Everyone seemed to get in on the trophy buck game last season, and muzzleloading hunters were no exception. Read on for the stories on four of last year's top typical and non-typical trophies!
Kevin Sears took this outstanding 11-pointer in Logan County. His buck has an impressive inside spread of 22 2/8 inches and scores 174 0/8 net typical points. Photo by Bill Cooper
By Bill Cooper
Kevin Sears of Elkton spent a number of late summer afternoons in 2003 watching bean fields near the Logan County farm where he deer hunts. Spotting whitetails was not a problem, but the one particular buck he was looking for never appeared.
"During the 2002 season, I saw a buck on the property that I felt would come close to making the Boone and Crockett (B&C) record book," Sears said. "I never had an opportunity to take the deer. I felt reasonably sure if another hunter had gotten him I would have heard about it. That was confirmed during the following spring turkey season when I happened to find one of the buck's shed antlers. However, without a single sighting of the deer throughout the summer, I couldn't help but wonder if something else might have happened to the buck."
The hunter didn't have to worry about that possibility for very long. On the opening weekend of archery season, Sears' friend and hunting companion, Neal Pulley, saw the buck twice. On one occasion, the big whitetail and two additional bucks passed within 20 yards of the bowhunter, but the three deer were moving too fast for him to attempt a shot.
"When Neal saw the buck, he was hunting a small bean field that bordered a larger field, overgrown with weeds, briars, cedars and sumac," Sears said. "Over the following several weeks, both of us periodically hunted that area and an adjacent hardwood hollow, but never sighted the big deer again."
Several large cedars, all freshly rubbed, stood along the upper edge of the old field. Beyond the cedars, the land sloped upward to a wooded ridgetop, which had been partially logged two years earlier. The timber operation had created a maze of standing timber and sapling thickets; a tough place to hunt, but as the November rut approached, Sears felt it might be a good spot to intercept this particular trophy buck as it searched for does.
A few days prior to gun season, Sears, carrying a portable climbing stand, made the somewhat difficult trek through the thick understory along the side of the ridge. After positioning the stand at a location that provided the best possible view of the sloping hillside, he quickly left the area.
"The ridge was part of a much larger wooded tract that Neal and I had purposely stayed out of during bow season," Sears explained. "We didn't want to put too much pressure on the buck and risk pushing him out of our hunting area."
The location of the stand in relation to the terrain dictated that the spot could only be hunted with a prevailing northerly wind. Surprisingly, that opportunity came about on the very first day of gun season.
"Weather conditions were perfect that morning and I got to the stand a full hour before daybreak," Sears related. "Just before 8 a.m., I heard a deer coming up the hill from the direction of the old field. Within seconds of determining the deer was a doe, I spotted the big buck trailing a few yards behind her."
Already standing, in shooting position, the hunter watched the deer move along the hillside. The big whitetail had to constantly maneuver its wide rack around trees and under limbs as it hurried to keep up with the doe. At approximately 80 yards, both deer abruptly stopped; unfortunately, two trees blocked a clear view of the buck.
"All I could see was the deer's back end and I wasn't about to take that type of shot," Sears said. "Two more steps and the buck would have been in the open, but it wasn't my lucky day. The doe turned in the opposite direction and the buck went with her. It was extremely frustrating to watch them disappear in the trees, but there was nothing I could do."
Sears continued to hunt the area throughout the gun season, selecting stands in relation to the weather and wind direction, but he never spotted the buck again. Afterward, he decided it might be best to give the area a rest until the late muzzleloading season in mid-December.
"During that rest period, I moved my stand to a small drainage along one corner of the old grown-up field," Sears noted. "The location provides a good view of not only that field, but also the small bean field, then planted to winter wheat, where Neal had seen the buck during bow season."
A cold front, with strong northerly winds and subfreezing temperatures arrived in the state for opening weekend of the late muzzleloading season. Early on that Saturday afternoon, Sears climbed into his stand by the old field, while Neal opted to try hunting the ridge location where the buck had escaped during gun season.
By midafternoon, the temperature seemed to have dropped several degrees and it began to alternately sleet and snow. Around 4 p.m., a doe suddenly came out of the woods with a buck right on her heels. The buck, a battle-scarred 10-pointer, with two tines broken off its rack, quickly chased the doe across the field and out of sight. Minutes later, a smaller 8-pointer appeared, following the same trail the buck and doe had taken.
As the sleet and snow continued to fall, the gray overcast skies darkened the surrounding woods and reduced visibility in the open field. For at least 30 minutes, the hunter had observed no further activity; there had been no sound, no movement. But as Sears glanced down the woods line, 130 yards away, standing almost ghostlike at the edge of the field, was the buck he had been hunting for over three months.
"The instant I saw the deer, even before he turned in my direction, I knew it was him," Sears related. "Fortunately, on that side of the stand there was a large tree limb I could use as a solid rifle rest. I simply aimed and squeezed the trigger until the gun fired, and the buck dropped in its tracks.
"I never really got nervous until after I climbed down and walked to where the deer was lying, but I would have to say that was truly an emotional experience," Sears said. "I think it's something only another deer hunter can relate to. For me, it was particularly special that Neal was along that evening to share the moment with, because he had hunted the buck just as hard as I had."
One look at the buck's huge 6x5 frame and it becomes easy to understand the hunter's feelings. Without question, antler spread is the rack's most impressive feature, with measurements of 24 1/8 inches outside, and 22 2/8 inches inside. Addition
ally, the main beams exceed 25 inches and there are six tines that tape between 10 and 8 inches.
While these may not be exceptional measurements, it is also true that the rack has no weaknesses. It is simply a near-perfect combination of antler mass, spread and tine length. In fact, the only major symmetry difference is an unmatched G-5 tine on the left antler.
After grossing a great score of 181 1/8, minor deductions drop the final B&C figure to 174 0/8. In addition to qualifying for both B&C record books, the deer will also rank high in Longhunter's record book for big-game trophies taken with a muzzleloading firearm. In fact, Sears' whitetail is the highest-scoring blackpowder buck taken in the state during the 2003 season. It is also the second-biggest typical whitetail ever recorded for Logan County.
THE DAVID JESSIE BUCK
Approximately 275 miles away, at the other end of the state, Carter County hunter David Jessie also endured the opening day blast of arctic air. Jessie was hunting a tract of timber on his own property where, earlier in the year on two or three occasions, he had spotted a very big buck crossing the road that led to his house.
"The temperature was about 12 degrees that morning and the wind was practically blowing the tops off the trees," Jessie related. "I was hunting a low saddle on a wooded ridge that was a natural deer crossing. We already had a stand there, but I backed up under an old downed pine to get out of the wind."
By daybreak, the hunter had been sitting for nearly an hour. In spite of Jessie being somewhat sheltered, the morning was uncomfortably cold. As he continued to watch the surrounding terrain, a doe suddenly walked into view at the saddle, crossed the ridgetop and disappeared in the trees.
"Five minutes later, I was sitting there, asking myself why I didn't shoot the doe so I could go home and be out of the cold," Jessie laughed. "Then I heard a buck grunt, and with the wind making so much noise, I knew the deer had to be pretty close.
"Within seconds, I saw the buck coming through the woods along the same path the doe had taken," he continued. "The deer had its head to the ground and was grunting about every three or four steps."
As the buck closed to about 40 yards, the hunter fired. The deer immediately fell, then staggered back to its feet and headed back down the hillside. After hurriedly reloading, Jessie ran to the edge of the hill and fired again, this time dropping the buck for good.
"There wasn't time to look at the buck's rack during all the commotion," Jessie said. "But after walking down the hill to where the deer was lying, I immediately recognized the buck as the one I had seen crossing the road near my house. My dad had hunted the same general area throughout gun season, but never saw the deer once. I'll be the first to admit that my taking the buck was simply blind luck, but I've never been one to shy away from having a little luck now and then."
The buck's rack has 19 scorable points, 10 of which make up the basic typical frame. Tine length is impressive, especially the brows (G-1s), which measure 10 2/8 and 8 6/8 inches. These are followed by paired G-2s and G-3s, all of which tape between 12 6/8 and 11 4/8 inches. Additional measurements include 25-inch main beams and an inside spread of 18 2/8 inches.
The 5x5 typical frame nets a great score of 178 6/8, and after adding in the total inches of abnormal points (15 7/8), the final non-typical B&C score is 194 5/8. This qualifies the buck for B&C's Awards record book and the Longhunter record book. Within Carter County, it is the second-biggest non-typical whitetail ever recorded.
Stephen Goessling of Union took another cold-weather buck in Boone County. Goessling first saw the big deer, along with two other bucks, near his home in early December. Fortunately, on opening day of the late blackpowder season, the hunter spotted the buck again in the same general area and connected on a long shot with his muzzleloader.
The buck's 21-point rack includes a basic 5x5 frame that exhibits great side-to-side symmetry. The main beams exceed 25 inches, the inside spread is 18 inches, and there are four tines that average nearly 12 inches long. However, the rack also exhibits a rather unique pattern of abnormal antler growth; all 11 abnormal points are clustered around the burr and brow tines of both antlers. Amazingly, several of these points also exhibit unusual symmetry, in terms of size and position, between the right and left antlers.
In regard to scoring, the basic 10-point frame nets 168 2/8, and after adding in the total inches of abnormal points (25 6/8), the final non-typical B&C score is 194 0/8. This qualifies the buck for both B&C's Awards and Longhunter record books. Goessling's great buck is the biggest non-typical whitetail ever taken in Boone County.
THE JOHN MURPHY BUCK
The howling winds that David Jessie had to contend with on opening morning had not yet arrived in Louisville's Jefferson County when John Murphy arrived at his stand in the pre-dawn darkness. However, it was cold and overcast with a few flakes of snow falling. Murphy had hunted the location during the November gun season, but had sighted only two small bucks.
"Nothing seemed to be moving that morning and about 8:30 a.m., the wind began to blow," Murphy related. "I really don't like to hunt if it's windy. I knew the weather forecast had called for snow, so I was thinking pretty seriously about leaving."
Luckily, before making that decision, the hunter spotted something moving through the trees. That something quickly materialized into a big wide-antlered buck walking in his direction. At 45 yards, Murphy dropped the big whitetail in its tracks.
From an appearance standpoint, the buck's 10-point rack is exceptional, due primarily to main beams of nearly 28 inches, and an antler spread of 23 3/8 inches outside, and 21 3/8 inches inside. Additionally, the rack has almost perfect symmetry and no abnormal points. After grossing 164 0/8, minor deductions drop the final score only slightly to 160 3/8. This puts the buck in the typical category of B&C's Awards and the Longhunter record books.
There is one rather obvious factor that should be remembered in regard to the taking of these four great whitetails. The next time a strong cold front moves into the state during deer season, put on some warm clothes and head for the woods because there's a darn good chance some big bucks will be on the move.
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