Last Thursday (Nov. 13), on the morning he’d kill the heaviest buck of his life, Kiel Higginbotham really didn’t have plans to hunt.
He didn’t have time, since his son was due at the doctor for his sixth-month checkup at 9 a.m. and he and his partner, Brandon Dewease, were hunting the first day of Higginbotham’s draw-permit hunt on the Madison County side of the Barnett Reservoir spillway.
Yet, Higginbotham managed to kill a 255-pound, thick-horned 125-inch 8-point, get it out of the woods and still get his son to his necessary check-up. All of that was accomplished without ever climbing a tree.
“We wanted to check out this one place, a hardwood bottom with sloughs,” Higginbotham, who, like Dewease, is a district director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “The idea was to find a place for me and send Brandon a little deeper so that when I had to leave to have my kid at his check-up, I would not disturb Brandon. I live in Rankin County less than 10 minutes from where we were hunting so I knew I could go, take my son, and be back.
“Since we were unfamiliar with the place we decided to wait until daylight to ease in so that we could pick the best trees to climb.”
So a little before 7 a.m., with the sun above the horizon, the two guys walked into the woods and right to an unsuspecting buck that was taking a morning stroll through the bottom.
“We definitely weren’t intending on hunting on foot, just simply easing through the woods to quietly find a place on the edge of one of the sloughs to climb,” Higginbotham said. “I looked up and saw this buck and I told Brandon, ‘Stop, buck!’”
“We froze, right there,” said Dewease, of Collinsville. “I was about five yards behind him and I stopped and sort of half crouched and was looking right over his shoulder.”
So, now. let’s review their predicament. They are fully loaded down with climbing stands and backpacks strapped to their bodies, their hands full of bows and other equipment. A buck, a fat one at that, was about 60 yards away and walking toward an otherwise perfect shooting situation.
“I was carrying my bow in my right hand by the string walking through the woods, with my release Velcroed around the string,” Higginbotham said. “I looked up, saw him and stopped, and when it walked behind a tree, I crouched down.
“Then after that, every time the buck went behind a tree, I did something. I eased the stand off my back and dropped my pack. I grabbed the bow and that’s when I knew I had a problem. That Velcro had to come off, and you know it doesn’t come apart quietly.”
Dewease, from his half-crouch frozen stance, was watching it unfold.
“I wanted to laugh because I was watching him with that Velcro and every time he pulled a little bit of it loose, you could hear it plain as day ‘kreeeeech,’” he said. “You could hear it clear as day and in that bottom you know the sound was carrying.”
Fortunately, on the 40- to 50-yard walk the buck had to make, there were plenty of trees it had to pass behind.
“When I first saw him, his body was so big it made his antlers look so small,” Higginbotham said. “I wasn’t sure he met the minimums (Pearl River Valley Water Supply District draw hunts define a legal buck as having either an 18-inch main beam or a 15-inch inside spread). When he got closer, I realized he had that beat, easily.”
The hunter still had a problem. He was crouched on a small ridge overlooking the bottom and the buck, in the open, and would have to stand and draw his bow without being detected. And, he had to do it without attaching the release to his wrist.
As the buck neared the opening Higginbotham had already envisioned as his shooting lane, the hunter realized he was out of options. There was one last tree and it was time.
“I made the decision after clipping my release to the bow that when he passed the last and biggest tree, I would attempt to position myself to shoot,” he said. “So when he did, I stood, twisted, pulled back and when he stepped into that lane, I stopped him (vocally) and let it fly. He moved just enough for the arrow to enter the middle of his front right shoulder.”
The feat was accomplished, and the two men sat down still struggling to believe what had just happened.
“Until that point, I don’t think that buck ever suspected a thing,” Dewease said. “Amazing.”
“The wind wasn’t even right,” Higginbotham said. “It was blowing from us right at him, and he still didn’t notice.”
Craig Hunt, the PRVWSD’s Parks and Recreation Director, who oversees the draw hunts, was amazed as he heard the story.
“You could never get away with that where I hunt,” he said. “I guess that’s the benefit of hunting deer that haven’t ever known hunting pressure or had much interaction with humans.”
“I couldn’t get away with it anywhere else I hunt; I still can’t believe it got away with it today,” he said.
Although Higginbotham questioned the shot, Dewease had a perfect view and assured him the arrow hit the kill zone. He was right and the blood trail was easy to follow despite there being no exit wound. They found him piled up 100 yards away.
“As difficult as that sounds to pull off, the hard part was yet to come,” Higginbotham said. “I couldn’t believe the body on this beast. He was as fat as I have ever seen a deer. And, we were in an area that even though we are allowed to use a 4-wheeler to get them out, there was no way to get one in there. It was that tough. We had to drag the deer 250 to 300 yards to reach a point where we could get to it with the truck.”
The buck’s antlers were thick, 5 inches at each base and carried that mass throughout the mainframe 8-point, including getting one measurement just over 7 inches from palmation on the right side. The main beams were 20 and 18 inches in length and the inside spread was 17 ½ inches.
What hurts the deer in scoring is the lack of a decent G3 on the left side. It’s only about 2 inches, where the right one is about 7.
“Doesn’t matter,” Higginbotham said. “He’s going on the wall. This one I won’t forget.”
In addition to the obstacles the hunters had to overcome, Higginbotham has another reason to cherish this buck. Last year, in the first year of draw hunts at Barnett Reservoir, he had the opportunity to share an experience with Bill Buckner, the former state director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Bucker, 69, died in May after a long battle with leukemia.
“Mr. Buckner got drawn last year and I helped him scout for his hunt, and I know how much he’d have enjoyed this,” Higginbotham said. “He’d have loved it.”
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