Gus McKinney has hunted a small piece of private land near St. Louis for nearly two decades. A new job forced the 48-year-old locomotive engineer to find new ground to hunt on in recent years, but on the morning of Nov. 26, McKinney returned to his old spot in St. Louis County. It was the first time he’d hunted there in two years.
“Over the years, friends and I have killed a lot of great bucks in that area, so I went to an old ladder tree stand on the property that morning,” McKinney tells Outdoor Life. “I’ve had that stand there for over 12 years, and it’s produced a lot of great bucks.”
It was the middle of the rut, and McKinney’s stand overlooked a low-lying travel corridor that whitetails had used in the past. The area was crisscrossed with game trails and bordered by a river on one side.
“At 8 a.m. I spotted a great buck coming out of the river bottom across a cut bean field tracking a doe,” McKinney says. “He was about 150 yards away, and he could have gone anywhere. But he was chasing that doe, and she headed my way.”
Several times the doe came within 70 yards of McKinney, and he was tempted to try a long shot at the trailing buck. But he wasn’t comfortable shooting his crossbow that far. So, he watched and waited for the deer to work closer.
“After about 30 minutes the buck chased the doe back into the woods beside the field, toward where I was,” McKinney says. “There was a trail leading to where she was standing, and I’d ranged that spot at 40 yards. When the buck got there, I softly mouth grunted to stop him, and I let my arrow fly.”
McKinney watched the bolt fly true, hitting the buck just behind the shoulder. The deer kicked and ran for 20 yards before stopping. Then it turned and walked back toward the doe, which was still in the open.
“He acted like he wasn’t even shot,” McKinney says. “I saw him bleeding. Then he got wobbly, and just fell over dead, with the doe watching the whole time.”
Recovering the buck was a chore. McKinney drove his truck up to the deer, but it was too heavy for him to load alone. He also didn’t want to field dress the deer near his tree stand because he was worried it might draw coyotes in. So, McKinney tied the buck’s head to his tailgate and dragged the deer for about 150 yards to a spot where a slight rise in the terrain helped him muscle it into his truck bed.
Back at home, McKinney dressed and caped the deer, which weighed 184 pounds. He plans to have the deer officially measured by a Boone and Crockett scorer after the drying period is up.
“I’ve never been much concerned about measuring and scoring my bucks for records,” McKinney says. “But this deer is far and away the best one I’ve ever taken.”