In the fading light of dusk on Dec. 4, with only a few minutes of legal shooting time remaining, Hayden Juul saw a deer step out of the tree line on her family’s hunting camp in Amite County in southwest Mississippi.
“It was right at 5:30, you know, prime time,” she said. “I could barely see the silhouette.”
But Juul, a 24-year-old nursing student from Prairieville, La., had no trouble distinguishing one main characteristic of the deer: a big rack. It was huge.
“Through my binoculars, all I could see was antlers,” Juul said. “When he stepped out and I saw him, I didn’t think too much longer on it. I knew he needed to go down.”
There was one problem, however.
“The buck was in front of me, the way I was facing, and my gun was laying across my lap, across the stand,” she said. “I had to pick it up and turn it, and when I did, I accidentally hit the stand with it.”
A potential disaster
Of course, with it being metal on metal, it made a “clink.”
“He jumped and took a few steps,” Juul said, admitting it probably scared her worse than it did the buck. “It scared me pretty bad. I thought I was going to screw this thing up. I don’t even remember looking through the scope. I just picked up the gun and pointed it at him and shot.”
After thinking about it a second, she remembered a little more.
“I vaguely remember that I picked up the binoculars and lined him up, then I picked up the gun and found his head in the scope,” she said. “When he moved his head, I traced back down his body to his shoulder and pulled the trigger.”
The .308 roared, and the buck fell in his tracks.
“I shot him right through his shoulder, and he dropped right where he was,” Juul said. “I thought I saw him move, and I was worried he might be getting up, but now, thinking about it, he was probably just (in the) last stages before dying. I shot him again just to make sure.”
The buck never moved after the second shot, and Juul had a chance to catch her breath and realize what had just happened over a course of a few seconds in the descending darkness.
“I was stunned,” she said. “I was stunned that I had shot something that big.”
A unique buck
The buck carried a tall, symmetrical, main-frame 10-point with a sticker point off the left main beam. The inside spread was 18 inches, and the beams so thick Juul’s hands couldn’t reach around them and touch. Her father, Lance Juul, rough-scored the buck at 150 inches.
“It’s a really good buck and the one we were after, and I’m happy she got him,” Lance Juul said. “She’s a really good hunter, a good outdoorsman. Hayden has been hunting and fishing with me since she was about 4 or 5. She’ll hunt anything: ducks, dove and even rabbit. She loves to fish, and we have a camp down at Grand Isle. She even had her photo in Louisiana Sportsman magazine several years ago holding a big jack crevalle that she caught.
“Hayden has several deer on the wall already — nothing like this one, but some good ones. One thing though: she’s never killed a single doe in her life. She’s only killed bucks. That’s all we kill on our places. That’s what brings the bucks in during the rut. That’s when we usually kill our best bucks. This one was different.”
This one, the elder Juul said, was one of the rare trophies that was a permanent resident of this particular piece of property, 400 of the 900 acres the family owns and/or leases near Liberty in southwest Mississippi. He’d been watching the buck for about five years.
“We first noticed him and saw his potential three or four years ago, and last year was the first time I thought he was big enough to take,” Lance Juul said. “We never got a lot of pictures; we just saw him hunting but just never got a shot. Over all those years, we had the opportunity to pattern him pretty good, and we established his core area. He was staying in this 200-acre area and wasn’t leaving much. We got lots of pictures of him this year, almost all of them were at night. He wasn’t leaving much, but we were able to figure out where he was staying and where he was going to eat, and that was a green field.”
There was one occasion when the big buck did stray for a while, to a neighboring camp that the Juuls lease to another group.
“There was this girl hunting over there, and I guess she isn’t that much into hunting as I am, because twice she had left her stand early, probably because she was cold, and they got photos of the buck on the same trail she was within a few minutes after she left,” Hayden Juul said. “Can you believe that happened twice? That’s unreal.”
Research helped land buck
This year, the Juuls got even more serious about getting the big buck.
“My boyfriend started studying online and watching videos (about patterning bucks) and put up more cameras, and we knew where he was going,” she said. “We had him figured out pretty good. We were getting a lot of pictures, at night, always in the same 200 acres.”
The day the buck died, father, daughter and boyfriend surrounded that area.
“I told them that we were waiting until the wind was right to hunt it, and that day it was,” Lance Juul said. “I hunted near the green field, put her in the middle, and the boyfriend hunted the dummy line in the bottom. The buck picked the middle route, and that was his mistake.”
After recovering the buck, they were off to the skinning shed, where they made a discovery that told more of the story about the buck, one that answered the question about its stay-at-home behavior.
“It had been shot, probably two years ago, right in its back,” Lance Juul said. “It had clipped one of its vertebrae, and there were some metal pieces in the meat around it. That told me why he had locked down so hard in that 200-acre core area and didn’t leave much. It was healed over, and he was healthy, but it had to be a reason he was so locked on that area.”
As for his hunting protégé, the dad had every right to brag.
“I’m proud of her,” he said. “She’s a good hunter. She deserved this.”
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