Damian Leonards picked the perfect time Tuesday afternoon to finally make his first bow hunt of the year in Avoyelles Parish.

And his patience paid off big time.

The 46-year-old farm manager from Melville took a break from his busy work schedule and headed for a tree stand he installed several weeks ago along a thickly wooded trail he thought bucks might be using to enter a nearby soybean field. 

“I manage a farm, and I’ve seen this deer three times in a bachelor group during my daily activities in the last few weeks,” Leonards said.

About an hour into his afternoon hunt, he started seeing several does moving through the area from his 20-foot-high perch. 

“As the sun started to go down, deer activity started to pick up,” he said.

After the does came and went, he heard another deer moving through the woods.

“I kept waiting for the bachelor group to be honest. I figured I’d see the lesser bucks first, but the first buck I saw was this deer,” Leonards said. “That kind of caught me by surprise. I could see him and I recognized him as being one in the group.”

He was unable to get off an initial shot on the big buck with his PSE Stingray, and watched as another doe approached the tree where his climber was located.

“I could hear her sniffing the tree, trying to pick up on something,” he said. “Finally he gave me a quartering-away shot, but I couldn’t see what she was doing beneath me. But I went ahead and drew back and she didn’t blow out, so I knew she didn’t see me.

“I put my pin behind his shoulder on his rib cage and released the arrow, and he bolted and left,” said Leonards, who had positioned himself about 17 yards from the trail. “When I shot the deer I waited for a crash because quartering away is a deadly, deadly shot. And there was no crash, so I instantly felt something was wrong.”

He waited a while before exiting the stand, and found his arrow about 20 yards from the spot of his initial shot, but on the opposite side of the trail.

“I knew I had a pass-through. The arrow was covered in blood, but it was brown. It wasn’t good blood at all, and it stunk,” Leonards said. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is bad right here.’ “

Darkness was falling, so he stuck the arrow in the ground to mark the spot and decided to return early the next morning to see if he could locate the big buck.

He came back about 7:15 Wednesday in misty conditions with rain threatening, and started slowly circling the area looking for blood, hair or any signs of the deer. He eventually discovered only three specks of blood, but finally found heavy tracks that led him across a road in the woods as rain started to come down.  

Just beyond the road, he found the buck dead up against a log, about 150- to 200-yards from the initial shot.

“I hit him way back in the flank and it came out by the last rib on the opposite side,” Leonards said. “It was a horrible shot, but the good Lord blessed me and I was able to recover the deer.”

The buck weighed in at 265 pounds and was rough-scored by Leonards’ taxidermist at about 160 inches Pope and Young. He’s a mainframe 10-pointer with a drop kicker on the right beam between G1 and G2, with a 20 ½-inch inside spread. 

It’s the largest buck ever for Leonards, who killed his first deer when he was 10 years old. 

“Tuesday night weighed heavy on me. I didn’t want this buck to be wasted,” he said. “I was fortunate and very blessed. It was meant to be.”

Don't forget to enter photos of your bucks in the Nikon Big Buck Photo Contest to be eligible for monthly giveaways and the random drawing for Nikon Monarch binoculars at the end of the contest.

Read other stories about big bucks killed this season by clicking here.