Years before the renovated landscape became a whitetail deer hotbed, the southwestern corner of Indiana played host to some of the largest coal mining operations in the Midwest. Native resident Jay Smith remembers those days.
“My father was a lifelong coal man. He worked 32 years and mined the same forests a lot of hunters explore each fall,” Smith says.
An avid archery hunter with 70 acres in his own backyard, Smith knows the area’s hills and dales like the back of his hand, and in seasons past, he’s managed to get close to some impressive deer, including a few in the 140 class, and a 17-point buck scoring 163 harvested on Halloween of 2010.
But in 2012, using a unique permit that allowed him to hunt Peabody Coal property, he decided to shift his focus from his property to an area he hunted in years prior, and while he knew the odds of harvesting another large deer were higher on private land, he felt a change of scenery would be good.
“On coal mine land, they only issue so many permits to hunters each year, so pressure is limited. Because I purchased my land from Peabody Coal, I’m able to get a permit every year, but it’s still a fairly coveted thing. They only give out so many, and the job they’ve done with the conservation and management practices on Bear Run Mine has really helped the quality of the deer herds,” Smith says. “Most years I hunt close to home, but I’d been seeing some nice activity on Peabody’s property, so I decided to spend some time there.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 31, two years after tagging his largest deer, Smith took to the woods, hoping to recreate history.
“I put a stand up the night before and went out for a morning hunt,” Smith says. “After a while I saw a few small bucks, a four and six pointer, just nudging a doe around, grunting, and making all kinds of commotion, but nothing else noteworthy.”
Moments later, beyond the deer he’d been watching all morning, another buck caught Smith’s attention.
“I saw what I thought was a large-frame deer making its way through the brush. He finally got into an opening about 65 yards away where I could get a good look at him through my binoculars,” Smith says. “I noticed his horns were different. They looked extremely thick, like they had a lot of mass. But the more I studied, the more the rack took on a spongy appearance.”