The Athens Review
SAN JACINTO COUNTY —
While many East Texas bowhunters spent opening day of the 2012 Archery Only deer season hunting a dry spot in lieu of a wicked weather system that dumped more than 10 inches of rain on parts of the region, A.J. Downs donned a little rain gear, grabbed his bow and went hunting anyway.
He couldn’t help himself. There was a monster roaming around in the Trinity River bottom and the 39-year-old archer from Conroe knew it. Downs and his brother, Quentin, had been watching the deer on their trail cameras since late-August and they could tell by the images that they were on to something very special.
“We actually saw the deer in person the weekend before the season opened while we out scouting,” Downs said. “The sky would have had to fall to keep us out of the woods on opening morning.”
Shortly after 7 a.m. on Sept. 29, all the stars lined up and something magical happened. A buck wearing a kingsize rack suddenly appeared in one of the shooting windows of Downs’ ground blind situated deep within the heart of a 13,000-acre deer lease in San Jacinto County.
Moments later, he loosed an arrow on an animal that has since become the rage of Internet forums and discussion boards with bowhunters across Texas and beyond.
One look at the pictures explains why. This is not your average buck. Not even close. And certainly not something East Texas hunters are accustomed to hearing about, much less seeing, on their home turf.
This is one those incredible animals that somehow managed to grow a freakish set of antlers that look like something out of a fairy tale book. But make no mistake about it. This is the real deal, although Downs occasionally has to pinch himself to convince himself he isn’t dreaming.
“Guys can hunt for a lifetime never have anything like this happen,” said Downs, a veteran archer with a string of good bucks to his credit. “I’ve never seen anything like this, and I probably never will again. Bucks like this don’t come along very often…. anywhere. You can’t manage for deer like this.”
What makes the deer stand out even more is the fact it was taken on open range. There were no high fences involved. No breeding programs. Just Mother Nature and a whacked out mix of DNA molecules that somehow blended together to create a tremendous mass of bone that Bob Sweisthal says is going to be nightmare to evaluate.
Sweisthal is the Spring-based taxidermist Downs has enlisted to produce a life-size body mount of the deer for his trophy room. The taxidermist also is an official scorer for the Pope and Young Club, the official records keeper for North American big game animals taken by bow and arrow. Whitetail deer antlers are evaluated using a number of measurements to determine a gross and net score in inches.
Sweisthal put a tape on the rack the day Downs brought the deer to his shop, but he is not convinced that the initial tally he came up with is entirely accurate. He rough scored the 28 point rack at 237 6/8.
“At this point I would have say that is a very rough, rough score,” he said. “I won’t be surprised if it scores even higher, though. We looked at it for quite a while and we are still not sure which one is the main beam. There are three tines on each side that could be the main beam. We’ve just got to figure out which one it is and go from there.”
The taxidermist added that he thinks Downs’ buck could be a new Pope and Young state record non-typical (open range by bow). He believes the buck is 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 years old.
“Just about all the tines you see are 10-11 inches long, and that stuff can add up real quick,” he said. “It will take some time before we know anything for sure. The final score will be determined by me, another P&Y scorer and a Boone and Crockett scorer. It could be that we have to send some pictures to the main office to have them look at it. It’s just that complicated. I’ve been a P&Y scorer for 38 years and I’ve never seen anything like this deer before.”
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife biologist Chris Gregory of Livingston said he knows the property where Downs took the whopper. The biologist also is familiar with some big deer with unusual racks that have shown up on the land that surrounds it.
“One of the landowners got some pictures of some non-typical deer last season, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that a deer with unusual antlers had been killed in the area,” Gregory said. “What did surprise me is the amount of antler this deer has. That Trinity River bottom is some pretty fertile ground.”
It was also some pretty soggy ground by the time Downs brothers made it to their stands on opening morning. The two men watched the weather the evening before and the radar screen was green with rain all the way to Abilene.
“It was was raining when we woke up, but not real heavy,” Downs said. “The radar showed a few gaps in the green, so we had to go.”
Downs said was about 7:15 a.m. the buck suddenly appeared in the shooting window of his ground blind. He positioned the blind near a corn feeder at the edge of a pasture bordering a thick stand of woods. He constructed the frame for the blind using a metal ring that is brushed with oak saplings and yaupon. His pop-up blind fits perfectly inside the ring.
Downs said he knew right away what he was looking at when the buck stepped out.
“I knew it was him so I grabbed my video camera and videoed him for five or six seconds,” Downs said. “Then I grabbed my bow and got drawn on him.”
With the buck was standing broadside, unalarmed at 15 yards, Downs released the arrow and drilled him through both lungs. The deer bolted and ran about 30 yards before Downs lost sight of him in some tall grass and brush. Certain he’d made a good shot, he elected to wait 30 minutes before looking for the deer.
Then it started to rain. About 20 minutes into the wait the bottom fell out.
“I decided to get out and I found my arrow -- it had blood on the fletchings,” he said. “I could see his tracks where he took off, but there wasn’t any blood on the ground. With it raining like it was I just took off on the path to where I last saw him and he wasn’t there. Then I sort of panicked and started second guessing myself.”
Turns out the buck made a 90-degree turn and fell over about 60 yards from where Downs stuck him.
“I told everybody back at camp that it’s a lot easier to find them if you go where they went,” Downs joked. “I was almost sick walking in there where he wasn’t. Luckily it all worked out.”
So how does it feel knowing the deer may be a new P&Y state record non-typical?
Downs says he is reluctant to ponder thoughts of owning the title at this point. Final scores are based on the net tally after a 60-day drying period.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “There is no official score yet, so it really doesn’t matter right now. If he is, I thank the Lord for it. If he’s not, I thank the Lord for it. He’s special either way and I’m thankful for the opportunity. My brother are in this deal together. I just happened to draw the lucky stand that morning.”
Matt Williams is a free lance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached e-mail, email@example.com.