Here's the story of two massive bow-kill bucks -- one typical and one non-typical -- whose downfall was the ring of the dinner bell.
By Dan Kibler
If there's anything to be learned from Greg Robertson and Shane Nelson, it's that Field of Dreams might as well be a deer-hunting movie - not a baseball movie.
There's one slight change. "Build it, and they will come," turns into something like "Feed them, and they will come," or "Plant it, and they will come."
That's the lesson that Robertson and Nelson are quick to teach hunters. What are their credentials? Well, they're both partial to the number 165 1/8. That's the score they both received last winter when the trophy bucks they killed during the 2003 archery season went under the tape measure. Robertson's 10-point Stokes County trophy scored 165 1/8 points (under the Pope and Young scoring system) and was only 3/8 of an inch off the state record in the typical category. Nelson's 13-point buck from Guilford County scored 165 1/8 as a non-typical and fell exactly one inch short of the state record in that category. By tooth wear on their lower jawbones, both bucks appeared to be at least 4 1/2 years old and possibly 5 1/2 years old.
Besides the scores and the fact that both hunters killed their deer with bows and broadheads, Robertson and Nelson share at least one underlying belief: that you can do something positive by feeding the deer in the area where you hunt. Both hunters let fly with their deadly arrows when their targets had their noses down in a pile of shelled corn. And both go the extra mile when it comes to providing for their deer. Robertson feeds corn year 'round; Nelson's big buck fell in a 1 1/2-acre soybean patch that he plants annually - not to harvest, just to feed his deer.
Robertson's huge buck fell last Sept. 29, just before dark, shot out of the same tree stand where he'd killed an 18 3/4-inch 9-pointer in 2000 and an 18-inch 6-pointer earlier. It's an area about 100 yards off an agricultural field, in a patch of hardwoods that often produce a good crop of acorns. Not only does Robertson feed between 50 and 100 pounds of corn per month, year 'round, he fertilizes all the oak trees around the seven or eight stands he's got on leased land around Stokes County.
Greg Robertson and the rack from his 165 1/8 typical buck, the No. 2 all-time archery typical in North Carolina. Photo by Dan Kibler
"There were some acorns around last year, but not very many," said Robertson, who lives in King. "I'll go to those trees in April or May and put fertilizer around them. The reason I got into that was I had a couple of white oaks in my yard, and in the years when I fertilized my lawn, they always produced more acorns."
In addition to the corn and acorns, he supplements the deer's diet with a mineral in salt form that's normally used as a bone-builder for cattle - the kind of mineral that adds heft and height to a buck's rack.
Robertson's buck certainly had height and heft. The buck had a 19 3/8-inch inside spread, an outside spread of 22 inches, main beams that measured 28 4/8 and 27 inches, and three tines that measured more than 10 inches: 10 4/8, 10 6/8 and 12. The only thing that kept the buck out of the Boone and Crockett Club's All-Time record book was one tine on the left beam that was 3 5/8 inches shorter than its match on the right beam - which cost the buck more than 7 inches on its final net score. The buck wound up 3/8 of an inch shy of Jerry Chilton's Rockingham County buck, taken in 1995, that is the state-record typical archery buck.
Robertson, 34, certainly wasn't quibbling about a little difference between the buck's two antlers when it showed up under his portable tree stand shortly before 6:30 on the evening of Sept. 29. In fact, he didn't allow himself to look at both beams, for fear that he'd shake too much to get off an accurate shot.
He had packed his hunting clothes in his truck so he could drive to his hunting spot directly after he got off from work as a truck driver for Waste Management Inc. in Winston-Salem. Using a Golden Eagle compound - he hadn't had time to tune up a bow he'd bought three days earlier - he climbed up into the portable stand he'd positioned 20 feet up in a poplar tree. The stand is about 100 yards back in the woods from an agricultural field and about 100 yards down from the top of a ridge.
"I got in my stand at around five minutes to 6, and at about 6:20, I heard a big noise over the ridge, like a log had fallen. It was a really odd sound. Then the squirrels started to raise Cain, and when they raise Cain, get ready," Robertson said.
Two bucks came over the ridge. The first was a smaller buck, and he eased up to within 20 yards of Robertson's tree and began feeding on acorns. "Then I saw the other deer coming in, and all I could see were horns," Robertson admitted. "I tried not to look because I knew if I looked I'd get shook up. I counted one side of his rack and I said, 'That's it, I'm not looking anymore.' "
The buck was one that Robertson had seen twice before, once out the window of his truck in 2002, once across a bean field in August 2003.
"He walked straight into my corn pile and stuck his nose right down in the corn," Robertson said. "I remember it was 6:28, and he was 17 yards out. There was a maple branch with leaves in the way, so I couldn't see all of him. I had one hole to shoot through, so I looked at the other buck to make sure he wouldn't bust me when I drew, then I drew and shot."
The buck didn't act like he'd been hit. He walked about eight yards away and looked up at Robertson, who was trying to get a second arrow out of his quiver. "I thought I'd missed, but he turned broadside, and I could see his intestines hanging out of a hole in his side," Robertson said. "Then he walked on up the hill, stopped about 30 yards away with his butt to me, and walked off. I watched the other deer until it fed off, then I got down and found my arrow."
Robertson headed home, picking up a helper, David Sams, to look for the deer. They blood-trailed the buck about 100 yards, to the top of the ridge, beyond which they couldn't find any more sign. At 10 p.m., having to be at work in six hours, Robertson called it a night, planning to come back the next afternoon to pursue the search.
"That whole day, sitting in the truck, so many things were going through my mind," he said. "There's no telling how many times I prayed during that day."
When he got back to his stand that afternoon with another friend, Zach Stewart, he walked to the last spot of blood, atop the ridge, then he took a few steps straight down the other side. There, a few yards away, was the buck.
"We'd walked within 10 yards of him that night," Robertson said. "The exit hole was closed up; that's why he didn't bleed much."
Robertson's arrow - tipped with a 100-grain Thunderhead broadhead - had taken the buck quartering toward him, entering the buck's chest, going through one lung, then angling down and out through the buck's paunch. The buck died barely 100 yards from the spot he was hit.
And Robertson took his old bow home and retired it. "I hung it up after that," he said.
Robertson's new bow hangs in a work building behind his house; its walls tell a tale of his deer-hunting history. At the bottom of one wall are about a dozen small racks - spikes, forkhorns and scrawny 5- and 6-pointers. At the top are bigger racks, bucks that anyone would be proud of.
"When I first started hunting, I would shoot the first thing that walked up," he said. "But you start letting them walk, and you get to where you sit and watch, and you start to see that pay off. I love to bowhunt; you've got so much time that you can sit and watch - use it to your advantage. And you've got to let 'em go if they're gonna grow."
Nelson, who has an Oak Ridge address, but lives in the country between Oak Ridge and Kernersville, didn't necessarily let his big buck grow up. In fact, he never knew he was in the area until Sept. 17, when the buck showed up and Nelson missed him at 20 yards. He missed him again on Sept. 19, then he finally killed him on Sept. 26.
The afternoon he killed the big buck, pictures showed up of the deer, taken the previous year by a trail camera owned by Allen Watson, a man who lived nearby. Nelson has a handful of images of the buck, taken at night when it strolled past the camera and set off the shutter. The buck appeared to be just as big in 2002. Its drop tine on the left antler was present, but it was missing the sticker point that adorned one of the tall tines on its right beam in 2003. Nelson said that the first major tines on each antler appear to have been longer in 2002, giving him the feeling that the buck probably scored higher in 2002 as a typical.
"He was seen all over the area, all around here, by other people," Nelson said. "But I'd never seen him, and my father and brother, they've never seen him in all the times they've been driving around here."
Nelson believes that a housing development may have put the buck in his back pocket. Extremely thick cover was on land that was cleared for the development before the 2003 season, and Nelson believes that the buck was driven from his core territory, toward the 1 1/2-acre soybean field he plants every year.
"I think (the housing development) probably pushed him this way; I definitely think it had something to do with it," Nelson said.
The first two times Nelson saw the buck, it showed up under Nelson's stand in the company of one doe. Although the buck had only recently scraped the velvet off its antlers, and although the peak of the rut was a good six weeks ago, Nelson believes that the buck was definitely hanging with the doe. "It's hard to say whether the buck was coming to the corn or he was just with the doe, and she was coming to the corn."
Either way, Nelson had a corn pile about 30 yards out in his soybean patch, with a homemade portable stand about 12 feet up in a gum tree right on the edge of the field. And deer were regularly visiting it.
"I don't go looking in the woods too much. I'm not that big into scouting. I've sowed beans for several years, and I put out corn and climb up into my stand," said Nelson, a 28-year-old welder. "The bean field is sort of isolated, and I've only had one bad year since I've been planting it. The rest of the time, I've seen quite a few deer there."
In the three days he hunted the stand before finally killing the buck, he saw plenty of deer. On Sept. 17, midway through opening week of archery season in Guilford County, Nelson was in his stand in the afternoon after work. A doe appeared about 75 yards away, walked into the field, and strolled right up to his corn pile. The buck came out of the woods behind her and picked his way toward the corn pile, finally getting there.
Nelson drew his bow when the deer turned broadside at 30 yards, but his arrow zipped under the buck's belly.
Nelson took the next day off - Hurricane Isabel poured out her wrath on eastern North Carolina that day and made things wet around Greensboro - but he was back in his stand on Sept. 19. The doe and buck repeated their performance of the previous afternoon, walking in at the same spot and walking right to the corn pile. Nelson repeated his performance, missing again.
"I went the next day and put my deer target right where he had been, and I shot three times and hit them all perfectly," Nelson said.
The buck didn't show up the next four afternoons that Nelson hunted, but it reappeared on Sept. 26 - without its female companion.
A doe and fawn popped out of the woods into the field around 150 yards from Nelson's stand - from the opposite direction that the buck and doe had come before. The doe apparently caught wind of Nelson's scent, and she and the fawn turned and left the field in the direction from which they had come.
"I thought my day was over," Nelson said.
A few minutes later, a 4-point buck and a 6-point buck walked into the field, followed by the big buck, but all turned and went back in the woods. At around 6:30, the 6-point buck showed back up in the field, this time walking directly to Nelson's corn pile and began to feed. The big buck showed up next, followed by the forkhorn, and eventually made its way to the corn pile and began to feed.
Nelson let all three bucks get comfortable and waited until the big buck turned broadside. He had to wait for about 30 seconds for the forkhorn to quit looking at him, but when the little buck put its head down and started to eat soybeans, Nelson raised his High Country Supreme bow, drew and fired at the big buck.
The buck whirled and took off for the woods, leaving Nelson to wonder whether the third time had been a charm or another disaster.
He got down out of his stand around 7 p.m., walked out to the corn pile and found a lot of blood, then found his arrow in the ground, a 60-degree bend about midway up the shaft.
Nelson used his cellular phone to enlist the help of his father, brother and a friend to return and help trail the buck. The quartet started at about 8 p.m., had a good blood trail to work with, and about 10 yards back into the woods, the four stopped suddenly when they heard a stick break. By the light of a flashlight, the four saw a pair of eyes looking them over. They belonged to one of the smaller bucks that had been in the field with Nelson's trophy. The smaller buck was standing beside the bigger buck, which was dead on the ground.
The big buck had
gotten about 150 yards from the spot he was shot before expiring. Nelson's 90-grain Muzzy broadhead and gone cleanly through its neck, severing a major blood vessel and giving them a good blood trail to work with.
Although Nelson's buck had the exact same score as Robertson's, it looked nothing like his. It wasn't nearly as wide, with a 17 1/4-inch inside spread, but its very symmetrical rack had a series of long tines on each beam. The main beams measured 25 1/4 and 23 3/4 inches long, and tines that measured 11 2/8, 10 3/4, 8 3/4, 8 3/8 and 8 1/2 inches long. The left beam had a 6 1/8-inch drop tine coming out almost under the fourth point on the antler, and it had a 1 1/8-inch sticker point on the base of the antler. There was also a 1 5/8-inch sticker point on the third point on the right beam.
The buck's sticker points totaled almost 9 inches long and put it squarely at No. 2 in the record books, one point behind Bill Froelich's non-typical Forsyth County buck, taken in 1998.
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