Kentucky Trophy Bucks

Kentucky Trophy Bucks

Bowhunters Eddie Miller and Jason Burchard downed their bucks of a lifetime last season. Read on for the details on these two sportsmen's exciting hunts!

By Bill Cooper

As a youngster growing up in Hardin County, Eddie Miller can remember seeing a number of impressive bucks taken by hunters in the wooded hills and bottoms around where he lived. Over the years, as both the deer population and harvest gradually increased, he noticed a definite decline in the average size of bucks being taken.

"In my opinion, a major part of the problem was too much hunting pressure, combined with the fact that a lot of hunters were reluctant to pass up young bucks," Miller said. "About six years ago, several of us who hunt on adjacent farms in one section of the county decided to stop shooting smaller bucks, hoping that we would eventually start seeing some bigger deer. There was never any formally organized management plan; everyone's decision was totally voluntary.

"One additional factor in the decision involved a concerted effort to begin taking more does each year," he continued. "In the beginning, it was not unusual to see 10 or more antlerless deer on each trip to the stand. Now the average number has dropped to about three or four. I believe this improved buck/doe ratio has helped make some of the older bucks a little more visible during the rut."

During last fall's early bow season, Miller sighted a number of small bucks, including an impressive 10-pointer that he estimated to be 2 1/2 years old. However, he was totally unsuccessful at seeing any larger deer.

"The landowner has a couple of friends who hunt the property during the November gun season," Miller noted. "I resumed bowhunting in December and also hunted a couple of days during the late muzzleloading season, but the bigger bucks just weren't moving during the day."

Shortly after Christmas, and following several days of very cold temperatures, Miller drove to the farm for an afternoon hunt. Weather conditions had recently moderated and the skies were clear and sunny.

"I knew from prior experience that sudden weather changes often initiate deer activity," Miller remarked. "In this case, it had been cold and overcast for so long, I felt confident the slight warm-up would have deer on the move. On that particular afternoon, I returned to a stand location I had hunted from several times the previous winter."

Situated 24 feet above the ground along an old logging road, the hunter was overlooking a wooded hillside that sloped down to an open pasture. However, the real key to this location was a 2-year-old cutover that covered an adjacent ridgetop about 250 to 300 yards away.

"The cutover was an unhuntable thicket that deer used as a bedding area," Miller said. "A number of well-used trails leading from the thicket meandered along the hillside, including one that followed the path of the old logging road. There was never any doubt in my mind that the overgrown cutover was home to some big bucks; I simply had never been fortunate enough to encounter one."

With the aid of binoculars, the hunter spent much of his time watching for deer movement along the edge of the distant cutover. Around 4 p.m., he spotted four does leaving the thicket, followed minutes later by two additional does. None of the deer headed in Miller's direction and all eventually moved out of sight.

"Shortly after seeing the does, a small buck appeared on the hillside below me, wandered around for several minutes, and then left. At this point, I was beginning to feel pretty good about the afternoon deer activity."

About 30 minutes later, Miller watched two more does leave the cutover and head off in the opposite direction. Almost immediately another doe appeared; however, this one began walking down toward the pasture. Still looking through the binoculars, the hunter spotted a second deer, above the doe, coming out of the thicket.

"In spite of the distance, I had no trouble determining the deer was a buck with a sizable rack because it kept twisting its head sideways to get through the brush in the cutover," Miller said. "The buck continued down the hill along the same path the doe had taken."

Upon reaching the pasture, the doe paused at a spring along the edge of the woods, approximately 100 yards below the hunter's location. As the buck approached, she suddenly turned and trotted out into an open field.

"When the doe headed across the pasture, I assumed the buck would follow, thus eliminating my chances of getting a shot," Miller remarked. "But to my surprise, he completely ignored the doe; instead, he turned onto the old logging road, and began walking up the hill toward me."

In no apparent hurry, the big whitetail continued up the road, slowly closing the distance between itself and the concealed archer. As the buck approached an old fallen tree, lying across the road just below the stand, Miller readied himself for a possible shot.

"I knew the downed tree was 26 yards away," he said. "Once the buck passed that point, I planned to take the first shot opportunity I had."

Eddie Miller arrowed this outstanding buck in late December while hunting in Hardin County. His huge 10-pointer grossed 182 5/8 before netting a final P&Y score of 168 6/8. Photo by Bill Cooper

Miller's chance came immediately, as the big deer jumped the tree, momentarily stopped and looked back, presenting a broadside target.

"When I released, the buck jumped, ran several yards down the hill and stopped," Miller related. "I didn't see the arrow hit, but I saw it fall on the ground near a clump of saplings. I couldn't believe I might have missed such an easy shot, yet the deer continued to stand there, looking around, giving no indication it had been hit."

After several minutes, the buck slowly turned and began walking down the hill. Once or twice, the hunter thought he saw the deer stumble; however, it continued on ahead toward the distant cutover.

"I watched the buck until dark, hoping it would go down before reaching the cutover, but it never did," Miller said. "After climbing down, I found that my arrow was covered with blood, confirming that it had passed through the deer. I immediately left the area, thinking I would wait until morning to search for the buck."

However, upon returning home, Miller called Johnny Bailey, a friend and hunting companion. After relating the afternoon's events and thoroughly discussing various options, the decision was made t

o return to the site that night.

"Both of us felt like the buck was dead and Johnny was afraid the coyotes would have the deer torn to pieces by morning," Miller explained. "Two additional friends, Jake Taylor and Corey Lucas, volunteered to help with the search."

There was no problem following the first 150 yards of the buck's trail. In fact, the blood loss was so constant, the men couldn't believe the buck hadn't gone down already. However, it was a completely different story trying to follow the deer through the thick cover of the cutover, especially at night; several times the trail was lost.

"When we reached a cedar thicket, the trail simply disappeared," Miller said. "We searched and searched without finding a trace of anything and I was beginning to believe we weren't going to find the deer. Luckily, I just happened to shine my light behind a dead cedar and spotted the fallen buck."

Immediately obvious to Miller was that the big whitetail's rack exhibited no sign of "ground shrinkage." Admittedly, his attention earlier that afternoon had not been focused on the rack, but on getting a shot at the deer. Even so, the antlers were much larger than he had realized. Further examination also revealed that the buck had suffered a recent severe injury to its right eye. In all likelihood, the wound was the result of fighting with another buck.

Later, following the required drying period, official antler measurements reveal the buck's impressive size. The rack's basic 10-point typical frame exhibits excellent mass. In fact, the long main beams, which tape almost 28 inches, actually have the greatest circumference measurements midway out on the beam instead of at the base. Tine length is also outstanding, with all four of the paired G-2s and G-3s taping between 14 3/8 and 11 4/8 inches.

After grossing a great total of 182 5/8, deductions for asymmetry, plus four abnormal points (7 2/8 inches), drops the final Pope and Young (P&Y) score to 168 6/8. This also qualifies the buck for Boone and Crockett's Awards record book. Additionally, Miller's giant whitetail ranks as the top typical bow kill of the 2003 season. Within Hardin County, it stands as the biggest bow kill ever recorded.



The story of this Kentucky trophy came within a whisker of never being written, and all because of an Illinois whitetail taken last year by an Alabama hunter. The explanation is really quite simple. Every Thanksgiving, Jason Burchard, who now lives in Alabama, returns to the Graves County farm where he grew up. In addition to spending the holiday with family and friends, an important part of the annual visit is bowhunting the farm's woods and fields.

Last fall, a week before Thanksgiving, Burchard took a bowhunting trip to Illinois where he arrowed an impressive 130-class buck, the biggest whitetail he had ever taken with a bow. Still on a high from the most successful hunting trip of his life, he seriously considered not packing his bow and equipment for the Kentucky trip.

"Finally, at the last minute, I put my gear in the vehicle," Burchard said. "I do enjoy hunting the farm, plus I knew my dad didn't get a deer during gun season. I was pretty sure I could at least take a doe so he would have some meat for the freezer."

Initially, the late November weather was less than cooperative for bowhunting. After two days of rain, strong northerly winds seemed intent on blowing the tops out of the trees.

"I really had not planned to hunt in Friday's strong winds," Burchard said. "However, when I heard that Saturday's weather forecast was quite promising, I decided to carry my stand out that afternoon so that it would be in position for the following morning."

The hunt site was a strip of hardwoods, approximately 250 yards wide and several hundred yards long, lying between a large bottomland corn field and a smaller upland field. Deer were utilizing a natural ridgeline within the hardwoods as a travel corridor and Burchard selected a nearby stand location, within 30 yards of a well-used trail. A number of impressive rubs and scrapes were scattered all along the ridge. Although he had hunted this same general area a couple of days during gun season, only does and a few small bucks were sighted.

"After getting the stand positioned, there was still an hour of daylight left and since I had my bow with me, I decided to sit there until dark," Burchard related. "Unfortunately, the wind was still rocking the trees, which greatly reduced my expectation of seeing any deer activity."

About 45 minutes later, and with light beginning to fade, the hunter detected a flash of movement through the woods off to his right. Rising to his feet, he picked up his bow and continued to watch in that direction.

"With poor light conditions and looking through a maze of tree limbs, about all I could make out was a moving deer, plus a brief glimpse of antlers," Burchard said. "At that point, I really wasn't excited because I assumed it was probably one of the small bucks I had seen during gun season."

The buck's destination appeared to be the upper end of the big corn field, about 75 yards away. However, when the deer reached the ridgeline, it made an abrupt turn and began heading directly toward the stand.

"I finally got my first clear view of the buck at about 45 yards and the sight literally took my breath away," Bouchard remarked. "Without a doubt it was the biggest deer I had ever seen in the woods and I remember thinking, I can't believe I'm about to get a shot at this huge buck!"

With the wind blowing into his face, the hunter knew there was no possibility of the buck picking up his scent. At full draw, with the big deer walking broadside in front of the stand, less than 30 yards away, Bouchard mouth-grunted to stop him.

"Either the wind prevented the buck from hearing me or he simply chose to ignore the sound; whatever the reason, the deer never quit walking," Bouchard said. "By this time, the buck was beginning to quarter away and within several steps of being out of shooting range. Realizing I couldn't hesitate any longer, I released."

In the late evening light, the hunter was unable to follow the arrow's flight, but there was no mistaking the sound of it hitting its intended target; the buck instantly bolted straight ahead and disappeared in the trees. Remaining in the stand, Burchard listened to the sounds of the running deer fade into the distance. After getting out of the tree, he used a small pocket light to find his arrow; thankfully, it was covered with blood.

Quickly walking to the truck, Burchard used a cell phone to contact his dad. After excitedly recounting the unbelievable events of the afternoon, he requested some assistance with finding the deer. Fortunately, trailing the buck proved to be an uncomplicated task and they eventually found the big whitetail lying dead along the opposite woods line.

As the two men stood in the darkness, staring down at the huge buck illuminated in the glow of their flashlights, neither said a word for several seconds. Finally, the elder Burchard knelt down and grasped its massive rack.

"This is really an incredible buck," he uttered, while slowly counting the rack's 16 points. "It's just unbelievable that a deer of this size was on the farm."

Later, official antler statistics make these statements quite understandable. The basic 5x5 typical frame includes long main beams of 28 2/8 and 27 4/8 inches, and antler spreads of 21 3/8 inches outside, and 17 5/8 inches inside. Additionally, the paired back tines exceed 11 inches and the rack displays exceptional antler mass. The 10-point frame nets 162 1/8, and after adding in 13 5/8 inches of abnormal points (6), the final non-typical P&Y score is 175 6/8. Burchard's great whitetail ranks as the third biggest non-typical bow kill in the state for 2003.

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