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Trophy Kentucky Bucks

By Russ Van Orman

My father, who I thought retired from hunting, called me last June asking me if I wanted to hunt Whitetails back east. After thinking about it very briefly, I said, “Sure, let’s go.”


We researched several states and then decided on Kentucky. The “Blue Grass State” provided us the best chance to harvest a trophy size Whitetails. After calling and emailing a dozen or so outfitters in Kentucky, we decided on Licking River Outfitters located outside Cynthiana, Kentucky.


Licking River Outfitters, a non-profit organization, that offers hunts to veterans, wounded warriors, the disabled and children along with their companions.  My dad, who is veteran and has limited mobility, qualified for this hunt.

Robin Gassett, the owner of Licking River Outfitters, invited my Dad up to look over his operation. In September, my Dad drove up to Cynthiana, Kentucky from his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was greeted with great Southern hospitality. Robin drove him around in his ATV showing him a variety of stands that would available to hunt from. They saw lots of deer and some really nice bucks.


I flew into Knoxville the second week of November. Robin suggested that we come up and hunt during mid-November when the rut would likely occur. After going over our gear and sighting in our rifles, we packed the truck and headed to Kentucky.


The drive through the northern Tennessee hill country and into Kentucky was great. The hills eventually gave way to the blue grass farms of Kentucky. Within no time we were at Licking River. Robin’s wife Ellen greeted us as we parked our car. She explained that Robin and their son Jim were hunting and they would be back in about an hour. She then pointed to Robin's office and told us to make ourselves comfortable there.  The time spent waiting in Robin’s office went quickly as we looked at the trophy Whitetail mounts that adorned his walls.


Robin greeted us and then asked if we were hungry for dinner.  He explained while we were eating dinner that the weather had been warm and raining since the opening weekend of deer season and the deer weren’t going into rut yet. He also suggested that my Dad use an old barn, which is used for drying tobacco, as a stand. The barn was located next to a food plot in some bottom land close to the river. He suggested two different stands for me, depending on the weather.


After dinner, Jim showed us an aerial map of the area, where our stands are located, and the deer’s travel corridors near those stands.


We talked for about an hour before retiring for the night. We sat our alarms for 5:00 a.m. That would give us plenty of time to get ready, eat a light breakfast, and be ready to leave for the stands by 6:00 a.m.


The rain pounded against the roof as we awoke. Not exactly great hunting weather, I thought.  We dressed and finished eating just has Robin came in. “Good morning, are you ready to do some hunting?” he asked.  “Lets go,” we both replied.  We loaded ourselves and our guns into Robin's Ford Bronco. We drove down the gravel road as he explained that he would drop my dad off first.  He would then take me to a box blind that would be enclosed and out of the elements. This sounded real good since the rain was coming down hard.  He went on to explain that there were several 140 class or better bucks in the areas we would be hunting.


You could see the barn in the Bronco’s headlights as made a sharp right hand turn. The Bronco stopped in front of the barn and we hurried in so we wouldn’t get wet. I agreed this would be a great place for my Dad. Three hay bails were stacked with a chair behind them so he would have a dead rest facing the food plot from which to shoot. The barn was dry.  The hanging tobacco provided a cover scent. This was the perfect stand from which to hunt.


“Good luck dad, ” I whispered loudly, climbing back into Bronco. He looked at me then smiled and gave me a thumb’s up.  


Arriving at my stand, Robin told me that on my left was a fence line which the deer follow. Before he left, he made sure I had a place to sit and showed me how to take the windows down in the stand.  He wished me good luck and then he and the Bronco disappeared into the dark.


This stand was great! Let it rain I thought. The darkness slowly gave way to light as I watched the fence line. I moved my eyes slowly but all I saw was a squirrel running along the fence looking for acorns. Time seemed to move slowly as I watched clouds and rain give way to some early morning sunshine. Behind me was a ridge, which I glanced at once in awhile. Looking at the ridge, I could make out two deer shapes. I looked through my binoculars, trying to determine if one was a buck as they both disappeared into some hardwoods.


Robin came and picked me up at 10:30 for a break and another breakfast. Before we came back to his office, he showed me some of his 700 plus acres. The land we hunted on consisted of hardwood ridges and bottom land next to the Licking River. Within the property, Robin and Jim planted numerous small to medium size food plots.


My Dad was waiting for us to arrive as the Bronco pulled in front of Robin’s office. “Well, did you see anything?” I asked. “I sure did. Four medium size bucks Snowball.jpgand at least 10 does plus an albino doe. Did you see anything?” he replied.  “Yes, two deer on the side of a hill,” I responded.  “Are you hungry?” Jim asked. We both nodded our heads in agreement.


During breakfast, Robin explained to us that the albino doe was off limits. It was his wife’s pet and her nickname was Snow Flake. Camera shots would later reveal that snow flake was really a button buck so his name was quickly changed to Snow Balls.


By the time we finished eating breakfast and looking at the trail cam pictures, it was 1:00 p.m.  So, we elected to go back out to our stands and hunt until dark. The trail cam showed plenty of buck activity at the tobacco barn but not much activity where I had sat that morning.


My dad went back to the barn and I decided to hunt a box blind where the trail camera had shown a large 150 class buck. Once in the blind, I started to glass the food plot that was in front of me. A small feeding button buck came into view. He disappeared into the tall grass after about 15 minutes. I glanced at my watch which read 3:15 p.m.   I stretched my legs. It would start getting dark around 5:30 p.m. so hopefully that big buck would appear soon, I thought.  The tall grass started to move, so I raised my binoculars to get a better picture. Suddenly, ten turkeys walked out and started feeding in the food plot. They fed and then moved down the fence line to my right. Three does then appeared and started feeding. Four more does subsequently appeared with a small buck.  After about 20 minutes, another group of does appeared along with Snow Balls. I scanned the edge of the tall grass again with my binoculars. A large deer was standing in the tall grass but with darkness starting to close in I couldn’t make out if it was a doe or a buck.    


That evening, after dinner, we looked at more trail cam shoots. My dad and I decided that in the morning we would hunt from the same stands that we had hunted from that evening.


Back in the box blind before light that morning, I listened to the wind blow rain against the side of the blind. Through the early morning light I could make out three deer feeding in the food plot. They disappeared as it started to get lighter outside. Suddenly, a single shoot rang out from the direction my Dad’s blind. “Yes!” I thought, “That is a dead deer.” The rest of the morning went slowly because I was anxious to see what my dad had harvested.


At 10:30, Jim picked me up. “Well, what did my dad shoot” I asked excitedly. “I don’t know because my dad is picking him,” replied Jim. Arriving at the office I jumped out of the ATV to find out what my Dad had harvested. “Well where is it?” I asked my dad. He just shook his head and replied, “I missed.” I could see by his face he was disappointed. In my life, I have only really seen my dad miss once.  We headed back down to the food plot in front of my Dad’s stand to look for sign that it had been shot. The three of us looked for over an hour without finding any indication that the deer had been hit.  We then came back to the office to eat some breakfast and relax before the afternoon hunt.


The rain had stopped, so in the afternoon I elected to hunt in tripod stand next to the Licking River looking over a river crossing the deer used and two food plots. Through the hardwoods, I could see the tobacco barn from the tripod stand that paralleled the food plot my dad was watching.


That evening, we each saw several does and some bucks. Shots were fired behind me and across the river but nothing crossed the river. The next morning the weather was changing. It hadn’t rained overnight and it was at least ten degrees colder. Both my dad and I agreed that the bucks should start rutting.  We were dropped off at our respective stands.  From my stand, I could see the top of ridge where another food plot was located. The early morning darkness gave way to Turkey.jpgsunlight, as I glassed the ridge top. Three deer started feeding in the food plot. One was a medium size buck but not a trophy.  I slowly moved down from ridge top and glassed the feeder and food plot that ran next to the river. Seven turkeys came out of the hardwoods and started feeding, followed by a small buck. The buck looked around then started rubbing his antlers on a small branch hanging down from an oak tree. I watched the buck paw at the ground then fight with that branch. Watching him was fun but I was wishing he was four or five years older.


Twenty minutes later, I started glassing a fence line with oak trees running along it. In my binoculars, a Buck appeared. It looked like he was feeding on the acorns while he followed the fence line. He stopped at the edge of a field where the fence line traveled, then raised his head slightly. “He is shooter,” I thought, then raised my rifle slowly. Peering through my scope, I counted eight if not five tall tines. I rested my rifle on the tripods rail, looking through the scope again.  I put the crosshairs on his front shoulders, took the safety off, and slowly squeezed the trigger. The deer hunched up a little bit then did a 180.  With that, he just stood there.  I sighted in again and pulled the trigger. The gun cracked and the deer started to trot off, so, I tried another shot. With the third shot he raised his tail and bounded over the fence into the hardwoods that ran along the river.


 I sat for a minute, going over each shot in my mind. Had I missed? Everything had happened real fast.  I waited about thirty minutes before I called Robin.  “You were shooting, right?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Well?” he responded. “I am not sure if I hit him or not,” I said. “Ok, just wait there, I’ll be down shortly after I pick up your Dad,” he replied.


I climbed down from the tripod stand and was waiting for Robin as the ATV pulled up. A short ways behind him was my Dad riding in the Bronco that Jim was driving. As we drove to the fence line, I explained the scenario as it had unfolded. He replied, “It sounds like you missed.” I shook my head in agreement. “How far is the fence line was from the stand?” I asked.  “About 250 yards,” he replied.  “That is a decent shot!” I responded.


When we reached the fence line, we climbed out of the ATV and started searching for any sign that the deer had been hit. We found the tracks of the deer in the mud and right underneath where his front shoulders would have been you could see where the bullet had burrowed into the ground. Each shot had been low. I had missed completely. I was a little embarrassed and disappointed since that was well within my shooting comfort zone. “Everyone misses,” my Dad said. “Don’t worry you’ll see another,” Jim said. It sure didn’t make me feel any better.


“Well, Russ, I think my scope is loose,” my dad said as we were eating lunch. “Let me look at your scope,” I responded. I picked up his rifle and sure enough the scope rings were loose.  Jim and Robin both came over and looked at the scope and concluded the same thing.  Robin and Jim took the rifle and tightened the rings. “We have a fifty yard range where you can sight-in,” Jim said. Dad sighted in his gun. I thought “What the heck, I might as well try a shot at the range too.”  I aimed squarely at the center of the target then squeezed the trigger. The bullet hit two inches low of center. “Dad, no wonder I missed that buck this morning, my gun is shooting about five inches low,” I said. He just shook his head as I sighted my gun back in.  In Knoxville, we had both sighted our guns at my Dad’s gun club. Talk about bad luck.


The evening hunt was uneventful.  We both saw only some smaller bucks and a few does.


It was Friday morning, Robin dropped my dad and I off at our stands. He told us that he would be hunting today before the veterans and the wounded warriors arrived for Licking Rivers’ annual Wounded Warriors hunt.


I had just finished watching a small doe walk between my stand and the river when DOE.jpga shot was fired from the direction of Jim and Robins’ stands. The rest of the morning hunt was uneventful until Jim picked us up. “My Dad shot a huge buck,” he said. “How many points?” my Dad asked. “A good ten pointer!” he replied.


The Buck was lying on the ground when we got back. It was a 150 class buck, a real trophy class deer.


We didn’t see a deer that evening. However, the wounded warriors and Earl Gossett from "The Traditional Bow Hunter" 
arrived. Everyone sat around visiting and enjoying Robin’s home cooked Jambalaya. I started talking with Earl.  He explained he was here to film for his on-line TV show.  I told him that we had seen lots of deer and even had a shot at a trophy buck.


Early the next morning, Robin and Jim took everyone to their respective stands. We would then be picked up in time to get ready for the annual celebration.


During the morning hunt, my dad and I each saw a few does and some turkeys. Robin picked up us and the other hunters around 9:30 a.m. The celebration would start at 11:30 a.m. so that would give everyone time to get ready for the celebration.


Approximately 75 people enjoyed the ceremony that started off with some great country music by the Blue Collar Rebel band and George Multon. Bill Carmen of The Lickn_River.jpgRocky Mountain Elk Foundation presented the veterans and wounded warriors with some great gift packs. Later, Earl Gossett interviewed the veterans and wounded warriors for his on-line TV show "The Traditional Bow Hunter." 

The party was starting to end when Jim asked my Dad and I if we would like to go out for an evening hunt. That really wasn’t a question as we quickly got our gear around. I rode with Jim and my dad rode with Earl as we went to a new area about 2 miles from where we had been previously hunting.


My dad was set up in a ground blind where Earl would be filming. After setting up my dad, Jim drove me to a tree stand located in an oak tree. I climbed into my stand as Jim drove off.


Thirty minutes later, the brush started to break.  I peered into the grove of oak trees and saw a group of turkeys walk through.  The sun started to sink lower into the sky as I stretched my legs slightly. Then, out the corner of eye, I caught movement.  It was two does and they slowly made their way through the brush out to the feeder that was slightly to the left of me.


Oblivious to me above them, the does feed and every once in while they would look back in the direction that they came. Again, to the left of me, the brush started to break.  I could make out another deer moving towards the does through the early evening shadows. I strained to see antlers as the deer walked slowly through the brush.


It was a buck! I eased my gun up slowly taking off the safety. The buck stood at the edge brush refusing to come out to the feeder. I could make out the front shoulders through my scope. Settling the crosshairs on his shoulders, I slowly squeezed the trigger.  The buck drop in its tracks as the bullet hit home. Sitting in my stand I watched the deer to make sure it wasn’t going to get up.


Out of my stand, I walked over to the deer. It wasn’t the trophy that I had hoped for but a medium sized management buck. The buck would provide some great venison, nonetheless. I called Jim on my cell phone and asked him to pick my deer and I up.


My dad and Earl were already back at Licking River as we pulled in with the buck on the back of the ATV.  Earl came over and congratulated me on my buck. In the DadnRuss.jpgcourse of my conversation with Earl, he mentioned that a friend of his had been with out of work for over 6 months. “Earl would your friend like some venison?” I asked. “Yes, she and her family have been literally living on beans,” he replied. “Okay, the deer is hers,” I responded. “Thank you, thank you very much,” he replied.  I thought to myself, “Maybe it isn’t a trophy, but it is a thanksgiving meal to a family in need from the Deep Countree!” What a way to finish off another memorable hunt with my favorite hunting partner, my dad.


Licking River Outfitters is a great place to experience a trophy whitetail hunt. Visit their website at Licking River Outfitters for more information.