As a hunting guide, Reece Hankins, 22, of Hazelhurst, knows that bucks, even the trophy monsters, lose their common sense during the rut and make big mistakes.
But rare is it outside the rut that a mature deer will do what the 180-inch buck did that put it in the crosshairs of Hankins’ 7mm-08 on the morning of Dec. 27 in Copiah County. It was a huge mistake that cost the buck its life.
“I shot him two feet from where he was standing the afternoon before when I missed him with the same gun,” Hankins said. “I can’t believe he came back. That was stupid, just dumb. I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it then because when I saw him and recognized him I just shot him.
“But since then, we’ve all talked about it and nobody can believe that buck came right back to where he was. It wasn’t during the rut, probably about a week before it really kicked in. I had seen some small bucks chasing does, but nothing serious. So, it was definitely not the rut. After I killed him, I checked its hocks and they were clean. What he did shouldn’t have happened, but I sure am glad he came back.”
Hankins is a guide at Hickory Hills Hunting Preserve, a 12,000-acre family farm in Copiah County that includes 2,000 acres inside a high fence. As an employee, Hankins can’t hunt inside the fence — “I can’t afford it,” he said, joking — so he was hunting in another area of the farm.
“It’s a hardwood bottom in which I have seen some signs,” he said. “I went there that afternoon after dropping hunters off. I knew it was a good place so I went down there.
“I was in a lock-on stand on the afternoon of the 26th and at about 4 o’clock I saw some horns in the distance moving through the trees. I looked and looked trying to see how big he was. I killed a 146-inch 8-point in 2007 and I haven’t shot at a buck since, waiting on a bigger one. Finally I saw enough to know he was a shooter. Then I quit looking at the antlers and was trying to stay calm and get a better look at him. I knew he was wide. I knew he had good tine length, but I couldn’t see his beams that well.”
To get a good look at those, Hankins needed the buck to turn to give him a head-on look. Turns out, that wasn’t such a good thing.
“He was about 100 yards away and he heard something moving in the leaves or something and got a little nervous,” Hankins said. “I moved over a little bit and he saw me and he was staring at me. I had the gun up and I saw his leg twitch and I knew he was about to bolt and run. I hurried the shot and I just straight up missed him. I put it on his shoulder, and he was quartering to me and I made the biggest mistake you can make, I yanked the trigger. I just pulled off him and missed.”
The buck didn’t wait around to give Hankins another chance. He ran back to where he had come from.
“I went down to look for blood and make sure, but I was pretty sure I missed him,” Hankins said. “I was some kind of upset about that. I didn’t find any blood.”
But making matters worse ...
“While I was looking for blood, I looked over and there he was, about 150 yards away, looking at me,” Hankins said. “Then he ran off and I didn’t get a good shot and I certainly wasn’t going to just sling lead in the air with that kind of buck.”
That night, back at the lodge, Hankins confided in his friend, and chief guide Sean Adams.
“He was the only one I told about that buck,” Hankins said. “We talked about what the odds were we’d ever see him in that area again and about whether he wanted to save the area for paid hunters. We didn’t think there was much chance anyone would get a shot there or even go down there after I had missed him so he wasn’t going to save it.
“That night, when I was thinking about it, I decided I’d go back and just take a chance the next morning. We didn’t have any hunters that day so I got up and went down there, just hoping.”
The move paid off, much to Hankins’ shock.
“I guess I got in the stand between 6:30 and 6:40 a.m., and it was dark down in that bottom,” he said. “I bet it was light enough for a food plot, but in that bottom it was dark. I actually ran deer off walking in. I couldn’t see anything but outlines and movement.
“After I got in the stand, I had three deer move through. I couldn’t see what they were and could only make out the movements. They finally walked off. Then a few minutes later, I looked up and saw a bigger body moving across the bottom about 100 yards. I could tell it was big so I put my scope up and I immediately recognized the rack. It was him, and he was on that same trail. I didn’t wait. He gave me a broadside shot and I dropped him right where he was standing, which was just two feet from where he was the day before. Can you believe that?”
Hankins still didn’t know the grand dimensions of the buck, not until he made the 100-yard walk to the buck.
“I knew he was good but, boy, he was huge,” he said. “I had to go knock on doors to get somebody up. Without any hunters, everybody slept in. I finally got Stick to come to the door; that’s one of the guides, Ronald Phillips, and he came down to where I killed him and he took pictures.”
The buck is a main-frame nine point, Hankins said, with two non-typical kicker points on its right side.
“Arguably, you could say one of the two extra points is typical, that it follows the main line, but I don’t think so and that’s not how he was scored,” Hankins said. “We’ve scored him three times, and it falls between 178 and 180 inches, but the score sheet I have is 179 5/8.”
The buck’s best features are its main beams, one 29 7/8 inches and the other 29 inches. The bases are 5 5/8 and 5 6/8 inches, and the mass carries all the way out to over 5 inches at the last measurement.
The rack was 20 1/8 inches at its widest inside point and its longest tine, the left G3, was 10 4/8 inches.
“He was 5½ years old and weighed 220 pounds,” Hankins said. “He was a big, mature buck.”
And, fortunately for Hankins, he was dumb.
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