A West Tennessee Wallhanger

A West Tennessee Wallhanger

Memphis hunter Mike Wilbur killed a 20-point brute of a buck that is helping to put Haywood County on the map as a producer of big bucks.

Mike Wilbur with the 20-point non-typical that he killed last year on land he had hunted for nearly two decades.
Photo courtesy of Mike Wilbur.

The 2007 Tennessee deer season has been described many ways. To say that the season was "weird" might sound funny to outsiders, but to those of us who experienced it, the term fits like a glove. Drought, a sparse mast crop and other factors influenced deer movement patterns that put a host of trophy-class bucks in the sights of a large number of Volunteer State deer hunters.

One of the most notable instances of this was a Memphis deer hunter who scored on the buck of a lifetime on the opening day of modern firearms season.

Mike Wilbur, a 48-year-old electrical contractor from the River City, has hunted the same Haywood County farm with his close friends for nearly two decades. When Tennessee Sportsman caught up with Wilbur, he was repairing the wiring at a bank that had been recently ravaged by a tornado in Jackson, Tennessee.

The experience Wilbur had gained in 25 years of pursuing whitetails, and his long-term familiarity with the same piece of property, paid off with a huge non-typical buck that has helped fuel the notion that Tennessee is an up-and-coming big-buck state.

In spite of the tough conditions, Wilbur, like many other veteran Tennessee deer hunters, played the hand he was dealt.

"Last season was weird," Wilbur said. "We weren't seeing as many deer and they were tough to pattern. Where we had traditionally seen deer, we weren't seeing deer. The first and second week of bow season was terrible. It was so hot that we didn't see any deer. It wasn't until the last week of gun season that we saw three nice bucks, with the exception of the one I killed on opening day."

But what a spectacular day it was! Wilbur and a few members of his hunting club made the hour's drive east to their 800-acre lease in Haywood County. In an area made up of predominantly agricultural land consisting of cotton and soybeans, many of their stands overlook fields at strategic locations.

In the pre-dawn darkness, he trudged along the edge of a 75-acre field toward his ladder stand. Mostly cotton, the field stretched for more than 800 yards along a lonely paved county road with a 13-acre patch of cut soybeans that lay tucked against a thick patch of woods in the back of the field. Quietly climbing into a Cabela's metal ladder stand that had been positioned there six years before, Wilbur got ready.

When asked why he chose that particular stand, Wilbur said, "It's just always been a good stand during the rut, and the wind was right. There's always a lot of activity in that area. We've got quite a few stands around that field, too."

It wasn't the first time that the lucky hunter had hunted that stand in 2007.

"I had hunted that stand quite often," Wilbur recalled. "During bow season, there was quite a bit of activity. During muzzleloader season, I hunted it once and didn't see anything. It's typically a better afternoon stand, but we've killed several does from that stand, so that's where I wanted to hunt."

Not long after daylight, the action began. "I had seen a deer at 6:30, but I didn't see anything else for more than two hours, so I was a bit down about it," Wilbur said. "At 9 a.m., I saw a doe come off a wooded point 300 yards away. Then the doe got into the thick stuff along a ditch line heading toward me -- with a buck right behind her. When the first buck was chasing the doe in the thicket along the ditch, I could tell he had a lot of stuff on his head. Then I saw a second buck bust out of that point, and I hollered at him and he stopped. I was getting ready to raise the binoculars to look at the second buck when the doe and the big buck appeared running toward me. The first buck stopped on his own 50 yards away and I threw down the binoculars, but the doe kept running."

Wilbur raised his Browning A-Bolt chambered in .300 WSM and trained the cross hairs of his Leupold VariXIII 3.5x14 on the buck's chest. "The first shot was a lung shot," Wilbur said. "He buckled and then took off for the woods. He only had to make it 60 yards to the woods, so I jacked another bullet in and I shot him a little far back and he straightened his back legs out and I thought he was going down. The third shot was a heart shot. I didn't want him to make it to the woods. I didn't want to take a chance of not finding that deer. The biggest thing I remember is that on the first shot there wasn't any nervousness involved, but the last two shots, there were a lot of nerves involved. The area he was heading was real thick. We have lost a couple of deer in there, and I did not want to take that chance."

Interestingly enough, Wilbur had a witness to his record-book kill. Sitting in his truck on the road was TWRA wildlife officer Rob Colvin. "I was watching the buck chase the doe and heard the shots and saw the buck go down," Colvin said.

"The whole thing couldn't have lasted more than two minutes," Wilbur said. "It was a boring hunt for that particular deer until the end. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would kill a deer like that. I went to Illinois in 2006 and Missouri and didn't kill a deer. I actually missed opening weekend in Tennessee because we were gun hunting in Missouri. But for the past 15 or 20 years, about all of our hunting has been right there in Haywood County. It was only my 10th buck in 25 years, but I didn't hunt really hard a lot of those early years."

Like many other Tennessee deer hunters, Wilbur and six of his close friends, including John Pafford from Eades and Charlie Gaines of Clarksville, have put limitations on what kind of bucks they were killing on their hunting lease.

"What we did over the last seven years is we started a 6-point-or-better rule, and the past couple of years we said the bucks had to be mounters," Wilbur said. "We've been killing a lot of does until last season. I killed a doe during muzzleloader season and it was the only doe we killed last year. We mostly saw small bucks in 2006. Generally, we kill two or three good bucks each season, but in 2006, we killed seven good bucks. We have a rule that if you kill a buck your next one has to be bigger, so I didn't kill any more. The weekend before the season closed, I had a beautiful 140-class 8-pointer 20 yards from me and I had to pass him. We've seen a lot of basket-rack deer, and I guess letting a lot more bucks walk paid off."

Wilbur's 20-point buck was aged at 5 1/2 years old. After the required 60-day drying per

iod, Alan Peterson, the TWRA's Region 1 big-game biologist and official Boone and Crockett scorer, measured the buck. The buck sported a typical 10-point frame with 10 additional non-typical points. The buck's typical frame gross scored 169 5/8 and had 7 6/8 inches of deductions. The 10 non-typical points racked up an additional 33 5/8 inches of bone. The buck's inside spread measured 17 5/8, and its greatest spread was 19 3/8 inches. The final net non-typical score was 195 4/8, which will place it in the Boone and Crockett all-time record book.

It has been said that luck is preparation meeting opportunity, and those elements can be found in this story. However, there's an ironic twist of fate, too.

"Actually my son-in-law, Steven Pickett from Bartlett, was supposed to hunt that stand that morning," Wilbur said.

We all have stories in our deer-hunting past that have a similar turn of events. These chance encounters with big bucks, or the hopes of a close encounter, is what keeps us coming back for more each year.

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