Hunting began with a bang for Bogue Chitto's Kolby Byrd when he arrowed a 150-inch 9-point on Oct. 6, and that big kill heralded the beginning of what turned into the best season since 2007.

"2007 was a great year, with nine or 10 Boone & Crockett deer killed," said Rick Dillard, keeper of the state Magnolia Records. "For whatever reason, 2008 and 2009 were disappointing."

And the deer continued stacking up, with the bruisers taken including a pending state-record bow buck shot in Jefferson County in December.

Dillard said the cold weather could be part of the reason for the number of big bucks taken over the past four months.

And one of the major factors in the big-buck bonanza of 2010-11 probably is directly connected to the low number of monster deer killed in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.

"We've got a buildup of big bucks that weren't killed in the last two years," Dillard said.

Of course, the three-buck limit also could have something to do with bucks aging to a point where they can really exhibit their potential.

"It did start making people start thinking about what they were killing and being more discriminating," Dillard said.

Here are the stories of some of the trophies killed this season.

 

Third shot's the charm

It was bitterly cold on Jan. 9, and only five truckloads of Hatchapaloo Hunting Club members had shown up for a morning dog hunt. The hunters were riding the more than 30 miles of roads on the 7,000-acre lease looking for a likely place to release their dogs.

"We were just riding and trying to stay in the truck because it was so cold," joked Gary Kennedy, known at the camp as "Festus Hagen."

Kennedy was in a truck on one side of a large cutover, while brother George was a quarter mile away on the other side of the thicket. And George Kennedy was feeling terrible, so he pulled over, hurried out of his truck and bent to vomit.

When he looked up, he was astounded at the animal that was no more than 5 feet away.

"This deer crossed the road," Gary Kennedy explained. "When (George) raised his head, he was looking at (the buck) point blank."

It wasn't just any buck: A mass of calcium unlike anything the man had seen on the lease was stacked atop the deer's head.

Of course, the animal quickly made it across the road and into the thicket while George Kennedy gaped. He quickly grabbed his radio and called his brother.

"I pulled up on this road and was watching the cutover and gas line, when my brother called on the radio and got to telling me there was a big buck heading my way," Gary Kennedy said.

The 56-year-old hunter snatched up his .30-06, climbed out of the truck and attempted to get atop the dog boxes in the truck bed for a higher vantage.

"The dog boxes were iced up, and I slipped and fell off," Gary Kennedy said. "Luckily, I landed on my feet."

So he rushed back to his open truck door just about the time he caught a glimpse of a buck move through an opening and behind some bushes about 150 yards out.

Kennedy cranked his scope up as high as it would go, and peered at the bushes in an attempt to pick up the buck.

"My son (David) was drinking coffee and eating cookies, and he decided he had to get out and take a whiz," Kennedy said.

That movement was all it took to spook the buck, and it burst from concealment in a full run.

"All I saw was a deer with horns," Kennedy said. "That booger broke out running wide open, and there I had my scope on 12 power."

He couldn't pick up anything in the scope, but he fortunately uses see-through mounts and dropped his eye to line up the iron sights.

His first shot missed, as did a second. The deer was still stretched out in a dead run 150 to 160 yards away, but it finally turned to quarter away from the frantic hunter. That proved to be its undoing.

"By pure luck, I hit him with the third shot," Kennedy admitted.

The animal went down like a sack of rocks, but it was a little unclear exactly where in the thick growth it was when the shot connected. So Kennedy pulled one dog out of the box and turned it loose.

"I knew he fell, but we didn't find any blood," he explained.

By this time, he had been joined by friend Jimmy Kennedy (no relation), who hit the cutover and began searching.

"We went 25 to 30 yards further up, and (Jimmy Kennedy) looked up and said, 'There's your deer,'" Gary Kennedy said.

The next words out of Jimmy Kennedy's mouth, after his eyes settled on the buck's rack, can't be repeated in print. His expletive can be excused, given what he was looking at.

The deer wasn't large in body size, weighing only 160 pounds. But obviously all of the nutrition the deer picked up the preceding summer went to antler growth.

Thirteen main-frame points, supplemented by nine scoreable stickers, were arrayed around main beams that enveloped 17½ inches of air.

"When I saw it laying on the ground, I knew it was a good deer," Gary Kennedy said. "Everything was just standing up so tall."

But he honestly didn't realize just how special the animal was until the buck was back at the camp and someone started taping it out.

The rack has been greenscored as high as 193 2/8 Boone & Crockett.

"I got my picture taken more than (President) Obama," Kennedy laughed.

While Kennedy was thrilled to have killed the big animal, he said it hasn't transformed his perspective on deer hunting.

"We go to hunt and have a good time, and if we kill a good deer, fine," he said. "We're just deer hunting."

 

Happy New Year

By Cliff Covington

Rather than ring in the New Year in Pass Christian shooting fireworks, 16-year-old Jonathon Allen opted to celebrate by spending the holiday weekend with family and friends at their 2,400-acre hunting lease in Yazoo County near Vaughan. It had been six long years since Jonathon had scored on a buck, and he was more than ready to change his luck.

Allen knew the property was home to a number of very large bucks. The day after Christmas his dad had missed a monster that was farther out in the field than he had estimated. And Jonathon's uncle had been hot on the trail of a giant 9-pointer he had spotted earlier in the season.

Although he dreamed of shooting a buck with a massive set of antlers, the young Allen would have been more than happy with any buck just to get out of his slump.

Everyone in camp had been hunting hard with not much success. So when the alarm went off on New Year's morning, Jonathon was actually ready to roll over and go back to sleep.

Fortunately, his dad convinced him to give it another shot. A front had moved through bringing cold, windy, overcast conditions: perfect deer-hunting weather.

Having hunted the same stand for several days in a row, Jonathon's uncle decided to give up and try a different stand.

"I figured that I may as well give the stand my uncle had abandoned a try," Jonathon said. "I was hoping that I might get lucky and see the big 9-pointer."

Arriving at the box stand just before daylight, the high-schooler didn't have long to wait before the action began.

A small herd of does entered the wheat field to the right of his stand and began feeding. Using his binoculars, Allen was watching the eight nannies in hopes that the big 9-pointer might follow them out into the field.

About that time, Allen glanced to his left and was shocked by what he saw.

"All I could see was a mass of antlers," he recalled. "Even though he was angling away from me and I could only make out the right side of his antlers, I knew instantly that he was a shooter."

Jonathan reached for his Thompson Center Encore, and turned the scope to its full 12 power magnification because the buck was over 200 yards away.

Although he was shaking from being so nervous, Allen was finally able to get the gun barrel out the window of the stand, cock the hammer and find the buck's shoulder through the scope.

At the shot, the giant buck wheeled and ran back into the timber. Sensing that he may have missed, Allen called his dad to ask for direction. His dad told him to wait in the stand, assuring him that even if he missed, the buck might come back out with all the does around.

Next, the younger Allen sent a text message to his friend, who was on his way up from the coast to join them for an afternoon hunt, to tell him that he had shot a big buck. His pal immediately called him to get all the details.

"I was still on the phone when a pair of does stepped out of the woods only 150 yards from my stand and started drinking water out of a mud puddle," Allen said. "Right behind them was the same big buck that I had just missed.

"I told my friend to hold on and laid the phone down beside me."

Waiting for the buck to turn broadside, Jonathon put the crosshairs on the bucks shoulder and squeezed off another round.

The 150-grain Hornady T/C ballistic-tip bullet found its mark and dropped the buck in his tracks.

Allen picked his phone back up and told his friend that the big buck was down. Allen then called his dad back to let him know about his good fortune.

Once his dad arrived and the pair shared hugs and high fives, they took a closer look at the trophy.

The elder Allen instantly recognized the 15-point buck as the same deer he had missed a week earlier.

After taking a few photographs, they loaded the trophy and headed for the local convenience store to have him scored and his photograph added to the store's Deer Wall of Fame.

Jonathon's monster buck grossed 170 2/8 inches of antler and netted just over 156 inches. The massive rack is a main-frame 11-point with four kicker points and an 18½-inch inside spread.

The 25-inch main beams and tines over a foot long only add to the buck's impressive headgear.

 

Try, try, try again …

Justin Bankston grew up a fanatical deer hunter, but about 12 years ago, the Terry resident decided he just couldn't afford to invest the time. So he became a part-timer, hunting here and there as his busy schedule allowed.

"Starting two businesses and starting a family, I sort of fell out of it," Bankston said.

However, he realized last year it was time for his 8-year-old son to get involved in the sport, so he joined a Hinds County lease. He still didn't plan on going full out, though - until he saw a trail-cam photo of a monster buck on the property.

"When I went back and saw that deer, all that changed," Bankston said of his first look at the buck that eventually greenscored about 170 inches. "That's all I thought about.

"I have sat up on my computer at midnight looking at him, thinking about how I was going to get that deer."

The story began when he placed a bow stand not 200 yards from the lease's campground in October, setting out a trail cam to gauge what the property held. When he returned to collect the photos, he was astounded to see a massive deer staring at him from one of the photos taken on Oct. 14.

A sweeping rack sat atop the deer's head, with 8 main-frame points and two stickers visible.

The hunter didn't want to take any chances of spooking the deer, so he pulled his cameras out of the area.

"I didn't want him coming up at night and getting flashed (by the camera)," Bankston explained. "I knew the deer was old and lived in that area."

But Bankston put out more stands in the 15- to 20-acre section of woods, bringing his total options to six. That allowed him to hunt the deer on any given wind direction and change things up so he didn't burn any particular stand.

He shot a doe from the area during bow season, but other than that, he just invested his time, waited and thought about what it would be like to kill that monster.

"I hunted every single weekend, from Friday evening until Sunday night," Bankston said. "I also hunted three afternoons every week, just trying to get a sighting of that deer."

Bankston took off work the week before Christmas, and spent the entire time at the camp. He returned home Christmas Eve, spent the following morning with his family but headed back soon after eating lunch.

"I told my wife, "I'm hunting until I kill that deer,'" he said, explaining his wife was also excited about the buck. "My wife was just as pumped up as I was, and wanted me to kill it."

The following morning, it sleeted and Bankston climbed out of his stand about 11 a.m. He made a looping stalk around the edge of the thicket in which he believed the deer lived.

"When I did, I walked up in front of one of my climbers and found two scrapes that were as big as the hood of your truck," he said.

Bankston woke up on Dec. 27, the eighth consecutive day of hunting the area, and found it bitterly cold.

"I think it was 17 degrees," he said. "It was one of those days that you wake up and you wonder if you ought to go."

The weather was perfect, however, with calm winds. So Bankston got dressed and headed to his climber overlooking the scrapes well before daylight.

The only problem proved getting to the stand and set up without alerting every deer on the lease.

"I'm thinking, 'I'm never going to see anything,'" Bankston said. "It was so loud with the leaves frozen that I couldn't walk quietly on my way in."

And then he had to jack his climber up a tree, which only made more noise because the loose bark of the tree was frozen and crunched with each movement of the stand.

Bankston finally gave up on getting to his traditional 25 feet, settling in at no more than half that height. He pulled out some doe-in-heat scent and dribbled it on his pants leg, and discovered just how cold it was.

"About a minute later, I look down and the scent was frozen," he chuckled.

The only silver lining he could find was the fact that it would be impossible for a deer to sneak by him.

"I just new if anything moves within 100 yards of me I'm going to see it," Bankston said.

It didn't take long for the weather to become a factor, and by 7:25 a.m. he was miserable

"I'm sitting there freezing," he said.

The cold seemed to magically disappear shortly thereafter when he glanced up at the nearby thicket and his heart began hammering out a beat that would make Led Zepplin's John Bonham proud.

"I looked up directly in front of me, and there he comes," Bankston said.

At first, the hunter could only see the deer's feet, legs and shoulders, even though it was only 75 yards away.

"I couldn't see its rack, but I knew it was a buck because it was so broad," Bankston said.

As the deer moved through the thicket, however, its head finally passed through a small opening, and Bankston saw the right side of the antlers, complete with double stickers. That was enough for him to know this was the buck he had been after.

"Before I saw any more of him, I dipped my head down and said to myself, 'I can't believe this deer is stepping out in front of me,'" Bankston said.

The buck went straight to one of the scrapes and "did his thing," Bankston said.

Only 50 yards away, the hunter was sitting in his climber feeling exposed and about to go into heart defibrillations: Although the buck was close enough to hit with a rock, there were too many limbs in the way for a clean shot.

"I was scoping him the whole time," Bankston said.

After freshening up the big scrape, the deer began easing west. Every few steps, the deer would look in the direction of Bankston's stand. But it didn't seem to be looking at the climber but at the base of the tree.

"I'm breathing heavy, and my chest was just pumping," Bankston said. "I'm thinking he's seeing the smoke from my breath and is getting ready to bolt."

Finally, the deer stepped into an opening no more than 30 yards from the hunter, and Bankston's rifle exploded.

"He ran about 75 yards and went down," Bankston said.

The hunter was shaking from the adrenaline high, and that's probably what kept him in the stand.

"If it wouldn't have been so cold, I would have jumped out of the stand immediately and run over there," he said.

However, his caution because of the cold made him sit tight for the next five minutes. That entire time, he could see the deer trying to get up again. Finally, however, the deer lay down and didn't move again.

Bankston was sure it was the same deer he had seen in the photo, but he hadn't really studied the antlers before shooting.

"I never got a good sighting of his horns," he said. "I just saw that G2 with the kickers."

When he finally climbed out of the tree and ran to the deer, Bankston knew immediately his persistence had paid off.

"He's everything I thought he was," Bankston said. "There was no ground shrinkage."

Indeed, the rack was massive. The main beams encircled 20 inches of air, and the G2s were sky scrapers. The right G2 surpassed 14 inches, and the left G2 missed that mark by only 1/8 of an inch, but included two stickers. The bases measured about 5 inches around.

 

The ducking buck falls

Claudie Steen watched the nice 11-point ease into the bottleneck, and drew his bow as the animal approached his stand site. He had seen the deer earlier while trailing another deer he had arrowed, and now everything was falling in place.

At a mere 15 yards, the Canton hunter put his pin on the deer's vitals and released the arrow. And felt his stomach churn as the animal ducked and quickly disappeared.

That was Jan. 31, 2010.

In the coming months, Steen captured several trail-cam pictures of the Madison County buck, and knew the deer's rack had grown. But he never saw it while hunting.

Until Jan. 14.

The wind was perfect for Steen's stand overlooking the bottleneck. He settled in that afternoon, and sat to see what would move past the stand.

"That's my favorite place on the property because generally anything that moves is going to move through there," he said.

Just after 5 p.m., he watched a doe and button buck crawl under a nearby fence. About 15 minutes later, with daylight failing, another deer stepped out of the thicket and approached the fence.

"I saw it was a nice buck, but I learned a long time ago not to look at the horns," Steen said.

So he watched the buck out of the corner of his eye, and saw it turn at the fence and ease closer to his stand site.

"I had made a gap in the fence, and instead of going under the fence where the doe and yearling crossed, he came back to the gap," Steen said. "He came through that gap and went right to a scrape."

That put the buck 15 yards from Steen, and the hunter eased his bow to full draw, placed the pin and released the arrow.

"I aimed right for his heart, but when I released, his legs fell out from under him and whirled around," Steen said.

Instead of passing through the deer's chest, the arrow stuck in the animal's neck. The buck made a complete loop around Steen stand and headed back the way it came.

"He got hung up in the fence," Steen said. "I use a lighted nock, and I could see him in the fence, and then he just went down."

The hunter was soon off the stand and easing up to the buck, still unsure of just how big the animal was.

When his flashlight illuminated the rack, Steen's knees went weak. It was the same buck he had missed nearly a year earlier.

"I almost wet myself, to be honest," he laughed.

The deer was still a beautiful main-frame 10-point with a sticker off the left G2, with the points arrayed around main beams stretching 17 3/8 inches wide. What had changed, however, was the sheer mass.

"Last year, he had exactly the same thing, but he wasn't near as heavy," Steen said. "You wouldn't believe what he put on since last year.

"He probably put on a good 20-plus inches, maybe 30 inches."

Sweeping G2s that topped 12 inches helped push the greenscore to 164 1/8 inches Pope & Young.

 

The right (or wrong) tool for the job

Young Sawyer Watts had been watching a great buck on trail cameras for the past three years, just waiting for it to really mature. And the animal almost went down last season, when one of Watts' buddies missed the deer.

But on Jan. 25, the 14-year-old Watts made his shot at the 160-class deer count.

Watts' father, Jason, had been hunting the deer all season, but never seemed to time it right.

"I hunted one stand 18 days straight, I mean morning and evening," Jason Watts said. "Jan. 1 was my (wedding) anniversary, so I took my wife to Natchez for dinner that afternoon.

"When I got back, I checked my camera, and he was standing in front of the stand at 5:30 (p.m.), and nobody was on it."

That only encouraged his son, who gave the issue some thought and came up with a plan - without the help of his father - to ambush the deer.

"He wasn't coming in (food plot) until late at night, and I knew I had to get closer to where hopefully he was bedding," Sawyer explained.

So the youngster lugged a climbing stand into the woods a quarter mile away, and on Jan. 25 he didn't let a cold rain stop him from jacking up the tree.

Twenty minutes later, as daylight faded, he heard splashing in a little creek that is dry unless it rains. He looked down the now-flowing creek and knew something was headed his way.

"I could just see a little water moving," Sawyer said.

A few seconds later, a buck appeared, moseying along the creek bed.

"I just saw his horns," Sawyer said. "My heart was about to beat out of my chest."

The deer was only 45 yards away, and the hunter quickly shouldered the .223-caliber rifle (more on that later) he had borrowed from his little brother.

When the rifle fired, it was obvious the shot connected.

"He fell right there on his front shoulders, and was pushing through the woods with his back legs," Watts said.

As the deer disappeared, the shaking young hunter pulled out his cell phone.

"I called Daddy and told him I killed a big deer," he said.

The elder Watts instructed his son to head home before looking for the deer. When they returned, not a drop of blood could be found.

"We just found white hair where he hit the ground," Sawyer Watts said.

The father-son team scoured the area, but couldn't find anything. That's when it was apparent to both the hunters that Sawyer had chosen the wrong tool for the job.

"He's got a 7 Mag and a .30-06, and he took his baby brother's .223," Jason Watts said. "I got mad, and he got mad for letting him choose that gun."

The Wattses finally gave up, and headed home. Jason Watts was going to return the following morning to continue looking, while his son went to school.

It was a miserable night, and the next morning Sawyer found it difficult to concentrate on school work.

However, he soon was relieved of his worries.

"Daddy came and checked me out," Sawyer Watts said.

The elder Watts had walked up on the dead buck that morning not far from the search area of the night before, and he couldn't wait to let his son know.

"I was as excited that he killed it as if I shot it," Jason Watts said.

Ten main-frame points decorated the beams of the rack, with an extra scoreable sticker rounding out the count. The inside spread stretched to 18½ inches, and the G2s topped 10 inches in length. Each base was greater than 5 inches around.

It greenscored 163 2/8 Boone & Crockett.

Sawyer said he was stunned when he arrived home.

"He was bigger than I thought he was," he said. "There wasn't no camera shrinkage."

 

Not quite a shooter?

By Cliff Covington

There are all kinds of deer-hunting stories about the big one that got away. And Becky Morgan of Brookhaven almost had one of those stories to tell. Actually, if her husband and hunting buddy Allen Morgan had not convinced her to join him on an afternoon hunt in Jefferson County, this story would have a much different ending.

Allen Morgan, an accomplished taxidermist, had been invited to hunt with good friends Stan and Brian Burkley on their premier deer-hunting grounds near the Mississippi River. Having hunted the property on two previous occasions, Allen Morgan knew some monster whitetails roamed those bottomland hardwoods. He also knew this would be a rare opportunity for his wife to harvest that trophy of a lifetime.

"On the drive over, all I did was worry that I would either miss or shoot a buck that was too young," Becky Morgan said. "Allen had cautioned me about the difficulty in judging distance in the massive fields on the property. He also made it clear that the Burkleys have an intense deer-management program in place and would not be happy if I harvested anything but a mature buck."

Becky Morgan arrived at her stand around 3 p.m. on Jan. 8, with her husband hunting from another stand in an adjacent field.

After a short time, the freezing north wind forced Becky Morgan to shut the window on that side of the box stand. And you guessed it: A giant buck came out on the side of the stand with the closed window.

Fortunately, the buck paid no attention to Becky Morgan as she carefully raised the window. Although she was able to get the crosshairs on the big deer, she questioned herself about whether it was big enough to shoot. But before she could make a decision, the buck turned and walked back into the woods.

Hoping the animal would return and give her a better look, Becky Morgan continued to scan the tree line. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, a doe emerged from the brush. The hunter knew that the buck shouldn't be far behind.

Moments later she caught a glimpse of the shining white tipped antlers moving through the timber.

"Come on out big boy!" Becky Morgan pleaded under her breath.

Finally the monster eased into the field to check out the doe. It then turned and started walking directly toward Becky Morgan with its head held low.

"When I saw that his antlers were wider than his body, I knew that he was big enough to shoot," she said. "The only problem was I couldn't stop shaking from the excitement."

Waiting for the bruiser to turn broadside, Becky Morgan placed the crosshairs on the buck's shoulder and squeezed off a round. The buck jumped and made a mad dash back into the timber.

At that point, Becky began questioning her shot. Thinking that she might have missed, she continued scanning the tree line hoping the buck would come back out in the field.

"It was about that time I heard Allen shoot," Becky Morgan recalled. "I was going to be really mad at him if he shot my buck."

Soon the guys all showed up to help look for her deer. As they approached the area the buck had exited the field, Allen Morgan commented that he could smell the musty odor of a rutting buck. And his assessment was correct; the buck had made it only 15 yards before collapsing in the thick brush.

"Hey y'all, this one didn't ground shrink; he got bigger!" Becky Morgan shouted. "I will probably hunt the rest of my life and never see another giant buck like this one."

The massive 5 ½-year-old 10-pointer would later green score over 160 inches of antler with almost 6-inch bases; a 20 2/8-inch inside spread; 27-inch main beams; and long, thick tines.

 

Icing on the cake

Raymond's David Barton had had a great season already. His wife Roxie and 10-year-old daughter Cloe had popped their first bucks, and his 8-year-old son had put down a doe. Barton also had hosted a Wounded Warriors hunt, and several others had killed their first deer on the family land near his Hinds County home.

So when the alarm clock sounded Jan. 29, he hit the snooze. Twice.

"I almost didn't get up and go," Barton said. "I had hunted hard all year, and I'd killed a couple of does but hadn't seen a buck worth shooting. I was just tired of hunting, really, plus I had already had a great year."

Finally, he rolled out of bed and puttered around the house a bit. At 6:15 a.m., he decided he might as well sit a stand.

That turned out to be a great decision, as a 170-inch buck stepped out about an hour after he settled into his stand on a pipeline.

"I was looking to my left across a creek where all the bucks had been coming from," Barton explained. "My wife texted me, and I looked down and then to my right.

"He was halfway across the pipeline."

All the hunter knew was that the rack atop the buck's head was very tall.

"I thought he was a pretty good 8-point, but I had no idea how big he was," Barton said.

He snatched his rifle up, laid it on the window of the stand and put his eye to the scope. The buck had stopped.

"I think when I hit the rifle on the side of the stand he stopped," Barton said. "I had about five seconds to make the shot.

"I didn't even have time to think."

The 50-yard shot was easy, and the buck bolted into the woods - but soon Barton heard the satisfying sound of the deer thrashing about.

"He went about 40 yards in the woods, and I heard him fall," he said.

After getting the adrenaline surge that came after the shot under control, the hunter climbed from the stand and retrieved his trophy.

It turned out the buck was a dandy, with 10 extremely symmetrical tines and long main beams that enclosed 19 inches of air.

But, while Barton knew it was the biggest deer he had shot, he really didn't appreciate the size of the rack at first.

"I didn't realize how big he was until people started showing up to take pictures," he laughed.

The 25-inch main beams, 10-inch G2s and the 11-inch G3s combined with mass measurements that began with 5-inch bases to total a greenscore of 172 inches Boone & Crockett.

"It's danged near perfect," Barton said. "I didn't notice until people started taking pictures, and I saw that the G3s and the G4s and the G2s almost cover up the matching points from the side."

Barton said the kill, only days before the season closed, simply added an exclamation point to an already great few months.

"With (his wife and daughter) killing their first deer, and my son killing one … this buck was just icing on the cake," he said. "It was a perfect season even before I killed this deer."