In early September, Kentucky bowhunter Jonathon Stuart caught up to a magnificent 6 ½-year-old whitetail buck. It wasn’t the first time Stuart had seen this deer. He had three years of history with it and plenty of trail camera photos, too. He’s hunted the property for about seven years and knows it well.
“Deer hunting is not just a passion but a way of life,” Stuart tells Outdoor Life. “I love keeping track of certain deer and harvesting them when they hit peak maturity.”
Kentucky’s archery season opened on Sept. 2 this year, and Stuart put in the time. On Sept. 8, his fifth straight day of hunting, things finally came together. It was sunny and 85 degrees with a northwest wind. Stuart checked the wind direction and headed in for the afternoon sit. He returned to an observation stand he’d hung a few days prior.
The area is mostly flat ground with ag fields. Stuart was hunting on the edge of a small block of timber with a large soybean field in front. An overgrown fencerow with a cornfield was off to the left.
“I hung a setup on the edge of the beans on opening day to locate him,” he says. “I figured out he was using the tree line between the corn and beans during daylight hours, bedding on different ends using the wind to his advantage.”
The afternoon hunt started slow. While he waited, Stuart thought about the encounter he’d already had with the buck.
“The first time I encountered him, he was nearly 400 yards away and never closed any distance,” Stuart recalls.
As the afternoon sun burned lower on the horizon, deer started moving. They eased into the soybean fields and started feeding. Squirrels barked and blue jays chirped in the distance. A doe walked in behind Stuart while several bucks fed out in front. Then the giant whitetail he’d been searching for appeared out of the overgrown fencerow about 150 yards away.
“I could instantly tell that he was the largest deer I had ever encountered in my life,” Stuart said. “It took nearly three hours for him to close the distance. He fed and bedded multiple times, worrying me if he would make it to me before dark.”
At one point, with only 30 minutes of shooting light remaining, the deer bedded down in a sprayer track just 70 yards away. But then two smaller bucks approached the buck and pushed him to his feet. The buck walked straight toward Stuart and stopped only eight yards away.
Stuart drew back, anchored, and took the slightly quartering-to shot. It connected and the deer went down. After the hunt, he got some help from his wife, son, and close friends to get the deer out of the field. Back at home, Stuart green scored the buck at 192 inches.
“They couldn’t believe how big he was,” he says. “We had predicted him to be around the 170-inch range. We were way off. This is the biggest deer of my life, so I am honored that I got to put a tag on him. Some people hunt their entire life and never experience a deer of this caliber.”