By Jill J. Easton
Jeff Newton’s Bunkie, La., home might still have a big bare spot on the wall if he hadn’t nurtured the 500 acres in Avoyelles Parish he and his brother bought when the Clintons left the White House. After nine years of looking for wall art during the November rut in Illinois, the Louisiana bowhunter decided to shop at home in 2008. "I saw plenty of 120- to 135-inch bucks in Illinois, but nothing that would make my heart skip a beat," Jeff said.
"Don't get me wrong. There are many trophy bucks harvested in Illinois each year. But the area I was hunting had lots of pressure. And every experienced hunter knows that mature bucks and pressure do not mix.”
See BTR Scoresheet
Last season, he turned his attention to the bottomland he and his brother own next to the Red River, which flows into the Mississippi. In 2001, they clear-cut some of it and selectively thinned the rest. As the land “haired over” following the timber harvest, the abundant browse and thick cover attracted deer. The rich bottomland began to work its magic, too, and deer size and antler mass increased.
Jeff began putting out protein-rich feed two years ago to supplement natural browse. He also set up trail cameras near the feeders so he could learn more about the quantity and quality of whitetails in the area.
“The first six months very few deer came to the protein feeders,” Jeff said. “I went through a hunting season and didn’t see any bucks that would qualify as trophies. I was told to be patient, that it takes time for the deer to get accustomed to the feeders. Also there were problems getting feed out of the equipment. Switching to Purina protein pellets, which flowed well out of the feeders, made a huge difference.”
Over the second summer and fall, Jeff came to recognize many of the individual deer that came in range of his cameras.
“On Nov. 19, a giant buck showed up in pictures at night on a 16-acre clear-cut close to an oil well,” Jeff said.
“A few days later, a crew of men started working the rig, and the deer disappeared. I figured we’d never see that buck again.
“But two weeks later, it showed up on a feeder camera half a mile away,” he said.
At first, the buck, which Jeff estimated was a 150-incher, fed only at night. Then it also started showing up for between 30 and 45 minutes in the early afternoon. The camera collected dozens of photographs, and the antlers seemed at least 10 or so inches larger. Jeff couldn’t wait to hunt the buck.
When the season finally opened, he knew exactly where he wanted to be.
“Each time I went to the stand, I made a big loop and came in from the south,” Jeff explained. “Because the buck always faced in that direction, I figured he was traveling from the north. I was in the stand every day by 11 a.m. and didn’t leave until after dark. If the buck spotted or winded me just once, I knew it would be all over.”
The fourth morning, Dec. 4, was windy and cooling, after days of warm weather. The temperature dropped 25 degrees from noon until dark. Deer were up and moving. The big buck walked into Jeff’s glasses at 5:30 p.m.
“I saw it at 75 to 80 yards,” he said. “It stopped, threw up its head and sniffed, but the wind was blowing in my favor; it couldn’t smell me.
“The buck walked straight to within 15 yards, throwing that nose up every few yards, smelling for danger. Finally, it stopped broadside to me. When the arrow landed, I figured I’d made a heart shot.”
The buck jumped up in the air, kicked and ran off. Because of the gusting wind, Jeff couldn’t hear a crash, but he was confident the deer wouldn’t go far.
Still in his stand, the excited hunter sent a text message to a friend who wanted to do a video.
“THE BUCK is down,” Jeff typed. “Bring your camera and get over to film the search.”
Jeff got down from his stand and waited impatiently for four hours until his buddy finally showed at 9:30 p.m. They started looking for the deer using lights.
At 10 yards, there was a little blood. At 30, a lot more.
“Things were looking good. Then I saw the deer and realized how much mass it had. I couldn’t believe how big that buck was,” Jeff said.
The celebration lasted three days.
“Nobody appreciates a trophy buck more than I do,” Jeff said. “It takes lots of planning, hard work, patience and, most of all, luck to get a chance to harvest one of these majestic animals. My cousins and friends who helped with the recovery of this once-in-a-lifetime trophy made the experience even more unforgettable.”
Illinois hunting is a thing of the past for this hunter. He’s proved that the right Louisiana location and good land management can compete with the best ground in the country.