At a young age, I became infatuated with the Whitetail Deer. No rhyme or reasoning why. My father had hunted some when I was younger, but his bow hunting career was short lived after a tree stand accident. While growing up with this obsession, I can remember the first time I watched a filmed whitetail deer hunt. It was guys like Jackie Bushman and Bill Jordan that fed the fuel for my desire to hunt. I can remember when Milo Hanson broke the world record of the James Jordan buck. I could quote scores, inches, and other records off the top of my head. Around the few men I knew that hunted, it was quite impressive for an eight-year-old kid explaining what a G2 was. In 1996, I was 9 years old when I could finally hunt. Thirty minutes into my first hunt, I harvested my first deer, a little doe. I was on cloud nine and was hooked for life. My father “in true hunter’s fashion” wiped some blood from my first kill on my face, which I thought was gross until I arrive at our local coffee shop. With my proud “war paint” on I walked in and was met with congratulation and handshakes from the local hunters. The ones that I would almost irritate daily wanting to hear another deer story. It was from that day on I knew I was going to be a deer hunter. My success was short lived though. It would be four more years before I would hold another one of my harvest in my hands. The little local coffee shop remains & most of the men there that day have passed or have retired their guns and bows… but in true hunter’s fashion at age 31, I still take every harvested animal up there for show – always barring my local “war paint” trademark.
Fast forward 20 years, hunting has changed a lot. From how we hunt to what we use to hunt. Over these past 20 years I had learned from how a deer reacts, to what a deer needs to survive. The ever-growing combination that all of us as hunters try to master. Throughout these years I was maturing as an avid bow hunter, and had a new infatuation of shed hunting. I was starting to see the same bucks from year to year. Noticing which ones were growing and how many inches one could grow on a good weather year. It was at this point in my hunting career that it turned into a game of inches. Not a game that is well mastered or one that comes easy. While living on and working on our family grain farm, it never made any sense to my father to plant food plots since there were surrounding acres of corn and soybeans along with hay fields of white and red clover. Though as the years passed I started doing what I could in terms of planting food, with what I had to work with. Finally, my father gave in and we started establishing some small food plots, which in a few years, turned into some larger ones… usually about 1 to 3 acres. At the peak of this I had also been running trail cameras on our farm and was able to prove the success of what we were doing and I was setting the stage for the years to come.
The 2015 season started out like most. I had started running trail cameras on our farm around late June. From these velvet pictures I usually set up an inventory of deer and then decide on which deer I am going to pursue. Granted, some deer only show up a few times, you can still determine which deer are your home deer. One buck that stood out was this very young, small bodied twelve pointer. He had a clean five-point side on his right and his left was also a five-point side sporting a double brow tine and a split G3. This deer was not nearly the largest or oldest buck this year, but definitely stood out.
As the late summer progressed and velvet had shed off, he was a definite home buck. He hung around and traveled all around our farm and it was almost like he enjoyed having his picture taken. As the season started, he was still holding tight. He had many characteristics in his antlers from deer I had hunted in the past. Wondering what his true potential could be from past experiences I had had with his elders, I immediately contacted all my neighbors and asked that this buck please get a pass. Having good neighbors is one thing but having neighbors that are good hunters is another, and with a bad out break in 2012 of EHD, we were all on the same page. So, it was established that “Baby”, named from his small body, would get the pass.
As the season progressed, I encountered “Baby” one morning while bow hunting in a ground blind. Now trail camera pictures are one thing, but being eye level with him, I just couldn’t believe how little this deer was in size. He was short and stocky, yet still sporting a 120-inch rack. Thinking it was impossible for this deer to be a year old, I determined he was 2.5 years old but still yet smaller in the body. This made his rack look a little more appealing. I was the first to pass him that year. I continued to hunt other deer on the farm, but as he always did, he would pop up on trail cameras, almost as if he never left or had a reason to leave. One afternoon while walking in to the stand, during the firearm gun season, I was approaching a pond when I had seen something shiny from the sunlight glaring back at me. I immediately realized it was a deer antler. As I laid down in the prone position with my shot gun, I ranged him bedded at around 70 yards, which was well within my ability. As I prepared to take the shot, the buck turned his head and that’s when I noticed the split G3. It was “Baby”. The rack looked somewhat impressive in the quick glance I had in my fight or flight response, but I quickly laid down my gun and took a minute to think about what I almost did. Here I am, the one begging for this deer to live, but it was at this moment I almost made the mistake of harvesting him. I laid there and watched him as he got up and walked off. This was the second time I let him walk, and as the rest of the season went on, I would learn that he was staying in the hay lot behind the pond. With this knowledge I vacated that area and left him be. He was such a common deer on trail camera, that the second week of December, I noticed he poked out his left eye. I assume from fighting, but from then on, all the pictures of him his left eye would not shine. After season was over, I contacted the neighbors to see how their season had went and to my surprise, none of them had an encounter with “Baby”.
The 2016 season started as the years before had. My father started farming the field by the pond where “Baby” liked to stay. This year, it was planted in soybeans, so around the 1st of July, I drove a t- post in the standing beans, and hung a trail camera on it. A week or so later, I checked the camera for pictures and sure enough there was a good rack buck with a blind left eye. It was “Baby”. “Baby” blew up and tacked on some mass and extra points. More than his ancestors had in a year’s time. He was still sporting his main frame 10-point rack with inside points and extra off his G2’s and G3’s. I couldn’t believe the number of inches he had grown. Mind you, this deer was approximately three years old. I knew that he wouldn’t be easily passed if I was to plea for his survival again. Also, with the knowledge of one of his elders that I had harvested in 2013, I feared for what might happen. In 2012, I had a buck that was sporting fourteen points at the age of two. A main frame ten point with four extras on his G2’s and G3’s. This buck in 2013 had fell sick or something, and lost most of his potential and was only a bladed five by four. So, in that season I harvested this deer with a muzzle loader at three years of age. But “Baby” was different. He too, now had fourteen score-able points, but was extremely heavy in mass. Which dubbed his name from then on as “Baby 14”. He wasn’t the largest deer on the farm yet, but was carrying the most points. I knew if I harvested this buck, he would be my largest deer, and I would be proud to have him, even knowing he was only 3.5 years old. So, I put him on the list. This year “Baby 14” was moving quite a bit, all at night. I had trail camera photos of him on three different pieces of property, basically working a one-mile triangle around my house. My head was telling me go ahead and get in the tree, but with my gut telling me no. I waited till the second week of November, and I moved in on the timber behind the pond where I had passed him almost a year before. About an hour before dark, I heard something crashing through the woods and sure enough here came “Baby 14” chasing a doe. I watched him for about 15 minutes. Studying his rack and his new found heavy weight body, I decided to try it. I grunted a few times at him, mimicking the sound of another buck chasing toward his doe, and here he came. As he made his way into range, I had to draw my bow back on him twice. The first time, at full draw, I did a quick assessment of my bow, and realized the bow hanger was sticking between my string and cables, which would be a catastrophic disaster if I was to shoot. So, I reassessed everything, and drew back for the second time and stopped him. When I released the arrow, “Baby 14” picked his head up and walked off. I had hit the shoulder blade. As I watched him top the hill, licking his shoulder, I regretted ever shooting at him. I felt ill to my stomach. I had two years of history with this deer. What if I did kill him and don’t find him? I was going from an all-time high, to one of my lowest.
That night, the blood trail was about a hundred yards with no recovery. The next morning the arrow was retrieved, and I saw there was little penetration. The rest of season, “Baby 14” was a no-show. I was almost a 100% sure that the hit was not lethal, but he was gone. For the rest of the season, I hunted a different side of the property, in hopes he would come back and feel safe again in his hay lot where he had been staying the last two years. He was nowhere to be seen though. After the season was over, I started shed hunting hoping to find his sheds or find him. I searched for about three weeks, and finally got permission to walk a piece of neighboring ground. I was on top of a hill, looking across a bottom with binoculars, when I spotted what looked to be a set of sheds lying on top of one another. As I approached them, I realized it was one shed with a lot of points. It was “Baby 14’s” shed. I took off running, and even tripped and fell trying to get to it as fast as I could. He was alive.
The 2017 season started out different than any other, due to a change in careers. I would not have the time to hunt that I was used to, but we all make sacrifices when we need to. My father had seen a nice buck in velvet in one of our standing soybean fields. So, later that week, I snuck back there with a pair of binoculars and started to glass. There was indeed, a very nice ten pointer that I was familiar with from the year before. As I watched him, and some does feed in the beans, I saw another extremely wide buck come out of a thick draw into the bean field. It was also another buck I had a past with. While watching this second buck, I could see movement behind him. It was another buck. A giant with points everywhere. It was “Baby 14.” Once I realized it was him, I quickly backed out and walked back to the truck. I was wearing just regular clothes since I was just going to take a quick glance. I returned the next evening in camouflage and with my spotting scope. I hunkered down in the standing beans and waited. That night, more deer showed up but not “Baby 14”. It was almost as if I had every buck in the township in our field. The next night was the same, he was a no-show. After a few evenings, I started to second guess myself. Did I really see what I thought I saw? So, I once again drove a t-post in the standing beans and hung a trail camera. About a week went by and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to check the trail camera for photos. Sure enough, there he was, a giant with a blind left eye. Now I had him. I had proof. This was going to be the largest deer I’ve ever had the chance to hunt. Will he do the same as the last two years? Will he hold tight? He is now 4.5 years old, and definitely the biggest, but not the oldest buck. I just hoped he wouldn’t get pushed out by another mature buck. As the season went on, the pictures were few, but he was still around. I hunted every chance I had. He was nocturnal, but I hunted anyways in case he made a mistake.
Years ago, a guy told me it’s a lot harder to hunt A deer, than just any deer. He was right. I told myself “I was hunting him and him only”. I’m not saying I wouldn’t shoot a lesser buck, but I was passing every buck opportunity I had to to get to him. It wasn’t until my father started harvesting our corn, that “Baby 14” started to move. In fact, the night my father harvested the corn by the pond, “Baby 14” came out of the standing corn, and walked right up to a random trail camera I had placed on a maple tree, for no apparent reason. It was this trail camera video, that I learned that “Baby 14” was sporting twenty-four score-able points. A day or two goes by, and my father started shelling corn in the field across the property. This evening, I was hunting the timber by the first field that was now harvested. I was pulling in my driveway that evening after that hunt, while my father was still shelling the corn in front of my house. When I pulled in my pole barn driveway, there he was. Blind eye and all, “Baby 14” was standing in my yard. He quickly ran off and went into another standing corn field. Now, I’m putting the pieces together. How do you hunt a deer that is nocturnal and staying in standing corn? This drove me crazy for about two weeks. During these two weeks, the rumors started to fly. He was being seen traveling from standing corn to standing corn. Currently, the rut was starting. So, I put myself in every position I could to intersect him with no result. Finally, a week before the firearm gun season, one neighbor finally harvested the last standing corn field, which would force “Baby 14” back into the timber.
The day before firearm opener, I had worked all night, but had the opening day off. The only day I would have to firearm hunt this deer. While I was at work, a neighbor had sent me a message saying there was a big buck in our wheat field. Could it be him? I wondered…. Then I got a message from a friend saying your big buck just jumped the road and left your property. So opening day of firearm season, I arrived at home about 4:00 am. I got my gear together, and headed to the timber. Opening day was cold, with a heavy frost. The leaves would fall, making the sound of shattered glass. I hunted most of the morning, and came out to see a friend of mine’s buck that he had harvested, which was a buck I had some history with. He was also the one who seen “Baby 14” jump the road the evening before. After congratulating him, I headed back to the woods. I hunted most of the evening from a box blind, passing every deer I seen, because it wasn’t “Baby 14”. As I sat there, I had been awake for over thirty hours. I got to thinking about what my friend and neighbor had said they had seen the night before. This is my one day to hunt. I know this deer, I know where he wants to be, and I know why he’s in a field in the day light. He must have a doe in this finger of honey suckle. So, about an hour before dark, I got up and started making my way towards the field. My truck was on the way, so I stopped and dropped off all my gear, and headed for the wheat field. I swung way out around this finger in the field to get my wind right, and as I approached the tip of this finger, I caught movement across the field. It was a big buck. I quickly took a knee, and rested my elbow on it, while shouldering my shot gun. I squeezed the trigger, and the buck dropped. In a rush of excitement, I started toward the down buck, and he started to get up, so I shot a second round into him. Still not knowing what buck I had just shot (but knew it was a large one) I approached the deer and saw the amount of points and bone he had on top of his head. It was him. I had harvested “Baby 14”. It was at this time, I realized what I had done. I got a phone from a local neighbor, because my phone was dead from working all night, and called my father who was in town, and I said, “get here now!” When he answered the phone he heard me stuttering, and he said are you ok? I replied, “I got him”. It was at that moment, reality started sinking in. I drove home and got my wife. She came back with me to where the deer laid. I hadn’t put my hands on the deer ’til she was there. As I picked up his rack for the first time, my Dad pulled up in his truck and saw me holding this giant. As I approached my Dad, I hugged him with tears in my eyes just as I had twenty-two years ago, when I harvested my first deer. After some more close friends arrived, with my “war paint” on, we loaded him up, and headed to the local coffee shop.
After our run to the coffee shop we headed back to my pole barn with a crowd of friends and family. As we took pictures, more people started to show up. It wasn’t long before some guesses of the score started being questioned. As the crowd started to grow I got together the necessary instruments needed to preform a green score. Not wanting to score my own deer I was the only one with the knowledge of scoring a deer at this level. As the numbers kept growing, and everyone was adding them out loud, I asked everyone to please wait until the end. I too was noticing the number of inches growing. It was determined that “Baby 14” would indeed green score over 200 inches. Even I, with the history I had of this deer, was beyond surprised. The numbers were re-figured a half a dozen times because I would not accept the fact that he grossed over 200 inches. I just couldn’t believe it. The next 48 hours seemed unreal. The word spread like wildfire through text messages and social media. Granted he is no record breaker, but to my knowledge a 200-inch whitetail had never been taken in my township. The calls and text messages poured in congratulating me on my harvest and wanting to know when they could come see him. Calls from some of the men that were in the coffee shop the morning I harvested my first deer. Some of these calls were very emotional for me. Mostly congratulating me but also telling how proud they were of me and letting me know how they enjoyed watching me mature into a true trophy hunter and how deserving I was of this deer. Even after all the excitement and celebration was over I still would not accept the score that I had measured, until 60 days later when he was officially grossed over 200 by Boone & Crockett. Even with having two of his original twenty-four points broke off.
I hope every hunter finally gets the buck there after, but I must also say it is very bitter sweet. The chase is the biggest part of the hunt. The harvest is just a small portion. Though it felt like a huge weight was taken off my shoulders, there was now this empty feeling. Almost as if the drive was gone or as if I had lost an old friend. I set goals for myself in hunting. Goals that I knew I would never reach. Goals that would keep me out there year after year in the cold sunrises and sunsets. My goal was not only to harvest a 200-inch non-typical, but to do it on my small family farm. I proved myself wrong and proved that it can be done.
As I look back and think about all the years I hunted on the same property, I think about everyone who also had a hand in my success. Everyone from family to friends. My accomplishment was not all mine. I also looked back on everything that I missed while chasing my goals. I noticed what all sacrifices my family had made for me to be able to spend so much time in the woods. Once again, I hope every hunter has the chance to fulfill their goals and harvest the big one, but nothing will prepare you for what happens when you do. I always thought the hardest thing was getting close to a whitetail deer, but once consumed, the real sacrifice as a hunter is seeing how far you can stay away.
Jordan Hanks 2018