giant 6-point buck
The author hunted this giant 6-point for two seasons before finally seeing him on the hoof. Will Brantley

Blood trail

I sat at my mother-in-law’s table, eyeing two chicken wings and a pile of okra. I’d declined her offer to heat up the plate, and though I was starving, I couldn’t force down much more than a couple of bites. Adrenaline seems to fill the gut as much as the blood vessels. We chitchatted, but the only detail I could absorb was on the wall clock. I glanced at it again: 7:58 p.m. I’d shot the buck 43 minutes earlier, and it was only at the urging of my wife, Michelle, that I was sitting there not looking for my arrow. “You’d tell anyone in your spot to wait; give the deer time,” she said. “That’s what you need to do now. Wait.” It’s easy advice to give. It’s not always easy to follow.
8-point buck in velvet
I first saw the buck on a trail camera in the summer of 2015, in a food plot on our family farm in western Kentucky. It’s a special 120 acres, at least to me. It’s where I killed my first squirrel and my first deer with a bow. It’s mostly thicket and timber, but we do have some small fields on the place, and through no small effort, we maintain pretty nice food plots. The one in the photo is 1.5 acres of ladino clover and chicory. In early July, I’d set a camera on a 6×6 post at the edge of the field and began capturing photos of a giant 8-point almost immediately. He had a wide rack with sweeping main beams and curved G-2s. He was a perfect typical, but not the forgettable type. He was moving in daylight on occasion, too. I’ve never been a “that buck or bust” hunter, but I burned quite a few summer hours studying photos of that deer. When bow season opened in early September, for the first week I hunted him every day the wind allowed—but I never saw him. He shed his velvet a few days after the opener, and, predictably, the photos of him—especially the daylight photos—waned. I thought I could kill him in early October or just before the rut, if I could find where he liked to bed. Will Brantley

Early season buck

Several winters ago, a severe ice storm hit western Kentucky was hit that left my parents without power for 14 days. Though a nightmare for people in the area, the storm was a godsend for the deer woods. Countless trees were broken, and the thickets that grew up amongst the tops and stumps became virtually impenetrable. Of course, that made identifying any specific bedding area pretty tricky, too. Yet, the Big 8 provided me some clues. Based on the photos, to enter the plot, he didn’t use any of the dozen deer trails that snaked through the thickets but, rather, our gravel access road. I figured that catching a photo of him stepping onto the road would be easy to get. I was mistaken. I set cameras on every faint deer trail spilling onto that road and never captured a single photo of Big 8. In late October, I got more aggressive and followed a deer path 200 yards into the thicket, where I found a small opening full of white oaks utterly destroyed by huge rubs and scrapes. I felt sure that I’d found the spot. I hung a camera and a lock-on stand in the opening, and hunted it morning and evening as the wind allowed. I saw does—and captured some photos of smaller bucks—but never Big 8. Still, on occasion, I’d capture a ghostly, late-night picture of him, walking out of that gravel road and into the food plot. By early November, just before rifle season, he simply vanished altogether. The rut of 2015 came and went, and I ended up filling my tag with a smaller buck on a different farm. I assumed that Big 8 was probably dead.
6-point whitetail buck
By mid-summer 2016, the plot was a sea of fat, white clover tops—and full of deer sign. In July, I again hung a camera at the gravel-road intersection. I got pictures of the buck on the very first card pull. On the afternoon of July 31, he strolled down the gravel road and into the plot with 45 minutes of daylight to spare. He looked mostly the same—tall tines and wide, heavy, sweeping main beams—but with one major difference: He was now an especially large 6-point. I had to change his name. Despite the single daylight photo, every subsequent picture of Big 6 was from late at night or the wee hours of the morning. I established a mineral lick in front of the camera, and sweetened it a few times with Big & J deer feed. Occasionally, he’d stop for a bite, but mostly he ignored it. I checked the camera once a week throughout the summer, and there would always be a photo or two of him somewhere in the mix, either coming from or going to that gravel road. I again debated hanging more cameras to intercept him but decided to focus my early-season efforts around the food plot. Will Brantley

bucks in food plot

As the opening day of the 2016 season neared, two nice 8-pointers began appearing regularly in the food plot, often in shooting light. With three good bucks in the area, I knew I’d be hunting the plot as much as the wind allowed, but I felt my chances of even seeing Big 6 were virtually none. On opening day, instead of hunting the ladder stand at the intersection of the road, I climbed into a lock-on on the other side of the plot. It’s a great rut stand, but one I typically avoid in the early season because leaving it requires me to cross the plot after climbing down, which frequently results in spooked deer. Yet, the stand is perfect for the forecasted east wind that I had and huntable on either a due north or due south wind. An hour before dark, both 8-pointers walked into the clover plot and began feeding toward me. When they were 60 yards out, someone on a neighboring property fired up a chainsaw and began cutting firewood. The bucks turned and eased out of the field. I hunted the plot two more evenings of opening week without seeing a deer. The following week, I was out of town.
Brantley with 6-point buck
The afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 18, was my first chance to again hunt the food plot. The temperature was in the low 80s—cool for around here that time of year—with a marginal north wind. I again climbed into the lock-on, thinking not of Big 6 but of the two 8s that had entered the field from the north end. With 20 minutes of light remaining, I still hadn’t seen a thing. Then, at 7 p.m., I spotted movement by the gravel road. In my binoculars, I saw deer knees coming—bulbous, horse-like knees. Big 6 stepped into the food plot big as life, 80 yards away, and buried his head in the clover. Despite two seasons’ worth of photos, I’d never actually seen the buck in person. My nerves are usually under control at that stage in the game, but a sudden surge of adrenaline was crippling. I pulled my bow tight to my chest with my left hand, braced myself on the stand with my right, looked at the sky, and counted to 10. It was a strange sequence. But it calmed me down. The buck fed in the same spot—40 yards out of my range—for nearly 15 minutes. Shooting light was fading, along with my chance. There’d be no way to climb down without him busting me. The north breeze was blowing his way, and at best, I had a crosswind in my favor. Suddenly, he decided that the clover on my end of the field looked more appetizing, and he picked up his head and began a steady walk right into my shooting lane at 37 yards. I clipped on my release, drew my bow, and bleated to stop him. He looked directly up at me. Take your time, fast. I held my 30-yard pin right behind his elbow, firmed my anchor, checked my sight level, and let it go. When the bow thumped, the buck seemed to drop a foot. I knew the arrow hit him—heard it—but he threw his tail up and bounded away as if untouched. He was out of sight within a second. Though I’d aimed low, I was terribly afraid of a high hit through the backstraps. I gave it 15 minutes, then snuck out of the tree, circled through the woods around the plot, and returned to my truck. Will Brantley

big Kentucky buck

I ate maybe five bites of dinner. Michelle and I left at 8:15 p.m., because I could stand it any longer. The plan was to search for my arrow and any initial blood in the field, and then make the tracking decision from there. Turns out, the decision was easy to make. My arrow was stuck in the clover, easy to find, and soaked in blood. Michelle picked up the trail at the edge of the timber, and it was heavy. Big 6 was laying dead not 40 yards deep, shot perfectly through both lungs. Had I not aimed low, I would’ve hit him high. Had he not dropped, I would’ve missed him.

mature whitetail buck

After gutting and loading the buck, I grabbed the camera from the 6×6 post. I hadn’t checked it since the opener, and there were some 2,000 photos on the card. Big 6 had been in the plot virtually every night—but never earlier than 10 p.m., and never later than 3 a.m. The sole daylight photo of him was taken at 7:03 the afternoon I shot him—and that photo is so washed out that the deer is unrecognizable. Had I not been there at that exact time, it’s likely that the buck would’ve died of old age without anyone ever seeing him. We talk a lot in F&S about skills and preparation. But where mature whitetails are concerned, there’s usually a hell of a lot of luck involved, too. I’ve shot some bucks that outscore Big 6. I roughed him at 139 2/8 inches, which is simply incredible for a 3×3 whitetail (and a serious case against antler point restrictions). Much of antler comes from his main beams, which are 25 and 24 3/8 inches long, respectively, and with 36 1/8 inches of mass. He’s likely one of the largest 6-point bucks ever taken in Kentucky, particularly with a bow, but of course, none of those qualifiers matter much. Big 6 is my buck of a lifetime—and that two-year chase is one I’ll never forget.

It’s the story of a Super 6—and a classic tale of bowhunting obsession.

Rut Reporters 2016: The Big Six by FieldandStream