Instead of getting the desired crackle and pop from his rifle, all Mike Nichols got was a snap when he squeezed the trigger.
“I had forgotten to chamber a round,” said Nichols, who on Dec. 16 had a massive Hinds County 8-point in the crosshairs of his .270 Tikka Winchester Short Mag. “That’s an awful, hollow feeling when you hit the trigger and get a snap.
“In that shooting house, it was awfully loud.”
Loud enough that the big buck, which had no idea of its perilous position prior to the snap, now sensed danger.
“He heard that snap; it was dead calm and it was real loud,” the Brandon hunter said. “I think he heard it. Maybe it was just that sixth sense that mature bucks have — you know, that something is wrong. He was suddenly looking at me and was zeroed in on me.”
Making matters worse, the hunter still had to make more noise to bolt the rifle and chamber a round.
“I thought it was over, and started worrying that I had forgot to put the clip in the gun and that I had left the clip in the truck,” Nichols said. “But I felt around and found it. The clip was there; I had just forgotten to shuck a round in the chamber. Had I not had the clip, you would be writing a story about the guy who hung himself from the shooting house.
“I never took my eye off the scope or the buck, and I bolted the gun as fast and as quietly as I could. I was watching him, and he never stomped the ground or anything. He was just zeroed in on me, and I saw him start to crouch like he was going to spring away.”
The buck wasn’t quick enough; Nichols took the shot.
Then came more agony.
“I saw water and dirt fly behind him,” he said. “I swore I missed. The buck bolted and took off running, and showed no sign of being wounded or being hit or anything. His tail was down, but he didn’t have that death run. I’d have bet $100 that I missed.
“I got out my phone and called my friend who I hunt with (and shares the private lease) and I told him I had messed up and missed the big 8. He told me to get down and look; I said I didn’t need to do because I saw the miss.”
Nichols went ahead and looked, but he had very little time. The shot was at 5:05 p.m., and he had to be at a church dinner 30 miles away at 6:30.
“I had taken my clothes with me, and they were in the truck so I could change and go straight to the dinner in Florence,” he said. “I went to look in the food plot, and it was so wet from the day-long rain that it was hard to tell anything. I found nothing.”
Nichols then walked to a stand of pines where the buck had run, and found no sign. Then he walked out into a gravel road that runs parallel to the gas line he was hunting, about 70 to 80 yards from the food plot.
“I didn't find anything, but I decided to walk over and look at the other side of the road and there he was,” he said. “I didn’t walk 10 yards, and there he was piled up. He was pretty easy to see, his head was sticking up because his antlers were so wide. I couldn’t miss it.
“His head was so far off the ground, it was amazing.”
That’s what happens when you kill a buck with antlers that measure 22 2/8 inches at the widest inside point and have main beams 24 4/8 inches. The bases were both 4 7/8 inches, and that mass went the length of the beams. Both G2s were 10 inches long.
“It green scores 140 inches on the dot,” Nichols said. “With an 8-point, there’s just not a lot to measure. We pulled the jaw bones and it was, best guess, 5 years old.”
The buck was small, pushing only 175 pounds.
“When we cleaned it, it didn’t have a lot of fat,” Nichols said. “And the taxidermist could pull skin on its head. He said it looked to him like it had a lot of loose skin, meaning it had been run down a good bit and was probably a good bit bigger. The younger bucks were running does, but the big ones weren’t.”
That afternoon, the big buck had his pick of does, but showed absolutely no inclination.
“I was in an elevated box stand about 12 feet off the ground on a gas line right of way,” Nichols said. “They use that right of way to cross, but we plant some food for them to get them to stop and put their heads down as they cross. We plant wheat, clover, rye and oats; I want them to have a salad bar.
“That’s what he did, to. He came to eat. There were three does about 80 yards south of me and two does about 150 yards to the north. I felt pretty good because I was seeing a lot of movement, and that was good since it was so warm (60 degrees) and wet. At about 5 o’clock, I saw the three does south of me get a little nervous and looking back where they had come from. Then he stepped out and immediately put his head down and started eating.”
Nichols said he quickly recognized the deer.
“We had a lot of trail cam photos of this buck, but they had all come at night and we had stopped getting them about Dec. 4,” he said. “Then he vanished. He disappeared, and we thought that he had either been shot on neighboring lands or he had just left and moved on.
“Then he stepped out. And it was funny, too, because when he first did, I thought he might be non-typical because he had this extra stuff on his left main beam. In the scope, though, I noticed it was just moss and grass and leaves entangled in the antlers. We had picture of him just like that from two weeks earlier. That’s kind of weird that he had been carrying that stuff around all that time.”
Nichols said he was able to drag the buck to the road and drive his truck right up to him.
“I got him loaded easily enough and made it to the church dinner on time,” he said. “I have taken three trophy bucks in three years from that same stand, all within three or four calendar days, including a 163-inch 11-point and a 130-inch 9-point.”
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