Andy Balentine had his sights set on a nice 8-point he’d been seeing regularly on his trail cam at the Amite River Sportsman’s Club property in Liberty, Miss.
So when he headed to his lean-to stand that overlooked a strip of hardwoods adjacent to the Amite River last Monday afternoon, he was hoping to either shoot his first doe of the season — or maybe get a crack at the big 8 he’d been watching on camera.
As the hunt unfolded, he never saw a doe and the big 8 never showed. But in the end, he wound up sticking his best deer ever — a 14-point monster that green-scored more than 164 inches.
The action got underway Monday afternoon when Balentine heard a deer moving through a thicket he was overlooking.
“I thought it was a doe at first, and I had my bow ready,” he said. “I could tell it was a small-bodied deer, then I saw some little horns on his head, so I just watched it for a little while.”
The spike, which was eating acorns at a cow oak tree, was soon joined by another spike. Balentine watched from 18 feet up as the two deer ate and played.
“All of a sudden I heard like a deep belly grunt, and I had never heard that noise before,” he said. “It was almost like a high-pitched grunt, and I heard something else walking.
“As soon as the buck grunted, the spikes scattered. The first thing I saw was his horns.”
Balentine instantly recognized the rack from a single trail cam picture he’d seen earlier this fall when the buck was passing through near his stand. His dad, David, had several pictures of the big deer on the other side of the Amite about a half-mile upriver.
When the big deer stepped out it was partially obstructed, so Balentine had to play a waiting game.
“The spikes came back and were playing around, but I wasn’t even looking at them. I was just focused on that buck, and I knew where my shooting window was,” he said. “I was just watching him. I wasn’t looking at his horns, I was just focusing on his body.
“I was waiting for him to step out into that window and it took him a little while to get there, but as soon as he did I pulled back and waited for my shot.”
Balentine was hunting with a Hoyt Maxxis 31 bow, with a Beman arrow and a Swhacker mechanical broadhead.
“When I saw his shoulder come into the shooting window, I went ahead and pulled back,” he said. “And he took one little half-step forward, and that’s when I shot.”
Balentine saw the arrow connect, but it didn’t pass through, and the buck scrambled away from the river at about a 45 degree angle.
He and his dad — who was hunting nearby — decided to head back to the camp for a couple of hours to give the deer some time.
“My stomach was in cramps pretty much the entire time,” Balentine said. “But with a deer like that, you don’t want to risk jumping him.”
They headed out again about 8:30 with flashlights and some toilet paper to assist in tracking, and after finding blood, eventually located the big buck piled up only 50 yards from where Balentine shot it.
“We were screaming and hollering …” he said. “It was awesome to be there with my dad and get to experience that with him.”
The buck was definitely worth hollering about: It had 14 scoreable points with a 17-inch inside spread and 5-inch bases. The big deer weighed 180 pounds, was estimated at 4 ½ years old and green-scored 164 ⅜ inches Pope and Young.
Balentine said the big buck — which is already at the taxidermist — will have a place of honor somewhere in his home, but he’s not sure exactly where just yet. He’s already got two bucks mounted in his office, but his wife said it was definitely worthy of a special spot somewhere else in the house.
“She’s got a spot picked out, but I don’t know where it is,” he said. “I think she wants this one in the living room — front and center.”
Don't forget to enter photos of your bucks in the Nikon Big Buck Photo Contest to be eligible for monthly giveaways and the rand drawing for Nikon optics at the end of the contest.
Read other stories about big bucks killed this season by clicking here.