February 03, 2023
By Mark Demko
When it comes to real estate, it’s all about “location, location, location.” It’s a common term that means that all things equal, homes of similar size and condition typically command a higher or lower price depending on where they’re located.
In some ways, the phrase can also be applied to deer hunting, with areas that see little to no hunting pressure offering a better chance for producing trophy-quality bucks than areas that are hunted hard or have a ton of hunters.
Such is the case with the property that Jeff Humphrey hunts in north-central Kentucky. The Franklin County farm is adjacent to two larger properties where hunting isn’t possible, and even the farm is restricted to archery only due to the cattle that roam the property. As a result, a number of bucks in the area are able to survive into an older age class.
The first year Humphrey hunted the farm, he missed a 150-class buck when he shot and the cable slide on his Barnett crossbow broke. Although he repaired the bow, it caused him to miss several weeks of the season. After that, none of the big bucks he was targeting showed up save one — a large non-typical that lost one side of its rack. Humphrey decided to leave that deer alone in the hope that it would have both its antlers — and be larger — the following year.
Fast forward to 2022 and Humphrey was brimming with excitement as late summer arrived since he knew the caliber of bucks running around. In August, he placed a feeder and trail camera out on the farm and immediately began getting pictures of quality bucks.
“Within about two days, I got a 10-pointer and a 12 that were just no brainers,” he said. “And they were strangers. I was like, ‘What in the world have I got myself into out here.’ It’s just crazy the maturity of these deer and how old they are; they just haven’t been touched.”
Only a few days later, an even bigger deer showed up on camera, making him forget all about the other two bucks. He nicknamed the deer Gnarly due to its large rack that seemingly had points going in every direction.
“It was within about five days that Gnarly showed up and it was game on,” Humphrey recalled. “He took over…I have a couple of pictures of him fighting off the 10 and the 12 to stay on top of the food plot.”
The best part of Gnarly’s visits was that not only were they frequent, they were easy to pattern.
“He started giving me a timeline believe it or not, and it was around 5:45 to 6:45 (in the evening),” Humphrey said. “That hour right in there he was just meandering on through on a daily basis.”
The way the deer was approaching Humphrey’s food plot required him to hunt from a ground blind, so he enlisted his friend, Brian Gibson, to help him set up his Rhino Realtree Edge 180 See Through Blind. He also got permission from the landowner for Gibson to join him in the blind when they decided to go after the deer.
Since he was hunting with a crossbow, Humphrey also wanted a good, solid shooting rest, but he was reluctant to spend the money. Gibson, however, offered him a low-cost solution.
“Brian said, ‘I have two tobacco sticks (held together by a wingnut and bolt) that my son uses as gun rest and also for his crossbow. I’ll bring them; they’re easy to pack in and pack out and you don’t have to spend $150 or $160 dollars,’” Humphrey recalled.
Humphrey and Gibson decided to wait to go after the buck until the wind conditions were absolutely perfect. They thought they had their chance on Friday, Sept. 23, but things fell through at the last minute.
“The wind changed on me. It changed like I an hour before we were getting ready to leave,” Humphrey said. “I was looking at my HuntStand app and it was a southwest (wind) in a perfect scenario. It turned northwest. We were both like, ‘Tomorrow’s another day; let’s just go after it Saturday.’”
The following afternoon, the pair drove to the farm and after spraying themselves with cover scent, they walked to the blind and got settled in. They didn’t have to wait long for the action to pick up as some does made their way into the field.
“It was about quarter after 6,” Humphrey said. “He showed up from Brian’s left. He ended up not coming from where he normally came. Brian heard something and he ended up just tapping me; I could barely see him over my left shoulder.”
The deer was thrashing about in a nearby cedar thicket and when it emerged from the cover, Humphrey was finally able to get good look at it.
“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness — what in the hell have I got going on here?’” Humphrey recalled.
Although Humphrey could now see the deer well, and it was fairly close to the blind, he was unable to get a shot as it was standing behind a broken limb on a large cedar tree.
“My nerves were shot. I don’t know how long I held my crossbow up against my shoulder blades in between those two tobacco sticks, but it felt like an eternity,” Humphrey recalled. “He finally started making moves, inching his way to the food plot and two does that were feeding there.”
When Gibson first saw the deer, he had eased down the window on the left side of the blind so Humphrey could get a clear shot at the buck at the right time. A few minutes after that, the deer took another step, clearing the branch that had been blocking a portion of its body.
“Brian kind of looked at me and I just gave him the nod,” Humphrey said. “I felt my heart racing.”
Humphrey squeezed the trigger and the Muzzy tipped-bolt was on its way. At the shot, the deer jumped and then bolted out of sight, but little did the pair know the buck had gotten tangled in a cedar tree and undergrowth and went down only 60 yards away. The 15-minute wait seemed like an eternity.
“Brian was trying to calm me down,” Humphrey recalled. “He said, ‘I think we’ll be okay. We’ll get everything packed up here. I know he’s down; we’ll just go find him.’”
The pair exited the blind and made their way to where they last saw the buck. As they got closer, Humphrey was shocked by what he saw on the ground.
“He was just a mammoth deer,” he said.
Humphrey’s buck stands out due to its tremendous character, with numerous abnormal points and drop tines, including one drop tine that’s more than 9 ½ inches long. The non-typical, which has 21 scoreable points and an inside spread of 18 ⅛ inches, ended up grossing 201 ⅛ in the Boone and Crockett scoring system, with a final score of 195 2/8 after deductions.
The amazing thing about the deer was that even though Humphrey had seen several good-sized bucks over the two years he had permission to hunt the farm, he never even caught a glimpse of Gnarly, either in person or on his trail cam. After harvesting the buck, though, he learned that workers on a neighboring property had seen the deer in 2021 traveling with a 10-pointer.
“I never saw him, but I must have seen that 10…,” Humphrey said. “He must have been hanging around somewhere else the previous year.”