Kyle Barefield experiences multiple muzzleloader mishaps, pushes through the adversity, and manages to tag his dream buck
|Rack Report Details|
|Buck:||193 inches (green gross score)|
|Time of Year:||Oct. 27, 2020|
All Things Hunting co-host and Realtree pro staffer Kyle Barefield has been deer hunting his entire life. But last season, all his hours spent afield led up to his best buck ever — a giant, 5 1/2-year-old Oklahoma non-typical.
The story started in 2019, on a large tract of land that he leases with friends. That summer, they captured a couple of velvet photos of a stud that had a third main beam.
This isn't a property you'd think holds a lot of deer, Barefield says. It's just a lot of grasslands and hills. It looks more like mule deer country.
Historically, deer stay on the property to eat the natural browse, but after frost kills the vegetation, they move a couple miles away to agriculture. By Nov. 15, the place is virtually void of whitetails. They hoped to kill the deer before that happened, of course, but were never given a chance. The deer vanished before the season even started.
Fast-forward to the 2020 season. Days after it opened, Barefield checked a trail camera, and the giant was in several photos. He shifted all his attention to the buck and spent the next week or so scouting.
Thinking deer were coming up one particular canyon wall, he hung a set in the only tree that would support a lock-on stand. But after a couple of days there, it became apparent deer almost always worked downwind of that tree before offering a shot opportunity. Several whitetails winded him in a two-day period.
That's when Barefield decided to hang up the bow and wait for muzzleloader season. He spent the next six days glassing from a distance, learning how the deer traversed the landscape.
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I had to get elevated to see down in this canyon where I wanted to, Barefield says. I bought some lumber and built a 10-foot platform that was big enough to put a pop-up blind on top.
He placed it about 200 yards from the canyon where he thought the big deer was bedding. The spot had good entry and exit routes. With a large hill behind it, there was plenty of back cover. Canyons, drainages, and open fields stretched out in front of it. Cedars and grass dotted the landscape. Cattle trails snaked through it, running up and around the canyon walls. Deer used these as primary travel routes, and the blind location was within range of several.
After a few days of scouting, and positioning the elevated blind, Barefield moved in to hunt the buck. Soon after settling in, Barefield glanced over his shoulder and spotted a big deer in the distance. He thought it was a 150-inch 8-pointer at first but about 30 seconds later realized it was the big one with three beams.
He never got a shot off, though. The buck turned toward the canyon, quickly covered the 50 yards to the edge of it, and dropped down out of sight. Darkness fell soon after.
Eventually, his friend, Cole Barthel, arrived in deer camp. On the afternoon of Oct. 25, they went to the elevated blind and waited for deer to start moving.
Interestingly, the buck did the exact same thing as during the previous encounter — he ran along the hilltop behind the blind and descended toward the canyon. Before Barefield could get a shot off, he vanished.
About 10 minutes later, he reappeared behind a big cedar tree. A little over 200 yards separated them, and Barefield almost took the shot but held off due to bad filming light. The buck escaped unscathed for the second time.
The next day produced little luck. But, on Oct. 27, things were destined to change. With snow on the ground, they eased along a low-impact entry route, glassing as they went. The two made it to the blind, turned it to face the direction the buck had been in during the two previous encounters, and settled in for the evening sit. With high pressure, cloudy skies, and 35-degree highs, conditions were right.
After a while, a doe walked up out of a drainage. A few minutes later, a 3 1/2-year-old 8-pointer walked into view and followed her trail up out of the canyon. On the ascent, he stopped, turned around to look behind him, then ran off.
Out stepped the big deer. He walked off the younger buck and continued along the doe's trail.
Barthel found the monster with the camera lens, and Barefield settled the crosshairs. The muzzleloader blast echoed throughout the valley. Simultaneously, the deer turned, ran back down into the canyon, and disappeared.
A few seconds later, he spotted the monster through his binos: The deer just stood there, down in the canyon, motionless.
I missed the deer, Barefield said.
No, you didn't, Barthel replied. I heard a thump.
No, I missed him, Barefield argued. He's standing there right now.
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Hoping to send another bullet downrange, he reloaded. I was losing my mind, getting everything done as fast as possible to get another shot at this deer, Barefield later recalled.
He settled the crosshairs and pulled the trigger again. The gun went off but didn't sound right, like a really loud primer, and it didn't produce recoil. A misfire?
All the while, the giant buck stood there like a statue and didn't move a muscle.
Looking down at the ramrod — which was on the floor — Barefield realized what had happened. He had put the powder and bullet in the barrel. But in his haste to reload, he didn't realize that the end of his ramrod stuck to the bullet's ballistic tip and pulled it back out of the barrel. He'd touched off a charge of powder without a bullet. And now, he only had one powder charge remaining.
In my mind, I thought there was no way I'd shoot three times, Barefield says. He knocked the old bullet off the ramrod and loaded his third and final shot. He got back on the deer — which hadn't moved — and fired once more.
I pulled the trigger for the third shot, but it sounded like one of those old flintlock muzzleloaders where the hammer hits and it takes about a second before the gun goes off, Barefield says. Total misfire. Didn't go off at full power. On video, you actually see the bullet hit the ground about halfway to the deer. I just knew I'd blown my chance.
Out of bullets, all he could do was sit there in shock at his seemingly bad luck.
After another minute or two, the buck walked off to the right and out of sight, not giving any indication at all that he'd been hit.
If you leave a deer overnight here, all you recover is a skeleton and rack, Barefield says. The coyotes just smoke them. So, we made up our mind to give him a few hours, and then try to find him in the snow.
Later that night, they returned to where the buck had stood for the first trigger pull. Nothing. No blood. No hair. Just tracks.
Maybe I missed the deer, Barefield told Barthel.
Not giving up, they walked to where the buck had stood for the second and third shots. They were rewarded with one quarter-sized drop of red, proof that the first shot had connected. So they continued trailing the deer down into the canyon. Once they started the descent, the blood trail improved. About 100 yards later, they spotted a white belly.
That was a huge stress relief, Barefield says.
After recovering the deer, they realized he'd been hit in the liver, which explained the buck's behavior and body language after the first shot. Snow on the ground definitely helped with the recovery.
All things considered, this hunt was a rodeo. But Barefield finally laid his hands on that giant, 193-inch rack. He gave thanks, then celebrated with his buddy. It was an end to a fine 2020 Oklahoma deer camp.
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