Last week, when Field & Stream published a story about a huge 280-plus-inch whitetail buck that Derek Settle said he shot in Henderson County, Kentucky, on September 11, 2021, we expected the comments crying out that the buck was a “high fence” deer—like we usually see when posting stories about large non-typicals. (Pen-raised deer have more opportunity to grow huge racks because they live in a controlled environment). However, In the last few years, hunters have killed several wild deer that broke the 300-inch mark, so a wild buck of this caliber was not at all out of the question. Settle also claimed to have taken the deer in a part of Kentucky that is known for big bucks.

What we did not expect when we published the story, however, were claims from the owners of a high-fence hunting preserve alerting us that Settle’s buck was, in fact, taken on their property—in another state. After learning this, we quickly addressed the development with an editor’s note to the original story, and to the post on our Facebook page, explaining the situation and vowing to update readers as soon as we learned more. Well, we’ve learned more.

A Timeline of the Derek Settle Buck

  • September 9: Patoka River Whitetails posted a photo of Settle with the buck at their preserve. We had no knowledge of this post or any other pictures of Settle with the buck aside from the ones he shared directly with us.
  • September 11: Settle entered a private-land buck into the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) Telecheck System indicating the deer was taken in Henderson County, Kentucky, with a crossbow. High-fence preserve hunts are not telechecked in the state. The KDFWR Telecheck Review shows that Settle also entered what appears to be the same a buck on September 13. The second buck did not appear in our initial pre-publication fact-check on Settle’s buck, which took place earlier in the day on September 13. 
Kentucky telecheck screen shot.
A screenshot of the Kentucky Telecheck with two entries from Settle. This screenshot was taken on September 17, 2021. Sage Marshall
  • September 13: Settle reached out to F&S about his buck via Facebook.
screenshot of facebook conversation.
A screenshot of our Facebook conversation with Settle. Matthew Every
  • Later on September 13, Settle sent F&S photos of the buck he claimed to have killed on his property in Henderson County, Kentucky, and communicated with us via email. Before we interviewed Settle, we confirmed that he had telechecked a buck in Kentucky. We then conducted a phone interview with Settle, who told a compelling story about a DIY-style hunt that he said took place at his property in Kentucky. We pressed Settle on the type of property where the hunt took place, and he was adamant that it took place at his 5-acre plot in Henderson County. After the interview, we felt confident about the authenticity of Settle’s retelling of the hunt and began to write the story. We gave Settle the opportunity to review the story for accuracy before publication.
screenshot of email.
This email correspondence between Settle and Field & Stream News Editor Sage Marshall shows where Settle claimed he arrowed the buck and how he felt it could be a Kentucky record. Sage Marshall
  • September 15: After we published our story on Settle’s buck and shared a link to the story on our Facebook page, Ryan Neuhoff, a part-owner of Patoka River Whitetails, a family-owned high-fence deer preserve in Dubois, Indiana, reached out to us about the deer. He provided us with documentation that showed that Settle had taken a deer dubbed “White 352” at their operation on September 9. The evidence Neuhof shared included Settle’s special hunting permit for hunting preserves and transportation tag that had been filed with the Indiana State Board of Animal Health. Patoka River Whitetails also sent us two previously unseen photos of the deer: one of the buck in a soybean field on their property, and the other of Settle posing with the buck’s rack at a Patoka River Whitetails lodge. (Settle is also wearing a Patoka River Whitetails hat in the photograph.)
A big buck stands in the middle of a soybean field
Patoka River Whitetails sent us this previously unshared photo of “White 352,” the trophy buck that Derek Settle would later harvest. Patoka River Whitetails
Documents on a table
Documents that record Settle’s hunt at Patoka River Whitetails provided to F&S by Patoka River Whitetails. Patoka River Whitetails
  • September 16: Patoka River Whitetails released this official comment on the situation:

“Patoka River Whitetails is a family-owned and operated farm, and this situation really hit us hard. We are all avid hunters ourselves and believe there is nothing better than the freedom that we feel while in the woods. This freedom is what Patoka River Whitetails was built on—providing hunters the opportunity to feel as if they are right at home while hunting.  We operate as a family and treat our hunters as if they are our own family. Seeing the original article took us by surprise. It’s unfortunate that these things happen and drag businesses and hobbies down in the mix of it. We appreciate all the kind words regarding our preserve and appreciate all of those who brought it to our attention. While it is unfortunate that Mr. Settle chose to falsify his harvest with us, we still congratulate him on his buck of a lifetime.”

  • September 17: We called Settle for a comment about the evidence supplied by Patoka River Whitetails. He replied via text message and asked that we use his words exactly as he texted them to us:

“My comment is that yal got the information all wrong about the locations. The KYfwl Conservation was contacted Sunday morning on the 12th to delete the entry on the Ky Harvest Site. Weather or not it has updated or not is out of my hands. Obviously the pictures of my buck had previously been leaked on social media throughout the week, even though I never posted it. My point is that the fake news media is at a all time high and dying for a story without fact checking the information before publishing their articles. And now I to am a victim of this. On the record.  That’s my response.

“I made the entry into Ky telecheck by mistake, thinking it was required in order to transport the Cape into ky. Which I immediately realized was not required after checking on the KYFWL website. Therefore attempting to contact KSP and Ky Conservation to delete the entry. Which I couldn’t do until the following morning. 9-12-2021. On the record. Please use my words exactly as they are.  And I’d appreciate no further contact.”

An Investigation Into the Settle Buck Is Underway

The KDFWR law enforcement division is aware of and currently investigating the incident. Kentucky Administrative Regulation 2:172 (9) prohibits a person from knowingly entering false information into the Telecheck System. As of right now, it’s unclear if Settle could be charged with any other violations. KDFWR will not comment on any ongoing investigations.

We will continue to report on this developing story.