With one buck in mind, Stan Ethredge raced home on Oct. 20, 2017, at the end of a fall family vacation to the Smoky Mountains, as fast as traffic and his good senses would allow.
A fireman and an avid deer hunter, Ethredge was hoping to get to his rural Neshoba County home for a late afternoon hunt.
Can’t blame him for that, not knowing what he knew was lurking around the family’s wooded land adjacent to his home. It was a buck Ethredge and others had named “Big Nasty.”
Before the day would end, Ethredge would meet up with the deer he had been tracking for several years and put it down, creating a stir around Mississippi’s deer hunting circles.
The odd buck, with so many points, most of which are knobbier than pointed, is a unique trophy. A freak is what it is. The antlers measured over 200 total gross inches. Using the Buckmaster system, it topped 227 inches.
Ethredge had been keeping track of Big Nasty for two years by trail camera photos, primarily taken at night. He had only seen the buck in person twice from a deer stand in two years. The initial encounter was a short one during the 2016 bow season, lasting all of 30 seconds. A rushed shot and an arrow deflection ruined the opportunity.
Afterward the buck became almost nocturnal and he was not seen again that season.
The second encounter occurred earlier this October, but it didn’t work out either, as shooting light had faded to the point where Ethredge could not get a clear positive shot. Not wanting to risk wounding and losing such a buck, he lowered his cross bow and watched his dark form ease away into the late evening gloom.
Over time, Ethredge was able to rough out the big buck’s home range, a one-mile radius circle that seemed to be centered on his property, even though neighbors had trail cam photos of the beast.
As a fireman, Ethredge’s work schedule is usually 24 hours on, followed by 48 hours off, which is almost perfect for an ardent whitetail hunter. Yet, it seemed Big Nasty had also patterned Ethredge. The deer always seemed to show up on cameras only on the days when the fireman was on duty.
Turns out, Ethredge was supposed to be working on that Friday, too, but his schedule was changed to accommodate the family vacation.
Ethredge chose a box-stand and arrived an hour before dark. He quickly got settled in for his evening vigil, hoping that every edge he had employed —scent wafers attached to his hat and clothing, and his outer layer of camo had a slightly damp feel resulting from the scent-killer spray that he had applied — would work.
He sat there for a full hour before a doe suddenly appeared, cautiously stepping from the brush into the field. It started nibbling on the tender forage of the food plot, slowly working toward Ethredge’s stand.
Another flicker of movement caught Ethredge's eye, and Big Nasty was suddenly standing in the edge of the food plot about 40 yards from the feeding doe.
It began feeding toward the doe, bring it closer to Ethredge, who said he had to fight to stay calm and keep his composure.
The hunter slowly got his crossbow in hand, lined up, and eased the safety catch to the off position. When the buck reached a range of 30 yards and turned broadside, Ethredge put the sight on the crease right behind the buck’s shoulder and began to slowly take the slack out of the trigger.
The arrow bolt leapt off the bow and flew straight and true, hitting the buck perfectly. At impact the buck and doe wheeled and exited the plot.
“I thought, ‘whew, I can breathe again, and did that actually just happen?,’” he said.
After securing his gear and climbing out of the stand, he walked over to the spot where Nasty had been standing and immediately found drops of blood. Even with this good sign, he wisely decided to go back to the stand and wait a while before taking up the blood trail. He called his dad, who lives nearby, and his wife, and asked them to hop on four wheelers and come straight to the food plot.
The blood trail increased with distance and after only traveling about 75 yards, the flashlight beam revealed Ethredge’s long sought-after prize.
Big Nasty was far more gnarly and impressive than any image from a camera had showed. Although stunned by the buck’s massive velvet rack, Ethredge still had no idea how truly unusual and unique this buck is.
Deer biologists said that the buck’s odd, perpetually velvet, freakish rack was caused by a condition called Cryptorchidism, which can occur is two ways —either a birth defect, which in extreme cases causes both of a buck deer’s testicles to remain in the abdominal cavity and never descend into the scrotum, or by injury.
Either results in a drastic reduction in the production of testosterone, which alters the normal cycle of antler hardening, velvet shedding, and antler casting.
Cryptorchidism bucks don’t participate in normal buck behavior and activity. With low testosterone levels in early fall, antler development is not complete and velvet is not shed. Cryptorchidism bucks do not rub or scrape, their necks do not swell with the approach of breeding season, and their antlers are not shed and they stay in velvet year round, with a constantly growing velvet rack as the buck matures. They are often called “cactus bucks” due to their odd racks.
In the case of Big Nasty, with trail camera photos showing his rack as being hardened and normal in appearance in the fall of 2015, it is thought that he subsequently suffered an extreme injury to his testicles at some point during the 2015-16 winter hunting season.
Suddenly suffering Cryptorchidism, his hardened rack was quickly cast and a new velvet rack began to grow, resulting in Ethredge getting a follow up trail cam photo of the injured buck in late May of 2016 with him sporting an already abnormally large velvet rack. His velvet rack had already been growing for several months, which put him way ahead, growth wise, compared to normal bucks that were only just starting antler growth in June.
William McKinley Deer Program Coordinator of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, explained that a bucks velvet rack is a blood carrying “living organism” that is highly susceptible to frost bite and freeze injury, therefore it is really hard for a Cryptorchidism buck, even in the deep south, to grow exceptionally large velvet antlers.
During extremely cold weather, parts or even most of a Cryptorchidism buck’s velvet rack can be freeze damaged, with the damaged portions dying and sloughing off. McKinley said Big Nasty’s extreme rack was helped by the unusually warm winter that occurred last year in Mississippi, which minimized damage to “Big Nasty’s” constantly growing velvet rack.
Click here to read other big-buck stories from this season.