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story.lead_photo.caption Jerry Hardaway of North Little Rock bagged this buck in December in Pulaski County while hunting on the ground after a long game of cat-and-mouse.

It's late to write about deer hunting, but this story is too good not to share.

For three years, Jerry Hardaway of North Little Rock kept a magazine photo of a giant whitetail buck pinned to the wall above his bed.

Youngsters honor their sports and pop culture idols that way, but Hardaway is a grown man with a family and career. The picture was a promise and a goal.

"I used to lay in bed and look at that picture," said Hardaway, a crane operator for Manhattan Road and Bridge Group. "I told my wife, 'I'm going to kill that deer someday.' "

He finally did on Dec. 9 at 8:35 a.m. near North Little Rock. Hardaway killed the third largest nontypical buck in Arkansas for the 2017-2018 deer season. It grossed 193 0/8 Boone and Crockett points and netted 182 6/8.

The morning was about 28 degrees but calm. Warm in a new pair of coveralls that a friend gave him, Hardaway broke ice to reach his stand overlooking a field before dawn.

At first light, Hardaway saw a shape across the field. Hardaway said he strained and rubbed his eyes to get a clearer look. Full light revealed it to be a buck, and a big one at that. It walked away in a quick, stiff-legged gait until it vanished into a tree line.

Hardaway rejoiced when the buck re-emerged, but that was only the beginning of a two-hour game of hide-and-seek.

Hardaway grew impatient with this exercise and climbed down from his stand to try to gain a more advantageous position on the ground. The buck popped back out of the woods and started walking down a grassline away from Hardaway, who tried unsuccessfully to close the distance on foot.

"I said a prayer. 'Lord, please let that deer come straight back to me so I can kill him,' " Hardaway said.

Hardaway crept to the other side of the grass patch for better concealment. Fifteen minutes later, the buck ran toward Hardaway and stopped at a distance of 180 yards.

"I said, 'Man, it's now or never,' " Hardaway said. "The deer was looking at something and stopped. I eased up out the grass with one breath, aimed and shot him at 180 yards. He ran 5 feet, 6 at the most."

That's a tough shot to make rising from a crouch, but Hardaway said he wasn't nervous. He had long ago exhausted all of his adrenaline and anxiety during the cat-and-mouse game.

Hardaway said he checked his buck by calling the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's check line. He said the buck weighed about 290 pounds on the hoof, so he called his brother to help him load it into his Can-Am UTV. Hardaway was eager to get the deer home, and he got tired of waiting.

Instead, he unspooled the cable from his winch and looped it over the roof of his UTV. He secured the cable to the buck and gently winched the beast over the back of the vehicle onto the roof and then lashed it tight.

"I'm a crane operator, so yes, sir, I know a little about hoisting heavy stuff with a winch," Hardaway said.

Success was even sweeter because Hardaway said he saw the same buck during muzzleloader season. He declined to shoot because Hardaway is very picky about the shots he'll take. He likes to shoot just behind the shoulder as straight broadside as possible, and the buck at that time did not present an ethical opportunity.

Word got around, though, and Hardaway's community rallied behind him.

"I got a friend that works at the North Little Rock Police Department," Hardaway said. "He's always stopping to see my kid brother. He says, 'Your brother is always deer hunting! I hope he gets that deer.'

"He stopped by and said, 'You did it!' "

Hardaway said his picture-gazing days are finished.

"I prayed to the good Lord to let me kill the deer I've been watching and wanting," Hardaway said. "I achieved what I wanted. I have a deer on my wall."

After the hunt, Hardaway said one more prayer for the rest of us.

"I did say a prayer to the Lord," Hardaway said. "I asked for every hunter in the United States of America to kill a deer that they want."

Sports on 03/04/2018

Print Headline: Grateful hunter offers up a prayer for his brethren

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