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"Dream Hunt" results in top-scoring typical for Kenny Morgan with his 145-7/8-inch Hamilton County bruiser

By Kenny Morgan

My 17-year-old son, Kenned (Buddy), and I arrived at camp around 10 a.m. the day before our annual mobility-impaired hunt at Suwannee Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA) in Hamilton County.

After setting up camp, we headed out to do some scouting. We explored all the usual spots from previous hunts and saw a lot of good sign while scouting. In one spot – where we had never hunted before – there was a good active scrape line running along an old logging road running east and west.

Knowing that bucks would be checking the scrape line, we decided to set up on both the north and south sides of the road. We found one good spot at the edge of some planted pines with a thicket finger pointing to the scrape line.

There was a good view of an old chop that paralleled the scrape line about 75 yards away. We saw a lot of good fresh rubs along the thicket.

There was a second spot south of the scrape line approximately 200 yards from the logging road. This spot really was not the best due to the fact it was a lone 12-inch pine tree in the open of an old clear cut.

On the way out from hanging the stand, we saw a 6-inch thick pine rubbed right by the road, and I jokingly told Buddy I was going to shoot that deer the next day. He just laughed.

To give you some background, Buddy has to wear leg braces in order to walk, so walking long distances in the woods can be very exhausting and painful for him. But, this challenge is nothing new for us. Over the years his mobility challenges have led to us traversing many miles through the woods with Buddy on my back, being pulled in a game cart and later with him riding on his ATV. Buddy has always been an avid hunter. He killed his first deer when he was just 6 years old. He is used to sitting all day in the woods, not only to maximize his opportunities, but also for the love of the sport. While a lot of boys play football, baseball or basketball, his favorite sport has always been hunting.

He and his older sister have been hunting with me their whole lives. During this time we have become smarter hunters through a lot of trial and error with our set-ups. A ground blind and an elevated two-man platform I custom built for his four-wheeler have been keys when it comes to stand placement for the nearly 20 deer he has harvested in nine years of hunting. This particular mobility-impaired hunt has been one of our favorite hunts. There has been some great father-son time spent in the blind and in the stand during the seven years we hunted this piece of property.

Last year, as he was coming of age to hunt by himself, I was able to con my way into hunting in the blind or on the four-wheeler with him two out of the three days before he insisted that he hunt by himself. That desire for more freedom led to him wanting to hunt alone again this season. On the morning of the Nov. 6, 2016 hunt the conditions were against us. The wind was supposed to be out of the north, but was coming out of the northeast. It was unseasonably warm, which led to us breaking a light sweat during our trek to the stand.

The morning was very foggy, holding our scent in the air and spreading it all over. Buddy decided to set up on the north side of the scrape line on his ATV, which meant he would have to sit on his four-wheeler because the vegetation was too thick down low for the tent blind, and the planted pines were too low for his platform stand.

This left me hunting from the lone pine tree at the second spot. On my way to the lone pine tree after Buddy dropped me off, I bumped a deer, leading me to just tromp the rest of the way to the stand. Of course, as any hunter knows, trying to climb a pine tree with a climber stand in a wide open space at 4:45 a.m. makes more noise than you could ever imagine, no matter how hard you try to be quiet. At 5:03 a.m. Buddy texted me that he was all set up. At 6:45 a.m. I heard a deer grunt between us and texted him to keep his eyes peeled. At about 7 a.m. the fog finally started to burn off.

Since I was in the open, I was forced to sit facing the same direction my scent was blowing because the sun was on the rise in the opposite direction. At about 7:05 a.m. I saw a doe behind me at about 75 yards coming from the north. At the same time I saw something southwest of me at about 150 yards moving to the east, but could not tell if it was a deer or a coyote.

Either way, the way it moved made it obvious it had smelled me. At 7:20 a.m. I spotted a nice 8-point buck headed north about 300 yards southwest of me. It was near the end of the rut, so I figured he was trolling for a hot doe and was on a path to cross my scent cone.

I knew that was not good. He just kept on coming, so when he got within about 200 yards I texted Buddy I was about to shoot. The buck got to within 150 yards before I blew my grunt call to see if I could get him a little closer. He ignored the first two, but on the third time he stopped – at the same spot I had walked to the stand earlier. He turned to walk toward my location, but took just three steps before heading north back on his original path.

I blew the grunt call again, trying to get him to stop for a neck shot, but he was not going to go for it. I placed the crosshairs of my Ruger M77 (in 7-08 caliber) behind his shoulder, flipped the safety off and squeezed the trigger.

I knew the shot was good, as he immediately went down, but then – just as quickly – he jumped up. With his front shoulder dragging, he plowed into the tall weeds, pines and oaks that had grown up since the area was clear cut approximately seven years before.

I lost sight of him as I tried my best to listen for a crash or catch a glimpse of him in the thick brush.

This is where this hunting story goes a little crazy, and the truth (along with some guilt) comes out.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, in a somewhat thick area approximately 200 yards to the southwest, I caught a glimpse of the buck headed south between a couple of small oaks. I noticed he was limping and knew the ethical thing to do would be to take another shot if given the opportunity. I chambered another round and got him in my scope just as he was about to disappear into an oak thicket. Due to the tall grass, the only shot I had was a high shoulder one. Due to the tall grass, I did not see if he ran or went down.

Suddenly, I heard a loud roaring sound come from that direction. Even Buddy heard it some 500 yards away. I have taken and witnessed a lot of deer harvested in my lifetime, but had never heard anything like this before.

It was like the sound you would expect to hear if Bigfoot or a bear was shot. It actually startled me at first. Then it hit me – just like when you see a car wreck happen. You see it, but then your brain starts to put the pieces together as to what actually just happened. I remember thinking, “How am I going to tell Buddy? How am I going to tell him I killed a deer bigger than any deer he has ever shot? How am I going to tell him his hunt is over?” As I replayed the second shot in my head, I realized the deer I had just shot was NOT the same deer I had shot seconds earlier. In that split second, I realized his rack was much higher than the deer I had watched walk toward my stand earlier.

Buddy texted me to ask if I got it. I called him and told him he needed to come on over to me. When he arrived, I told him he was going to be mad at me. He asked “Why?” and I began to tell him what had happened. I could see he was upset. I did not know what else to say except I was sorry and it should never have happened.

Everything that led up to this event – with the exception of the scouting and being in the right spot at the right time – was wrong: I had walked within 50 yards of where the second buck had been bedded down. I realized I had spotted him as he was getting up, which is why I thought he was limping. This was the same spot I had bumped a deer on my way to hang my stand. He was downwind from my stand, the fog was holding my scent in the air, and I had tromped on into my stand, not to mention I had been sitting in plain view of the very spot the deer was laying, and of course, the split-second shot that took him down.

When I went to look for the first buck, I found him only 40 yards from where he was standing when I took the shot. My heart dropped when I realized Buddy’s hunt would be over as soon as we located the second buck.

We both knew the buck needed to be brought in, so I pushed aside the guilt of realizing I had ended my son’s quota hunt and started to look for the second buck. I had ranged his location at 225 yards from my stand, so I got my bearings and found him in the tall grass within 15 minutes.

I was shocked and in awe at the size of the buck, but most of all I was scared – scared that Buddy would be mad at me. To have my trusted hunting partner, my best friend and, most importantly, my son mad at me for something that I had done was awful.

Yes, it was intentional that I took the shot. I made the split-second decision to take what I believed to be an ethical second shot to stop, what I thought, was an already wounded animal. It was a long walk back to where Buddy was sitting, knowing I had to explain to him I had killed one of the biggest deer either of us had ever seen. The first buck was a nice 8-point most any hunter would have been proud of. The second was a buck hunters dream of – a deer to make any hunter proud. Harvesting this buck has been a very emotional event for me. On one hand it was a remarkable feat – the pay-off after thousands of hours spent scouting, learning and sitting in the stand.

But, I will never forget the disappointment in my son’s eyes when he saw the buck for himself. One thing is for sure, I will never forget this hunt.

I would like to thank my son Buddy and all involved in this yearly hunt, as well as my good friend Donald Fender for the wonderful job on mounting the buck. It is a buck and a hunt I will never forget – for both the good and bad reasons.