November 30, 2023
Take a look at these great trophy harvests taken during 2023 hunting seasons all across the country. (Updated Nov. 30)
Putting the 'Mass' in Massachusetts
This story begins on a February 2022 shed-hunting foray on public land in Massachusetts, where Matt Heppleston and his buddy Ryan Ruef discovered a club of a shed while scouring the forest floor. "We had never been to this spot before looking for sheds, but when my buddy found his right shed, it was the biggest one either of us had ever found," Heppleston, 26, says.
The buck that dropped the shed would come to be known as "Hercules" and fuel both hunters' obsession over the next two seasons. The duo hung numerous trail cameras in the area, scouted year-round and did everything they could to get eyes on the buck that had dropped the huge antler and to learn his habits.
Eventually they caught him on camera and quickly identified his summering area.
"The fall of 2022 became all about learning about this deer and his habits," Heppleston says. By then they had amassed a library of videos and images from trail cams, and twice in late October 2022, Ruef even saw the buck pursuing does but could never get a shot. On Black Friday 2022, Heppleston was rattling from a treestand when he heard crashing in the nearby brush. He grunted and spotted Hercules circling, but the giant buck strolled downwind of the hunter, caught his scent and was gone.
The season ended with no more sightings and no more cam pics. They knew other hunters had their sights on Hercules as well. They wondered if he made it through the season. Then, this summer, he showed back up on camera. More trail cam surveillance and study of the deer's habits followed.
Fast forward to Black Friday 2023, and Heppleston's morning hunt felt like it was over as quickly as it began. He set up in what he thought would be a great area to catch Hercules on the move, but as daylight increased he couldn't spot any fresh sign on the deer trails below his stand.
Getting down from his stand, he began to slowly still-hunt his way toward another area he wanted to check for his afternoon hunt. He was moving slowly, a few steps at a time, when he caught the scent of a buck on the breeze coming from a draw. He backed up 10 yards, set up against a tree like he was turkey hunting and offered up a few tending grunts from his grunt tube.
"I heard some thrashing over the hill. I knew a buck was there, but I didn’t know if it was him. I waited five minutes and made a snort wheeze," Heppleston says. He could hear the buck coming then. Hercules stepped out 60 yards away and slowly marched toward the hunter, eventually stopping at 35 yards.
The buck was in what Heppleston described as an "all right" shooting lane in a quartering-to position. Heppleston took the shot. The buck ran 10 yards and piled up. Heppleston had logged a total of 12 hunts for this particular buck, and this was the first with a bow.
The monster green-scored 177 4/8 inches, a true trophy by any hunter's standards, and a whopper for a populous state like Massachusetts. Hercules has 10 points with a kicker, but what is really impressive is the mass. The smallest circumference is 5 1/2 inches toward the tips, and the bases measure a staggering 8 inches.
"This will probably be the biggest buck I'll ever kill, and I'm all right with that," Heppleston says, laughing. "I can’t believe how lucky I am."
'Barry' Finally Gets Busted
A hunting-land real estate agent and deer hunter extraordinaire, Slade Priest recently tagged a massive Mississippi buck. He enjoyed three years of history with the buck he called "Barry."
The deer first showed up in October 2021 as a 3 1/2-year-old. That year, he was a main-frame 8-pointer with some kickers off his G2. Last year, he returned, but he'd broken off his main beam.
This year, Barry spent the spring and summer elsewhere but showed up on cams in early October. From that point onward, Priest saw the buck in person numerous times.
Interestingly, the county where Priest took the buck is just two percent open ground, with most of the county being timber. "It's rare to get a deer that wants to play the game that much," he says.
Since October, Priest hunted Barry about 10 times and encountered the deer during several of those sits. One was at 20 yards, but the wind swirled, a doe caught Priest's wind and all of the deer boogered. Another time, the buck was at 15 yards, but once again a doe caught Priest's scent and blew the gig. Several other encounters produced sightings in fields and food plots, but not within bow range. Priest also received many daylight trail-camera pics.
On Nov. 24, Priest and Barry crossed paths for the final time. Soon after the hunter had settled into his stand, the buck hit a cell camera in the distance. At the same time, five does entered the food plot where Priest was sitting, and he had a feeling the buck was heading his way.
On cue, the big buck materialized on the field edge. Within a few minutes, he entered bow range and kept coming. Barry walked to within 40 yards, finally stopping at 36 yards.
Priest centered his camera on the deer, drew back his bow, settled in and took the broadside shot. The arrow sailed through both lungs, and the buck dashed out of sight.
"I called Lori and told her I got ‘him,’ and she knew exactly what deer I was talking about," he says.
"He’s my best buck in Mississippi," Priest says. "He’s a main-frame 8-pointer that's 13 1/2 inches wide and scores 153 1/8 inches. That's pretty good."
Several buddies arrived to share in the moment and lighten the load for the drag out. "It's one of those nights in the woods you never forget," Priest says. "It's what you dream about."
'Casper' the Piebald Buck
Not all trophies are measured in antler inches, as some rare bucks exhibit truly unique features that transcend number of points and antler mass. Take the buck Delaware hunter Mitchell Bolton finally caught up with after two years of obsessive scouting in Sussex County. The buck, a rare piebald with large patches of white and brown across his body, first showed up on trail cams two years ago. Bolton immediately named him "Casper," for his likeness to a ghost. Like a ghost he haunted Bolton’s efforts.
"This deer had no pattern at all," Bolton says. "He'd show up randomly on a camera at 2 a.m. one day, disappear, come out at 7 p.m. another day, disappear for a week or two and then show up at noon on another day … all on different cameras and hardly ever on the same camera back to back."
Then, on Nov. 14, despite not feeling like going out hunting after a tough day at work, Bolton decided "what the heck," and grabbed his gear and headed out.
"I rushed into the woods and got in my stand later than I would have liked. I saw no wildlife other than squirrels, and after about an hour in the stand, around 4:15, I heard what I thought to be another squirrel to my left," he says. "I slowly looked and there he was—the only deer I had my mind set to pull the trigger on."
Bolton aimed his rifle chambered in .450 Bushmaster at the buck, standing perfectly broadside a mere 25 yards away, but partly obscured by a large holly tree.
"I needed him to take one step forward to get the shot. As soon as he did, I pulled the trigger and he dropped right there where he stood," Bolton says. "It was the perfect end to an otherwise crappy day."
Hunter Finds Redemption on SoDak Stud
On Wednesday, Nov. 22, Andrew Marshall shot the biggest buck of his life, one that his wife, Clair, had encountered the previous Friday. He says his wife rattled in and killed a different buck on Sunday, so she was able to explain where he should sit for a shot at the big one.
"I sat beside a hay bale," Marshall says. "Does and fawns were feeding in the field, and then the big one appeared 250 to 275 yards away. I had buck fever too badly to make a good shot. Then, he walked out of my life."
Upset, Marshall gathered himself and kept watch.
"I noticed that there were 10 minutes of legal light remaining," he says. "I thought about packing up when he suddenly reappeared 70 yards away. When I fired, the magazine fell out of my rifle. The buck was hit, but I quickly chambered another cartridge, climbed up onto the hay bale since I couldn’t see his vitals from ground level, and dropped him with my second shot."
Delaware Hunter Tags 'One for the Wall'
When Delaware hunter Mason Kemp was 15 years old, his dad David killed a huge buck and hung the mount in Mason’s room. "I looked at that deer for years, and it became the standard for what a true trophy buck should look like," the younger Kemp says. "For that reason, I passed on a lot of bucks I probably should've taken, but I wanted one worthy of hanging next to my dad’s."
For Mason, that moment came Nov. 15, when the now 25-year-old killed a 13-point giant in Sussex County, Del., with a Ruger in .450 Bushmaster—his first buck ever.
Mason’s cameras were showing bucks moving that morning, including this one and another big 8-point.
"My dad said I needed to get out there, so I did," says Mason. It was the perfect rut hunt, he says, with the big 13-point following just feet behind a hot doe.
"He's not very wide, only 16 inches, but he has a lot of mass and tines, with 8 points on one side,” he says.
Archery Success During Missouri Rifle Season
Jonathan Clark of Last Chance Archery bowhunts during Missouri's firearms season. This year, he says, temperatures were much higher than normal, which resulted in deer only moving during the early-morning hours. He says he saw five or six 3 1/2-year-old bucks chasing does on morning hunts early in the week, but older bucks seemed to be locked down. As the week progressed, though, some larger bucks finally started moving.
"Just after daylight on the fifth morning, I saw a couple of small bucks," Clark says. "I was sitting atop a large ridge with several funnels. I decided to rattle, and within 5 minutes, a mature 5 1/2-year-old 10-pointer popped up from one of the funnels. He came straight to the bottom of my tree and gave me a perfect, broadside, 20-yard shot. I made a great shot, and he ran only 15 yards.
With the extra time he had left, Clark hunted for does. While doing so, he saw several mature bucks on their feet during the middle of the afternoons and evenings. Because of this, he thinks maybe the bigger bucks have started searching again.
Hunter Tags Palmetto State Stud
Last Sunday, Nov. 12, South Carolina’s Tyler Morris took a great buck on his family’s farm.
"This property has been in my family for close to 50 years," he says. "My dad and I started hunting it together about 10 years ago, and only seriously hunting it in the last five years. We have tried to manage the harvesting as best as possible."
The buck was a relative newcomer to the property and only ever showed himself toward the end of the day.
"The deer started showing up two days prior on trail cameras," he says. "Once right at dusk and once about two hours after dark. This time he came out at 4:30 p.m."
Morris was hunting over an old field that used to be farmed, but had since grown up over the last three years or so.
"He came out of a section of woods next to the field that had been logged about four years ago," Morris says. "There is a swamp down in the woods. He definitely came from there. The lower half of his legs were soaking wet."
The buck caught him by surprise, though.
"I was in the middle of texting a friend about how poor the rut had been so far this year and how I did not have near as many deer on camera," he says. "As soon as I pressed send and looked up, he was standing on the edge of the woods staring straight in my direction."
Morris readied for the shot opportunity. The deer stopped, turned broadside and Morris sent lead downrange. The 100-yard shot struck true. As you might imagine, the deer means a lot to him.
"I have been hunting with my dad since I was 5 years old, and shooting on my own since 8 or 9," he says. "I have watched so many friends and family shoot trophy bucks for years, and it never happened for me. I have tried about every trick I've heard and never been able to harvest what I would consider a trophy deer.
"To me, this was my trophy. It has shown that patience and resilience can pay off. It also tells me that I don't have to spend tens of thousand of dollars or have the newest toys to harvest quality deer. I can sit in my stand of 10-plus years and eat a snack and soda while I just enjoy nature and everything God has created for us."
Old Dominion Hunter Bags Giant Public-Land Buck
Swords Creek, Va., resident Dennis Lawson achieved every public-land hunter's dream—every deer hunter's dream actually—when he recently tagged an incredible buck that green-scored 183 inches. Lawson shot the buck in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests on Nov. 4, the opening day of the state's muzzleloader season. The beast sported 18 scoreable points.
Lawson believes he had seen—and missed—the same buck four years ago when it was a big buck even then. He was toting a .270 during rifle season, and after missing, figured that was it.
But this fall carrying a .50-caliber Thompson/Center Omega inline, he was hunting an open drainage that was surrounded by thicker, recently timbered mountainsides. While trying to avoid making any more noise than necessary in the crunching leaves, he spotted a flash of movement ahead of him.
"I was easing along trying to get a glimpse over this hill, when suddenly a squirrel ran up a tree," he says. "I felt like a dummy."
But then he heard leaves crunching and sticks breaking and could hear several deep grunts. "They were the deepest grunts I have ever heard," he says.
Lawson stood motionless between two trees, and the buck stepped into sight a mere 70 yards through the open woods. "I shot and the buck took off," he says. "He was quartering to me, and I hit him a little farther back in the ribs than I had intended."
The buck ran as Lawson rapidly, and nervously, reloaded. He quickly got to another hilltop, from where he spotted the wounded buck still on its feet. "I was able to get another shot into him," he says. "This time he was quartering away."
The buck ran another 30 yards before collapsing. Lawson was awestruck as he approached the buck. "I just walked circles around him looking at him from every angle and he just seemed to get bigger and bigger," he says.
Not surprisingly, it is Lawson’s biggest buck ever. "Now I'm famous, at least around here," he jokes.
Muzzleloader Hunter Paid Attention to the Wind
Tennessee hunter Marc Larese has been chasing a main-frame 10-pointer all season. He still hasn’t crossed paths with it, but on Nov. 6, a new face turned up on camera. "It was a new deer that I have zero history with," Larese says. "It showed up for two consecutive days. Then, it disappeared. I hunted it all weekend."
Eventually, it reappeared. On Nov. 12, he hunted the buck again. His stand was in a small, narrow field in the middle of a couple hills with big timber that runs into a cedar thicket. The deer use the area as a travel corridor, and this big buck followed that script.
"I heard a deer coming in from behind me down the hill," Larese says. "I could see one coming through cedar branches. He ran down the path, locked up to my right, threw his nose in the air, and I thought I was busted."
The big buck stomped, looked around and took a couple steps forward. That put him in the open, and Larese took the 18-yard shot. It connected, the deer mule-kicked and fell after a short, 20-yard dash.
"I really played the wind on this deer," Larese says. "I based my sets on wind direction and only hunted when the wind was right. Pay attention to the wind—that's my biggest tip for whitetails. They will bust you every time if you don't. They don't get big by being dumb and careless. He is a perfect example of a beautiful, mature, 4 1/2-year-old buck. It makes the work all worth it."
First Buck from New Farm
Chris Smith has been getting trail-camera photos of this Volunteer State buck since August. Ever since, he's been planning how to capitalize and connect on this magnificent deer.
On Nov. 9, that plan came together. He decided to hunt a white oak ridge that drops off into agricultural bottomland. That was the stage for this big-buck showdown.
Soon after settling in, a doe walked into view and began slowly feeding around the food plot. Two minutes later, this big buck stepped out and immediately locked onto the doe.
Smith prepared to wait patiently for a broadside shot opportunity. Within seconds, he got one, and the muzzleloader barked. The buck went down, and Smith got his deer.
Looking back on it, Smith partially credits some of his land management practices for his success. Of particular importance, he feels, are food plots.
"Provide well-maintained clover plots for the off-season," Smith says. "Plant combinations of fall green plots (my favorite is winter rye), radishes, et cetera."
This deer is very special to Smith. It's the first deer harvest from a new farm he bought this year. A buck like this is certainly a heck of a way to kick off the property's legacy.
Rifle Hunter Bags Bluegrass Beast
For Tosha Boyd, the Kentucky firearms opener "has always been like Christmas." However, Boyd's toddler resisted staying with a babysitter last Saturday, Nov. 11. So, her husband Brandon decided that they'd simply bring their young son along.
"Since it was too late to go to our intended blind," she says, "we went to one of our favorite glassing spots. We had just gotten comfortable when I looked down at the bottom and noticed a big buck staring at us. He gave us a side view and we identified him as a buck from our trail cameras. Before I could shoot, he took off with his doe. But he circled back around and gave me a quartering-away opportunity at 187 yards."
She says that dropping the big buck in his tracks with her husband and their almost 3-year-old son beside her has been the highlight of her hunting career. "It was a quick season, but I'm so thankful for how everything panned out," she adds. "Just when I thought there was no chance we'd see anything, God basically said, 'Watch this.' My son just might be my good luck charm."
The huge buck green-scored 157 5/8 inches.
Georgia Hunter Drops Heavyweight Buck
Earlier this season, Brandon Barfield scouted and found large buck tracks going in and out of a creek bottom. He knew it was a big deer, because the tracks were more than four inches long and sunk down deep into hard dirt.
"I followed his trail to his bed about 170 yards from the creek entrance," Barfield says. "Knowing this, I stayed out of there until the first cold snap."
He hung a cell camera in the area and positioned a climbing treestand along a rub line about 150 yards south of the buck’s bedding area.
On Nov. 3, Barfield had to run several errands, and didn’t get into the deer woods until around 8:25 a.m.
"I had to rush 200 yards and shoot up my climber quickly and quietly," he says. "As my breath settled, I let out a doe bleat, followed by tending grunts. A large buck’s hind quarter appeared in the thicket in front of me off his trail. It was him."
The buck disappeared to the left and Barfield’s heart sank. About 20 minutes passed with no action. Then, he heard a deer walking in the crunchy leaves, working down the rub line.
"He attempted to circle downwind and stopped just 20 yards from my stand,’ Barfield says. "A young doe popped in under me from the field and he jumped back and faced the other way behind two trees. No shot."
Barfield let out a short grunt and the deer turned to the right just enough to expose its vitals.
"Heart racing, I threw up my rifle and squeezed the trigger," Barfield says. "He ran back down his rub line and circled toward the creek in front of me, vanishing into the thicket."
After about 30 minutes, he climbed down and looked for blood. He couldn’t find any sign of a hit.
"My heart sank, but I quickly pulled myself together and got my head on straight," Barfield says. "I had heard where he ran and remembered that I didn’t hear any splashing in the creek. Following his trail, I found him laying at the edge of the creek. I couldn't believe the 245-pound monster actually lay in front of me.
"Dragging him 300 yards and loading him up was worth it," he says. "Everything came together. This is the oldest and, by far, largest-bodied buck I have ever harvested."
Illinois Bowhunter Rattles in Stud Buck
Justin Zarr, co-host of bowhunting.com's "Bowhunt or Die" YouTube show, was out on a new farm that he had recently gotten permission to hunt. He had briefly scouted the farm back in September. That scouting trip, combined with some HuntStand Pro Whitetail e-scouting, helped him choose a ridge to hunt during the rut.
"On Nov. 2," Zarr says, "I had a southwest wind, which allowed me to sneak up the north side of the ridge. I got positioned in an oak tree overlooking a few pinch-points at the top of a few washouts. I rattled, and a few minutes later, a nice buck appeared. I made the shot as he passed behind my saddle setup."
Over the course of his four-day hunt (Nov. 1-4) Zarr says he noticed that the bigger bucks were moving slowly and not chasing does. However, he believes that things are transitioning right now and that the mature bucks are becoming more interested in does.
New Hampshire Muzzleloader Hunter Tags Potential Record
In 17 years of hunting, New Hampshire hunter Jantzen Clifton had never killed what he’d considered a "wall-hanger" buck. On Sunday, Oct. 29, all that changed when the Seabrook, N.H., resident took what could become the state’s new record muzzleloader buck. The monster, with two ridiculously huge drop tines, boasts 14 points and green scores 188 1/2 inches. The current record, Clifton says, is 182 6/8 inches.
"I wasn’t planning on hunting that morning," Clifton says. "I kind of wanted to finish a movie I’d started the night before and hang out at the house for a little bit."
Even after Clifton’s friend Nate Johnson called to ask if he was going to join him and some other friends on some deer drives, he opted for the movie. However, when he realized he still had nearly an hour and a half to go in the movie, he decided to pause it and go hunting. On the first drive, on a small tract that had room for only three standers and two drivers, Clifton’s life changed.
"It didn’t take long for them to push the piece. It was so small," Clifton says. "I saw my friend Nate, who was one of the drivers, coming through when all of a sudden, I saw movement just to my left. I caught a quick glimpse of antler."
As the hunter leveled his muzzleloader, he saw branches and leaves tangled in the buck’s headgear, then he saw those twin drop tines. The buck then turned and ran right at Clifton.
"He got, like, 15 to 20 yards away and saw me. He stopped immediately and I pulled the trigger. He stumbled and then ran into the swamp," Clifton says. "I heard crashing around and then it was quiet. But I’ve lost a deer like that before, so I wasn’t going to celebrate until I saw the deer."
Realizing the size of the deer and what had just played out, Clifton was overcome with emotion. "I started shaking like a leaf. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t even reload my gun," he says. "My friends thought I was acting that way because I had missed."
A quick examination of the scene told a different story. There was abundant blood on the ground, and a mere 40 yards away, the buck lay piled up on the ground.
Now the veteran hunter finally has his wall-hanger. After the required drying period and the official score is recorded, he might just have a new state record to go along with it.
Virginia Hunter Goes Full Battle Rattle
On the morning of Oct. 23, Caleb Craig settled into a stand he had hung a month ago to target a buck he’d seen both in trail-camera pictures and from a tractor while he was working. Just before daylight, a big-bodied deer walked under him, but it was still too dark to tell what it was. Then, at 7:30 a.m., the deer he was after stepped to the edge of the field 100 yards away.
The buck was feeding away from him, so Craig, hunting with a bow, tickled rattling antlers together to try to get the deer to come his way. Craig admits he had never had any luck with rattling antlers, but his grunt tube had fallen out of his bag in his truck, so it was his only option. To his surprise, the buck spun around and marched in. But so did a doe, which had Craig pinned and unable to move. Begrudgingly, he sat still as the buck and the doe both walked away.
Not to be deterred, an hour later he rattled the antlers again. He had no sooner put them down when he saw an even bigger buck thrashing a tree 25 yards away. The buck turned and came right to him. This time, there was no doe to risk spooking, and Craig planted his arrow perfectly. The 11-pointer with split brows measured a solid 20 3/4 inches wide on the outside.
College Senior Scores First Bow Buck
Growing up in Arkansas, Liberty University senior Sawyer Shankle had only ever hunted with a firearm. When he arrived at college in the mountains of Virginia, he wanted a new thrill, so he picked up a bow. He and his buddy, Dylan Gibble, also a Liberty University senior, hunt a property not far from campus, where their trail cameras had picked up photos of a buck they wanted to target. Shankle wasn’t planning on hunting on Thursday, Oct. 26, but Gibble said they should get out there and give it a shot. Shankle set up on his stand, while Gibble sat a stand about 150 yards away. Shortly after sunrise, a 6-point strolled past Shankle, followed by a much more massive buck.
"He came out at 35 yards, following a nice 6-point, and then walked to a gap 20 yards from me. I drew, but after seeing my sight picture, I knew I could get a better shot," Shankle says. "Sure enough, it walked to within 10 yards and I finally took the shot."
The buck ran 50 yards before collapsing. It was Shankle’s first deer with a bow and his biggest to date. Including kickers, the buck rocked 14 points.
Wisco Public-Land Double-Drop Stud
Wisconsin hunter Corey Quella has been watching a parcel of public land since shed season. More than a week and a half ago at that spot, he grunted in a small 6-pointer. On Oct. 23, Quella and a friend hunted the area again. His friend observed a decent 8-pointer following a doe and making scrapes.
On Oct. 25, Quella finished work at 5 p.m. and rushed out to hunt. He got situated on the ground amidst some short pines.
"At 5:45 p.m., I heard deer behind me," he said. "A doe stopped and stared at me but continued forward. I heard grunts behind her. It sounded like there were two bucks, but only one followed the doe. I grunted, snort-wheezed and estrous bleated to stop him, but he kept going.
"At 6 p.m., I hit the doe can three times," Quella continued. "I heard some leaves rustling, so I got positioned. I saw antlers about 20 yards out. The buck came to within six yards and stopped to look around. He took about four more steps, and that’s when I shot him. I didn’t even realize that he had two drop tines until I walked up to him."
A Legend at Last Light
The hunt for this buck began in 2021, when Corey Hall first got a picture of the deer. "He was actually a nice, young 10-pointer," Hall said, but given its potential, he opted to pass on it that season.
In 2022, the buck became a 140-inch 8-pointer. "I had to force myself not to hunt him, because I knew I wouldn’t have the willpower to pass him if I saw him," Hall said. "Fast-forward to this year, and it’s been on."
The buck was hard to pattern, though, daylighting on camera just four times in three years on Hall’s 40-acre property. On Oct. 25, Hall worked late and couldn’t make it to church on time.
"So, I decided to just go and sit even though the wind was not the best," he said. "Got in the stand at 6 p.m. and had four does come in at 6:20 p.m. One busted me, blew, and they all took off."
About 6:35 p.m., Hall heard something over his left shoulder. It was a smaller buck that his target deer had been running with.
"I knew he probably wasn’t far behind," Hall said. "A few minutes later, here he comes up the ridge. It was the last couple minutes of daylight. I knew I had to make something happen, so I turned and drew my bow back."
The buck trotted off a few yards. Hall settled the pin and took the 25-yard shot.
"I heart-punched him and he ran down the ridge about 80 yards," he said. "I gave him about an hour and walked right up on him. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life. This is a buck of a lifetime, and for me to take him with my bow means all the more."
Before this buck, a 133-inch 8-pointer was the biggest deer of his life. Now, it’s a 156 1/4-inch giant.
"I thank God for every animal that he allows me to take, and I give Him all the glory for this hunt," Hall said.
Garden State Success
Tiffany Bezel killed this 7-point buck Oct. 20 while hunting in New Jersey with Triple B Outfitters. She was in a treestand using a new TenPoint crossbow her parents had bought her as a gift. She had seen the buck on camera, along with a spike and another decent buck, the night before when the trio appeared after 4 p.m. On the afternoon of her hunt, however, the 7-point buck came in alone along a runway cut in the forest and well ahead of 4 p.m. In fact, Bezel had only been in her stand about a half hour when he appeared. "It was the earliest I’ve ever harvested a buck in the evening," she says.
Hoosier Hunter Bags Brute with Hand-Me-Down Bow
Logan Splater had been seeing only young deer in the first few weeks of the season. Then, on Oct. 15, he finally had an encounter with a massive, mature buck he’d been chasing for four years. In fact, the deer had only shown up on his trail camera a few days prior.
"I knew where he was bedding," Splater says, "and on the 15th, the wind was perfect during the peak of a cold front. … Around 6 p.m., some does appeared, so I was ready with my bow when the buck silently stepped out," Splater continues. "He spotted me in the tree, and we had a staredown for about 10 minutes. Finally, he took a few steps. I drew and made a quick 25-yard shot. I was shooting my dad's hand-me-down bow from the early 2000s, which made the hunt even more memorable."
South Carolina Muzzleloader Monster
On Oct. 19, after working a 12-hour shift and a short nap, South Carolina's Jamie Holler gathered his gear and eased into position at his hunting grounds. He located a scrape that piqued his interest and settled in for the morning hunt, setting up camp in a small brush blind. A nice buck cruised through at first light, but it was out of range for Holler's muzzleloader. Then, two does appeared and walked through. He thought about shooting one of them but didn't. Seconds later, a spike ran down off the ridge.
About 15 minutes after that, a doe and two fawns ran into view. A nice buck was behind them, and they all worked toward Jamie's position. Eventually, though, the doe spotted Holler and they all moved off. Around 9:10 a.m., he heard a stick break and looked up to see a huge deer walking down the ridge toward him. Holler slowly raised up into position, readied his muzzleloader and waited for an opportunity. The buck disappeared, reappeared and stopped in an opening 22 yards away.
"I bleated and began working the trigger," Holler says. “I could feel the sear in that 12-pound trigger. I took the creep out and the hammer fell. My post was centered in the rear sight and positioned right behind his shoulder when the cap and powder ignited."
The deer weighed 202 pounds and sported 14 points.
Third Buck in Three Seasons
Harlan Flinn, 7, of Lemont Furnance, Pa., harvested this nice 8-point buck on Sept. 30, 2023. He made a great shot with his crossbow and was joined by his father in celebrating the occasion.
First Pronghorn, and With Dad
First Pronghorn! Duncan Donley, 20, of Pleasant Ridge, Mich., harvested his first pronghorn on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023 near Douglas, Wyoming. He enjoyed his first hunt out West with his dad, Kevin, who also took a pronghorn the same morning. They used a Remington .243, Federal 243 Win 85 grain Trophy Copper ammo, and a Cabela’s 3x12 40mm optic. They celebrated the occasion with a side trip to Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park.
Another Trophy for Bentz’s Grandson
Bentz Rich, the 8-year-old grandson of Hall-of-Fame boatbuilder Earl Bentz, continues to tag impressive big deer. Young Bentz recently killed this 11-pointer while hunting with his step-father Bucky Ingram. Earlier this fall, Bentz killed a velvet buck in Tennessee in August that gross-scored 177 2/8 points. Last year, young Bentz harvested a nice 8-point whitetail at the family ranch. Earl Bentz, an inductee in the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, is the founder of Caymas Boats (Stratos, Javelin and Triton previously).
Early-Season Paydirt in Virginia
On Sunday, Oct. 15, Virginia hunter Chase Windley hit early-season paydirt. Here’s his hunt in his own words:
"I shot the deer around 6:45 p.m. Sunday evening. I had pictures of him from the year before, knowing he was only a 3-year-old during the 2022 season. I also knew he only shows up in October once he returns to his fall range. I expected he was lying in this one grassy bottom in a cutover because I would always catch him on my cameras or spot him when scouting going to bed in the morning in that direction. Then, in the evenings, he would come out of the same bottom. The deer would typically get out of his bed early if the wind was pushing the scent into the bottom from the west. Knowing all this, I figured if he was using the same trails that kept him alive last year, he was more than likely to do the same thing this year.
"So, I waited for a cold snap, but he didn’t show. The next opportunity was a day with a quartering wind. I knew if I had the quartering wind, my scent would only miss him by 20 to 30 yards, but if it was consistent, he wouldn’t smell me and still feel comfortable to get on his feet early with the lack of pressure.
"Sure enough, he came in that evening following a smaller buck. He came out of the grassy cutover and stopped, sniffing the wind and looking around. Once he thought it was clear, he continued on, stepping out in front of me at about 10 to 13 yards. My arrow struck perfectly, double-lunging him, but on the exit it lodged in the opposite shoulder bone. He took off for a few yards, hit the edge of the woods, stopped and turned around like he was wondering what hit him. That’s when he toppled over in his tracks."
Minn. Bowhunter Bags 160-Class Buck