With a final net score of 225 7/8, Jeff Duncan's giant bow buck from last season shatters Texas' previous Pope and Young record for non-typicals. Here's how the hunt went down.
In the end, trophy whitetail deer hunting simply comes down to one basic principle: Be in the right place at the right time and make the shot. Typically, being in that magical right spot when deer hunting fate comes calling is simply a byproduct of making a key hunting decision or two along the way.
Never have those words been truer in the state of Texas than they were last fall, when on Sunday, Nov. 4, Sanger bowhunter and part-time taxidermist Jeff Duncan sat perched in a ladder stand at famed Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. As you might already know, the refuge lies along the southern shores of Lake Texoma in Grayson County - home to some whopper whitetails!
By the time the warm, damp autumn evening had concluded, the 40-year-old Georgia Pacific employee had loosed an arrow on the 11,300-acre refuge at a giant of a buck. The results of that shot were heard in deer hunting camps across the state. Before long Duncan's name - and a legendary local buck that had been nicknamed "Big Boy" - would stand at the top of Texas' entries in the Pope and Young record book.
Closely watched, photographed, and videotaped by local archers for a decade, Big Boy was indeed a monster buck in every sense. Following the official 2 1/2-hour-long panel scoring session on Jan. 7, 2002 by veteran measurers Jeff Gunnels, Ken Witt, and Bob Carroll, the 26-point non-typical sported an official gross score of 230 6/8 inches and a net of 225 7/8.
Those numbers easily make the Duncan buck the new No.1 non-typical king of Texas in Pope and Young listings. The Duncan buck's score handily surpasses the previous P&Y state-record non-typical bow kill, a 214 4/8-inch deer shot in Parker County by George Courtney back in 1991.
When Jeff Duncan finally realized he'd killed the big buck that so many bowhunters had been after, he felt a natural mix of sensations that included sadness and elation. "I really thought I was dreaming," he said. Photo by Lynn Burkhead
In addition to being one of the Texas Big Game Awards program's top non-typicals for the 2001-02 season, the Duncan buck also is the third-largest non-typical whitetail ever entered into the TBGA program, which is currently sponsored by the Texas Wildlife Association and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Only a 1998 King Ranch gun kill measuring 239 5/8 inches and a 1999 bow kill in East Texas that measured 234 3/8 inches (which has not been entered into the Pope and Young records) are bigger.
In addition, the Duncan buck also ranks among the top dozen non-typical bucks ever harvested in Texas with any type of weapon. That's pretty good company considering that the overall state record non-typical is the Benson Buck, a former Boone and Crockett world-record. Killed in 1892 near Brady, the buck scores 284 3/8 points.
If those numbers aren't enough to convince you of just how impressive Big Boy really is, then consider that Duncan's deer should also earn a spot on the Pope and Young Club's all-time Top 50 list for non-typical whitetails.
In other words, Big Boy really is big - Texas big!
Ironically, Duncan's harvest of his fifth archery buck nearly didn't happen. This Texas hunting tale began when Jeff and his hunting partner, Terry Smith, received word in the mail that their applications had been drawn for the Nov. 3-5 special-permit archery hunt at Hagerman NWR. After getting word of his third invitation to the refuge hunt, Duncan and his pal decided to make a quick, one-day scouting trip to their familiar hunting grounds in order to decide exactly where to place their stands.
"My buddy Terry Smith and I came up and went in and scouted the area that I had hunted previously," Duncan recalled. "We didn't see a whole lot of sign in there, but it has been a good spot in the past."
After their first look-see, Duncan and Smith moved to another part of the refuge to search for big buck sign "We spent several hours down in there and I guess we probably walked about eight miles that day and didn't see a whole lot of sign anywhere we went. So we decided to stick with our first choice," Duncan said.
Despite seeing limited sign on the scouting trip, the pair entered their hunt segment with a seemingly solid game plan. After all, Duncan had observed a good 10-point typical on one of his previous two hunting trips to Hagerman. But despite their good game plan, and good hunting spot or not, the mild autumn of 2001 was producing little in the way of daylight deer movement. Two days into their three-day hunt, Duncan and Smith were drawing blanks.
"We got in there and set up Saturday morning and didn't see anything," Duncan said. "Like I said, we didn't see much sign and we didn't see any deer. We hunted again Saturday afternoon and didn't see any deer. Going in Saturday, I did jump a couple of does, but those were the only deer that we had seen there. We hunted the same spot on Sunday morning, still with no luck."
That's when Duncan and Smith decided to take advantage of some good old-fashioned Texas hospitality extended to them by hunting buddy Dennis Jordan, who was hunting a different area on the sprawling refuge. Jordan extended an invitation for Duncan and Smith to join him in his hunting spot, and the two quickly accepted. "We were not seeing any deer at all and we decided that we needed to make a move," recalled Duncan.
And move they did. Terry Smith moved his stand to a location near Jordan, while Duncan went to a spot not far away from where he actually parked his vehicle. Jeff went into the area, quickly scoped it out, and had his ladder stand up against a tree by 1:30 p.m.
"It was a really nice looking place, but you could see a long way and I really don't like to do that when I'm bowhunting," recalled Duncan. "You end up seeing deer out there that you can't do anything about. But I really liked the way the place looked."
An hour after Duncan settled into his stand, he heard a hunter rattle off in the distance. That was the only thing that he heard for the next two hours.
About 4:30 p.m., a group of does finally ambled into view. Unfortunately, the does came in on the downwind side of Duncan's stand location and they started blowing.
As he listened to the does' racket filling the woods, it once again appeared that Jeff was destined to climb down out of his tree stand that evening disappointed and with time running out. However, when a hunter's luck changes, it often changes in a big way. In this
case, it changed in a Big-Boy way.
"I was really surprised that they didn't scare everything out of the country," Duncan said. "I had a doe-in-estrous can call and I turned that thing over a couple of times to try and get those does to settle down and to think maybe there was another deer up there close to where they thought they were smelling something. They settled down a little bit and finally came on through."
After calming the does down, Duncan settled back and resumed his vigil. He would not have to wait long. "I guess it was about 10 minutes after that that I heard a crackle behind me," he said. "I turned around and looked behind me and saw the body of this deer going into the brush. I had no clue what it was, just that there was a deer there. I kept watching and it wasn't but just a few seconds before he turned and came out of there."
When the deer came out of the brush, Duncan nearly fell out of his stand as the buck of a lifetime walked into view. "As soon as he came out, I saw the drop tines and lots of points up, so I just tried to put that out of my mind. I knew it was the deer that I wanted to shoot."
It was also the deer that a number of other hunters had wanted to shoot. Duncan didn't know it at the time, but the buck moving into view was the legendary Big Boy, a huge buck that had taunted local hunters for years.
A number of hunters had gotten the monster North Texas buck on video and in still photos over the years, but hunting season brought different challenges. Somehow, the big buck always managed to elude hunters each fall. He disappeared for weeks on end, causing hunters to wonder if the local whitetail king had somehow met his demise. The legendary buck even managed to survive a couple of razor-close encounters with local bowhunters, causing some hunters to wonder if the buck would ever be legally tagged.
But as Duncan battled his nerves on that November evening, he and Big Boy were about to make Texas bowhunting history. As the buck approached an opening some 35 yards away from Jeff's stand, the archer knew it was now or never.
"When he passed between these two trees, I knew it was either take a shot there or the next time he was going to come out, it was going to be 50 (yards) or better away from me."
When the deer stepped into the opening, Duncan grunted with his mouth to get the buck to stop. As the whitetail continued moving, Jeff brought his compound bow to full draw and settled the sight pin on the deer's chest cavity. The bowhunter touched off the shot, sending his carbon arrow and its expandable broadhead toward the target.
After the deer bolted, Jeff began to get nervous as he relived the shot, feeling that he had struck the buck a little farther back than he had intended. While confident that his shot was lethal, he couldn't shake the doubts that began to creep in as he replayed the shot over and over in his mind.
After climbing down from his stand a short while later, Duncan marked the spot where he had last seen the deer and hiked out of the darkening woods. That's when the visibly shaken hunter met up with local Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game warden Jim Ballard who had been cruising through the area. When they'd waited an hour, Duncan, Ballard, and a group of refuge hunters went back to Jeff's stand to begin trailing the deer. Despite finding the arrow, the trackers lost the blood trail and retreated for more help and additional flashlight power.
When Duncan and the search party arrived at the refuge office, they found another local TPWD game warden, Dale Moses, who was already lining up additional help.
"The word had already got back that I had shot a really big deer with drop tines and stuff, so they thought it was probably Big Boy," Duncan said. "They already had a big list of volunteers to go back in and find him, so we loaded up with lots of flashlights and went back in there."
The group of trackers quickly picked up Big Boy's blood trail only to lose it again. That's when local bowhunters Mike Corzine and Randy Jones broke from the pack. About 40 yards from the group of anxious searchers, Corzine's voice rang out.
"Mike walked up on him, and I heard him say, 'I've got him up here,' " Duncan recalled. "Somebody else said, 'Is it him?' And he said, 'Yeah, it's him!' "
When Duncan walked up on the fallen monarch that had tantalized local hunters for the past decade, he felt a mixture of sadness and elation as the final chapter closed on this buck of nearly mythical status. After a decade of life spent surviving videos, photographs, recovered shed antlers, and near misses, the king of the Grayson County woods was finally dead. Big Boy had been tagged and Duncan was the fortunate hunter who tagged him.
"I really thought I was dreaming," Jeff said. "I kept telling Terry, 'Pinch me; make sure that I'm awake.' I just never in my wildest dreams ever thought that I would end up with something like this up here."
The legendary buck even impressed Hagerman NWR assistant manager and biologist Rick Cantu. "It's amazing; that's all you can say. There are tines sticking out everywhere. It's a magnificent deer."
In the days that followed his hunt, Duncan was somewhat amused by his sudden celebrity status. Several dozen onlookers gathered the next morning at the refuge as the deer was weighed, aged at 10 1/2 years, and photographed after a night in a locker plant.
A day later, another crowd of onlookers and outdoors writers gathered at the Hunter's Choice deer processing plant in Sanger as the buck received an initial green score of slightly more than 230 inches. Even more onlookers gathered in early January to witness the official scoring session that put Big Boy's final net numbers at 225 7/8.
"Big whitetails! They do attract a lot of attention," said a smiling Duncan. "It's a special animal, and to be able to harvest one like this...? It's the highlight of my hunting career - and I've been hunting since I was just a little kid in Alabama. This is by far the best animal that I've had the opportunity to get up close and personal with."
But Duncan's good fortune doesn't surprise his biggest fan, his wife Leslie. "He's very intelligent and understands nature and the deer," she said. "For him to get this gift, I know God gave him a little extra blessing. I've considered him a world-class deer hunter and now he's got the deer to prove it."
So just exactly how does Duncan plan to improve on his most recent hunting season? Well, while he still intends to put in for the Hagerman NWR hunts, he admits he'll probably never top his experience there last November. "I don't think this can be topped," Jeff said. "I couldn't think of anything that would top this."
FOR YOUR INFORMATION Hagerman NWR, where Jeff Duncan arrowed Big Boy last November, is an 11,300-acre waterfowl refuge on the southern shore of Lake Texoma. The refuge, wh
ich opens approximately 3,700 acres for special permit archery-only hunts each fall, lies in Grayson County northwest of Denison.
The refuge was established in 1946 for migratory waterfowl, but has offered limited archery deer hunts since 1984. In a typical year, the refuge hosts about 90 hunters for each of the three November hunts. Those hunters harvest as many as two dozen deer each fall, including bucks and does.
Would-be bowhunters must pass an International Bowhunter Education Program safety course. In addition, hunters must also pass an annual shooting proficiency test with a score of 80 percent or better on a 14-target 3-D archery course. Finally, hunters must submit the appropriate application, proof of IBEP completion, and their shooting proficiency results on an official scorecard. After all that, they can begin hoping they get selected to hunt by the random computer drawing.
For more information, contact the refuge office at (903) 786-2826.
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