Joe Welsh dedicated the hunt for the giant whitetail to the memory of his late mother
|Rack Report Details|
|Buck:||239 1/8 inches|
|Time of Year:||September 17, 2023|
Joe Welsh’s buck sports a whopping 51 score-able points, and an untold number that aren’t score-able. Image courtesy of Joe Welsh
Joe Welsh has been actively deer hunting for 27 years. This season, he crossed paths with a freaky non-typical that soared well over the 200-inch mark. The 4 ½- to 5 ½-year-old buck didn’t go easily, though. Welsh worked for this one. He walked away with not only a huge whitetail but also a life lesson or two.
Welsh first received photos of this deer in July. While he wasn’t surprised at the funky rack — this genetic trait is common in the local heard, even amongst younger bucks — he was taken aback by the size of it.
Unfortunately, this deer only hit cams at night. Eventually, Welsh realized the big non-typical was living eastward of his camera location. And once season started, the big non-typical quit hitting his cameras altogether. The hunter also knew of a big typical in the area, so he focused his efforts on that buck in the meantime.
“I was really going after another deer, but I couldn’t get a south wind,” Welsh said. “So, I decided to move a camera 200 yards [east], and I started getting daylight pictures of this deer every day.”
Welsh had never hunted the spot, but he liked it. It’s a bottom that’s about 50 by 30 yards. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), and hardwood ridges all meet in that spot. “It looks like a spot you’d kill a deer,” Welsh said. “It looks like a great staging area. It has three different types of habitat meeting.”
After a couple days of scouting, Welsh found the buck’s preferred location. Then, it was all about quality access. He realized the buck’s bed was in a spot that allowed it to see everything that came and went in the bottom, and much of the surrounding area. Fortunately, a drainage ditch flowed through the bottom and ended about 75 yards from the buck’s primary bedding location.
“I’d like to say that I was being patient, but because I was hunting another big deer, it kept me distracted,” Welsh said. “But when I found that drainage ditch, I knew it was perfect.”
This Kentucky buck is all sorts of funky. Image courtesy of Joe Welsh
On September 16, the buck daylighted. Sadly, Welsh wasn’t there to capitalize. Instead, he was on a date with his wife. Tomorrow, he thought.
The next day, on September 17, Welsh used the ditch as access. With a quiet drainage and banks to shield his approach, he eased closer to the buck’s bedroom. At the end of the ditch, he sat on the ground and waited. “If I would have went any further, or climbed a stand, he would have seen me,” Welsh said.
By 4 p.m., he was settled in. He carefully scanned the CRP, briars, and young timber around him. Occasionally, he looked up into the timber ridges that tapered down into the bottom.
With the action slow, and no distractions, his thoughts remained on his mother who’d passed only a few days prior. She had been healthy her entire life. Sadly, in August, she was diagnosed with cancer. By early September, she’d passed. The loss was still fresh on the hunter’s mind and would be for a long time to come.
By 6 p.m., a small 6-pointer walked in and milled around in the bottom. Checking the wind, Welsh realized his thermals were funneling down the drainage ditch and away. Perfect.
Around 6:10 p.m., the young buck threw its head up and looked into the timber. Simultaneously, a female cardinal landed on a branch above Welsh. While that’d go unnoticed by most, it wasn’t by him. His mother always told him, “If you see a cardinal, you’ll see a big buck.”
In that moment, seeing that red bird was like a sign from above. It was comforting. “It was like mom was talking to me, telling me a big buck was coming,” Welsh said.
And Momma was right. The little deer trotted off. Seconds later, the buck walked into view. “I peeked around a tree and I saw him coming,” Welsh said. “He was in half velvet, and it was swinging in the air on both sides.”
Because he was sitting on the ground, he had to raise the bow in the air to draw. When he did, it made a noise, and the buck stopped and looked. Settling the top pin on the vitals, Welsh took the 18-yard, slightly quartering-to shot. It connected, zipping through both lungs.
“I heard the deer crash three times,” Welsh said. “But because it happened it so fast, I thought I missed him.”
Sure, this buck is massive. But it means far more than the score. Image courtesy of Joe Welsh
During the recovery, he couldn’t find blood at the point of impact. But he found part of the arrow 10 yards past the shot location. There were dime-sized spots of bloods every 10 yards. But about 50 yards in, it was the most blood he’d ever seen. The buck only ran 75 yards and died right in his bed. “It was unreal,” Welsh said. “I’d never seen anything like it.”
When he found the buck, it was a dream come true. Reflecting on it, he believes the deer started shedding its velvet on September 15, and seemed to have gotten up earlier in the day trying to get the velvet off.
“On mature deer, every little detail is important,” Welsh said. “If not, he’s going to beat you every time. If you don’t figure out that one spot and that one way in, he’s not playing the game.”
Looking back, while waiting for help to recover the deer, a peace and understanding settled over him. “I road this adrenaline high for an hour,” Welsh said. “Then, everything calmed down.”
Of course, as a diehard deer hunter, Welsh spends a lot of time thinking about big whitetails. But he’s also a pastor, and Christ comes first. Reflecting, he takes that female cardinal as the sign from his mother that she always meant it to be. Still, he also hears one final life lesson from Momma.
It’s just another deer, Joe. Keep first things first. Take care of your family. Take care of your church. I love you.
According to Buckmasters, it’s the sixth biggest Kentucky deer ever taken with a bow. It sported 51 points and scored 239 1/8 inches. But those aren’t the details that matter most to Joe Welsh. It’s the memory and meaning that’ll remain.