These hunters risked eating their tags, sat in the same stands for hundreds of hours, and put their jobs and families on hold — all for that one deer.
The Right One
Buck: “Jackson,” a 9½-year-old, 150-class typical
Hunter: Misty Loggins, country artist and Bowtech ambassador**
Location: Southwestern West Virginia
Date of Kill: Dec. 29, 2015
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Before the season started, my hunting partner and cameraman Jeremy Starks showed me a trail-cam picture of this beautiful 9½year-old buck — and I knew. We had 10 other shooters on that property, all over 150. But this one was mine. I needed him.
We named the buck Jackson. He bedded on a bench partway down a mountain, and we hung a stand where I’d have a chance to catch him coming or going. I started hunting that stand in late September, and after dozens of sits, I never got a glimpse of him. I passed up scads of P&Y bucks.
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I typically won’t hunt a stand more than two days in a row. But our cameras showed he was there. Mainly, I couldn’t get away from it. Jackson was more than a buck to me. He was a chance for things to go right. My dad had recently passed. A string of things in my life then would go almost right, but then not. After a while, you lose a little sparkle. I thought Jackson could help me get it back.
Finally, in early December, I looked up and there he was. He walked in to 25 yards. I swear I didn’t move half an inch, but he caught me, and vanished. I don’t cry a lot, but I’m not too proud to admit that I cried for hours then.
I kept going back until Christmas, when I spent a half day in Georgia with my family, then returned for three last-ditch days of hunting Jackson. On the second evening, a fantastic buck we named Mr. Velvedeer, because he holds his velvet all year, walked under my stand. I wouldn’t even draw on him. “Girl, you are so stubborn,” Starks said. I answered, “Jackson is going to come in tomorrow.”
By 9 a.m. on Dec. 29, the final day I could hunt, we hadn’t seen a deer. I said a prayer: God, let me accept that this isn’t meant to happen — or please just let him come in. “Here he comes,” Starks said.
Then I finally saw Jackson approaching. He stopped, looked up, and stared right at me for 45 minutes! We have it on the clock. He didn’t move a muscle.
I froze. I felt like I couldn’t blink. It was excruciating. After an eternity, Jackson broke, moved closer, and started parading in a big circle, showing off — big body, big neck, tarsal glands dark as night. But I never had the right shot, and he turned and started moving off. Starks said, “I’m sorry, Mist.” Then, almost out of bow range, Jackson stopped, looked back toward me, and turned to give me a perfect quartering-away shot, at 37 yards. The arrow went through his heart.
I learned so much from Jackson. I learned how to hunt a big, mature buck — even hunt him hard — without pushing him out of his core area. We were so careful with scent; we hiked way out of our way to get in and out without getting caught. But mostly I learned about myself. In the 208 hours I spent in that stand, I found out that I can out-stubborn just about anyone. I realize now how much I’m willing to give up for what I want. That’s what it takes to kill a buck like this. I lost so much sleep, missed work opportunities, skipped holidays. I’m 10 times the hunter I was before Jackson, and I’m stronger than I ever knew. There have been moments since when I’ve questioned myself, and then I think of this hunt and say, “I can do it.” I thank Jackson for that.
One Too Many
Buck: “Klondike,” a 1806⁄8-inch typical
Hunter: Jared Lurk, pharmacist, Drury Outdoors team member
Date of Kill: Dec. 21, 2015
In 2011, I got pics of a great buck, and when he showed up again on camera in mid October 2012, he stopped me in my tracks. I named him Klondike, because getting him would be like striking gold.
Problem was, I was already obsessed with another huge buck I’d named Hightower. I’d been hunting him since 2006, and seen him only a dozen times or so in that time — and I probably sat 30 times for every encounter or two. I was out of my mind over Hightower. Honestly, I let my quest for him cut too much into my family time.
Finally in 2013, I killed Hightower during the late muzzleloader season. At 184 and change, it was the biggest buck of my life. But when Klondike showed up on camera in September of 2014, he was just about as big. I really wanted this deer, but I knew I couldn’t put myself or my family through another campaign like the one with Hightower. But I also realized that I didn’t have to.
Hightower was an over-the-top obsession, but what I learned from hunting him allowed me to chase this new quest much more efficiently. I went over my history with Hightower, and my trail-cam record of both bucks, and I noted the periods when the deer showed up in daylight. Then I concentrated my hunting on similar days, and my ratio of sightings to sits with Klondike went way up. In 2015, I had a new baby and couldn’t hunt him until the last part of the season. I killed him on my third sit, on the opening day of muzzleloader season.
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Klondike proved to me that just because you’re obsessed with a buck, it doesn’t mean you have to turn your life upside down to get him. In fact, most days you’re wasting your time trying to kill a huge, old buck. There are three periods when a deer like this is what I call “daylightable.” The first is a three- or four-day period right before peak breeding, or lockdown. The next is a little less than a month later, during the second rut. The biggest bucks will cover miles to find the few late-cycling does and fawns then. The last is in December, when those bucks just have to get out and feed. I focus on high-pressure days and a rising moon in the afternoon during those periods, and it’s made a huge difference. I used those tactics last year and killed a 6-year-old buck that was in the 160s.
One for Two
Buck: “The Freak,” a 208-inch net typical 7x7
Hunters: Dave and Lyla Nennig, retirees
Location: Southern Iowa
Date of Kill: Dec. 22, 2016
Dave: In mid October of 2013 we started getting pics of this incredible 3-year-old buck with almost freakishly tall tines, which led to the nickname “The Freak.” I’d always dreamed of having a 200-inch buck on our farm, and this deer had the right stuff.
In 2014, the Freak again showed up on our cameras in mid October, and he had blown up into a beautiful 6x5 in the 170s. Weeks later, he walked right under my tree stand. I’d never killed a buck that big with my bow, but I decided he needed another year.
Once again, in 2015, he didn’t show until mid October. But there was no doubt: The Freak had grown into the 200-incher I’d dreamed of chasing. My motto that year was The Freak or Failure. And after weeks of hard hunting, I got the latter. I had two encounters with him that fall, but no shot. I also noticed that the buck had a serious wound, and I felt sure he wouldn’t survive the winter.
Lyla: Mid-October came and went in 2016 with no sign of the Freak, so we assumed he was dead. But then in November — after Dave filled his bow tags on different bucks — the Freak showed up on camera. He was huge, but his rack was still in velvet, probably because of last year’s injury. With Dave tagged out, we had to pray the buck would make it to late muzzleloader season. I only hunt muzzleloader, and that year it was The Freak or Failure for me, too.
On the fourth day of the season, the wind was finally right for me to sit my favorite blind. I crawled in before daylight for an all-day hunt. Around 3:30 p.m. I was watching a bunch of does feed in the food plot when they all looked up and stared at the wood’s edge. I looked over and saw the Freak. I had a moment of I-can’t-do-this, before I opened the windows without spooking the deer feeding right in front of me, and got down on my knees to shoot. My heart was beating so fast. I remember thinking, 'I’m gonna stroke out here.' At 50 yards, the buck gave me a perfect broadside. At the shot, he ran a few yards back the way he came and then tipped over.
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Dave: The Freak proved that passing up a younger deer with amazing potential can truly pay off. We also paid close attention to his preferred areas, through trail-cam pics and observation, so when Lyla went into her blind that morning, we knew she’d be watching a plot that was in the Freak’s core area for that time of year.
Lyla: I love to hunt all day, but Dave wouldn’t let me do that until the wind and other conditions were perfect for my favorite spot. The Freak was on the food plot 90 minutes before dark, so it clearly paid off to wait. Our two granddaughters who are learning to hunt were so excited, and it’s pretty neat for them to think, Look at what grandma did!
Keep reading for the best buck-hunting lessons from Field & Stream here.