When Shelton Earls went deer hunting on Dec. 19, he carried his three-year-old .45-70 rifle to the stand because he mistakenly thought it was still primitive weapon season.
When the morning was over, he was glad he had made that mistake.
“I’d have had my .30-30 up there with me had I known it was still season already, and I sure am glad I had that bigger gun to shoot this buck with,” said Earls, 72, of Roxie. “I’d prefer that kind of knockdown power, especially with this buck.”
Can’t blame him, not when you see his 30-point non-typical Franklin County monster. It has been scored three times, producing measurements from as low as 222 to 228 inches.
“He’s something else, that’s for sure,” Earls said. “He’s a buck of a lifetime, at least that’s what my son-in-law told me. I’ve hunted a long time and I know I’ve never seen anything like him.”
Others had, turns out, which makes for an interesting twist to the story. After Earls killed the monster buck, word spread quickly and reports of neighborly sightings followed.
“You wouldn’t believe it, but I’ve had so many people between here and the Natchez prison six miles away tell me they’ve had pictures of this buck and have been hunting him for four years,” he said. “My neighbor has pictures of him. The guys up at the prison say they’ve been watching him his whole life. They say he hangs around up there all spring and summer and then just before the rut when the bucks go to fighting, he just disappears and they don’t see him again until the next summer.
“But all these people had seen him and got pictures of him, but I have three cameras out on my 97 acres and I have over 1,100 photos and not a single one of him is in there. Can you believe that? I can’t.”
The first time Earls saw the buck was from the stand that cool, windy morning in December. Even then he didn’t know what he was looking at, not for sure.
“We did have trail cam photos down there in that area of a big and tall 10-point and that’s what I was hoping to shoot,” he said. “When he walked out, well I saw right off that he was big with a tall and wide rack and that was good enough for me. I figured it was the 10-point.
“It was kind of strange. When he walked out, even when he started eating his tail was up. It stayed up. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen or heard of that. I think it may have been because he was following a doe. I think he may have been rut. I never saw a doe. I don’t know, but I know I’ve never seen a tail up like that unless it was a deer that was frightened and he wasn’t acting like that.”
That gave him something to think about other than the antlers.
“They tell you not to concentrate so much on the antlers or you might get nervous, so after I knew I was going to shoot him, I didn’t think about it anymore,” he said.
And, he had a pretty good wait.
“I was hunting this ¾-acre field we planted in wheat and he just came walking out there at the far end,” Earls said. “I was in a 10-foot ladder stand and there was a cross wind, between us. It was a good wind, too, so he wasn’t getting my scent.
“Like I said, I had my .45-70 rifle... you know there’s something else pretty funny about that, too. I had two different cartridges with me. My son had traded me some Hornady bullets that he said would be better for a long-range shot than my hollow points. I had them in my pocket. I had a hollow point in the gun, and when that buck came out at 100 yards I started thinking about switching.”
Actually, Earls said, he wasn’t real comfortable shooting either one at 100 yards.
“Not with that gun,” he said. “Besides, when he came out into the wheat and starting eating, he kept coming right toward me. He was walking right toward me and I just let him come on.
“I started thinking about the bullets and I figured that if he was going to keep coming toward me, I’d just shoot him with the bullet I had in there.”
For 15 minutes, Earls watched the buck continue feeding toward him. At about 50 yards, the buck got behind some bushes and all Earls could see was the outline of his body moving through the brush. He liked what he saw, too — the buck was still unaware of the trap he was walking into and was still moving directly toward Earls, sealing his fate.
“I guess he was about 40 yards when he walked out into the clear and I put the gun on him and I shot him,” Earls said. “He went down and I tried to eject the cartridge and get another one in there in case he got up, but for the first time ever, it didn’t eject. I couldn’t get it out. It was truly a single-shot situation, and had he gotten up I wouldn’t have been able to shoot him again.”
Earls sat in the stand and could see antlers above the wheat but was satisfied that he had killed a good 10-point.
“I called my wife, I called my daughter and I called my son-in-law, and nobody answered, so I just climbed down and decided to leave the buck alone and let him bleed,” Earls said. “If I walked over there and jumped him, I couldn’t shoot him with that gun. I couldn’t get the shell out until I got something I could get leverage with and pop it out.”
What Earls did was go home, and try to stay cool. That’s never easy when there’s a big buck down by your doing and you keep picturing what had happened over and over in you head.
“I got home and put the gun up, and I poured me a Coke; I decided I’d drink me a little Coke,” he said. “But then the curiosity just kept growing and it finally got to me and I told myself ‘I got to go look at my buck.’ All this time I was thinking I had that big 10-point.”
Earls returned to the field and had just gotten to the buck and saw the antlers when his cell phone rang. It was his daughter.
“She called and I was just getting excited and she asked me if I had killed anything, and I couldn’t even think of the words ‘dominant buck,’ so I told her ‘I just killed the wood boss,” he said, laughing at the memory. “Oh, me, I was so excited. I told her he was big, a really big one. She asked me how many points he had and I had my hand on the antlers and I started counting, 11, 12, 13, 14 ...
“She said, ‘You mean you killed a 14-point?’ I had to tell her that I was still only counting that one side of the rack. I said ‘you ain’t gonna believe what I killed.’ Well, she was at the deer camp and she had her cell phone on speaker and a bunch of them sitting around said she’d better get up there and check it out and help him.”
The next phone call was from his son-in-law who heard the news.
“He has a Polaris Ranger and he was coming to help with it,” Earls said. “He said ‘I’m telling you, don’t y’all move that deer until I get down there. I mean it, don’t move it.’ A few years ago I killed a big buck and went down there with a tractor to pull it out and tore it all up and I certainly wasn’t going to take any chances with this one. No sirree. We waited until he got there.
“He took one look at it, shook his head and said ‘I’d say that was a buck of a lifetime right there.’ Then we loaded him up.”
Earls retired from the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Company a couple of decades ago, got elected Constable in Franklin County and did that for 11 years and remains an active member of a volunteer fire department.
“Been with the fire department for 27 years and I’m going to retire after 30 years, or let’s say I’m going to try and make it to 30 years,” he said. “My dad and I used to hunt squirrel on this place when I was a kid and the year after I went to work for Armstrong, the owner, who was a friend of Dad’s, told him about it and I bought it. We used to raise cows on it, but now we just use it for hunting.
“We’ve killed a lot of nice bucks on it. My granddaughter killed a nice 10-point this year, about 130 inches typical, that she entered in the Big Buck Bounty up in Jackson.”
Earls had his deer scored for the same contest and it leads, easily, with a score of 222 2/8 inches.
“They scored it as a 30 point, but they say a point has to be an inch long to count,” he said. “I’ve always said anything that you could hang a ring on is a point, and if that’s the case it is at least a 32 point. I also had it scored at Simmons in Bastrop, La., and they scored it as a 29-point but had it at 228 5/8 inches.”
Raymond taxidermist Dan Heasley, who scored the deer for the Big Buck Bounty, said it was probably a main-frame 11- or 12-point.
“It depends on a couple of things, really, but it was one heck of a fine non-typical buck,” Heasley said. “It’s not all that massive, at least not at the bases. It’s not until you get out on the main beams a bit and run into all that palmation and growth that it gets a lot of mass. And it does get a lot of it there.
“It’s just basically one of those gnarly non-typicals we see every few years. It’s just got a lot of stuff there.”
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