On Jan. 2, after Cliff Covington had spent a disappointing morning in a deer stand on his property in Claiborne County, he returned to his golf cart and headed back to his house.
Soon, he came to the proverbial fork in the road. One route lead directly home while the other ….
Well, it lead him directly to a nearly perfectly symmetrical 10-point that would measure 150 inches, as well as a doe the big buck had been doting on during the final seconds of its life — both with one shot.
An it began with surprisingly unproductive hours in the stand overlooking what has been a very productive green field.
“It was an unusual morning to say the least for this year, cloudy, cold and overcast,” he said. “It was perfect deer hunting morning, but not a single deer presented itself in a field where 40 to 50 deer a morning is the norm. I waited until 10:15 before climbing down and making my way to the golf cart.”
Covington, president of the Mississippi Wildlife Federation and a wildlife extension associate for the Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center in Raymond, was surprised at his bad luck. The same field had given him a 12-point a few days after Thanksgiving back during the first gun season, and he had passed on two other good bucks in the field, saving them for his wife Angela.
“And she got one, too, getting a 5½-year-old bobbed-tail 8-point the afternoon before my hunt,” Covington said. “Since she had her good buck, I figured I’d go back after one of the other big bucks I had been passing on.
“When I left the stand, I had plenty of time so I decided to take a different route home than I normally take.”
His fortunes changed quickly as he rounded a curve in a pasture and approached the crest of a ridge in the wide open.
“I spotted two yearlings browsing on some vetch and clover, and stopped the golf cart before they noticed me,” Covington said. “I decided to watch them. After about 10 minutes, I noticed a doe was standing at the edge of the pasture. It would nibble on some vines and then stare intently into the hardwood timber that was just out of view over the crest of the ridge.
“A few minutes later, another doe jumped the barbed-wire fence and trotted down to the first doe.”
The morning was getting interesting rather quickly.
“The next thing I saw was the monster 10-pointer stepping out of the tree line with his head lowered,” Covington said. “He stepped quickly toward the pair of does.”
Even at nearly 300 yards, the hunter saw all he needed to realize what needed to be done. Covington reached for his gun case that was sitting on the seat beside him, unzipped it and began easing out the Remington Model 700 7mm Mag topped by a Leopold Vari-X III 4.5-14
“As soon as I saw the antlers, I knew he was definitely a shooter, so I reached for my gun case lying on the seat beside me, unzipped it and pulled out my (rifle), Covington said. “Everything else was instinct, from chambering rounds to dropping to one knee next to the golf cart. Using the side of the golf cart frame as a brace, I settled the crosshairs just behind the buck’s left shoulder just as he stopped to smell the doe. He was quartering slightly away from me at 275 yards when I squeezed the trigger.”
He wasn’t confident after the rifle barked.
“My first thought was, ‘Dang it, I pulled the shot,’ but as the scope settled back on the target following the recoil, white belly hair filled the scope lens,” Covington said.
The buck was down, but the hunter still had a nagging feeling that he had pulled the shot.
“I was questioning if it was possible that the white belly belonged to one of the does,” he said. “I quickly used my scope to follow the group of deer that had begun running up the fence line at the report of the rifle. Quick inspection revealed that all four were antlerless, although one was staggering and acting strange.
“I used my scope to go back to the spot where I had shot, and this time I could easily see the big rack extending above the buck’s body. Curious about the odd-acting doe and assuming the buck was dead since he wasn’t moving, I once again found the staggering doe in my crosshairs; she made two or three short circles, swayed one way then the other, then flopped over on her side, graveyard dead.”
Befuddled at this point, Covington wasn’t sure what to think.
“An awful thought entered my mind, ‘Did my bullet just graze the buck, maybe knocking him out, on its path to the doe?’” he said. “Fearing the worst, I settled my scope back on the site where the buck was laying. My worst fear instantly became reality. He was gone.
“Frantically, I used my scope to survey the area in hopes of getting a second chance at the monster.”
Covington said the entire populace of Port Gibson probably heard his sigh of relief when he spotted the buck.
“He was about 40 yards from where he had fallen the first time and closer to the dead doe,” he said. “This time I didn’t take my eyes off of him, and don’t recall blinking a single time as I walked the 275 yards to my trophy.”
That precaution was unnecessary — the buck was dead.
“Good thing, too,” Covington said. “I normally don’t get that shaken up over killing a big buck, having done so on numerous occasions, including bigger ones. However, I was shaking so bad that if he had been able to get up and run off, I would have had to just watch, since my ability to operate my rifle was severely impaired.
“I dropped to my knees as I reached the deer and thanked the Lord for blessing me with such a beautiful specimen.”
The rack of the massive, old 10-pointer was as symmetrical as any he had ever witnessed, with less than a 1/4-inch difference in the right and left sides.
“A friend of mine who happens to be an official scorer for the Magnolia Records Program taped the buck out at 150 inches,” Covington said. “The 6½-year-old-plus buck had an 18-inch inside spread. which is wide for that part of Claiborne County. He had 24-inch main beams, 10-inch G2s and 9-inch G3s. The buck only had 4 6/8-inch bases.”
As word spread, Covington heard a few days later that the hunters on the neighboring lease had trail camera pictures of the buck from the previous three years, and a shed antler from last year.
“Apparently the buck was an 11-point and had a larger set of headgear the previous year,” he said. “While I had never seen the buck before that day, it didn’t surprise me that the buck had moved to my property.
“I leave two 100-acre timbered areas on my property as sanctuaries, and have never used supplemental feed. The surrounding properties use supplemental feeders and hunt them heavily. As Mississippi State Research has shown in a 10-year study, deer receiving hunting pressure around deer feeders will go nocturnal, and if the pressure is intense will move to an area with less pressure. As my neighbors hunt their feeders and hunt more intensely, the big bucks on their property simply moved over to the safer confines of my property. And, while I am totally oppose supplemental feeding, I guess it does help me kill some big bucks that I wouldn’t otherwise.”
But Covington had another surprise waiting for him: The kill shot had hit the buck right behind the front leg and exited near the neck before striking the doe with a perfect double-lung pass-through.
“Thing is, I never realized they were that close together,” Covington said. “When he came out and I saw those antlers, I concentrated on him. He had his nose down the way they do when they are on a hot doe, and he was pushing them. He’d move toward them and they’d move away.
“I guess that one had stayed pretty close.”
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