Updated: Sep 14, 2020
Mississippi- Sunday, January 12, 2020, was a day I had determined would be a good day to hunt. With rain showers being a normality in January so far, I reserved the only clear day in the forecast to go and give these late-season whitetails one last try. With this season already being a successful one in my book due to taking my largest whitetail to date on public land, a perfect 126” 10 point, earlier in the season (we're allowed two), I was reluctant to get up to my 4:30 A.M. alarm. After a brief inner struggle, I quickly convinced myself that nothing would come of this morning hunt and hit the snooze button. When it came time for my evening hunt, I again had second thoughts. But with the looming idea that I would not be able to hunt for the next nine months and the January 31st end date looming, I decided to hit the woods.
I loaded my Athens Ridge 32, backpack, and climbing stand into my truck and began my drive. I decided I would go to an area I’ve scouted in the past but never had the chance to hunt. I could feel the 2019 whitetail season drawing to a close and with many memories already made to reflect on during the off-season, I did not put too much thought into the hunt. Between a temperature of 54 degrees, the primary rut being over, and undoubtedly over pressured deer, you could say I was not very hopeful for a successful hunt. During the drive to my evening venture, I was on the phone with my buddy Blake Nations. After telling him I decided to hunt “some random spot I haven’t hunted all year” he jokingly responded with, “and you’ll probably end up shooting a monster". While this would have been nice, over the years, I have set realistic expectations for a “Trophy Buck” on public land in Mississippi. “Trophy buck” is a subjective term used often that brings a lot of misconceptions and even arguments at times. On this day, I was simply looking for a legal buck to sling an arrow at.
When I parked my truck, I carefully gathered my gear checking that I had everything I needed. “Bow, release, and arrows”, I repeated as I threw my climber on my back. I made my way to the area I had in mind and climbed the first good tree I saw. I slowly went through my normal routine of making sure my bow was connected to the pull-up rope and the rope to my backpack and began my climb.
I had just reached a comfortable height of 30 feet when I heard a grunt. I wasn’t sure if my ears were tricking me or if there was actually a deer coming my way. Before I had time to further determine what it was, I heard the unmistakable sound of a second grunt followed by what sounded like a stampede storming through the thicket. I pulled my bow up to my stand in a single pull and fumbled around to get an arrow out of my backpack when a doe emerged from the thicket followed closely by five bucks. As each buck weaved through the trees after the doe, most of them did not look to be legal. Until I noticed the 120” class 8 point in pursuit. When I realized the doe circled back to the thicket as fast as she had appeared, I quickly drew my bow back and took aim. He trotted into an opening and I released an arrow. My heart sank as I watched my arrow land 3 feet short of the deer. I realized that in my haste, I did not move my single pin sight to the correct yardage. I sat in shock watching the buck slowly make his way back into the thicket. Disappointed, angry, and in disbelief of what just happened within the first 2 minutes of my hunt.
I called a friend to tell him the news and as I was just finishing my unbelievable story, I heard the grunting and crashing again. I swiftly hung up the phone and grabbed another arrow out of my quiver just in time to see the first deer come crashing through the thicket. I quickly identified the buck I just missed, but my attention was now shifted to a new buck. This was the largest deer I had ever seen and looked like something you’d see on TV. This time, the doe settled behind a fallen tree with the larger buck only several feet from her. Since I didn’t have a shot, I took this time to range the opening next to the tree. 47 Yards. I dialed in my sight and waited for my opportunity. By this time, the doe was surrounded by the other bucks. I waited for what felt like hours until eventually, one of the smaller bucks got too close and the larger deer chased him off through my only opening. As the buck turned to make his way back to the doe, I drew my bow, rested my pin somewhere behind his shoulder, and punched my release. I watched my arrow fly in slow-motion until it hit its mark. I immediately noticed that the shot was a little back, but the focused buck remained standing where I shot him for 6-7 seconds before he stumbled out of sight. I replayed those few seconds in my head unsure if I saw him fall or run back into the thicket. Once 45 minutes had passed, I climbed down and the first thing I wanted to do was check my arrow. When I approached it, I immediately knew the hit was fatal. As I was picking up the arrow, I happened to glance up and 20 yards away was the biggest deer I’d ever put my hands on.
On that day he green scored 163 7/8”, A true public land trophy by any definition.
Johnny, along with his friend Blake Nations, make up Rivalry Bowhunting. Be sure to check them out give a follow on Instagram and Facebook @rivalry_bowhunting!!
Sight: Axcel Accutouch Carbon Pro
Release: Stanislawski Perfex
Arrows: Easton Axis 5mm
Camo: Sitka Gear Subalpine
Treestand: Lone Wolf Assault Hand Climber
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