These two Magnolia State hunters have very little in common - other than bagging outstanding whitetail bucks last season! Here's the story behind these behemoth deer.
Larry Johnson downed his big buck, which was still in velvet, while on a hunt last November. Photo by Clifford Neames
By Clifford Neames
According to most accounts, last year's deer season started off slower than anticipated, in spite of the cool weather the state experienced from the beginning of October. The rain throughout spring and summer had kept the deer herd in great shape. And the previous season had been a little off for many hunters, so there should have been plenty of bucks available. Given the extra year's growth, there had to be some real wall hangers out there, and I expected to hear about numbers of great deer being taken right after the season opened.
Like many other Mississippi deer hunters, I hit the woods at the first opportunity. With my trusty bow in hand, I was ready to take advantage of this bounty. But I was very disappointed with the results of the first few weeks. Not many hunters were reporting deer activity, in spite of the favorable conditions. And the number of deer that had been accounted for by TEL-CHEK, the new information gathering system in place at the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, was well below what everyone had anticipated. Could this be the beginning of another marginal deer season?
The deer had to be there, so it was only a matter of time before they started moving, I told myself.
But the clock kept ticking away.
Weeks passed, and the bow season in October slipped by without much change.
Finally, stories began circulating about a huge deer killed in the first week of November, and I suspected that my original hunch had been right. It didn't take long before I received pictures of the deer and the lucky bowhunter to be posted in the trophy room on MsDeer.com. The telephone calls and other email also picked up as the holiday season approached. Things were starting to turn around fast!
This is the story of two exceptional Mississippi deer, one from bow season, the other taken during the rut, and both from the same area of the state! Like bookends, they frame what turned out to be a very good deer season for more than a few lucky hunters.
THE JOHNSON BUCK Larry Johnson is an experienced deer hunter who lives near metropolitan Jackson. He is what you might call an average Mississippi deer hunter. When he thinks about deer hunting, he generally sees himself in the woods carrying a rifle. Because his early attempts at bowhunting hadn't produced any shots, he had given up the idea of killing a deer with a stick and a string, and gone back to something that he knew would produce meat for the freezer.
Over the past few seasons, he belonged to a hunting club that meant a long drive and extra time away from his family on every hunt. He killed a few deer and enjoyed the time in the woods in spite of the inconvenience. He probably would have continued along the same path if some members of his church hadn't persuaded him to start hunting with them in their club, which just happened to be a lot closer to home. This opportunity to hunt a new spot with a small group that he already knew, along with a good deal on a bow, got him back in the woods during archery season last fall. What happened on his first hunt is what most of us dream of!
The new property was a mixture of pine timber and hardwoods, typical of land found all over Mississippi. No one in the club suspected that a world-class buck was living on the property, but they did plan to do what they could to improve it for the deer and the hunters. The handful of friends had done some planting on the property in preparation for the upcoming season, and had placed stands in areas that showed promise. Because of his busy schedule, Larry got a later start on hunting the property than some of the other members. But in the second week of November he finally got a chance to go, along with another bowhunting friend, Tommy Draughn.
Since it was Larry's first time hunting there, he and Tommy decided to set up where they would be the same general area. That way, if one of them needed help, the other hunter would be right there. The area they would hunt bordered one of the new food plots, and no one had been hunting it. That, and the fact that they could slip in quietly with only one stand to set up, set the stage for the drama that was about to unfold.
Larry would hunt a ladder stand that was already in place, and Tommy's plan was to set up a climbing stand not far away. They would not be able to see each other, but would still be close. This proved to be a very lucky decision!
Larry was already up in his stand, and settled in, as Tommy slipped in toward the tree he planned to climb. Within minutes, he noticed something moving out into the edge of the food plot. A huge deer was entering the field only 35 yards away. The antlers the buck carried were dark and very heavy! The deer appeared to be sneaking away from the area where Tommy was supposed to be getting set up. The whitetail was moving cautiously but steadily closer to the bowhunter he hadn't spotted just 12 feet off the ground!
Larry maintained his composure even though he was staring at the largest deer he had ever seen. When the deer got to within 25 yards, Larry launched his arrow. The buck spun away and disappeared into the brush. At that range, there was little doubt about the hit, and even though the deer made it out of sight Larry felt his hunt was over.
Shaken from the thought of finally getting a deer with a bow, Larry decided to give the buck a few minutes to be sure it was down. But curiosity overcame him before long, so he climbed down and went to the last place he had seen the buck as it left the field.
Since things had transpired so quickly he hadn't been able to count points before the shot, but he knew there had been plenty of them. Also, this deer was still in velvet.
Total realization of what had just happened was about to set in. Lying just a few yards off the edge of the field was his trophy. And what a buck it was! With points going in every direction on an incredibly massive velvet-covered frame, this was an awesome deer.
The rack had drop tines on each beam, split tines, width well beyond his ears, and more than enough character to make any deer hunter swoon. The body was bigger than anything he had ever seen too. Larry never imagined that there would be anything like this buck on the club property or this new hunting tract, and he certainly couldn't believe his luck. He had to tell someone.
Now he remembered that Tommy was sitting in a tree not far away and had no idea what had just happened. Tommy and Larry had agreed going in that they would whistle if they had anything, so even though it was only a few minutes after arriving, Larry called his partner out. Tommy was shocked to find his friend standing over the enormous buck when he arrived. Even though they both figured Tommy might have spooked the deer as he was walking in to his stand, he hadn't heard a thing.
There was no denying that the deer was going to make quite a stir when other folks heard about it.
THE McCAIN BUCK By December the trend to very cold days and frigid nights seemed to have taken hold over much of the state. The rut was upon us, and reports of action in the woods were becoming more and more frequent. Like magic, the bigger deer were starting to show up everywhere. With the end of the season approaching, many hunters were spending more time in pursuit of a wallhanger. One such afternoon hunt would produce one of the best for another lucky hunter.
Lindy McCain and her husband, Marshall, belong to a hunting club, but also have their own property in Holmes County, where they hunt for trophy bucks. Over the past few seasons she has killed her share of the deer. Her persistence, and knowledge of their land, paid off in the second week of January this year when she found herself looking at the deer of a lifetime.
Normally Lindy would be hunting along with her husband, but on this day he had to work. Since he had conveniently left his truck behind, she loaded up her gear and drove it to within easy walking distance of her favorite stand. The shooting house overlooked a large overgrown field where bucks just seemed to like to walk. In fact, many of the bucks that had been killed on their place had met their fate from this stand.
There wasn't any particular feature about the area that made it any better than other places on their property, but Lindy considered it to be her favorite place to hunt. That opinion was about to increase immeasurably!
After parking the truck, she made her way through the bitter wind and climbed inside to set up for the afternoon hunt. This was the coldest day of the week, with temperatures barely out of the teens, and she figured that the bucks might be out looking for either food or does. Either way, she was in out of the weather and would be able to stay until dusk if necessary.
No doubt, you've surely heard the old axiom about "the best laid plans." Well, things started going wrong not long after Lindy got settled in. The first deer crossing the field were does, and they just didn't like the look of that big white truck parked a few hundred yards away at all. They kept staring at it nervously and soon left the area.
It was just too cold to go move the vehicle, though, and Lindy decided to sit tight and make the best of the situation. She wasn't aware, of course, that within a few minutes a buck that would almost make the Boone and Crockett Club (B&C) minimum score for that organization's all-time record book was going to show up. Rather, she just wasn't getting out in the weather again until she had to!
Not long after the does had left, Lindy noticed another deer coming into the field a little over 160 yards away. It was easy to see the antlers at that range with only her naked eyes, so she raised her rifle to get a better look. Through the scope, she saw more than enough points and mass to meet her standards, so she began getting ready to shoot. Unfortunately, those little hunting gremlins were back again, and the task wasn't going to be easy. The deer was staring directly at the truck. The blind was also directly in his line of vision, and he was walking closer and closer, trying to figure things out. The window of the blind was closed enough that she couldn't get the rifle on the buck, so she had to slide it open, and also move around, to be able to make the shot. Those were no easy tasks while watching a giant buck walking towards her in an open field! Finally she was ready to go, but then she realized she had never chambered a cartridge in the 7mm-08 rifle. This was not going well!
At last she got the scope on the deer, put the crosshairs on his neck and pulled the trigger.
The deer disappeared, and she was suddenly overcome with feelings of doubt regarding her shot. Had she hit him? Was he down? After giving the deer a few minutes just to be sure, Lindy got out of the stand and went to get the truck. Much to her relief, a quick look with a flashlight showed that the buck had fallen in its tracks. It was time to call in reinforcements.
Imagine Marshall McCain's frame of mind. He had been home from work just a short time and had been working on the stove when he got the call from his wife saying she had just shot the biggest deer she's ever seen. Also, she's coming to pick you up to help her load it in your truck. After loading up the whole family and driving back to the field, Marshall was in for an even more surprising sight.
This deer was the largest whitetail he had ever seen too! He knew he would be hearing about it for years to come.
A quick drive to the hunting club got Lindy and her deer in front of a bigger and very appreciative audience. The members all had to put their tape to the deer, and the consensus was that it might just make the B&C record book.
The rack carries its heavy mass all the way out to the ends of the long sweeping beams. The picket fence of tines would impress anyone who is familiar with whitetail bucks. The slight lack of symmetry may mean this deer doesn't quite make it into the B&C records, but that was not a problem for the hunter. She already has a prominent place picked out in her house for the mount.
We read all the time about how secretive big bucks can be. The first deer in this story had managed to stay unseen for his whole life, to the great surprise of the club members on the property where he lived. But the second one had just about made a career of taunting a hunter on a property just one mile from the McCain place. Billy Johnson had put in many hours hunting this deer, which he called "The Phantom." He had seen the great buck no less than five times over the two previous hunting seasons. But each time the deer managed to escape these encounters untouched.
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