Deer hunting-wise, the month of January has been unlike any other for Garrett Smith.
The 26-year-old from Denham Springs downed the two biggest bucks of his life — a 153-inch 9-point and a monster 12-pointer that stretched the tape to 180 inches — on family land in Tensas Parish in a span of just two weeks.
The first buck — the 9-point — was pretty routine as far as hunts go: Smith dropped the deer from about 120 yards with his .35 Whelen on the morning of Jan. 2 when it came out to a feeder.
“He stepped out and I knew he was a big-bodied deer and I saw horns, so I hurried up and grabbed my gun,” Smith said.
The buck piled up only 25 yards away, and Smith celebrated the biggest deer of his life — a record that ended up lasting for only two weeks, until he headed back to the family property on Friday, Jan. 15.
For this big buck story, though, how Smith wound up shooting the giant 12-point was anything but routine.
For only the third time this season, he had decided to hunt in a lock-on stand he had set up overlooking a flooded bottom in the woods, with a 4-wheeler trail about 50 yards in front of him running left to right.
His distant cousin, Ethan Craft, was set up 250 yards away, hunting a stand overlooking the same 4-wheeler trail and a pipeline. A little after 5 p.m., Smith said he heard a deer making its way through the standing water.
The big buck appeared directly in front of Smith about 60 yards away, but he couldn’t shoot because his line was blocked by trees.
“I was hoping the deer wouldn’t get to that 4-wheeler trail, because Ethan was in that stand (250 yards away) and I knew he would get a shot,” Smith said.
Sure enough, the buck — which was accompanied by four does — stepped out on the trail, and 250 yards away, Ethan fired.
“He missed him, but the deer stayed there,” Smith said. “So he shoots again and misses again. After the second miss, the deer ran back where he came from.”
The does, however, crossed the trail and ended up passing within 20 yards of Smith’s stand.
“Then the buck comes back to the 4-wheeler trail and gets out there and stops again, so Ethan shoots and misses again,” Smith said.
Smith had witnessed the deer narrowly escape death three times now, but still couldn’t get a shot through the trees.
Incredibly, the deer with a death wish came back one more time.
“A minute later, he came out again to the four-wheeler trail so Ethan shoots again. On the fourth shot, it looked like he hit the deer that time. It looked like he buckled down,” Smith said. “So on that fourth shot, I thought he hit the deer and it’s running toward me, and I’m thinking he’s fixing to crash right in front of me.
“Well, he gets about 15 or 20 yards at most from me and looks back toward the stand, but at this point, Ethan can’t see the deer because he’s in the woods now. So the deer looks back to the stand, flicks his tail a couple of times and takes a couple of steps. I knew the deer wasn’t hit that good, so I shot him.”
The deer was facing Smith head-on at about 20 yards, and Smith didn’t want to shoot it in the neck, so he opted to go for its shoulder. His .35 Whelen found the mark, and the buck took off.
“But I only brought one bullet with me,” Smith said. “He ran about 30 yards and came out of a bunch of palmettos and started walking. His guts and stuff were hanging out and I knew I had put a good shot on him, but I knew it wasn’t the best shot.”
Smith let the deer walk away, then ended up returning a few hours later to track the buck with his dad Mark, Ethan and Ethan’s brother, Roper. They eventually found the animal piled up about 300 yards from where it had stood when Smith delivered the fatal shot.
At that point, Smith and his cousin weren’t exactly sure who had hit the deer first.
“I wasn’t getting my hopes up because I didn’t know if Ethan had hid the deer on that fourth shot,” Smith said. “But on the fourth shot, he had actually hit two of his horns. The deer had his head turned, so the bullet grazed two horns, but when it grazed it, it took a chunk of two horns out."
Finally locating the big buck — then realizing it was his — was a feeling unlike any other, Smith said.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life and I probably won’t ever again,” he said. “It was real special.”
Special indeed: the big buck featured an inside spread of 22 ⅜ inches, with 5-inch-plus bases and green-scored 180 4/8 inches Boone & Crockett at Simmons’ Sporting Goods in Bastrop.
Now his taxidermist has two big bucks to work on to commemorate a January of deer hunting he’s likely never to duplicate — or forget.
“Those are my two biggest deer ever,” Smith said. “I joked with my girlfriend and told her I was probably going to have to take out a loan for those mounts.”
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.