It was the second week of September, 2016. My uncle and I had just finished shelling corn in Sumner County, Tennessee.
While I was headed to the truck, my uncle called me and said, “Stephen look at this deer, he’s on your right. He is going to come out from behind the bushes right in front of you.”
I stopped, and the deer walked out, looking at me. I stared at him and could not believe what I was seeing. About 20 seconds went by and then he ran back into the thicket.
Over the next couple months, I got some trail cam pictures of him. I had actually seen him twice while hunting.
Then, on November 7, after hunting him off and on, he walked out for the third and final time. But, before I tell you about the day I shot him, let me tell you a little bit about what happened leading up to that special day…
The Months Before The World Record Buck
The first time I had the opportunity to shoot this buck, things did not go the way I had planned. I had everything ready and had been mentally preparing myself for my chance at this buck.
I saw him coming at about thirty yards away. He stopped, and I decided this was it!
I called some of my family members to share the news, that it had in fact happened… I had shot “him”.
I went to fire my muzzle loader and… it misfired. I could not believe what had just happened. I thought, “Is this it? Did I just lose my chance? Would he ever show himself again?”
I decided I could not let that setback stop me. All I could think about was having another chance at him. I couldn’t sleep or focus on too much after my misfire, but I knew I had to keep tabs on him and wait for another chance.
I had not told many people about this buck, but my family and close friends knew. They kept telling me not to give up, and that he would show himself again. I just needed to be patient and wait. I continued to pray that I would get another chance.
So, then came the morning of November 7, and things started to change. That morning everything went in my favor. He came out at forty yards after working a scrape. I told myself “you cannot mess this up!” All the while, I was shaking with nervous excitement. My adrenaline was pumping like never before.
A Magical Morning
I saw my chance and I took it. I shot him with my muzzle loader from my ground blind. All I could see was smoke, and when it cleared, I saw him running back into the thicket. I could not believe I had been given the opportunity again. I sat there for what seemed like an eternity, with excitement and a little bit of anxiety.
I knew I was about to engage on my big search and I had to figure where he went. Then I called some of my family members to share the news, that it had in fact happened… I had shot “him”.
Within a few minutes some of my family and a few close friends came to the field to help me begin the search for him. Within thirty minutes, we had found him. A sense of relief and joy came over me, once I was able to lay eyes on him and touch him.
Although I was overjoyed, I still did not fully realize what I had killed. I just knew he was a giant and a special deer… at least special to me.
A Boone And Crockett Buck… And More
That night a TWRA officer that was a certified Boone and Crockett scorer, came and green scored him. We all waited with anticipation to see what this monster would score. I thought I would be the new Tennessee record holder, but I had no idea what else was in store for me.
When the officer finished scoring, he told me that it would give the world record non-typical whitetail a run for its money.
Finally, they told me they had their final score. It was 312 inches. I was ecstatic!
During the following weeks, I became overwhelmed from all the phone calls, messages and companies that were contacting me. Everyone had an opinion about what I should do or not do.
I received a lot of backlash from animal rights advocates and others. I decided to take a break from social media and let things die down before I re-entered the social media playground. In the meantime, I gave many interviews and traveled a few places while waiting on the drying period to come to an end.
In January, the sixty-day drying period was over. I then traveled to the Tennessee TWRA office to have him scored.
I just remember waiting with my brother-in-law and nephew wondering what the score was going to be. Finally, they told me they had their final score. It was 312 inches. I could not believe it. I was ecstatic!
The Year After The World Record
The next year I went to nearly twenty shows. Now, I am just a farmer from Tennessee. I was not used to traveling that much, nor was I accustomed to all the attention. However, my appreciation for the outdoor industry grew after every event I went to.
I began to develop many wonderful relationships and grow friendships. Killing this buck also grew my relationship with the Lord. It even prompted me to make the greatest decision of becoming baptized. I also began travelling to speak at churches and wild game dinners. These opportunities would have never been awarded to me had I not had the chance to take this deer.
Many told me that I might as well stop hunting, because I would never be able to top it. They were wrong… it made me hunt even harder the next fall.
I was so nervous, that when I walked off stage, I knocked over Jimmy Houston’s fishing pole!
You see, to me it is not about the size of the buck. Now, don’t get me wrong I love big deer, but what I love more is figuring them out.
Being able to take a world record whitetail made me look at deer hunting in a different way; not just how I look at hunting for myself, but for others as well. No matter what size a deer is, if it makes you excited or happy, I’m going to be just as happy and excited as you are about him.
Another Year, More Opportunities
The 2017-2018 season came and went with no buck being shot that was close to mine. In 2018, I went to many more shows and speaking engagements.
At one of the appearances, I had to speak in front of 3,000 people at a church’s wild game dinner. I was so nervous, that when I walked off the stage, I knocked over Jimmy Houston’s fishing pole!
During the summer of 2018, I scouted harder than ever before. By November, I had already tagged out in my home state with a bow.
A Challenger Rises Up
On November 1, 2018, I was scrolling on my Instagram and saw a giant buck on a page that I follow. I thought, yeah maybe it could be bigger, but I wasn’t sure. I hadn’t heard many conversations about it.
Then in January 2019, I was on the way to the ATA show in Louisville, Kentucky. I knew that deer would be there and had heard the score would be released. To be honest, I was worried about it, because I wanted my deer’s score to remain number one.
I won’t lie, I was upset. But hey, records are made to be broken. So, I decided to make the best of it.
A New World Record?
I was about an hour from the show and a buddy called me and said North American Whitetail just went live on Facebook. While I was on the phone with him, they announced that the Illinois buck’s net score was 320″.
I won’t lie, I was upset. But hey, records are made to be broken. So, I decided to make the best of it.
I met the guy that shot the new pending record and he seemed like a great guy. He was also a Veteran, so I couldn’t think of someone more deserving.
We will both take our record bucks to be scored this summer at the Boone and Crockett Big Game Awards. That is when we will both find out what our final scores are and will be given our ranking.
The two years following my world record buck were a whirlwind. So many great things have happened in my life as a result of harvesting this once-in-a-lifetime buck. Whether or not I remain the number one record-holder, I will always have a buck over 300 inches… from Tennessee.
I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to kill the “Tucker Buck”.
We are all wounded. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. The wounds remain. In time, the mind covers these wounds with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But, it never disappears; it is never gone. Sometimes, you’ll have good days, and in the midst of silent moments, it hits you: everything. It hurts to talk, to love, to remain above water.
Simply existing is difficult. No one cares; no one wants to hear about the days you spend lying in your bed, hoping to never wake up. You wish you could be anywhere or even in a time other than now.
“I love that which is invariably beautiful. Everything is beautiful where trout lie.”
We all have our ways of coping with these wounds. We have
our own acts of survival; our own ways of staying alive, even when life isn’t
life anymore. Your soul knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to
silence the mind.
Silence. The disappearance of white noise and chatter; the disappearance of people. Bubbling water, flowing from the snow melt, down the river and over stream beds of smoothed pebbles. Nothing but you and the reverie of what lies ahead.
I love that which is invariably beautiful. Everything is beautiful where trout lie. I hate that which is invariably ugly: people, television, iPads, and assorted social stigmas that come with living in a modern society. Doctors prescribing you a new prescription to dull your senses; to numb what you hope to one day feel.
In a world where most people spend their lives doing things they hate, my escape is the endless source of solitude. On the water, wading in a stream, or strolling through woods, I find solitude without loneliness. I fish because I love to; because fish do not lie; they cannot be bribed or impressed by power, but respond to humility. They respond to a patience only true fishermen know.
Patience. It is something I know. Mastering the art of fishing takes time. Taking that experience and portraying it on canvas takes even more time. But why? Anyone can paint a fish but where there is no emotion, it is just that: a picture of a fish. Channeling that feeling of excitement, the sweet fragrance of evergreen trees, or the repetitive song of a marsh wren into a visual work of art requires total immersion into the moment.
When I paint a fish, I’m painting the moment; I’m reminding myself that this is my refuge. A refuge where my lesions of life can heal; where my mind can drift like the dry fly on the Gros Ventre River. You watch your line or the reflection dancing and nothing more; somehow, you unconsciously grasp the sweet scent of summer, the memory of mountain bluebirds singing, and the wind gently sweeping the tinge of hair on your face. This is the calm; this is the silence your soul mediates with your mind.
“Trout… what fly fishermen are after. But are they really? Maybe it is the attainable sensation of hope that the next trout will be bigger, prettier, a challenge.”
Calm. At ease. I sit down and close my eyes, taking myself
back to a western seclusion. It’s like I’m sitting there on an exposed rock,
watching the sunset dance on cottonwood leaves. The towering Teton Mountains
are behind me. I’m watching time stroll by, sweeping in the last of the snowmelt.
Little did I know that this is where trout lie.
Trout… what fly fishermen are after. But are they really? Maybe it is the attainable sensation of hope that the next trout will be bigger, prettier, a challenge.
Me? I borrowed my husband’s rod, practicing the dance between rod, line, and water. Gently coaxing the fly back and forth then sorting the landing among the ripples, rocks, and current. I pick it up as it makes it way down river, ready to try again. Same movements, easing the line like I’m painting in plein aire.
I’m aiming at this swirl in the river, lessening the chance of a bite. I don’t care. I’m not fishing, or at least I didn’t think so.
I was immersed into the meditation of fly fishing; the flouncing elegance of casting and presenting my fly.
I start to bring in my line as it sweeps down river, but something happened. Something is different. My line is weighted. Then it moves upriver, unnaturally against the current.
My hands stay steady but my mind is still processing the thought that I have a trout on the end of the line.
How? Why? I wasn’t ready for a fish.
This uncontrollable feeling of pure excitement swept over me, and I couldn’t help but yell, “Holy Moly! I caught a trout!”
I still wasn’t sure if what I said was true. I reeled and hand-lined the trout in. Oh, indeed, it was a trout. It was a fine-spotted Snake River cutthroat.
I somehow caught a trout that fishermen go years trying to obtain but yet, always eluded.
“Pain is a part of life. Sometimes, it’s a big part. And sometimes, it’s as small as a nymph. But either way, it’s a part of the big puzzle, the deep waters, the great catch.”
In my excitement, I felt this peace overcome me. Contradictory, I know. I wasn’t after the trout. My soul knew the existence of what was there; a sense of healing and a chance to release.
All of this happened so fast, but my consciousness took in every millisecond, hyper-vigilant on my surroundings and emotions. I honestly could not process the disbelief and how an incredible moment was presented on my road to healing.
I’ve learned to control my outward emotions, but inside, I was weeping. I needed this. I looked down at this trout. It’s beautiful colors and spots matching the golden light that backlit my excitement.
Oh, how this trout unknowingly helped me; how the simple act of fishing helped me. I was releasing what pain and confusion my mind had warped into suffering. I gently supported the trout for it’s release.
For the release wasn’t just putting the fish back in the water. It was free; but was I? I had to let go. In doing so, I started to release the hurt. I released the fear. I started to heal. I have refused to entertain the old pain.
Pain is a part of life. Sometimes, it’s a big part. And sometimes, it’s as small as a nymph. But either way, it’s a part of the big puzzle, the deep waters, the great catch.
Pain does two things: it teaches you; it tells you that you’re alive. Then the reality of it drifts away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser. Sometimes, it leaves you stronger. That strength is hidden in the depths of weakness and despair. Either way, pain leaves its mark and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another.
So take that rod, find water, and cast. You just might let something go.
There is often a dispute on what hunting method yields better results; bow hunting or rifle hunting? As long as you have the basic knowledge on how to hunt with either, you will likely succeed. But, if we zero in on rifle hunting for deer, the decades-old (and often heated) debate is, which caliber is best? Well, just like bow hunting vs. rifle hunting… if you know your calibers well, there are many that can be effective.
Best Deer Hunting Caliber?
There is probably no single best cartridge
for deer hunting that can be agreed upon by all hunters. However, there are
many great deer hunting calibers out there. Many hunters also expand their
variety of calibers over the years.
In choosing the best caliber for you, it is important to find a balance between something that is easy on both the shoulder and the wallet. Below are a few of the best.
The .30-06 Springfield cartridge is one of the most commonly used calibers for deer hunting. Dr J.Y. Jones had successfully taken all the North American game species with a Remington rifle in .30-06! This alone is a huge testament to the cartridge. The .30-06 is not only popular in taking big game in North America, but it is also one of the most popular cartridges worldwide.
The reliability of this cartridge has remained for many years. It was introduced to the United States Army in 1906 and served the United States in both World Wars as well as the Korean war. The .30-06 was introduced after the .30-03. The case was shortened from the ‘03 case of 2.540” to 2.494” and topped up with a 150-grain flat base bullet at 2,700 feet per second. Rifle hunters often compare other cartridges to the .30-06 because of how famous it still is even after all these years.
The muzzle velocity is 2700 feet per second with muzzle energy of 2719 ft. lbs. It works efficiently within a range of approximately 575 yards. Hence, it is good if you plan to hunt deer from long range. This cartridge has been used in famous rifles like the bolt-action M1903 Springfield rifle, the semi-automatic M1 Garand and many machine guns. The .30-06 is one of the most versatile cartridges as well. Its power and versatility make it a popular choice for rifle hunting in North America, especially for larger game like deer.
To learn about the basic knowledge you need when hunting with a firearm, you can check out this guide.
The .243 cartridge has faithfully served its role in hunting game since 1955. It is popular among many new deer hunters today. The .243 Winchester is one of the better calibers that yields excellent results. It has a muzzle velocity of 2960 feet per second with an energy level of 1945 ft. lbs. The most efficient range is within 350 yards.
Since the 1960s, the .243 Winchester has been by far the most widely used caliber for shooting small and woodland deer in the UK.
One of the advantages offered is that it has mild recoil compared to the other cartridges. This is especially good for beginners who are still getting the hang of hunting and is also a good caliber for the experienced hunter, as it helps avoids bruising of the shoulder or cheek.
Since it has gained substantial popularity
among hunters internationally, the ammunition and components are universally
available which makes it easy to buy. They can be found in almost any gun shop
and they are also not high in cost.
The only setback is probably that the maximum hunting bullet weight is up to 100 grains in most factory ammunition. This cartridge produces a velocity of 2960 feet per second with a 100 grain projectile from a 24 inch barrel.
The .270 Winchester is one of the world’s best deer hunting cartridges. It is likely the leading rifle for harvesting whitetail deer and has got the job done for over 90 years with few complaints. It is a classic caliber that can take down deer quickly. The cartridge is based upon the .30-06 Springfield but the case is slightly longer by 0.050.”
The .270 Winchester shoots small diameter bullets at a high velocity with a manageable amount of recoil. The recoil of the cartridge can also be mitigated with the addition of using a reliable recoil pad. The 130 and 150 grain slugs are the most popular choices of projectiles.
Although the .270 does not have as much power as the .30-06, it is still powerful enough for deer hunting at all reasonable hunting ranges. It also has a very flat trajectory and offers great accuracy in good bolt action rifles. Furthermore, the caliber is available in many different rifles and its affordability and abundance for high-quality bullets are great.
Among calibers larger than 6mm, the .308 Winchester is the most popular short-action big-game hunting cartridge among hunters worldwide. Its relatively short case makes it especially suitable for short action rifles.
Short action rifles chambered for the .308 Winchester tend to be lighter in weight than long action rifles. This makes it easier on the shoulder.
The .308 was introduced when Winchester released it in 1952 in their Model 70 bolt-action rifle and Model 88 lever gun. There was instant success following their release. This is because of the accuracy delivered by this shorter rifle with a compact receiver.
Some still feel that the .30-06 is more superior for deer hunting because of the larger case and slight velocity advantages, but others appreciate the lighter weight of a short-action rifle. The accuracy and squat powder column also make up for the slightly slower velocity.
The .308 Winchester has great ballistics. With the right factory load or hand load, this round can reach out 350 to 400 yards in hunting an Eastern or Midwestern whitetail. Within 200 yards, it can deliver a swift and humane deer kill. It is also a versatile caliber with bullets from 110 grains up to 200 grains, depending on the game. For whitetails or mule deer, 150 to 168 grain projectiles are suggested, while 180 to 200 grain projectiles are good for larger game such as elk.
The .25-06 was designed as a “dual-purpose” cartridge and is suitable for hunting all game whether small or big. The one rifle/cartridge combination is designed to cover a variety of hunting and shooting situations. The .25-06 benefits from the newest premium bullet designs such as the Remington Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded, Barnes-X and the Swift A-frame. With these bullets, it becomes adequate for hunting larger animals like elk.
It has a remarkable big game shooting potential with any number of bullets from 100 to 120 grains. This caliber also offers mild recoil. It is hence said to be suitable for women and kids for hunting.
Being a .25 caliber, it also has an effective bullet weight range between 85 and 120 grains. This makes it a perfect rifle for double duty on game.
Having been considered a good cartridge back in the 1920s, the .25-06 is more so a good cartridge today thanks to modern slow-burning powders and premium projectiles. Stiffer projectiles can handle the biggest deer and some rifle hunters use it for hunting elk.
The .35 is another valuable caliber used in deer hunting. It can be used to hunt deer at approximately 135 yards so it is ideal for taking a mid-range shot. Its muzzle velocity is 2080 feet per second and energy of 1921 ft. lbs. It is good for hunting in the woods and is a pleasure to carry around because it is light.
Remington marketed this cartridge as a
superior alternative to the .30-30 Winchester. Though it only produces slightly
more muzzle energy, the bullet sported is 18% heavier and has 35% more frontal
surface area. This contributes to the difference in power of the
Although it is a powerful cartridge when used under the right circumstances, the .35 Remington is one of the most underrated cartridges in the United States. The sad part is that the ammunition has started to fade away. It seems that there are fewer choices each year, which is bad news for those who love hunting with it.
.30-30 was the very first smokeless powder cartridge for sport produced by
Winchester. In the modern era of hunting rifles, you would think that a
cartridge with the performance level of a .30-30 would have already faded into obscurity
because of how long ago it was produced. However, there is a reason why the
.30-30 still appears in the top ten of the sales list of many ammunition
The reason is that the .30-30 still works well today. In fact, it still remains the favorite of many deer hunters. It still yields good performance with cast lead bullets and generates low recoil, which is suitable for young hunters to hunt with. Some hunters may also continue using it for nostalgia sake. Getting in touch with the hunting rifle heritage and using a lever-gun from our great grandfathers’ era has a special appeal to it.
Though it may be outperformed by other calibers in muzzle energy, the .30-30 Winchester has a high shooting ability. The downside is that it is lacking when it comes to longer range and open field settings. It only has an effective range of 180 yards. But if you hunt in the woods or forests, there is no reason not to shoot .30-30 if you are inclined to do so.
Overall, there is no single best caliber for hunting deer, but there may be one that is best suited to your preference. In choosing the best deer hunting caliber for yourself, make sure to look out for minimal recoil, maximum accuracy, aerodynamics and perfect striking energy. (The standard striking energy is 1000 ft. lbs which will be sufficient to kill a deer.) When these are all in place, you are good to go!