The U.S. Air Force’s motto might be ‘Aim High,’ but Steven Kennon aimed mid-body and squeezed the trigger, just behind the huge buck’s shoulder.
The 29-year-old Haughton Police Department patrol officer shot a monstrous 16-pointer Saturday during the opening weekend hunt on Barksdale Air Force Base for active and retired military members and their guests, and his encounter with the almost 170-class buck was just as impressive as the deer itself.
He was hunting with his father-in-law, Emory Tolbert, a retired Air Force master sergeant, and the two men checked in and got to their stands overlooking shooting lanes in a cutover about 5:45 a.m.
Unfortunately, there were no signs of any deer all morning.
“I sat in the stand until about 10:55, and we had made plans to get out at 11,” Kennon said. “I killed about nine wasps in my stand — that was about it.”
So he packed up and started walking down one of the lanes headed for the truck, with his rifle slung over his shoulder.
What happened next will be something he and his father-in-law won’t soon forget.
“About 30 yards from my stand, I heard grunting and looked to my right, and that’s when I saw it only 20 yards away,” Kennon said. “He had his nose to the ground chasing a doe. I grunted at him trying to get his attention to get him to stop, but he was moving so quick, he wasn’t acknowledging me. He was worried about something else.”
The big buck, originally estimated to be about a 10-point, completely ignored the hunter, so Kennon turned back to his stand and started walking down the lane parallel with the buck.
“I was trying to be quiet, but I was trying to keep up with him,” he said. “Finally, I actually screamed at him like he was a person, trying to get his attention. Like screaming at my 2-year-old to stop, but in a deer voice.
“He stopped for a quick second and picked his head up, and as soon as he picked up, I pulled the trigger.”
At the shot, the buck kicked his rear end up and headed left further into the thicket.
“I never heard him crash, but I knew there was no way I could have missed,” he said. “But I was praying I got a clean shot and he didn’t run a half-mile on me where it would be hard to track.”
The experience of watching the huge buck with his nose down only 20 yards into the cutover was almost surreal, he said, especially because the deer was so oblivious to him grunting and standing in the lane out in plain sight.
The hunter didn't actually see the doe the deer apparently was trailing.
“My first thought was I better shoot this dang thing before it gets away from me. Nobody would believe me,” he said. “If you say, ‘I saw a huge 10- or 12-point walking 20 yards from me but I couldn’t get a shot off,’ who’s going to believe that story? I needed to figure out a way to get the shot off.”
His father-in-law contacted him right after he fired his 7 Mag.
“He said, ‘What did you get?’ I texted him back, ‘A wall-hanger.”
Kennon waited for Tolbert to reach him, and after about 20 minutes they headed into the cutover together and found blood where the buck had picked his head up. About 200 yards in, they saw the big deer piled up.
“I thought it was a 10-point, maybe a 12,” he said. “I can tell you when I counted those points, I thought I hit the lottery.”
The big 16-point green-scored 168 inches, and had a massive, partially-palmated heavy rack, with a 21 ¼-inch inside spread. The deer weighed 200 pounds on the nose, and was aged with his jawbone at 4 ½ years old.
Kennon said after things started to sink in, he had some mixed feelings about being the one to take down the big buck - especially since he hasn’t shot that many deer.
“My father-in-law has been hunting out there for years. You talk to all these old timers out there and they’ve been hunting out there for 20 years and never get to see anything like that,” he said. “It’s very rewarding, but you almost feel guilty, especially since it’s my fourth deer and I get the big one.”
But sharing the experience with his father-in-law was obviously special for both men.
“He was proud,” Kennon said. “I look up to my father-in-law. He’s a good man, and it was rewarding for him, too. He got me into hunting and taught me a lot about it, and I think he’s proud to see his knowledge passed on.”
At Barksdale's check-in station, Kennon and the big buck became instant celebrities.
“There were people coming out of their deer stands just to come look at it. They were on their phones, taking pictures and all that,” he said. “They had a big crowd, 30 or 40 guys, standing around looking at it, ‘oohing and ahhing’ and telling me good job.”
The one person Kennon needs to impress, though, is his wife Stephanie - because she could ultimately determine where the 16-pointer ends up hanging on the wall.
“It’s going to be my first deer in the house, so I’m still getting permission on where he’s exactly going,” Kennon said with a laugh. “We have a few months to debate on that right now, but it’s going somewhere.
“I’ve got to suck up the next four or five months to put it in a good spot.”
Read other stories about big bucks killed this season by clicking here.