James Welch has had his eye on his dad’s .270 BAR since he was a kid, and this year, he’s making the most of his first full season finally getting to hunt with the rifle.
The 35-year-old from Haughton, who works as a civilian safety manager at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier Parish and serves as a Master Sergeant in the Air Force Reserves, has taken down two bucks on the base with it this season — including a giant 12-point last Friday that he’d been watching on his trail cameras since 2009, when the deer was just a tall-tined 8-pointer.
“I’ve squeezed the trigger twice, and I’ve killed two bucks,” he said.
He had dubbed the big 12-point “The Gray Ghost” because all he had were black-and-white trail cam pics of the deer at night. He never once got a daytime image of the buck in the last six years.
“On the right side, his brow tine is a little crooked, and that’s how I’ve been able to follow him through the years as he’s blown up,” Welch said. “Since 2009, I’ve had him on camera at least once every year except this year. I didn’t see him until Dec. 9, and honestly, I thought he was dead.
“I thought he died of old age, because I usually get a picture in October and then he disappears for the rest of the year. But I went to check my camera, and there was nothing else on it except him on Dec. 9 at around midnight. He came through there, and I was like, ‘Oh man, he’s still alive.’”
Knowing the buck was likely still in the area, Welch headed to his 20-foot ladder stand around 5:30 a.m. on Dec. 18, and settled in well before daylight. He was overlooking an area where several creek beds run together toward a bedding area.
He could hear a buck grunting behind him, and as the sun started to rise, Welch noticed a deer to his left cruising through the brush in the morning fog, quartering his way.
“I didn’t realize it was him,” he said. “I just knew it was a big-bodied deer, and I got the scope on him and I could see it was a good buck — a shooter regardless. I don’t let myself count points, because then there’s no way to squeeze the trigger.”
Welch watched the buck move through the bottom, which was littered with fallen trees, and patiently waited for a window to take a shot. When he finally saw the rack, it almost took his breath — and his voice — away.
“I had bleated at him but he didn’t stop. When he came to an opening, I saw the actual size of his antlers and when I bleated again it didn’t come out right,” he said with a chuckle. “My ‘screech’ stopped him and he turned, and I just remembered the folds on his neck and I had an idea it was probably him.
“I just let the crosshairs fall on his chest there and squeezed off. He ran maybe 30 yards and then piled up.”
The trusty .270 had come through for the 100-yard shot, but now Welch had to endure a long wait — Barksdale base rules require all hunters to remain in their stands until 9 a.m.
But since he had been waiting six years to finally get his hands on the buck, a couple more hours wasn't too much to ask.
“I ran over and literally sat there for probably five minutes with my hands on his antlers saying, ‘Finally. Finally.’ Because other people were getting pictures, and it was just a matter of time before they got him, or he died of old age and nobody got to claim him.”
The big buck was well worth the wait: its impressive rack featured 12 scoreable points, with a 19-inch inside spread and 5-inch bases. The deer weighed 200 pounds, and was scored conservatively by Welch at 167 inches Boone & Crockett.
The hunter suspects the wily old buck was between 7 and 8 years old, with the rut “full on” when he took the shot.
“I measured his neck two hours later and it was 28 inches,” Welch said. “The hocks just stunk. I could probably smell him at 50 yards before I got to him. He was the man in those parts.”
Welch said he was calm for the shot, but reality of his six-year pursuit of the buck kicked in when he climbed down from his stand and made his way to the deer.
“I started losing it when I was walking up and saw the antlers and I’m thinking, ‘This is probably him.’ Then I completely lost it when I saw the crooked brow tine.”
So an unforgettable day was made a little more special because of a rifle handed down from father to son. His dad, Gary Welch, of DeRidder, left the .270 with him after hunting on the base last year and downing a couple of does.
Welch said one day, he’ll do the same thing.
“There’s no telling how many deer he’s killed with it,” Welch said. “That was his gun that he finally handed down to me, and I’ll hand it down to my boy.”
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 optics at the end of the contest.
Read other stories about big bucks killed this season by clicking here.