Buck Score: 188 4/8 inches (gross)
Date Harvested: October 5, 2019
Weapon Used: Crossbow
Chris Kelly has hunted deer since he was a child, but he’s been obsessed with chasing big bucks for the past 15 years. As a result, he’s bagged several nice ones and picked up tons of sheds. To him, it isn’t about the kill so much as the adventure, camaraderie and experiences, though.
“Even on the rare occasion that I don’t see deer, I just love being outdoors and experiencing what God has made for us to enjoy,” Kelly says. “I purchased the farm I killed this buck on five years ago, but leased the ground to the north for about 10 years before that.”
That history led to a legendary pursuit for an incredible buck.
It all started in 2017. The deer broke off its left side early on, and Kelly saw the deer from the stand several times. He believes that break eventually caused the buck to grow a wacky rack the next year.
In 2018, this buck grew quite a bit, and had pretty interesting non-typical antlers. Still, the Illinois bowhunter passed on all five shot opportunities the deer presented — three with a bow and two with a shotgun. He opted to give the deer one more year.
“I have both sheds from last year and they are the first two sheds my shed-hunting dog ‘Remington’ found on his own,” Kelly says.
In 2019, the deer packed on more than 40 inches and blossomed into a great 4 ½-year-old buck. He gathered all of the trail camera photos, sightings, scouting intel and other information he could recall, and put a game plan together for this buck.
By October, he was ready.
October 4th arrived, and Kelly decided to make a move on the deer. It resulted in quite the encounter. “I listened to this buck fight hard for more than 20 minutes,” he says. “The fight lasted so long I debated on whether or not to try and stalk them, using a drainage ditch. I was concerned they were locked up because of the unique rack. Then, he walked out, tongue hanging out, headed for the stream to my right and disappeared toward a food plot.”
The next day brought 62 degrees, moderate southeasterly winds and a 29.3 barometric pressure — not terrible conditions for early October, mind you. He eased along his entry route, taking great care to avoid spooking deer as he went. Finally, he reached his destination — a large clover field in a bottom that borders CREP. He slowly reached the elevated, 8-foot blind, stowed his gear, and steadied his hand. The waiting game began.
To the right, a stand of old, tall trees reached skyward. A quiet stream bubbled parallel to them. Clusters of lush, green clover and other deer foods sprawled out in the field in front of the stand. To the rear, thick CREP stands proud beneath another long ridge. Beyond? A food-rich alfalfa field. Needless to say, in this spot, deer have everything they need to live a good life.
It wasn’t long before deer emerged. Around 3 p.m., four does worked out into the open. Then, a couple small bucks appeared. After that, it was a ghost town for a couple hours. Eventually, four or five more does filtered out into the plot, followed by a really nice 140-inch, 3-year-old 10-pointer. He sat there, watching all of the deer. Suddenly, the buck’s posture changed. Snapping its head up, it stared hard into the cover to Kelly’s left.
“Sure enough, there was the deer I was after, and heading straight toward the smaller buck,” he says. “As they got closer, the smaller one — which was between me and my target buck — veered around him. He did not want to fight. The buck I was after kept coming toward me, then turned broadside.”
Kelly took the 38-yard shot opportunity, and the bolt blew through both shoulders. The buck took off, ran back to the left and disappeared beyond a group of cedars. The shook-up hunter waited 15 minutes, backed out, and went to a friend’s house. They waited two hours before taking up the track. But it didn’t take long to find the 188 4/8-inch, early season buck.
Reflecting back on the hunt for this amazing whitetail, Kelly attributes numerous tactical decisions for his success. First, he moved a tower blind into what he believed was the best spot to kill this buck. There were no trees for a stand where he needed to be.
Secondly, he created diversity in his food plot by alternating 20-foot strips of clover, beans, peas, turnips, radishes, etc. This proved a great decision, because it kept pulling deer back to that spot for a lengthy period of time. A few mock scrapes provided extra incentive to move through that area.
He also hunted with the wind in the buck’s favor (not his). This is what we call a just-off wind. Mature deer oftentimes feel more comfortable moving during daylight hours if they believe they have the wind advantage. Setting up in a manner where the hunter’s scent glides just passed them gives deer a false sense of security. For added insurance, he also used an Ozonics unit.
“This may not be my largest buck ever, but I doubt I can ever beat the character of this deer,” Kelly says. “Reflecting back on the whole thing, it seems like God had a plan and I was along for the ride. I’m just glad I was there for it.”