Every hunter knows the feeling of excitement in their gut when they make a special trip to slip into their hunting land to check their trail cameras for the first time after the antlers have begun to grow in the early summer months. There’s a feeling of anxiety and immense anticipation of what big boy made it through the offseason and what new young prospects are on the up and coming! Deer hunters around my neck of the woods call that “taking inventory.” What bucks made it through? Man, that gets me fired up just thinking about it! On a side note, one of the best investments I’ve made in recent years is a Wildgame Innovations card reader so that I can check the cards at the truck, saving me the anticipation of driving home and sticking the SD in the laptop.
In a perfect world, all of our bucks that survived our hitlist from the previous year will be back in the same spot, perfectly healthy, and showing some serious antler growth in the new year. Unfortunately, if it was that easy, they’d call it killing and not hunting (one of my favorite phrases after a long and unlucky day in the woods). Realistically, some deer seem to completely vanish and never show back up due to relocation, being killed the previous season, predators, sickness, cars, and many more factors. However, others are easily identifiable based on their antler makeup and patterns or specific body characteristics.
Back in 2019 we had one of these highly anticipated camera checks at a local hunting farm that my family had hunted for many, many years. Some really big deer had been known to call this property home and we even were lucky enough to harvest a few mature bucks out of those woods. However, it wasn’t a “definite shooter” or a returning “hit-lister” from the previous year that showed up on that SD card during the early summer, it was a half rack 4 point. After closely looking at the pictures that our trail cams had taken of the buck, he was a basket rack 8 point missing his right antler. So, what would you do in this situation? Do you let the buck grow for another year and see if the antler comes back? Or do you put this buck high on your list in order to control the strong genetics that were currently and always had been within this particular deer herd?
I’ll tell you what we decided. We decided that we were going to put on the full court press to harvest the Half Rack buck and humanely remove him from our deer herd, but when we say we, we mean my cousin Reece. To give you the back story, Reece was 19 at the time and wasn’t super involved in deer hunting each fall like Zack and I were. Reece has always been the guy that shows up to deer camp on the first weekend and then is very spotty the rest of the way. Since we're all Kentucky Basketball fans, I refer to him as a “one (weekend) and done.” To keep our buck tags intact and focus on chasing the other mature bucks this hunting farm had to offer, we turned to Reece to do the dirty work and hunt the heck out of the Half Rack. If I remember right, I think Zack even bought Reece’s license and deer tag as well.
At this point, we used everything we knew about this buck and our intel from scouting and trail cam pictures to put Reece in the best situation possible for an opportunity. After some hard thought on the best place to send Reece on opening morning, we decided to put him up a holler along a small creek bed that overlooks some really thick undergrowth. The buck and many other deer in the area use this undergrowth as thick bedding and transition from the holler out into the property owner’s cattle pastures in the late evening. Sure enough, the first morning of gun season in Kentucky, Reece got his opportunity…so we thought.
Now to hear him tell the story, Reece claims that the Half Rack buck came out and he couldn't get a shot. The funny part is that the trail camera took a picture of the buck standing broadside at 20 yards while eating corn from a feeder. My guess is that Reece wasn’t paying attention and had one of those “oh crap” (not paying attention) moments that I mentioned in my story from 2016. Either way, day one was unsuccessful, but gave us something to laugh about for the next week.
Fast forward to weekend #2 of the Kentucky gun season that typically lasts for 3 weekends, and Reece is right back in the same tree stand. After a week or so of us making fun of him for not getting a shot at a broadside buck 20 yards away with a 30-30 rifle (we’re still not sure how that happens), he was refocused and ready to take care of business. The day was November 16th, 2019 and not much time after daylight, bang! Down goes the Half Rack. Reece had come into the woods with a plan to take care of a specific buck and after only two sits, he came through!
Here are some things to take with you from this article:
Gain as much intel as you can about the animals you are trying to harvest. You have to study trail cam pictures and go by what the terrain tells you.
Even though pictures are great, I believe that you can’t beat the knowledge you gather from hard earned hours of boots on the ground scouting and working during the off season. Put in the hard work, and the results will come.
We developed a plan to kill one animal on a very large and vast area of hardwoods in Eastern Kentucky, and it was executed. This takes patience, a strong game plan, playing the wind/scent control, and putting together the small puzzle pieces that this deer gave us throughout the summer.
Some have said that there is a possibility that half rack deer could possibly grow back another antler at some point in their lifetime. After completing a Euro Mount of the Half Rack, it appeared that the buck had suffered some type of injury to the scalp near the base of its antlers.
I read an article shared by Whitetail Properties that actually said bucks who suffer from these injuries are at high risk of death due to sickness caused by infection of the scalp. If this is the case, Reece's job becomes more impressive. He might have saved an animal from months or years of suffering with a quick and efficient pull of a trigger.
Would it have ever grown back and turned into a huge buck? My guess is probably not, but it’s hard to ever know. What I do know, is that Reece was able to tag his first ever whitetail and we filled up the freezer. Now that’s what I call a win-win situation.
Since killing the Half Rack buck, Reece has become more of an outdoorsman than he’s ever been. We’ve been on several squirrel hunting trips in the past two years and he brings him and my uncle’s bloodhound “Moose” along to hunt for sheds. Reece even came out to our hunting camp during the second and third weekend of the 2021 rifle season and since his success he now refers to himself as “The Hired Gun” or “Hitman” for being able to execute his mission! Normally we just call him a stone-cold killer. This just goes to show that all it takes is a little bit of exposure to pass on our knowledge of the outdoors. These experiences and getting new people in the woods can help them develop into future outdoorsmen, who may lead other people the same way you led them.
By Josh Reed