Nearly a month after taking the biggest buck of his life, and one of the best this year during Mississippi’s archery season, Quinn McClurg of Vicksburg still can’t believe how it happened.
The hunter did take away one important lesson, as well as a 15-point, 172 6/8-inch Warren County trophy.
“Bucks like this, they can make you stupid; they can make you do some of the dumbest things,” said McClurg, who knows he nearly blew the opportunity that was a year in the making. “I still have a hard time believing how I messed this whole thing up and how lucky I was to get him.”
The story starts over a year ago, when McClurg started finding pictures of a big buck on his trail cams around his property in north Warren County.
“I had pictures of him and my neighbor had pictures of him, and then I got three shots at him during the season and I let him walk,” said McClurg. “I decided to pass on him. I could tell he was only a 3½-year-old buck, probably 135 or 140 inches and a 10-point. I saw potential.”
Later that winter, McClurg started seeing the buck under a street light at a nearby church and he was afraid of what could happen.
“There’s this little church just down the road, about a quarter of a mile through the woods from my house, and every night I’d pass by, he’d be standing there, and he was easy to see,” he said. “I’d honk, do what I had to to run him off. I was scared a road-hunter would shoot him. I still can’t believe he didn’t get poached.”
The buck survived the winter and McClurg’s prediction of the buck’s potential proved correct. When he started showing up in trail cams this summer, in velvet, he was a monster.
“I knew he’d grow, but, man, his antlers really blew up,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
The hunt was on, and McClurg started patterning the deer all summer. He followed the buck’s movements closely on trail cams, and by the opening of archery season he pretty much knew how the buck had to be hunted.
“I'd been watching him all summer,” he said. “I have a field by my house planted in vetch and thousands of pictures of him. I knew where he was coming from, a bedding area on property adjacent to mine, and what trails he was using and where he was entering the vetch.
“Opening day came and I had pictures of him and his younger pals for about 10 days in a row, from 1:45 to 2:30 p.m. I knew there was a real possibility that I would get to stick him if he didn’t smell me. My field is in a bottom and it is very hard to hunt. The east southeast wind was going to be very close to being bad for me, but my neighbor was also getting pics, and I was worried he would get him before me, so I had to hunt him if at all possible.”
The wind was iffy when McClurg reached his stand at 12:45 on opening day, and a little over an hour later, the hunter got winded.
“At 1:55 I hear that dreaded sound, a deer blowing and stampeding off,” he said. “I sat dejected. I had six or seven deer come to the field that evening, but Godzilla — I had named him Godzilla — didn’t show up. I never saw them, but I knew he was in the group that winded me.”
The buck didn’t show up on the next day either, a Wednesday, and he didn’t appear on the camera that night.
On Thursday, McClurg let the property rest and hunted at his deer camp. When he checked the camera Friday morning before work, he was relieved.
“He was on there at about 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon,” he said. “There was still hope. But on Friday, I hunted from 1 to 4 and saw nothing.”
But then came Saturday and McClurg changed his schedule.
“I went for the more traditional afternoon hunt, not going to the stand until about 3:45,” he said. “I had several bucks come and mingle in the vetch, and finally they all left the field at 6:30. I was thinking how this dang deer was gonna drive me crazy when a doe walks out about 20 yards from me, coming from the opposite side of the field that Godzilla always came from, according to the camera, and where I had heard the blowing on opening day.
“Then came another ... then another ... then a 4-point that I recognized as one of Godzilla’s buddies. My heart started pounding and I snatched my bow off the hanger and hook up. My heart was drumming in my ears, and I haven’t even seen him.”
The change in hours and the deer’s approach caught McClurg off guard and out of position. Instead of sitting across the field waiting for Godzilla to step out, he was sitting on the same woodline where the buck would enter.
“He stepped out, at 20 yards and it was obvious he smelled something,” he said. “He bristled up and started stomping his feet. I knew I had to take a shot pretty quick, but I didn’t have a clear shot. I had to lean out as far as my safety strap would allow and shoot around some limbs.
“OK, let me tell you this. I knew this buck was a stud, but until you see one that big up close at 20 yards, you can’t imagine what it’s like.”
Or, he said, how it can turn a good hunter into a stupid one.
McClurg took aim and pulled the release.
“I saw a limb in front of me shake immediately and I knew I had screwed up,” he said. “I shot low and the arrow buried up in the dirt beneath him, and then I got that throw-up feeling. The buck bounced off about three times and then stopped. On instinct, I had nocked another arrow, pulled, aimed and fired.
“He was in the shadows and it was getting late, but I knew I made contact from the sound, even though I couldn’t see the arrow impact. He shot in the woods like a rocket. I was a wreck. I had blown it by being impatient on a 20-yard chip shot, and I had no idea where he was hit with the second shot.”
McClurg then compounded his problem.
“I couldn’t wait. I was sick,” he said. “I went to look for my arrow and blood and nothing. Not a thing. I was getting sicker by the second. I walked about 50 yards, more than I should have, and was getting ready to back out, give him time and go get a (blood trailing) dog.
“Then I looked up the ridge, to my left, and this is a big ridge, you know one of those Warren County river ridges, about 30 feet. He was laying there above me watching me, about 18 yards away, mouth wide open and panting, and he was watching me. That’s another feeling you can’t explain. I grabbed an arrow, drew, and was trying to see my pin but it was too dark. I finally put his front half in the center of my globe that surrounds my pin and released. It sounded good, ‘thwhack.’ He blew out of that bed and ran over the ridge. I left. I was a wreck.”
A big Mississippi State football fan, McClurg went home and watched the second and third quarters of the MSU-LSU football game.
“Then my dad came to help me look,” he said. “We eased in there to where he went over the ridge and he was dead in the creek bed right on the other side. My last arrow had hit him right in the heart. It was a perfect shot. The first arrow completely missed. The second had hit too far back, a rib and gut shot. That last one, though, I 10-ringed him.”
The buck, small by local standards at 175 pounds, had a massive rack. He had 15 points, a 19-inch inside spread and 25-inch main beams. It grossed over 172 inches despite missing a 6-inch kicker off his right beam that had broken off.
“My best ever, by far,” said a relieved McClurg, a month later. “I still can’t believe how it all happened. It took luck, but Godzilla got a ride in my truck.”
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