In the 22 years I've covered deer hunting, I've learned that blind luck is as much a factor in killing giant bucks as preparation.
You can scout. You can plant food plots and run cameras on every trail that show you every deer that lives on a piece of property. You can check the prevailing wind every morning to see which stand you should use on a given day. You can bathe in scent-free soap, wash your clothes in scent-free detergent and wear the quietest fabrics with the most fashionable camouflage patterns.
All those things tilt the odds in your favor, but when the curtain rises, killing a trophy buck is all about being in the right place at the right time.
Hunter Harris, 20, of Monticello is the latest example. He won the Arkansas Big Buck Classic on Sunday with a mature buck sporting a typical rack that scored 172 0/8 points on the Boone and Crockett scale.
Harris is an avid deer hunter that until this season had modest success. Before Nov. 25, he had killed only two bucks in seven years, and one of those was a button buck. The other, his first, was a 3-point that he killed at age 13.
A student at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, Harris has limited time to hunt, and even less time to do all the things that dedicated trophy hunters do to increase their chances of encountering trophy bucks.
Those extra measures are a lot easier to do on private property where a hunter not only controls access but also controls which bucks are killed each year. They have the luxury of exclusively shooting bucks of a certain class. If they don't see what they want, they don't shoot.
Harris killed his buck on public land where no such controls are in place. He tilted the odds his way by hunting a remote place that is farther from a road than most hunters are willing to walk.
Harris got too cold on a frosty morning and was leaving the woods when he chanced upon a buck that was probably slinking back to a bedding area after feeding on some nearby private property. Harris made the most of the encounter. He hit the buck with one shot from a Browning Auto-5 Light Twelve shotgun, then missed four followup shots.
He tracked it about 400 yards and found it dead in a dense thicket.
I could fill a book with stories like that from Oklahoma to the Lowcountry of Virginia and the Carolinas.
Davis Smith, for example, won the 2009 Big Buck Classic with a deer he killed in similar fashion in the 2008 modern gun season. He had just joined a new hunting club and didn't have a stand to hunt on opening day. He crept through the woods looking for a good place to put a stand when he chanced upon the biggest buck killed in the state that year. It scored 209 B&C nontypical.
Or how about Sean Longnecker of Stuttgart, who killed the buck that won the 2010 Big Buck Classic. That Arkansas County giant had a typical rack that scored 181 6/8.
Longnecker, a farmer, had just gotten into his stand on opening day of the 2009 modern firearms season when Longnecker's cellphone rang. It was Mrs. Longnecker. She was driving her daughter to a modeling competition in Little Rock but left the daughter's photo portfolio at home. Longnecker left his stand, went home to fetch the portfolio and delivered it to them halfway between Little Rock and Stuttgart. It was late in the afternoon when Longnecker returned to his stand, but this buck stepped out and rewarded his devotion to his family.
Longnecker was not aware that buck lived on his property.
Or how about Jeremy Edgin of Lexa, who killed the state's largest typical buck in the 2016-2017 season? That buck, which scored 157 6/8, was also killed on private land, as are a surprising number of monster bucks in the Natural State.
Edgin was ill and didn't feel like hunting on the morning of Nov. 19, 2016, but his wife reminded him that it was a permit hunt, and he shouldn't waste the opportunity.
Scent control? Edgin masked his scent with a Subway cold cut combo sandwich with mayo, lettuce, tomato and, yum, jalapenos! Edgin killed the buck at 20 yards with his muzzleloader.
All of these stories give me great hope as I think about the possibilities of next November.
Sports on 02/01/2018
Print Headline: Luck part of killing trophy bucks