Our State's Top Bow Kills

Our State's Top Bow Kills

Led by Morris Lee's huge 17-pointer, here are the stories behind the taking of three true-blue Kentucky trophy bucks!

By Bill Cooper

Situated atop a 12-foot ladder stand, Morris "Moe" Lee listened to the wind whistling and whining through the surrounding tree branches as the eastern sky slowly began to brighten. Although this was opening morning of Kentucky's 2002 gun season for deer, the unseasonably warm weather (which included forecasts of possible severe thunderstorms and tornadoes) seemed more like April than November.

As the morning progressed, occasional strong wind gusts forced the hunter to grasp the seat of his stand for balance as the tree swayed back and forth. This was extremely bothersome for two reasons. First of all, being a devout bowhunter, Lee did not care for the possibility of having to shoot from an unstable platform. Secondly, with an admitted phobia of heights, all the problems associated with the first reason were doubly underscored.

"I've received more than my share of kidding because I won't get more than 12 feet above the ground," Lee laughed. "But I put a lot of effort into camouflaging my location. Occasionally, a deer will pick up my scent; however, I have never had one spot me. For the same reasons, I hunt strictly from a sitting position, and while I realize this severely limits my shooting options, it has never really proven to be much of a problem in regard to taking deer."

Lee was hunting a location in Henderson County that is owned by the company where he is employed. Approximately 2,000 acres in size, the land includes an ideal mixture of mature hardwood timber, interspersed with cultivated acreages planted to corn and soybeans. Seventy-five percent of the property is open to bowhunting only, while muzzleloaders may be used on the remaining portion.

Morris "Moe" Lee took this outstanding 17-pointer, last season's top non-typical bow kill, while hunting in Henderson County. After major scoring deductions of nearly 20 inches, his rack still manages a remarkable Pope and Young score of 185 1/8. Taxidermy by Warren Wolf. Photo by Bill Cooper

"About five years ago, we decided to implement quality buck guidelines, much like those used by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources on several of their wildlife management areas," Lee noted. "Basically, this meant that a buck needed to have an antler spread outside its ears before it could be taken. There were a few disgruntled employees who didn't especially care for the rule; however, compliance was purely voluntary and no one was at risk of losing their hunting privileges by taking a smaller buck.

"For whatever reason, possibly peer pressure, most hunters went along with the new policy," he continued. "And after about three years, there began to be a noticeable increase in the number of big bucks sighted on the property."

On this particular morning, Lee was hunting a tract of large hardwoods known locally as "persimmon ridge." Topographically, this is an area of finger ridges and draws lying just below a large fescue field.

"I've hunted this site for approximately 20 years," Lee said. "Basically, this somewhat elongated corridor of big timber serves as a natural funnel for deer movement, especially in early fall when persimmons and acorns begin dropping. The food availability usually attracts a high concentration of does, which makes the area a great place to hunt during the November rut when bucks are active.

"Just a week earlier, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon during a steady rain, I walked into my stand to get situated for an afternoon hunt and, unfortunately, jumped a huge buck and two does," he continued. "Even though I was encouraged at this sign of possible early rutting activity, it was extremely disappointing to run a buck of that size out of my specific hunt area."

Now, several days later, Lee hoped the rut had erased that brief encounter from the buck's mind. In spite of the wind's early morning velocity, its southwesterly direction was perfect for the bowhunter's location. Before climbing into position, Lee had placed two scent canisters upwind and well beyond the shooting lanes to the front and left of his stand. He hoped that if a buck appeared, the scent would attract its attention long enough for a shot opportunity.

Surprisingly, there was no sign of early deer activity that morning. Finally, shortly after 8 a.m., two does walked out of a draw to the hunter's right and continued along a trail that passed in front of the stand. They eventually disappeared over a slight rise in the ridgeline.

Minutes passed, and Lee was contemplating the possibilities of a buck following the doe's trail, when he happened to glance back to his right in the direction the two deer had come from. At about the same moment, a large set of antlers popped into view less than 30 yards away.

"Because of the draw, a deer approaching from the right can't be seen until it has nearly topped the ridge, and by then it is pretty close," Lee said. "I knew the buck was big, but I remember telling myself over and over, Forget the rack; just concentrate on getting a shot."

The buck was walking slowly and, assuming it continued to follow the doe's trail, Lee realized the deer would cross two different shooting lanes, both at a distance of less than 20 yards. Because he was right-handed and needed to shoot from a sitting position, the lanes were to the front and slightly left of the stand. As the buck passed behind a dense clump of sassafras saplings, the hunter came to full draw.

"I kept thinking the deer would wind the scent canisters and pause a time or two, but he gave no indication of being aware of anything," Lee said. "I had about decided my only option was to shoot at a moving target when, just as the buck stepped into a shooting lane, he abruptly stopped and turned his head upwind toward the scent wick; I couldn't have asked for better timing."

Quickly aiming, Lee released his arrow and watched as it nearly disappeared into the buck's rib cage. The deer whirled and ran out of sight over the ridgetop and into the draw.

"Up until that point, I really hadn't been nervous," Lee noted. "However, the excitement of the moment caught up with me pretty fast. I tried to pour a cup of coffee from my thermos bottle and coffee went everywhere. My intention was to remain in the stand for at least an hour, but about 25 minutes was all I could endure."

As it turned out, Lee could have climbed down immediately. After locating a very visible blood trail, he quickly found the big whitetail lying dead approximately 70 yards down in the draw.

"Even though I had tried not to look at the rack earlier

, it was impossible not to sneak a glance from time to time," Lee laughed. "Even so, the antlers were an awesome sight up close for the first time. Until then, I never realized the beams were so massive."

The hunter's statement is quite understandable after looking at the rack's official antler statistics. In most cases, the circumference measurements of a rack gradually get smaller as they are taken progressively out toward the beam tip. Amazingly, on both beams of this rack, they actually increase in size. For example, the right antler increases from a basal measurement of 5 2/8 inches to 5 4/8 inches midway out on the beam, and the left antler increases from 5 4/8 inches to 6 inches.

Additional rack measurements include main beams that exceed 26 inches, antler spreads of 26 2/8 inches outside, and 20 4/8 inches inside, and four tines that tape between 9 1/2 and 10 1/2 inches. There are also six abnormal points that total 27 5/8 inches.

Although the buck's final non-typical Pope and Young (P&Y) score of 185 1/8 is quite impressive, it hardly represents the rack's true size. Consider, for example, that this final figure was attained after the required deduction of nearly 20 inches for asymmetry measurements. The primary problems were a completely broken-off brow tine and two normal tines on the right antler that were not matched on the left.

In addition to the P&Y record book, Lee's outstanding buck also qualifies for the Boone and Crockett Club's Awards record book. The buck also ranks as the state's top non-typical bow kill of the 2002 season, plus it is the biggest P&Y non-typical ever recorded for Henderson County.

While not quite in the same class as Lee's huge non-typical, another buck with exceptional antler mass was taken last season in Larue County by bowhunter Louie Payne of Hodgenville. In fact, many individuals that first see this 5x5 typical, which grosses 165 3/8 and nets 158 1/8 P&Y, think the deer was taken in Canada instead of Kentucky. This is not really surprising considering the rack's eight circumference measurements range between 6 4/8 and 4 4/8 inches and average well over 5 inches.

In addition to operating a hunting supply store in Hodgenville and manufacturing Final Roost turkey calls, Payne also makes and markets hunting videos. Fortunately, a friend, Lonnie Lockard, accompanied the bowhunter on the afternoon he took his big deer and managed to capture the entire sequence on film.

"As is often the case, we had no idea the buck was even in the area," Payne said. "I was actually hunting a big 8-pointer that had been seen at the location a few days earlier."

Payne was positioned in a climbing stand, 30 feet above the ground, in a tall poplar tree; Lockard was 5 feet higher. In a nearby field, and within bow range, was a very large white oak where deer were coming to feed.

Shortly before sundown, a young 4-pointer appeared and began eating acorns under the big oak. About 30 minutes later, Lockard spotted two does above their location on a small hill, but they did not join the young buck.

"With less than a half-hour of light left, I had about decided we weren't going to see anything else," Payne noted. "In fact, Lonnie had borrowed my binoculars and was watching a bobcat on the opposite side of the tree. However, a minute or two later, I happened to glance up the hill toward where the does had been and saw a big buck about 100 yards away coming down the fencerow in our direction."

Payne whispered to his cameraman that a good buck was coming in, but Lockard couldn't hear him. Twice more the bowhunter whispered the message, but there was no response. Afraid to speak any louder because the 4-pointer was only yards below their tree, Payne finally managed to lean upward far enough to grab Lockard's leg.

"By the time he got his camera in position, the deer had gone out of sight behind the limbs and leaves of several trees in the fencerow," Payne said. "However, within seconds it jumped another fence and walked into full view below us."

At that point, Payne's heart pressed the accelerator button as he suddenly realized the huge size of the buck's rack. After waiting until the big deer lowered its head to feed, the archer came to full draw, estimated the distance at 18 yards, aimed and released.

"When the arrow hit, the buck jumped about 10 yards to one side and stopped," Payne related. "At first I thought I might have made a bad shot, but after a minute or two the deer went down. Even so, we waited until after dark before climbing down; however, the buck had evidently died quickly."

After taking time to admire the big whitetail's massive rack, the two men loaded the buck in the back of Payne's pickup. A short while later, they officially weighed the deer at 204 pounds field dressed.

Payne's great buck ranks as the second-largest typical P&Y whitetail ever taken in Larue County. Amazingly, Payne's friend and hunting companion, Gary Polly, took the county's top typical bow kill, a giant 10-pointer, scoring 171 7/8, just a year earlier. Polly's buck was also the state's top bow kill for the 2001 season.

The two outstanding bucks we have just looked at - Morris Lee's 185 1/8 non-typical and Louie Payne's 158 1/8 typical - were perfect fits for their respective trophy classifications. Such is not always the case. For example, bowhunter Kevin Ray of Brownsville took an impressive buck last season near Mammoth Cave National Park, which could justifiably have been entered into the P&Y record book as either a typical or non-typical.

Ray's big whitetail has a symmetrical 10-point frame that grosses 158 4/8 and nets 151 6/8. The rack also includes four abnormal points that total 10 2/8 inches. By subtracting these abnormal inches, the rack's final P&Y typical score is a very respectable 141 4/8. However, these abnormal points can also be added to the net typical total, giving the rack a final P&Y non-typical score of 162 0/8.

Either way, the buck is an exceptional trophy and the entry decision is one that most any bowhunter would love to be forced into. Ray chose to enter the deer as a non-typical.

Be sure to check the October 2003 issue of Kentucky Game & Fish for Part 3 of the state's top bow kills from last season. Featured will be the second-biggest typical whitetail ever taken by bow on Land Between The Lakes!

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