggest bow kill ever
from Mason County. Taxidermy by Floyd Bolander.
Photo by Bill Cooper.
Asked to choose the best time of year for encountering a mature trophy-class buck, most Bluegrass hunters usually pick November, when the rut has deer activity at a peak. Without question, this is an excellent selection. However, for many dedicated bowhunters, the overwhelming favorite choice is August. Despite the sweltering heat, many hunters believe that these few weeks of late summer are about the only time of the year when they can spot a trophy whitetail in the open, away from the dense cover it normally prefers.
At this time of year, the deer are still in their regimented early-morning and late-evening summer movement patterns. They are highly visible as they feed in agricultural fields, pastures, utility right-of-ways and wildlife openings. Though bucks are still in velvet, their antler growth has slowed and racks, for the most part, are fully formed.
Additionally, since 2003, when the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) moved the opening of bow season to the first week in September, hunters willing to devote the last days of August to intensely scouting as many locations as they can, may ultimately put themselves in just the right spot to take a record-class whitetail.
RON WELCH'S MASON COUNTY MONSTER
Mason County bowhunter Ron Welch is a strong advocate of late-summer pre-season scouting. Several times in the past, he's used that strategy to locate big bucks.
Last August, the hunter was following his regular scouting routine when he received some unexpected assistance from a local farmer, who called to report an exceptionally large buck sighting in one of his soybean fields.
"I had no doubt the fellow had seen a big deer," Welch said. "But the word 'big' means different things to different people. Previous experience had taught me not to form any conclusions before scouting the area -- and hopefully, getting a look at the buck for myself."
That opportunity came rather quickly. Welch's job includes a day-and-night rotating shift schedule, and at that particular time, the hunter was getting off at 6:30 a.m.
"One morning, I drove straight to the farm from work and positioned myself in a distant fencerow where I could see the bean field with binoculars," Welch explained.
"The buck was there, alone, feeding. But I would've had no trouble identifying the deer if there had been 50 other bucks with him. The farmer was correct, the deer was definitely an exceptional whitetail, one of the biggest I had ever seen."
After several minutes, the hunter watched the buck exit the field, pass through a small stand of hardwoods and cross an open pasture, before finally disappearing into a narrow point of woods.
Nearby, an adjacent hollow was filled with impenetrable thickets of brush, briars, and vines. Welch had little doubt the deer was using the dense cover as a bedding area.
"On every scouting trip, the big deer followed the exact same travel route," he said. "From a hunting standpoint, the situation was ideal. But I also knew that any number of things could happen to alter the deer's pattern before the bow season opened. My greatest concern was that the 150 yards of open pasture the buck regularly crossed to reach the bean field, just happened to be in full view of a county road. That's not the best situation for a deer carrying a record-class rack."
Fortunately, the hunter's luck held. On opening morning, after parking his truck over half a mile from the site, Welch gathered his equipment and headed for the narrow point of woods between the pasture and the brush-filled hollow. Rather than hang his stand ahead of time and risk the possibility of the buck detecting his scent, he opted to wait and carry it in with him that morning.
"I had watched the deer enough to know approximately where I wanted to be located," Welch noted. "And I was confidant I could position my climbing stand with a minimum of effort and noise.
"On nearly every occasion during my scouting trips, the buck would stop after crossing the pasture and mill about within the point of woods, before continuing on its way toward the hollow. Regardless of the buck's precise travel route, I knew that narrow strip of trees would act as a bottleneck and help funnel the deer within bow range of practically any stand location."
Not long after Welch climbed into position and got situated, he spotted the buck on the far side of the pasture, heading in his direction.
Because whitetails -- especially big whitetails -- are so totally unpredictable, seldom does a specific hunting strategy unfold exactly as planned. But on this occasion, the deer continued its approach as if drawn by a string.
The hunter was constantly reminding himself to concentrate only on the deer, not its rack. He watched the buck draw closer and closer, finally stopping just inside the tree line, only 30 yards away.
Despite being well within shooting range, the concealed archer made no attempt to raise his bow.
Several weeks earlier, Welch had broken his arm. Although the fracture had healed, his arm remained quite weak. As a result, he'd found it necessary to lower the poundage of his bow and realign the sights accordingly. Even then, he was unable to hold the bow at full draw for more than a few seconds.
"Due to the situation with my arm and the reduced poundage of my bow, I wasn't comfortable with making that long of a shot," Welch said. "The last thing I wanted to do was make a bad decision and possibly wound the deer."
Almost everyone experiences moments when time seems to stand still. Welch was pressed tightly against the tree, almost afraid to breathe. He stared down through branches and foliage that he prayed would continue to keep him hidden.
The huge whitetail was only a few yards away, and this was one of those do-or-die moments.
"I'm sure it was only a few seconds," Welch said, "but it seemed like the buck stood there forever. It looked first in one direction, then another. At that distance, it was
impossible to not occasionally glance at its huge rack. Eventually, the deer resumed walking and I readied myself for a possible shot."
As the big deer angled closer and closer, Welch tracked the buck with his bow, but because of his arm, did not come to full draw.
At 15 yards, with the deer slightly quartering and completely in the open, the hunter drew, aimed and released -- all in one motion.
"I knew instantly it was a good shot, even before I saw the arrow pass through the buck," Welch said. "I honestly don't believe the deer realized what had happened. Other than a slight flinch, the buck exhibited little reaction, except to turn around and walk back up to the edge of the pasture. Within a minute or two, I noticed the deer stagger sideways and then fall."
Staring down at the giant buck, now lying only 40 yards away, Welch experienced a rush of emotions that only another hunter can fully appreciate. After waiting a few moments to calm down, he descended from the tree and walked over to examine the big deer.
"High and heavy" would be an apt description of the whitetail's huge rack. The 6x5 typical frame includes an inside spread of 18 6/8 inches, main beams that exceed 27 inches and four tines that tape between 12 4/8 and 9 1/8 inches.
The entire rack is massive, especially the main beams. All eight circumference measurements average over 4 3/8 inches.
In regard to scoring, the antlers gross a tremendous total of 178 7/8. After deductions for asymmetry between the right and left antlers, plus two small abnormal points, the buck's final typical Pope and Young (P&Y) score is 167 1/8. The impressive whitetail also qualifies for the Boone and Crockett Club's (B&C's) Awards record book.
In addition to being one of the state's top archery bucks of 2006, the deer ranks as the biggest bow kill ever recorded for Mason County.
RANDY GREEN'S AMAZING TRIGG COUNTY 12-POINTER
Randy Green and his brother have been hunting the rolling farmland of southern Trigg County since they were kids. There, the diverse habitat of the western Pennyroyal Region is ideally suited for whitetails, with scattered woodlots interspersed with various acreages of hay fields and row crop agriculture.
Over the years, the two men have seen and taken a number of trophy-class bucks. But last summer they spotted a deer that was particularly impressive.
"We began noticing the buck in August, feeding with other deer in bean fields on a couple of bordering farms that we hunt," Green said.
"Although the buck's rack wasn't extremely wide, it appeared to be very massive, with numerous points on both antlers. There was certainly no problem picking him out from all the other bucks."
Green concentrates much of his hunting time in early November as the approaching rut begins to trigger an increase in deer activity. Last fall, through the end of October, he had yet to see any evidence of bucks trailing does. But on the afternoon of Nov. 1, that changed dramatically.
On this particular day, the hunter was located along a woods line bordering one of the bean fields. Just below his position, a well-used deer trail meandered through the trees and brushy understory.
Because Green chooses to hunt with a recurve bow rather than a compound, he is quite selective with regard to stand placement.
"Compared to a compound bow, a recurve is a little more limited in regard to shot distance and penetration," he noted. "This can vary somewhat between individual shooters, but there are still limitations.
"Because of this, I always position my stands where there is plenty of cover, knowing that my shot opportunities will be at relatively short distances. Over the years, most bucks I've taken were at less than 10 yards.
"Height is another important consideration," he continued. "For me, moderate elevation is best because it allows for good side-angle shot placement and excellent arrow penetration. Getting this same degree of penetration from a high stand location is much more difficult, since the shot would be angling down through the deer's thick shoulders and back."
That afternoon, there had been little deer activity. But shortly after sundown, Green saw a doe coming through the woods, heading toward the field. And trailing not far behind was a large buck. The doe passed by the concealed archer and continued on out into the field. But the buck remained near the tree border, seemingly unwilling to leave the surrounding cover of the woods.
The light was fading, and Green was unable to get a completely clear view of the buck. Yet there was no doubt the deer carried a sizable rack.
Eventually, the buck approached to within 15 yards, and the hunter readied himself to draw. But at the last second, the big deer hesitated and began to turn back.
"The distance was a little farther than I normally prefer to shoot," Green said. "But at that point, the deer's body was completely in the open, and I quickly drew and released."
To the hunter's amazement, the buck flipped into the air and fell to the ground, almost where it had been standing. Not knowing whether the deer was down for good, Green quickly put a second arrow into the big whitetail.
"As it turned out, my first shot had been just a little high and clipped the spine," the hunter noted. "No one could have been any more surprised than me when the deer immediately dropped."
Later that evening, after closely examining the buck and its near perfect 6x6 rack, both brothers readily agreed it was the same deer they had previously sighted during the summer and early fall. Although not exceptionally huge, the buck was big, weighing 187 pounds field-dressed, which would place its live weight near 240.
Other than sheer size, the rack's most outstanding feature is its nearly perfect side-to-side symmetry between the right and left antlers. Antler statistics include 25-inch main beams, an inside spread of 16 6/8 inches, and six antler tines that measure between 8 and 11 inches. Antler mass is also impressive, with 5-inch basal circumference measurements that taper only slightly to 4 inches midway along the main beams.
After grossing an impressive total of 174 3/8, minor asymmetry deductions drop the final net score only slightly to 169 4/8 typical P&Y points. This also qualifies the buck for B&C's Awards record book.
Green's great buck stands as the biggest bow kill ever recorded for Trigg County. At this writing, it ranks as the state's top typical bow kill of the 2006-07 season.
"All things co
nsidered, I guess it was just my day," Green laughed. "Seldom does a hunt play out as perfectly as that one did. But I'm certainly proud to have taken such a great buck."
(Editor's Note: Be sure to see next month's issue of Kentucky Game & Fish for Part 2 of the state's top bow kills from last season. Great trophy bucks from Crittenden, Fayette, and other counties will be profiled.)
Find more about Kentucky fishing and hunting at KentuckyGameandFish.com.