For two years, Michael Keene believed he had blown two opportunities he had on the same day to take a buck of a lifetime in Yalobusha County, including any chance he’d ever have of seeing the antlers hang on his wall.
On Jan. 15, Keene found out how wrong he had been and the two-year wait had turned a really good buck into a really great one. The hunter shot the deer known as Mexico, now a 15-point non-typical that grosses out at over 185 inches.
“I can’t believe how blessed I’ve been with this buck,” said Keene of Laurel. “To have missed two chances in one day and then thinking he was gone forever only to walk back into gun range two years later... the only thing I can say is I am blessed.”
Keene’s story is a long one, with a lot of twists and turns, that takes place on 40 acres of land near Oakland owned by childhood friend Marc McElveen of Olive Branch.
“It begins four years ago when I was up there hunting with Marc,” Keene said. “We were going to the stand one day and Marc told me about this deer he had seen that he had named Mexico. He told me it was a nice young buck with a lot of potential, that had white horns that were kind of webbed. He said he thought it was about 115 inches and that he didn’t want to shoot it.
“You have to understand that it is only 40 acres and he had never seen anything over 120 inches either live or on cam, and he thought this one had potential to become a monster.”
On that trip, after a morning hunt in different stands, the longtime friends were walking together returning to the truck.
“We looked up and here comes this doe running toward us down this lane and there was a rack buck chasing her,” Keene said. “We both threw our guns up and before we could shoot, Marc said ‘No. No. Don’t shoot. It’s him. It’s Mexico.’ We both lowered our guns and man for 10 or 15 minutes he put on a show chasing that doe this way and that way.”
The next year, McElveen never saw Mexico, either while hunting or reviewing trail cam photos. On Keene’s visits, he didn’t see Mexico either.
“We were both like, ‘Where did Mexico go?’” Keene said.
Then in the 2011-12 season, Mexico returned and walked into and out of Keene’s rifle scope.
“I was back up there hunting and at 1 p.m., I’m getting in my stand and I look up and see Mexico already in the field,” Keene said. “I looked at him and guessed he was about 14 inches wide and looked to have 14 points for sure, and maybe 16, and I figured he was a 140-class buck.
“I tried to call Marc to tell him about it, but he didn’t answer and Mexico finally walked out of the field. I let him walk and I started feeling bad about passing on the best buck I’d ever seen. Marc finally called me back about an hour and a half later and he gave me the green light to shoot it. He told me to stay in the stand that he might come back. Then I really got sick and I had to move so I climbed out and went to the store to get both of us a hamburger.”
Keene ate his on the way back to the camp and, after calling his friend, McElveen told him just to drop the bag with his burger next to a tree and he’d walk and get it.
“He told me to go back and get in that stand, that Mexico would probably come back in that field,” Keene said. “Sure enough, at 4:30, out walks Mexico and he stopped broadside at about 250 to 275 yards and I took the shot. I shoot a .300 Weatherby Mag with a 190 grain bullet and I feel good about taking 300 yards shot.
“When I shot, Mexico jumped straight up, and then ran out of the field. I decided to wait and give him some time. A few does came in the field and walked right to where Mexico had been standing and started sniffing around. I figured they were smelling his blood so I decided I’d stay until dark.”
It started sprinkling just as Keene said he left the stand and went to look for blood. There wasn’t any to be found.
“I couldn’t find a single drop,” he said, “and I started getting sick to my stomach. Marc and I looked for that buck for hours and the next day and never found him. I figured, I guess I hoped, that I had shot under him. I’d rather that I had missed him than to have killed and lost him.”
Mexico never appeared again that season, nor the next (2012-13), not even on McElveen’s cameras, and Keene’s worst-case scenario seemed the likely outcome.
“I told Mark that I killed Mexico and we just didn’t find him,” he said. “I was just sick about that.”
Fast forward to the just-ended 2013-14 season, and to mid January with only a week to go in the gun season. Mexico was still nowhere to be found and the two guys were resigned to hunting other bucks.
“Then I was there on Jan. 15, and it all changed,” Keene said. “We were going to hunt that morning but we got a late start. We slept in a little and then drank a few extra cups of coffee. It was a pretty cool morning and it was breaking daylight when we drove the 20 minutes from Marc’s camphouse in Oakland, across I-55 to the hunting ground we call The 40.
“As we were driving in we saw does moving, seven in all. First there were three in a group and then two sets of two does, and Marc started saying we were too late. I told him we’d be OK if we just slipped in, got in our stands and hunted.”
They parked and prepared to go their separate ways.
“Marc started spraying scent mask and offered it to me, but I was more concerned with time and passed,” Keene said. “I walked over to a mudhole and washed my boots off and grabbed some pine limbs, squeezed them and wiped the sap on my clothes as I walked in. I wanted to make quick time, plus I knew the wind was perfect for my stand anyway.”
Keene immediately ran into trouble, in the form of a doe eating its way up the lane Keene was walking. Being such a small area, 40 acres in all, busting a deer is risky.
“I had to stop, kneel and wait for her to pass,” he said. “It took her about 15 minutes but she finally moved out of the lane and went on. I had three buck tarsal glands free in my pocket, including one from a buck another friend had killed just the day before, and I think they had something to do with what happened next.
“After I walked about 100 yards past where that first doe had been standing, I turned and looked back and there were four does standing at that same spot. Three of them had their noses to the ground and they were starting to move toward me. Then the fourth one put its nose to the ground and then all four of them were starting to trot toward me.”
Keene knew he had to do something and do it quickly, so he spun around, got on his tiptoes and kind of scooted up the lane and then jumped off into some thicker timber.
“I guess I went in there about 15 yards and stopped and looked back. Those four were still coming up the lane and then I saw two more does further down the lane in the direction I was going,” Keene said. “I was trapped. I couldn’t go either way, so I just dropped down next to a pine tree and decided to sit them out.
“I put my gun down beside me and when I did, I snapped a little twig behind me. The two does down the lane immediately looked up in my direction. They may have been reacting to the twig or they may have spotted the four does; I’m not sure which it was. I froze and was worried but after a couple of minutes the two does put their heads back down and started feeding their way along.”
Keene said he felt pretty good about getting past that twig snap, but didn’t have long to think about his next move. Mexico made any planning the hunter did moot.
“Mexico just appeared out of nowhere, heading toward those two does,” Keene said. “They took a few steps, maybe 10, away from him and he made about four little leaps toward them and stopped.”
By then, the shocked Keene had the .300 up and was looking for the buck in his Leupold 3X9X40 scope.
“I had it turned down to either 3 or 4 and when I found him it looked like he was 400 yards away, not the 150 he was,” Keene said. “Everything looked cool, so I lowered the gun and turned the scope up to 12 power. Then I raised it and found Mexico. He was facing toward me and all I could get the crosshairs on was his chest and neck. That was a pretty big target so I felt good and took the shot.”
The bullet tore through Mexico’s neck, breaking the spine and exiting out the back.
“It actually ran along the top of his back, burning the hair for about 6 inches without drawing blood,” Keene said.
The bullet had done its job, and Mexico was killed instantly and fell in heap where he stood. Keene said he thanked the Lord, and then waited a few minutes before pacing off the distance to his prize buck.
“It was 169 paces, or 169 yards,” he said. “When I saw him, I couldn’t believe how good a buck he was. He was magnificent.”
Keene called McElveen and shared the news. His friend was on the phone, whispering because he was surrounded by deer, and told Keene to text him a picture.
Before long, the two were retrieving the buck, and then measuring its huge antlers.
“Marc has scored a lot of deer and he measured him at 185 total inches gross, a mainframe 10 with five atypical points,” Keene said. “I’ve had several gross scores made and they have all been around 185 but Marc thinks when scored by an official B&C guy it will likely end up around 190 gross. The taxidermist aged him at 7½ years old.
“He has a huge point dropping off his left side that is considered a drop tine, even though it loops back up and is forked. He has another drop tine, shorter, on the right end and both G2s are forked. He was 17 inches wide and has great mass, but I can’t remember those. Every time I start talking about him I get so excited.”
You can’t blame him for that.
“There’s a few other twists to the story, too,” Keene said. “Last year my son and I were hunting up there together and we had an 11-point walk up near us, and it was limping real bad on I guess a broken leg. It was healed over, whatever it was.
“It looked young and I decided to let him go, but we started wondering if that was Mexico. I asked Marc if maybe he was limping because I had wounded him, and if he could have lost a lot of antler size on his way down. He didn’t think so.”
Soon after Keene killed the trophy, one of McElveen’s neighbor sent him trail cam photos of the big buck, taken in 2012-13.
“Mexico was on his property the year after I missed him and he got photos of him, we just didn’t know about it,” Keene said. “The same neighbor had seen him again in bow season in either October or November this season and had crawled to within 40 yards of the buck with bow in hand, but it had gotten too late and too dark, he said, to risk a shot.”
Another twist came at home on New Year’s Eve.
“My daughter was at work and looking at a lunar chart and sent me a text telling me that I should hunt on Jan. 15 and 16, that those were the two peak days in January,” Keene said. “I still have her text in my phone. I took a picture of Mexico and text it to her along with a message that told her that she had been right all along.
“Then she called me and we started crying together, celebrating the buck. Seriously, how blessed can a guy be?”
* Read other stories about big bucks killed this season by clicking here.