Bowhunting is all about being in the right place at the right time, and as I witnessed this week, there is absolutely no better place right now than Kentucky, where giant whitetail bucks are falling at a frightening pace.
Thanks to an invitation from my friend Nathan Mrnak of Cabela's Outdoor Adventures, I was hunting with Whitetail Heaven Outfitters in Nicholasville on Tuesday evening when fellow bowhunter Buddy Deville arrowed a 16-point velvet giant that was unofficially green scored 202 2/8 inches gross.
It was the fourth night in the same stand for Deville, who committed to the area after reviewing trail camera images that showed the giant buck — a mainframe 10-pointer with numerous kickers that bring the total to 16 scoreable points — had visited almost every day for the past week.
"I told my wife, 'I'll see you when I kill this deer. I hope I'm home for Christmas,'" joked Deville, of Denham Springs, Louisiana.
Despite the trail camera images, Deville didn't see a single shooter buck his first three evenings in the stand, which overlooked a small food plot of oats and some shelled corn (baiting is legal in Kentucky) along a well-used deer trail where two ridges emptied into a hollow. As shooting lighted waned on Tuesday, Deville started to wonder whether the buck had left the area.
But that's when a large 9-pointer seen with the giant buck in several trail cam photos showed up, and Deville figured "his" buck had to be close. Sure enough, Deville finally saw the buck emerge from cover a couple minutes later. After a quick look to confirm the velvet-clad rack really was as big as he thought, Deville took a moment to calm his nerves, drew his Elite Energy 32 and made a perfect, 25-yard shot that sent a Rage 2-blade broadhead slicing through the vitals.
The result was a short blood trail and quick recovery that set off an impromptu celebration back at camp, where I joined Outfitter Tevis McCauley, his guides and about 30 other hunters as we eagerly waited to see the buck. When Deville's truck finally rolled into the driveway, a crowd quickly gathered around the tailgate and flash bulbs popped like crazy as Denham climbed into the bed, took the hugerack in his hands and flashed an ear to ear grin that comes with the buck of a lifetime.
Once a whitetail sleeper state, Kentucky is now America's hottest big-buck destination. The Bluegrass State led the nation in Boone and Crockett whitetail entries for 2011, 2013 and 2014 and over the past decade has produced more Boone and Crockett bucks per square mile than any other state.
McCauley says the key to Kentucky's success is a combination of excellent agricultural habitat, great genetics, mild winters, limited hunting pressure, selective harvest and sound state management policies.
Based on my experience in camp this week, I understand what all the fuss is about. Amazingly, Deville's magnificent trophy, was just one of more than a dozen bucks scoring 130 or better taken by Whitetail Heaven clients during the first five days of Kentucky's archery season.
McCauley offers 100 percent free-range, fair-chase hunts on more than 25,000 acres throughout central Kentucky. Virtually every hunter in camp saw at least one shooter during the five-day hunt, with a total of 16 arrows released.
Photos of most of the bucks taken during our hunt can be seen on the Whitetail Heaven Facebook page.