Letting this young buck walk the past two seasons was hard for Caroline Winters, but her patience paid off with the deer of a lifetime
|Rack Report Details
|Time of Year:
|November 23, 2023
|Tallahatchie County, Mississippi
Recent Mississippi State wildlife biology grad Caroline Winters knows the nuts and bolts of white-tailed deer management. She realized right away that the 3-½ year old buck that she, her husband, Rick, and her father, Ray, had on camera in 2021 had the potential to turn into something special with enough age.
Although it was tough to pass on the young buck two seasons in a row, Winters knew the deer had the potential to be special when it matured.
Even though the buck was a beautifully symmetrical 10-point that would score in the 130s and be a trophy for just about any hunter, all three agreed they should pass on the deer and let him grow. The decision wasn’t made lightly. They were hunting a relatively small piece of property of about 80 acres, and they were pretty sure their neighboring property owners wouldn’t be as quick to give the buck a pass.
The buck was a homebody, but Winters worried it would be taken by a neighbor before he reached his full potential.
Leading up to the 2022 season, trail camera photos proved that the deer was growing fast. The buck had made it through the previous hunting season and would now score in the 160s. Again, Caroline, Rick, and Ray talked it over and decided to pass the deer if they got the chance, to hopefully let it reach his maximum potential the next year.
Still, they understood that the 4-½-year-old deer would be a true trophy for just about any hunter. Luckily, the buck was a bit of a homebody and stayed on or close to their property. And he made himself tempting. All three hunters saw the buck and had ample shot opportunities as the season progressed. “Passing on him as a 4-½ year old was really hard. He was a super nice buck,” Caroline said.
Winters estimated the buck would have scored in the 160s the year before.
After the season, they found one side of the buck’s shed antlers, adding it to the opposite side they had found the year before. They suspected the big buck would make it through summer and return in fall.
Late-season shed hunts turned up one side of the rack each of the past two years.
It did. Caroline started getting trail camera photos of the velvet buck in summer. There was no doubt they had made the right choice, as the buck had grown into a monster. They decided this was the year they hunt him.
Summer trail camera photos left no doubt that it was time to get serious about hunting the buck.
Caroline and Rick came close during the Mississippi archery season. Caroline had the buck at 60 yards in late October, but not quite close enough for what she considered an ethical shot. She passed, hoping one of them would get a better chance.
When the Mississippi firearms season came in about a week before Thanksgiving, all three took to the stand in hopes of seeing the giant buck. They were careful to only hunt during good wind conditions to keep from pushing the buck off the property. Although they didn’t see him in person, they knew he was nearby because he showed up on trail cameras just about every night. They even had a few evening photos where he showed up in daylight at different stand locations than they were hunting that day.
Caroline and her husband, Rick, had seen the buck during the archery season, but neither got close enough for a shot.
On Thanksgiving, Caroline and Rick made the rounds to have lunch and visit with both sides of their families. After the festivities, they were running a little later than normal but decided to go hunt. They ran home, and Caroline quickly changed into her DSG Outerwear in Realtree Timber.
Soon after climbing into her stand, Caroline began seeing does in the standing soybean food plot in front of her stand. She kept a close eye out for a young buck that had been the big buck’s traveling companion all summer and fall. “He was always with the younger buck, and the younger buck always showed up on camera first, so I was really watching for him. When I didn’t see the younger buck come out with the does, I thought this might not be the night,” Caroline said.
Rick was hunting close enough to hear Caroline shoot that evening.
She was wrong. As she watched the does, a lone buck stepped into the field. Although she immediately recognized the giant deer, she went ahead and raised her binoculars to be sure. One quick glance at the tall frame and kicker verified that it was the buck they had been after.
The field she was hunting that evening was long, stretching nearly 500 yards from her stand. The buck stepped out of cover at 170 yards, and then turned and started walking straight away.
Caroline followed his movements through her scope, hoping he would turn broadside before he made it out of range. At 200 yards, the buck did just that, stopping to eat and giving her the perfect shot angle.
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“I almost rushed the shot, I was so excited,” she said. “Then I took a deep breath and made myself calm down. I squeezed the trigger on what felt like a perfect shot. And the buck didn’t react at all. I was expecting him to mule kick or hunch, or, even better, to go down, but he didn’t do any of those things. He just bolted into the nearby timber. Honestly, I was a little baffled.”
She first called Rick, who was hunting nearby, to tell him what had just happened. He told her the shot had sounded like it had made solid contact. Caroline then called her dad, who was also hunting nearby and had also heard the shot. Ray told her to hang tight, and that he would get down and pick up Rick on his way over.
When they gathered at Caroline’s stand and had given the buck some time, they headed out to where the deer had been standing at the shot. They soon found a few drops of blood, and then a few more. “Seeing that blood was a relief, because I had been so nervous over the buck not reacting to the shot. I at least knew then that I hadn’t missed,” Caroline said.
Just as Caroline was about to suggest backing out and bringing in a tracking dog, her dad, Ray, shouted out that he had found the buck.
As Caroline and Rick began to follow the trail, Ray began to make half loops in the direction the deer had gone. With the light blood trail, Caroline turned to Rick and started to suggest that they back out and call in a tracking dog. Before she could get the words out, her dad whooped loudly from the cover in front of them. He had found the buck. “It was really cool having both dad and Rick there to help me track the buck and dad finding him,” she said.
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The deer was a true trophy. The rack was a 5-by-5 main with a split G2, an inside spread of nearly 18 inches, G2 and G3 lengths of nearly a foot, and a flyer off the left main beam. The rack gross-scored a massive 191-⅞ inches. “It was really great to see the payoff of being patient with this buck and knowing that passing him to let him grow was the right choice,” Caroline said. “This just proves the Delta can grow big deer if you give them enough time.”