Although Owen County is better known for numbers of deer than for trophies, it does yield some big bucks -- and Ervin Vance can prove it! Here's this hunter's exciting story. (August 2008)
Ervin Vance poses his trophy non-typical 29-point, which scores a whopping 218 2/8 Boone and Crockett
Photo by Bill Cooper.
Randy Vance and his family reside in the town of Beaver, approximately 15 miles north of Pine Mountain. It's hardly a stone's throw from Owen County, which is situated north of Lexington in an area of the state known as the Hills of the Bluegrass.
"Regardless of the route taken, it's nearly a four-hour trip," Vance said. Despite the distance, he's been hunting deer there for over 20 years.
"I first began hunting there on a farm owned by my dad. He eventually sold the property. But by then, we had become acquainted with a number of other landowners and over the years, have continued to hunt in the county."
It should be pointed out many other hunters from the eastern mountains also travel to western areas of the state annually to hunt deer. Even during the 1990s, deer seasons in the counties around Beaver were limited to only a few days of buck-only hunting. Today, the deer population remains in the growth and expansion phase. Gun seasons are short, and antlerless are deer protected, except during bow and other special seasons.
"Regardless of the particular site, we've never had a problem seeing deer in Owen County. But like in most other locations, finding a really big buck is a pretty tough assignment.
"Hopefully to improve this situation, a few years ago we began passing up smaller bucks. I ended up hunting for a couple of seasons without taking an antlered deer."
Last fall, in mid-October, Randy took his youngest son, Andrew, to the Owen County farm for the state's special "Youth Only" deer-hunting weekend. Although a number of deer were seen overall, the trip provided little encouragement for the upcoming November gun season.
"On that trip, I walked over the entire farm and never found the first buck rub," Vance said.
"The following weekend, I returned for the early muzzleloader season. There was little change, except that I did manage to find buck rubs on two small saplings. To say the least, I was a little disappointed."
On Friday morning, prior to opening weekend of gun season, Randy, his 21-year-old son Ervin, and two hunting companions made the drive to Owen County.
They devoted to the afternoon to scouting and positioning of stands.
"I couldn't believe the amount of buck sign we found that afternoon! It was almost like going to a different farm. We walked down one woods road for a short distance and counted eight scrapes.
"In one area of extremely thick brush, Ervin found freshly rubbed trees and scrapes as big as a car hood. Nearby, several small trees had been completely broken over."
On opening morning, Randy and Ervin selected stand locations in an area of the farm they were most familiar with. But they observed little deer activity, with Randy spotting only one small buck.
"Considering all the buck sign we found the previous day, it seemed pretty obvious that we needed to try another location," Randy Vance said.
"That afternoon, we moved to the other end of the farm and did some additional scouting in a few of the areas we checked on Friday. With the rut apparently in full swing, we felt pretty good about our situation for the following morning."
The hunt area included a timbered hilltop that sloped gradually downward to pasture-covered bottomlands. At one time, the lower portion of the slope between the pasture and the timber had also been cleared. But several years before, the actual pasture was fenced in, preventing cattle from utilizing the adjacent open land.
Over time, this area became gradually covered with briar thickets, vines, scattered pockets of head-high brush, and small trees -- in other words, perfect whitetail habitat.
Not surprisingly, this was also the area where Ervin had discovered those large scrapes.
Well before daybreak, the hunters headed off to their respective stands. Randy had decided to hunt in the timber on the upper half of the hillside, while Ervin elected to hunt below the woods line, overlooking the brushy terrain above the pasture.
At first light, Randy spotted the silhouette of a deer moving through nearby trees. Though eventually he was able to make out the partial shape of a rack, there simply wasn't enough light to determine the buck's size. And within seconds, the deer vanished in the dark timber.
A short while later, the hunter watched two small 8-pointers slip quietly past his stand and then continue on across the hillside.
Ervin spent the early morning sitting in a ground blind of blown-down tree limbs that he'd hastily constructed the previous evening.
His view of the brushy terrain below his position was limited to scattered openings in the dense ground cover. Nevertheless, during the first couple of hours at the location, he managed to spot several does moving through the thick brush.
Around 9:30 a.m., Randy suddenly heard the sounds of deer running.
Seconds later, he saw a doe heading toward him through the woods with a huge buck in hot pursuit.
"There was never any doubt about the buck -- which I believe had 12 points -- being a shooter," Randy said. "The problem was getting a shot opportunity. The two deer continued to zigzag through the trees, passing within 20 yards of me on at least two occasions. But it was impossible to follow the buck with the scope, much less take a meaningful shot."
For at least three or four minutes, the buck and doe ran back and forth across the hillside, never stopping long enough for the hunter to aim and shoot. Finally, Randy watched the deer run down the hill and disappear in the general direction of his son's location.
Unaware of his dad's experience with the big buck, Ervin continued to scan the brush-covered slope below his location. About 10 a.m., feeling cramped from s
itting all morning, he rose to his feet to stretch for a few minutes.
While standing, he happened to spot the distant flicker of a deer's tail.
"The deer was about 150 yards away, and at first I thought it was a doe," Ervin noted. "I took a few steps forward, trying to get a better view. Then I suddenly realized that what I thought were tree branches were actually antlers.
"The buck appeared to have its head up in the air. I couldn't count points at that distance, but it was easy to see that the rack was huge."
As the hunter continued to watch, the antlers abruptly disappeared as the deer lowered its head.
The long yardage, combined with the buck's location in the thick cover translated into a risky shot proposition. But there appeared to be little other choice.
"Because of my slightly uphill position, I knew I would quickly lose sight of the deer by attempting to move down the slope to get closer," Ervin said. "Also, the buck just happened to be standing within a narrow open lane in the brush. Had the deer been 10 feet in either direction, I never would have spotted it."
Fortunately, the buck's nearly broadside position allowed the hunter to see part of its back and side.
Realizing that he had to act quickly before the deer moved, Ervin carefully lined up the crosshairs, took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger.
"At the shot, the buck instantly dropped out of sight," Ervin said. "But the cover was so thick I wasn't absolutely sure the deer stayed down. Everything had happened so fast there was never time for me to get nervous. But immediately after seeing the buck fall, I began shaking so bad I had to sit down."
Minutes later, the excited hunter made his way down the brushy slope toward the area where he had seen the buck go down. The walking was rough, and finding the exact spot proved to be a difficult task.
"Even after reaching the location, the thick ground cover made it impossible to see more than a few yards at a time," Ervin said. "As it turned out, I walked to within a truck length of the deer before spotting it.
"While I'd expected the buck to have a big rack, I never dreamed of anything approaching the size of what I found. It would be fair to say that I was totally shocked."
After taking a few moments to examine the big deer, Ervin radioed his dad and told him that he had taken a monster buck.
Randy had heard his son's shot a short while after watching the big 12-pointer and doe disappear in that direction. His natural assumption was that Ervin probably shot the same buck.
"Does the buck have 12 points?" Randy asked.
"Not exactly," Ervin responded. "I've counted at least 16, and that's just on one antler."
At that point, Randy didn't know what to think, so he headed on down the hill to take a look at the buck for himself and to help with the deer.
After reaching his son's location, Randy spent several seconds staring, somewhat in disbelief, at the buck's giant antlers.
Together, the two hunters tallied over 30 antler points. But they both agreed that the rack's exceptional mass and webbing made the buck so impressive.
"Amazingly," Randy said, "during the drive over to the farm, the two of us had just discussed the fact that we never seemed to take any bucks with better than average antler mass.
"We were talking about bucks taken from all of the county locations our family had hunted over the years, including my dad's original farm.
"While we were standing there, Ervin smiled and reminded me of our conversation, quickly adding that we could no longer make that statement!"
While Ervin field-dressed the deer, filled out his license and reported the kill to KDFWR's telecheck, Randy tried to contact the other members of the hunting group. However, after a couple of brief conversations, the other hunters switched off their radios.
"Later, they explained their react ion was in response to Randy's reputation for kidding and exaggerating everything," Ervin laughed. "When they heard him talking about the buck's size and 30-point rack, they assumed it was another one of his tales and turned off their radios."
That afternoon, the other hunters found out that at least on this occasion, Randy wasn't kidding. After the group loaded Ervin's buck and all of their gear in the truck for the trip back to Beaver, they found they couldn't close the tailgate. This meant the big whitetail was in full view of other motorists on the highway.
"The trip home took forever," Randy said. "Other drivers were honking horns and flashing lights. People with cameras were hanging out their windows. It was an amazing experience. We had to make a couple of stops and each time it took nearly two hours to get back on the road. I would hate to estimate how many photos were taken of that buck."
Later, in February, after the rack had exceeded the required 60-day drying period, the antlers were scored by official Boone & Crockett measurers Dan Jackson and Kelly Ison. A quick look at the final statistics from that B&C taping session reveals the true size of the big whitetail.
The rack has 29 scorable points, 10 of which comprise the basic 5x5 typical frame. Although the main beams are relatively short for a buck of this class, antler spread is impressive, measuring 22 5/8 inches outside, and 19 4/8 inches inside. The paired back G-2 tines add height to the rack, taping 13 and 12 inches.
However, antler mass and webbing are what really separates this buck from many others.
The eight circumference measurements of many record book whitetails will total 32 to 37 inches; the Owen County buck totals over 48 inches. Measurement of the H-4 circumference (taken midway out along the main beam) is considered to be very impressive if it exceeds 5 inches. Ervin's buck has H-4 measurements of 8 3/8 and 7 1/8 inches!
The basic 10-point frame grosses 171 1/8 and nets 159 2/8. After including the 18 additional abnormal points totaling 59 0/8 inches, the final non-typical B&C score is 218 2/8.
This qualifies the buck for B&C's Awards and All-Time record books. The giant whitetail was Kentucky's top non-typical buck from last season and stands as the biggest deer ever recorded from Owen County.
The buck also ranks 29th on the state's all-time list of non-typical wh