Ask John Mark Skinner the key to his killing a pretty 18-point buck and he doesn’t shy away answering.

“Luck,” he said. “I was very lucky.”

Skinner killed the deer Dec. 21 in Union County, ending a two-year quest for the heavy-headed buck. The hunter did everything needed, strategically, to put himself in the right position at the right time.

But still...

“If he hadn’t turned like he did and stopped where he did that morning, I’d have never gotten the shot,” said Skinner, 27, a native of New Albany in Union County now living in Jackson. “I was hunting from my climbing stand overlooking a hollow in a creek bottom. He came in running and...”

OK, let’s slow down and back up.

“I’ve been hunting this land for 15 years, so I know it pretty good,” Skinner said. “I started getting pictures of this buck last season as a 14-point, and I got more of him this year as an 18-point. He added a good bit from last year.

“I had trail cams on some rub and scrape lines he was working on different areas of the property, including one in that hollow. It’s a creek bottom with a big thicket across the creek and it’s where the hardwoods and pines meet. I put my climber on a tree overlooking the hollow and it gave me a good view of everything. If he passed through, I was either going to hear him or see him and if I saw him, as thick as it is around that hollow, it was going to be within 80 yards.”

Skinner got to his stand that Sunday well before dawn and was 20 feet up and ready by 6 a.m. His wait was long, so darned long.

“I didn’t see anything for a while; so long that I really don’t know when it was that he came in,” he said. “He was the first deer I saw and I heard him coming before I saw him because he was on a good sprint and it sounded like he was crashing through the brush.

“I could tell it was a deer and not a squirrel or anything like that, so I was able to get my gun up and was ready for whatever it was. Then I spotted movement through the hardwoods.”

It was a big buck, Skinner could tell, and likely a shooter. He did not know it was the trophy that he was after.

“As it passed through the hardwoods, I could see antlers and I knew pretty much right away it was a shooter,” he said. “There were two more smaller bucks running with him, but further back behind him. I kept my scope on the big buck, but he kept on sprinting and was not slowing down at all. This wasn’t a trot; it was running fast.

“He was running from my left to my right, which meant I wound up in an awkward shooting position to my right. I knew he would have to stop, so I tried yelling at him. I kept the gun up and on him as best I could and was yelling at him. He didn’t stop.”

No, the buck did something better, and this is where luck starts coming into play.

“When I yelled, he came back around,” Skinner said. “I don’t know why. Maybe it was coming back to fight. Maybe he was turning to come back at the two smaller bucks running with him. Who knows why he turned and came right back to me, but I was sure lucky he did.”

The buck that was 80 yards away and running full speed was suddenly 70 yards away, 60, 50 and he started slowing.

“He was in a trot now at 40 yards and then he just stopped,” Skinner said. “I’m serious, he just stopped and where he stopped was perfect. He was broadside in a perfect shooting lane. I pulled the trigger he went down right there.”

One of the other bucks took off, but the other came over to the fallen buck and took a closer look before he, too, jumped and ran off into the safety of the thickets.

“I could see the buck down and I could see he was still kicking so I put another shot into him,” Skinner said. “That ended it. I didn’t want to take any chances.”

The first shot took out the lungs, so it was a kill shot. The second shot, to finish it, went through the chest cavity and exited the back of its neck.

Still unsure it was the buck he was desperately seeking, Skinner came down the tree and went to the buck. There he realized he had gotten his trophy buck, not only the biggest he’s ever shot but also the biggest he’d ever seen.

“I pulled him over to a tree and got its head up on the base so I could take some pictures with my phone,” Skinner said. “I sent it immediately to my Dad, my brother-in-law and some friends and some co-workers. I sent it to everybody I could think of.”

Skinner discovered it was the 18-point, a mainframe 10-point with stickers off each G2, an extra “odd” point between each G2 and G3 and two split brow tines.

“It’s a pretty rack, very symmetrical,” he said. “The taxidermist green scored him at 172 2/8 inches, gross.”

Jimmy McGuire of McGuire’s Taxidermy in Clinton said that was a very rough score.

“I did it pretty quick and it’s nothing that should be taken as exact, but it is a nice buck,” McGuire said.

At 15 inches, McGuire said the buck lacked a wide inside spread but made up for it in symmetrical, hard boney material.

“It’s got 27 inches of abnormal points, including one that is 7 inches and another that is 6 inches,” the taxidermist said. “The right main beam is 22 6/8 inches and the right side is 23 even.

“It’s just a pretty, symmetrical rack for a non-typical type buck.”

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Read other stories about big bucks killed this season by clicking here.