With a big ol’ doe in the food plot already in his crosshairs, Tanner Hornback, 8, had been given the OK to pull the trigger by his mom, who was sitting beside him in the ground blind.
“I told him he could shoot, and was waiting for him to shoot, and he said, ‘Mom, wait, I see a buck,’” said Paula Hornback, of Lafayette, La. “I looked up and there was this huge buck walking right out behind the doe.
“He could see it behind the doe in the scope before I could see it.”
This wasn’t just any buck either; it was a monster — a 10-point that was both high and wide, one that would score 160 inches and be the younster’s first buck.
Even though it was as big as she’d ever seen at Belle Island Hunting Camp on the Mississippi River near Vicksburg, Paula Hornback knew she needed a moment to check him out.
“Our club has some pretty strict rules when it comes to shooter bucks,” Hornback said. “We only try to take bucks over 4 years old. We preach body size and shape over antlers, because like my husband Jason has told me many times, ‘antlers always look bigger, but the body doesn’t lie.’ I had to be sure.”
She suggested they wait and shoot a little video of the buck, since it and the other deer in the field seemed totally comfortable with no idea of the dire situation they faced.
“They had no idea we were there, so I shot some video of it for like five minutes or so,” she said. “Tanner was excited. Heck, I was excited. Tanner was nervous and shaking, and I talked him through it.”
That included talking him through the delay.
“I told him to take a few deep breaths,” she said. “Then I told him that as soon as the buck turned broadside, take a good breath and shoot. He was patient and he waited until he got a good shot and he made it.”
At 85 yards with a .243 rifle, Tanner Hornback knocked the 247-pound behemoth to the ground.
“The buck never took another step,” his mom said. “Then Tanner squealed in a very high pitch ‘I dropped him. I got him. He’s down. My first buck. I dropped him. He’s down.’ We were both so excited.”
But still, Paula Hornback was a little bit uneasy about the buck, hoping it filled the club’s criteria.
“You know how you always hear about ground shrinkage,” she said, referring to finding out a buck wasn’t as big as anticipated, “well this one ... I guess you’d say he had ground biggage. If anything, it grew.”
Back at camp, during the celebration, they viewed the video and Jason Hornback was aghast.
“I remember him saying to me, ‘you waited five minutes before you let him shoot. Are you nuts?’” Paula Hornback said.
The club members were stunned, but crowned little Tanner Hornback as the new king of Belle Island. It was, after all, the new camp record.
“For days and weeks, they kept coming by and giving him high 5s and telling him how great that buck was, and he just smiled through it all,” Paula Hornback said. “He was very excited. It was all a lot of fun.”
All Hail Tanner Hornback, king of Belle Island ... that’s pretty big stuff for an 8-year-old.
“It was funny, but guys kept telling him that he had killed the buck of a lifetime, and he’s an 8-year-old boy, but I think they were just trying to make sure he realized what he had accomplished,” Paula Hornback said. “One of the other hunters, Matt Dowd told Tanner he’d probably go through life and never have another opportunity for a buck like that.
“These were the same guys who told us before we hunted that day that we’d never kill a big buck in a food plot. They’d say, ‘you want to kill a big buck, you have to hunt the woods.’ Well, they were wrong on both counts.”
Turns out little Tanner Hornback and his mom Paula, would indeed see another giant buck, the very one that Dowd would kill that would beat the youngster’s club record by about five inches.
“Just a few weeks ago (over a month after Tanner killed his buck), he and I saw another big buck, a 12-point in a field,” Paula Hornback said. “We couldn’t shoot it because our club only allows each member’s family one 10-point or bigger (mature) buck. We could have shot that buck if it wasn’t for that.
“A week or two later, Matt killed that deer and beat Tanner’s club record, but it doesn’t matter. We’ll always have that day and that buck. We’re having a full body mount done in a laying position to put in our cabin at camp.”
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Read other stories about big bucks killed this season by clicking here.