Rick and Nathanael Reeves had a rare kinship with a buck that covered several years, not far from their home in Southaven in DeSoto County, a deer so impressive they called it Samson.
They have pictures of Samson from the past three seasons, watching the trophy grow to a massive 19-point buck pushing 300 pounds to a much-lighter 16-point this year.
That they’ve had the human-buck relationship is not rare; it happens throughout Mississippi all the time since the advent of trail-cam technology. Many hunters have photos of deer they’ve watched mature for several years.
What is rare is that this buck lived on public land, and died there, too, when Rick Reeves shot him on the opening weekend of the gun season. That hunters can track a deer that long on public land is, well, amazing.
“We believe him to be at least 6½ years old due to the fact he lost so much since last year,” said Rick Reeves, referring to Samson’s reduced weight and antler measurements. “Nathanael got a shot at him in 2016 when Samson was following some does. I think he got buck fever; I’ve had it before, too, so I understand it.”
After the miss, Samson became a recluse. They never saw him again, at least not with the naked eye, and rarely on camera.
“It’s like he knew where the cameras were,” Reeves said. “But, Nathanael figured him out. He’s the best hunter I know, and the best outdoorsman I know. He put me on this buck on Sunday (Nov. 18) just like he put me on a big brown trout in Arkansas. He thinks like a deer and like a fish. He’s just good outdoors.”
The outdoors have been good for Nathanael, said his dad who realizes just how important hunting and fishing have been for his son.
“He has some learning disabilities and other problems that he probably got from me,” Rick Reeves said. “He’s had a lot to overcome, not just the disabilities, and has really excelled as a sportsman. As a father I tried to introduce my kids to the outdoors. Nathanael has told me many times if he had not had hunting and fishing to fall back on, things could have been different.”
The father got his reward for his steering efforts on Nov. 18, when he was in a stand and Samson finally made another mistake. His son had put him in an area near where a camera had captured Samson the week before tending a doe.
“He slipped in quick, and when I saw him through my scope I knew immediately it was Samson,” Reeves said. “I only had a second. He was quartering away so I aimed a little back hoping the bullet would cross through the vitals.”
He pulled the trigger, then watched Samson take off.
“Last year, I purchased a new rifle, a Ruger American in a 6.5 mm Creedmoor,” Reeves said. “I shot two deer last year with ballistic points. They destroyed the vitals but left no blood trail. I like a blood trail, so this year I switched to a bonded bullet.”
But, alas, Samson had left no blood trail.
“When I walked up to look for blood, I saw that I had shot through a small branch,” Reeves said. “I shot about 75 to 100 yards in thick brush. My heart dropped. I had thought about taking Nathanael’s 300, but didn’t. I looked for blood and hair … nothing.
“I called Nathanael and he came to help. He is a good tracker, and I am not. I have a dog I’m trying to teach to track, but that’s another story for another day.”
Didn’t matter; Nathanael found the buck, and fortunately had come on his bigger UTV, a Can Am 1000. Even though Samson was smaller than the previous years, he was still substantial.
“I don’t believe my Foreman would have gotten Samson out,” Reeves said. “Neither of us could drag him any distance without assistance.”
When asked which public land produced Samson, Reeves was reluctant.
“Public land, in North Mississippi,” is all he said.
And, who can blame him?