It didn’t take long for Matthew Johnson to bag the buck of a lifetime.
The 12-year-old seventh-grader at Elm Grove Middle School in Bossier City was sitting in a box stand with his dad, Warren, on a thickly wooded private lease near Bradley, Ark. just across the Louisiana state line on Saturday, Nov. 8.
Father and son were facing each other scanning the hardwood and pine mix when the big deer, which had never appeared on either of Johnson's trail cams, gave away its position about 7:15 a.m. along the edge of a trail.
“From the time we heard the twig snap to the time he pulled the trigger, it probably all happened in around 20 or 30 seconds,” Warren said. “I saw movement up in the woods and I couldn’t tell what it was, but I felt fairly certain it was a deer. So I said, ‘Matthew, there’s a deer fixing to come out down there to the left.’
“So he got in position and stuck the gun out the window. I’ll be honest, he blended in really well with the background. I could tell it was a buck, but I couldn’t tell how big he truly was.”
The buck obliged by making its way to the edge of the trail and stopping broadside to the stand, then turned his head to look in the other direction.
That’s when they both got a better look at the rack — as the deer started walking away.
“He took two steps, and all I remember saying was, ‘Shoot him! Shoot him! Shoot him!” Warren said. “I think I said it three times.
“Then pow! He shot.”
Memories of the 80-yard shot with his brand new Ruger 7mm-08 are just a whirlwind for Matthew.
“I didn’t know what to think,” he said. “I was shaking.”
The big buck bolted across the trail and headed straight into the woods towards an Arkansas wildlife management area that borders the lease, and Warren couldn’t tell if the deer had been hit.
The pair headed to the site of the shot, and were disappointed when they got there.
“I was shocked,” Warren said. “I couldn’t find any blood. None.”
Matthew, who was confident when he scoped the big buck, started to have his doubts.
“I thought maybe I hadn’t hit it good,” he said. “I thought I might have missed.”
The two started walking half-moons in the direction the buck took off, and Matthew found a drop of blood that put them on course.
“We followed him for about 25 or 30 yards,” Warren said. “Not good blood, but blood. A drop here, two or three drops there, a splotch there. Then it quit. It just stopped.”
They started walking half-moons again, and Warren saw pine straw kicked up where it looked like the buck had stumbled. He moved ahead about 40 yards, and saw the big deer - which was still very much alive.
“I saw something that looked out of place. It was just a huge mass laying up there. It looked like a horse, laying on its stomach,” Warren said. “But he still had his head up, and he was shaking his head.”
He slipped back to Matthew, and told his son to move forward as close as possible, steady himself against a tree and put one more shot behind the deer’s shoulder.
“I didn’t want to risk it because now I could see his horns,” Warren said. “And all I could think was if this deer got up and got away, the opportunity of a lifetime would be gone.”
Matthew fired, and the big buck went down — permanently.
“I still didn’t know how big he was until we got up there to him,” Warren said. “Matthew grabbed his head and spun him around, and I said, ‘Matthew, I’ve never seen anything like that.’
“I mean, you watch them on TV and you see people kill big deer, but when there’s one laying right there in front of you... I couldn’t believe it.”
The big 8-point grossed 168 and netted out at 160 6/8 inches Boone and Crockett, with a 23-inch inside spread and 26-inch main beams. Circumference at the base of the rack was 4 4/8 inches, and the deer tipped the scales at 225 pounds.
The Johnsons are brand new members of the lease, located about 45 miles due north of Bossier City, so they weren’t sure how the buck ranked with others from the area.
“The president of the club couldn’t believe it. He’s been out there since his grandfather started it, and he said only one deer has ever come off of there that rivaled this one,” Warren said. “It was just amazing to see the peoples’ reaction when the saw the deer and my son sitting over there.
“The president said he thought my cheek bones were going to touch my ears I was smiling so big. It’s what Matthew does. He doesn’t play baseball or football, but he goes deer hunting, and I was tickled for him.”
So the big buck is headed for a spot on the wall in Matthew’s bedroom, a permanent reminder of a special morning in the Arkansas woods that neither father nor son will ever forget.
“I want my son to remember times with me, and when it’s a big deer he can put on the wall and carry with him for the rest of his life, I know it’s something he’ll always remember,” Warren said. “That’s the reason we do it.”
Read other stories about big bucks killed this season by clicking here.