"I kind of had a suspicion based on the signs in the woods that the deer were about to get into the pre-rut," Champagne said. "When you see those does moving around, that's about as good a chance as you're going to get to get on a buck."
So he climbed into the box stand about 3:30 p.m. and settled in to see what would happen. It was fortunate he did, as he nailed a 17-point that has been rough scored at 220 inches Boone & Crockett just before shooting hours closed.
If it holds that score, it rank in the 10 non-typical bucks killed in the state with a rifle, according to the latest Magnolia Records. It blows away the current No. 1 deer from Jefferson County, which grossed 189 4/8 inches and was killed in 1998 with a muzzleloader.
Champagne said the first 1 1/2 hours of the hunt were uneventful, with not a deer crossing the fallow food plot.
And then just after 5 p.m. a doe popped out of the woods between two briar thickets and moved through the tall grass.
"She didn't stop or anything; she just kept moving into the woods," the Louisiana hunter said.
He didn't see much of the deer because just the back of the deer was visible until it quickly crossed the 20-yard-wide shooting lane Champagne was overlooking.
The sighting piqued the Champagne's interest, so he was ready when another deer stepped out of the thickets about 10 minutes later.
"All you can see is their backs, so you don't really see anything until they hit the shooting lane," Champagne said.
However, it was clear he wasn't looking at a doe.
"I saw the silhouette; when he came out his head was down," Champagne said. "But I had never seen a doe that big."
He eased his rifle into position, and worked the scope trying to confirm the deer carried antlers.
As the deer approached a clump of trees edging the shooting lane, Champagne finally caught a glimpse of white and knew he was about to take a shot.
"He never turned so I could tell how wide he was," Champagne said. "I just knew he was a good-bodied buck and if he stepped out (into the shooting lane) I was going to take a shot."
After what seemed like an eternity, but probably was only about 30 seconds, the deer eased into the opening. But it never let up.
"He came out in the same foot trail as the doe," Champagne said. "I don't know if he was chasing, but I know he was thinking about it."
After another very quick glimpse of antlers, the hunter concentrated on finding the deer's shoulder and squeezing off the roughly 70-yard shot.
The buck bolted into the woods, and Champagne hurried to see if he had connected.
"When I'm gun hunting, I can't wait," he laughed. "I go down immediately to find blood."
The hunter generally thinks of himself as a fair shot, but it didn't take long for doubts to creep in.
"At that point, I thought I made a pretty good shot – until I walked out there and couldn't find any blood or hair," Champagne said.
He decided to let the deer lay up that night, which was turning frigid, and pick up the trail the next morning.
He called some friends who were coming in from Louisiana to hunt a nearby club in which Champagne used to be members. They spent a couple hours on Friday scouring the woods where the buck was last seen, and never found any indication that Champagne's shot had connected.
"Everybody wanted to hunt mid day," he said. "It was the full moon, so they wanted to be in the woods."
And his buds were harassing him pretty hard.
"Now the guys are putting pressure on me pretty bad about missing," Champagne said.
While his friends hit the woods for the mid-day hunt, the dejected hunter went back to his camp to do some work and worry.
"I kept trying to go through the whole process in my head about what happened," Champagne said. "I'm trying to figure out if maybe I miscalculated the range on the deer."
However, he was certain that he was within 10 yards of an accurate estimation because the buck was standing near a small pine tree in the middle of the shooting lane.
That afternoon, he began calling his friends again.
"I begged them to come back and give it another try," Champagne said.
Soon buddies Zach House and Candy Hebert were trudging through the woods with him, with the two men hitting some rugged ravines and Hebert working her way in a circle back toward the box stand.
Champagne was deep into a ravine when he heard Hebert yell.
"All of a sudden I heard Candy holler, 'I got him!'" Champagne said.
As he tried to head straight toward Hebert, crossing the steep ridges, House began calling to locate Hebert.
"When Zach got to (the deer), he hollered, 'It's a nice 8-point,'" Champagne said. "A 130-class deer is what he said."
The hunter was excited and picked up the pace, and when he broke out on to the lane his friends had already dragged the deer into the open so it could be picked up by truck.
"I came up on that lane about 30 yards from where they were, and when I came out of the trees and saw the size of this deer I almost passed out," Champagne said. "I didn't know if I wanted to throw up or pass out, but something was fixing to happen."
The buck – which had circled and collapsed 30 yards behind the box stand from which Champagne fired the lethal shot – was wearing an enormous set of antlers.
"I had to look away," Champagne said. "I could not believe it."
The deer was a mainframe 10-point that stretched around 21 inches of air. In total, the rack carried 17 scoreable points, with another couple of stickers.
Champagne has put a good shot on the deer, hitting it behind the left shoulder. However, the buck was quartering harder than the hunter thought, so the shot had come out the right side of the gut – which effectively plugged the hole and prevented a clear blood trail.
They initially estimated the score of the roughly 250-pount deer at 240 inches Boone & Crockett, but a taxidermist later moderated the score to about 220 inches.
"He's just really massive," Champagne said. "That's pretty much where his score comes from because he carries his mass all the way out (to the ends of the main beams)."
See another photo of the rack on the Deer Hunting Forum.
As it turns out, the deer was the same one that had been captured on four trail-cam photos. Unfortunately, the photos were accidentally deleted.
And when word seeped out about the kill, neighboring hunters showed up and said they had found a shed to the right side of a huge set of antlers after last season that scored 70 inches.
And to top it off, Champagne's 14-year-old son Hunter killed a 140-inch 10-point the next day.
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