“Blessed.”

That is the word Nathan Smith of Madison used to describe his feelings and the experience of killing a 171-inch, double main-beamed Yazoo County giant buck last Saturday (Jan. 7).

“I was blessed with the opportunity to hunt with such graceful hosts, on the invitation as a friend of a friend,” he added. “I was blessed that my wife allowed me to go and even stay an extra day.”

Smith was even blessed that the weather in Central Mississippi, and especially the Big Black River bottoms had turned so brutally cold over the weekend, which turned a one-afternoon hunt into a two-day trip, putting him in the stand on Saturday.

“My friend James Swanner called me on Friday, and said he and one of our good, mutual friends from Louisiana, Bhalyn Perez, was in town on business and couldn’t get out because of the weather, so they were going to hunt up at Vaughn,” Smith said. “He said if I could I could join them for the hunt and we’d visit and leave on Saturday morning. My wife Ashley was kind enough to let me go. We’re remodeling a house and there’s a lot to do.

“Then, after we hunted on Friday afternoon, the weather got worse and I called and she said, ‘no, stay up there, visit your friends and hunt if you can.’”

They were all the guests of Billy and Jason Roberts at their private property on the Yazoo and Madison County line. Swanner works with the Roberts and is a frequent guest, and Swanner was happy to have Smith along.

“Nathan and I were frat brothers in college, and he’s how I started hunting,” Swanner said. “He’s why I hunt. He started me and he was the one who first rubbed blood on my face after my first deer. He won’t say it, but Nathan is one of those guys who relishes taking kids and anyone really hunting. He volunteers to guide hunts for (Hunting for a Cure) children.”

Part of Perez’ business in Louisiana is crawfish farming and he had helped the Roberts turn a rice pond into a crawfish pond on the property. When he got iced in, Swanner said, Perez called the Roberts and said since he was in Jackson and couldn’t leave, he wanted to go take a look at the pond. That turned into the invitation to hunt, which quickly included Swanner and then Smith. 

“Perez said he needed to get a couple of does and that’s really what the plan was,” Swanner said. “When we were assigning stands, Billy suggested one of us go to the Turkey Field, a big field where does were frequently seen. That’s where we put Nathan and I told him that if he didn’t see a big buck he could shoot a doe for Perez just before dark.”

Smith was enjoying his day in the stand, watching does and yearlings until about 5 p.m., when a nice 8-point walked out.

“I took my phone and put the camera lens up to the scope and took a picture of the buck and sent it to James,” Smith said. “I was a guest and I didn’t want to shoot a buck that everybody else was passing. So I let him walk off. James had a buck left and I told him I’d rather him shoot it the next day. I would have enjoyed being there and sharing that with him.”

Swanner said it was a nice buck, one that he would love to have on the wall.

“I told him that was mighty nice of him, and that perhaps God would reward his kindness by having the double main-beam walk out,” Swanner said.

That’s exactly what happened less than 30 minutes later, as light was fading.

“I was still watching does and yearlings in the corner of the green patch, when I looked over and saw this other deer,” Smith said. “It was huge, twice the size of the does. Then I saw antlers and I saw enough to know it wasn’t the 8-point. Then he turned and I saw the double main-beam. 

“He have me a broadside shot at 275 to 280 yards and I took the shot with my Remington 700 7mm-STW, which is a gun designed for long shots. The buck broke and ran, and ran 40 or 50 yards right at me. Then he stopped and eventually gave me another broadside shot. I had bolted another round and I took another shot.”

The first shot was a complete miss. The second, at 240 yards, was not.

“He ran out of the field, leaving about 250 to 260 yards from where I was,” Smith said.

Said Swanner: “We shoot the same kind of rifles, exactly the same, so I knew when I heard the first shot it was Nathan. I did not hear the whop of the bullet hitting the buck. Then I heard a second shot and I heard the secondary hit. My phone rang immediately and he told me ‘double main-beam’ walked out.”

With temperatures dropping fast into the teens, they decided to return to the camp. At 8 p.m., five men returned with flashlights and began looking. They found some suspicious looking blood.

“I thought I gut shot him,” Smith said, “because of the material that we found. We walked to the edge of the woods and flashed our lights to see if we could see its white belly or antlers and we didn’t.”

Added Swanner: “We shined our lights on this pond about 50 yards away thinking he may have gone there but it was frozen over and the surface was unbroken. We didn’t think he went there.”

They group decided to back out, leave the buck alone and return the next day with a dog.

At 1 p.m. on Sunday, they returned. Smith was driving a golf cart with Thomas “Buck” Garland and his dog Max. They are part of the Southern Track’N group that helps hunters locate the hard-to-find-deer throughout the season.

“I was taking him by the edge of the woods and telling him all about what happened so he could get a plan for him and Max, when I passed that pond,” Smith said. “I looked over at the pond. Took another look and I saw a brown patch in the middle next to a log. The water in the middle had thawed and I thought I saw a deer. I stopped and took off toward the lake.”

Added Swanner: “Before we knew what was happening Nathan was running down to the lake and started breaking ice.”

One of the others on the scene couldn’t resist a joke.

“He said, ‘Oh that’s that doe we shot and lost last week,’ but I wasn’t buying that,” Smith said. “I just hit the water.”

After breaking ice all the way through the frigid and chest-deep water, Smith put his hands on the deer.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “The day before, after I took the shot, I prayed to God, and said, ‘Lord, if it glorifies you, I ask that you let me find this buck. If it doesn’t then that’s OK.”

The reward was the odd-headed buck, a deer well known to the Roberts and to Swanner.

The buck has a typical right main beam, but on the left it has a main beam and then an extra beam growing out just in front of the base of the left main beam. The true main beams are over 24 inches, and the extra one, which mirrors the left main, is 21.

“That’s what makes this buck so unique,” Swanner said. “I’ve seen a lot of extra main beams before but they are mostly freaky looking like they were accidental or caused by injury or something. This one looks like another main beam (without points), and it would be a nice main beam, too.”

The buck was massive, weighing 245 pounds, and is expected to be aged at 6.5 years when the jawbone is pulled.

“We have photos of this buck for four years,” Swanner said. “His right side is so distinctive that we recognize it from previous years. Funny thing is, this is the first year that he’s had an extra main beam. Last year, when he was actually shot at once, he was a typical 10 that I estimate would have scored 140 to 150. He added the 21-inch extra beam this year.”

Statistics and the scores are nice, but it’s the experience that Smith will never forget.

“Everything about this weekend was great, from spending time with my friends, how nice and cordial our hosts the Roberts were, and my wife letting me out of the home restoration for the weekend,” he said. “I will never forget it.

“Blessed. I was truly blessed.”

Click here to see a video of Nathan Smith wading into a 20 degree lake and breaking ice to get to his deer.


Click here to read other big-buck stories from the 2016-17 season.

And don’t forget to post photos of your bucks in the Mississippi Sportsman Big Buck Photo Contest, which is free and offers great monthly prize packages.