Jay Graham knew just about all he needed to know about the big buck he was chasing this deer season.
He was aware of where it was living, where it was feeding and the trails it was using to get from one point to the other. He’d been watching it for three deer seasons, as it progressed from a nice but immature buck to the bruiser it became.
“All I needed was for the right conditions, and then guess right on which trail,” said Graham, 44, who prepares graves for a living. “I reckon this cold front is just what I needed and on Wednesday, it all came together.”
The hunter was in the right stand on the right trail — thanks to a trail cam photo from a day earlier — at the right time. He put an arrow through the 174 2/8-inch (gross score) 13-point, a main-frame 10 that far exceeds all the bucks he’s claimed in over 30 years of hunting with a bow.
“I’ve killed some 130s and some 120s, you know, good bucks for a bow, but nothing that compares to this one,” Graham said. “This one is so much bigger than anything else I’ve shot.”
Hunting on private land in Kemper County, Graham had found an area of “hardwood slash,” surrounded by a pine plantation. Inside that pocket of hardwoods were a number of white oak trees dropping a lot of acorns.
“I had three lock-on stands in the area,” he said. “I could see the other two from where I was hunting that afternoon. I knew the deer were feeding on the white oaks, either one bunch or another and you can clearly see the trails they were using to get to the different oaks. It just required me guessing the right one on the right day.
“I hunted that Wednesday morning and didn’t see much, but I had to pass right by my trail cam on the way out so I stopped and checked it and saw that the big buck had been eating acorns in this area at 5:30 the day before (Tuesday). That afternoon, I went back to that stand and hoped he’d come to the same area again.”
But, the deer had many options once it left the pine plantation and hit the hardwoods.
“We’ve got like three or four groups of white oaks and they are all producing like crazy this year,” Graham said. “I got those lock-ons on different spots where the acorns are thick. Seeing he had been there the day before, well I just decided that was my best shot.”
Graham was in the stand at 3 p.m., a little later than he would have liked but it still left plenty of time for the woods to settle. The wind was right and the hunter sat down for the wait.
He got a big break a little before 5 p.m., when a doe walked down the selected trail and started feeding on the acorns around Graham’s stand.
“I really think that made the difference,” he said. “She came in and started eating and was still there when the bucks showed up. I heard something, and looked around and I saw three bucks coming down the trail. They are still in bachelor groups, and I saw what I think is a small 8, a small 7 and a spike and then behind them I saw a much bigger-bodied buck. When I saw him I stood up and got the seat out of the way. I grabbed my bow.”
The bucks were about 75 yards away and showed no fear whatsoever in walking right into Graham’s death trap.
“It was that doe, I swear I think she showed them it was all clear and they came on down,” he said. “She left but they were committed and they came straight to me.”
The three smaller bucks arrived first and started eating. By then, Graham was standing, watching the bigger buck and waiting for a shot from his position 30 feet in the air.
“This all happened in about a minute, maybe two at the most,” he said. “He came right down that trail. He chased at one of the smaller bucks for a second to move him but never left the trail. At about 20 yards, he stopped broadside and put his head down and started eating acorns. He was behind a tree and a bush and I needed him to take three more steps.
“He did exactly that, and I didn’t have to wait long. He moved right out, stopped at 20 yards broadside and I hit the release.”
All that was left was for him to call his son, who was hunting nearby, to come help trail and load the buck.
“I called my son at exactly 5:08 p.m., so I guess I shot him at 5:07 p.m.,” Graham said. “I said, ‘I shot him!’ I’m gonna need some help.”
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