The Tar Heel State's Cactus Buck

The Tar Heel State's Cactus Buck

Jeff Hughes returned home from a Canadian trophy hunt to bag a remarkable and striking trophy in North Carolina.

"Gosh, he's got thick antlers and a lot of points" was Jeff Hughes' first thought when he saw this buck, whose rack is probably unscorable, come through the trees.
Photo by Dan Kibler

Jeff Hughes of Wallburg is a serious deer hunter. He has spent thousands of dollars traveling across North America in search of a once-in-a-lifetime trophy buck.

He went looking last fall in Alberta, spending a week there, waiting for that enormous 10- or 12-pointer to step out in front of his stand.

He never pulled the trigger or even took the safety off his 7mm Magnum in seven days in the wild woods of the Canadian plains. Hughes jetted home last Nov. 14. Two days later, he found that trophy buck, an hour from home in Rockingham County.

Of course, the buck isn't a trophy in the typical sense of the word. It isn't the 20-inch 10-pointer with 14-inch back tines that haunts the dreams of every deer hunter. It's not even a big non-typical with split brow tines and drop tines on each heavily palmated main beam.

But it's the kind of trophy that Hughes figures is better than one of those one-in-a-million Boone and Crockett racks, because it is even more rare.

What Hughes killed on his lease in the southwestern corner of Rockingham County last Nov. 16 was what the deer-hunting world refers to as a "cactus buck."

How best to describe it? Just imagine huge antler bases, but instead of beams growing out of them, how about multiple long and short points that grow in every direction, like the spines on a cactus?

"I e-mailed a picture of it to a friend of mine, Keith Belford, who works for Boone and Crockett, and he said he'd have never believed it," Hughes said. "He showed it to some people out there (at B&C headquarters in Montana), and a lot of them said it looked like it was unscoreable."

Taxidermist Vincent Fleming of Yadkinville, who was on the Alberta trip last November with Hughes, said he's never seen anything like it in 20 years; he said he can't believe that a Boone and Crockett scorer could ever put a tape measure to the rack and come up with any kind of score. He considers it unscoreable, but is going to let an official scorer take a look at the buck to see if he's on the beam -- so to speak.

"It's not gonna be a rack that scores 170 or 180 or 190, but you've never seen anything like it. It's an old deer; it has a thick skull and the head and shoulders of a 170- or 180-pound deer, but the neck of a bow season deer," Fleming said. "I'd say by the jawbone that it was 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 years old.

"We had just come back from Canada, eight of us, and he kills this buck at home."

What does the buck look like? Hughes has put a tape measure to it -- several times. He gets different numbers every time he tries to make sense of it in terms of points and inches, but he's fairly sure that it has 20 points that are scoreable -- at least 1 inch long. The right antler has bases that are 8 inches in circumference and 13 points, with the two longest ones jutting out in different directions measuring 14 and 11 inches, plus another 8-inch tine. The left antler has another 8-inch base, one tine that measures 15 1/2 inches and another that goes 8 1/2.

The 20 points measure a total of 120 inches. Add in the circumference of both bases and you have 136 inches of antler -- with no spread credits or any other circumference measurements, because how are you going to figure spread or circumference if you can't figure out which tines are the main beams?

Fleming said that if he were forced to find a way to score the deer, he'd pick out the two longest tines and call them the main beams, then call 8- and 7 1/2-inch points that jut from their bases the brow tines. Both of the longest tines fork near the end, so Fleming said that he'd call it a 6-point buck with a 7 1/4-inch inside spread, putting the non-typical score conservatively in the low 150s.

Of course, Fleming doesn't think it can be scored at all.

And Hughes is just thrilled to have it, scoreable or not, because it is truly a unique deer, one that no one on his 3,000-acre lease had ever seen before.

"Seven or eight other guys and I have been leasing this land for six years. We've got 2,000 acres in Rockingham County and 1,000 acres in Stokes County," Hughes said. "We have a pretty intense management program. We took four bucks there last year and 35 does.

"We kill some pretty good deer, 135 to 145 (points), but nobody had ever seen this deer. We feed year 'round, we have feeders and trail cams, and nobody knew he was there," Hughes noted.

Gun season opened the Saturday that Hughes was flying back from Alberta. He missed the entire week of blackpowder season. He knew in advance that he would, so he changed his strategy even before archery season opened.

"I had left this one place alone. I usually bowhunt it early and come back for muzzleloader, but I knew I'd be in Alberta during muzzleloader, so I decided I wouldn't even go in during bow season; I'd just hunt it when I got back," he said.

The area, Hughes said, was a stand of hardwoods with a thicket in the middle. "It's a pretty good spot. The deer come into the hardwoods for acorns. I have seen a lot of bucks in there during bow season; they come in for the acorns. I usually pull out of there three or four weeks before muzzleloader season, then come back. I've seen some pretty good bucks in there, and I've shot a couple of nice 8s and 10s with a muzzleloader," he said.

Still, Hughes had no hint that a buck that "special" was in the area.

"One of the other guys was hunting about 800 to 1,000 yards away from me, and he had seen some really big rubs in the area, but he'd never seen this buck," he said.

Hughes got into his box blind at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. He saw one doe about 5 p.m., then a buck appeared about five minutes behind, working its way slowly through the hardwoods. "I was shocked," Hughes said. "And I didn't even know what I was looking at.

"I looked down there, then I grabbed my binoculars, and he was about 85 or 90 yards away. I thought, Good gosh, he's got thick antlers and a lot of points. He's got big main beams and a lot of points. I've got to shoot this deer."

Hughes said it took hi

m four to five minutes, with the buck easing through the woods the whole time, to find a good spot to shoot. When he did, the buck dropped, shot perfectly.

"I had my mobile phone, and I called my wife and said I'd just killed an unbelievable deer. Then I got down and walked down to him, and I said to myself, 'I don't believe it.' I sat down and started counting. I came up with 20 points, then I counted again and got 19, and I counted again and got 21.

"I sat there thinking, I'm not believing this. I've traveled all over the world to try and kill big whitetail deer, and I've killed a cactus buck here. I've been to Texas, Mexico, Alberta, and I've never shot anything like this.

"I called the guys on the club on my mobile and told 'em they weren't gonna believe what I'd killed."

Hughes said that, knowing that deer often grow strange racks because of injury, he gave the buck a thorough going-over while he had him on the ground.

"He had some velvet left on his rack around the bases, probably because he couldn't get all of it off," Hughes said. "And he's got dark antlers, so dark. I remember when I first saw him, I thought about that.

"He weighed 175 pounds, but his neck wasn't swollen up. His (tarsal) pads were starting to stink, and I thought maybe he'd been hurt, but I checked, and there weren't any wounds I could find, and he had both of his testicles. I don't know what happened to him, and I don't know how he got in this area.

"Whether or not he can be scored, I don't care. I just know he's something special."

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