Trophy Class: Lessons From a Father-Son Trophy Buck Dream Season
Davey Stuckey arrowed a 180-class buck during last year's rut, and his son Gaige took a near-200-incher just before Christmas. Here's what you can learn from both
Ohio whitetail hunter Davey Stuckey is no stranger to this space. We covered the story of his 229-inch Buckeye State nontypical bow kill back in the fall of 2018. Well, Stuckey arrowed another giant Ohio buck last season, and if that weren’t enough, his son outdid him with an even bigger one. Here’s the story of their father-son dream season, and lessons you can take from their success to use this coming fall.
The Hunt for Devil Horns
The elder Stuckey struck first, arrowing a buck he’d known about for years. “I first had pictures of a buck I called ‘Devil Horns’ back in 2016. He had tumors all over him, and I never thought he’d survive,” Stuckey tells F&S. “He showed up again the following year, though, looking healthy, with no tumors. He was always a deer that would show only a couple times during summer, but then he’d be all over the farm I hunted during rut. He’d turn up in late October every year, like clockwork.”
During the 2020-21 season, Devil Horns was the most predictable buck that Stuckey had on his cameras, but he had set his sights firmly on another great buck and wound up eating his tag. “When the 2021-22 season rolled around, I turned my attention to Devil Horns. He was massive and kind of a bully; he kept everything pushed off the farm I hunted,” he says.
As usual, Devil Horns showed up in late October, and Stuckey started hunting him every day starting on the 30th. “I had several encounters with him but could never close the deal. He would spot me in my tree stand even after I’d moved it several times.” Although Stucky had had most of his encounters on the edges of cover, he decided he needed to move closer to a doe bedding area in the timber as the rut progressed. On November 16th, he went out at midday and hung a new stand.
“The next morning I headed to that set at first light and was able to slip in without busting any deer. Soon the does started to pile into the bedding area, and sure enough, in came Devil Horns, following them. When he got to 12 yards, I drew my bow, shot, and pin-wheeled him. He went about 40 yards and piled up. I knew he was an old, massive deer and, of course, I had tons of history with him. But I didn’t realize he would gross low 180s by Buckmasters Score. More than anything, I was excited to arrow a deer that I had known and followed for 7 years—no matter what he scored.”
The Redemption Buck
While Stuckey was concentrating on Devil Horns, his son Gaige was busy with school and sports, which left precious little time for hunting. “Once I tagged out, I got busy looking for a buck for Gaige to hunt. While I had most of my cell cameras on two other farms, I had conventional cameras on another spot, and when I checked them there was a giant in the pictures,” says Stuckey. “We had no history with this buck. He just showed up November 4th and stayed.”
With the rut winding down, Stuckey put out a corn pile (legal in Ohio) with the hope that the big deer he would follow a doe to the spot, looking for a last chance to breed. Finally, on November 26th, Gaige was able to get out for an evening hunt. “The buck came right to us at 34 yards, and Gaige squeezed the trigger on his crossbow but only cut hair off the bottom of the buck’s chest. I thought for sure that that deer would never be back, but the very next evening, he was on camera again, just after dark.”
Gaige would not be able to hunt again until his Christmas break, so Stuckey continued to put corn out, and the buck continued to show on a regular basis. During that span, the buck daylighted several times, but Gaige was always at practice or a game. Finally, on December 22nd, he was able to get back out. “Amazingly, the buck not only showed up, but came to almost exactly the same spot as he did the first time,” says Stuckey. “This time, Gaige made an excellent 34-yard shot. We’d never gotten around to naming the deer earlier, but one we recovered the buck, Gaige gave him the nickname ‘Redemption.’” The stud whitetail taped 197⅞, under the Buckmasters scoring system, says Stuckey, and judging from the trail-cam pics and videos, the deer had broken off a 4-inch tine. “Not only did Redemption give Gaige an incredible second chance, but it was also a heck of a Christmas present for a 15-year old.”
Lessons from a Father-Son Double
There are two important takeaways from Stuckey’s hunt for Devil Horns, and the first is to look for annual patterns. As bowhunters, we all try to pattern deer during the season. We look for daily or weekly routines that help us set up an ambush at just the right time, in exactly the right place. But more and more, savvy hunters like Stuckey also study trail-cam photos and journal entries to uncover yearly patterns. And what they’ve learned is that it’s not uncommon for a mature buck to show up on a farm at the same time year after year, often in the very same place—and Devil Horns was just such a buck. He would turn up in late October, “like clockwork,” and stay through the rut, and because Stuckey knew this, he also knew right when and where to find him.
The second lesson is about turning your attention to do bedding areas as the rut progresses. Stuckey was actually seeing his buck on the edges, along tree lines and ditches, he told me. And yet he moved into the timber near a doe bedding area—because he knew that this was where he needed to be to actually arrow the deer. No one has to be told that bucks will spend more time near does as the rut heats up. But a doe bedding area provides more than just potential mates; it offers cover, and it’s the combination of these things that make your odds of a daylight encounter with a mature buck skyrocket. Stuckey’s buck proves it.
Gaige’s buck also has two key lessons. The first is not to give up on a buck just because you missed it with an arrow or crossbow bolt. When it comes to mature late-season whitetails, it’s easy to assume that anything that spooks the deer will send him into the next county. But if bucks relocated every time something put them on edge, they’d never rest. An arrow or bolt whizzing past—or even cutting hair—will probably send a buck bolting away, but if he didn’t smell or see you, there’s a decent chance he’ll have no idea what happened and will return to a normal routine. This is especially true if the place in question has everything a late-season buck wants. Gaige’s buck had both does and easy food at his disposal. The Stuckey’s where smart enough not to give up on the spot, and it paid off.
The second lesson is simple, and that’s to believe in second chances.