Big Buck 411 Blog

Opening-Day Ambush

Opening-Day Ambush

By Mark Melotik

For Kentucky’s Travis Mays, the third time really was the charm. Last Sept. 2, Mays, 31, closed out a three-year quest for an outsized Bluegrass State buck by arrowing the velvet-antlered brute on a hot and steamy opening day. The buck had read the script that fateful evening — something it had not come close to doing in previous years.

It was back in 2021 when Travis first got late-summer trail camera photos of the Kentucky giant-to-be on a 200-acre farm where the avid bowhunter had gained exclusive permission. It eventually became apparent to Travis how the buck needed to be hunted. 

“I had a lot of trail cam photos of him in previous years but never saw him on the hoof,” Travis recalled. “I would get photos of him all through the summer, but when he shed his velvet he would leave that farm. Then he would come back in December or January.”

Travis knew his best shot at the buck would come early, so the summer of 2023 was a busy, exciting time.

“I just surrounded that farm with cameras,” he said. “I put six cameras on that farm and started getting photos of him on the north end.”

Interestingly, the buck would appear regularly on camera, but only on the one. It was set in a thickly overgrown staging area off a soybean field, where Travis had created a mineral lick specifically to attract the deer.

“He was living in that thicket,” he said. “It had everything he wanted — it is extremely thick in there (15 to 20 yards is the most you can see) — and a creek runs through the back. He was staging in there, hitting the mineral in the evening before heading out to the beans, and then he would come back through early in the morning.”

Late last summer Travis began getting consistent trail camera photos of the buck, with the barrage beginning the first few days of August.

“At one point I had daylight photos of him 15 or 16 days in a row. Things were pretty consistent for about a month,” Travis recalled.

Faced with another typical hot and steamy Kentucky summer, Mays decided to set his primary stand for the buck a few weeks before the opener to avoid the noise and sweat of hanging and hunting close together. 

When opening day arrived on Sept. 2, Travis was ready. 

“I got settled in my stand about 2 p.m., which was really early, but I just wanted to get in there and let everything calm down.”

Travis didn’t see any deer until about 5 p.m., when a few does hit the mineral site and moved on. Then at about 7:30, a smaller 8-pointer came in and hung around for 20 minutes.

“When the 8-pointer left, I stood up to see where it was headed. When I turned my head, that big deer was standing about 15 yards from me. He then veered to the right, coming to the mineral. I went to grab my bow, and he stopped, sort of quartering to me.”

Despite the angle, the big deer was close, and Travis felt his shot could reach the vitals. After some tense moments waiting for the buck to step out from behind a tree, Travis cut the shot. He watched as the arrow penetrated nearly to the fletching, and then sat back down, feeling confident.

“At that point I called all my buddies and told them what happened,” he said.

The group would give the deer three or four hours before following the trail at about 10 p.m. Interestingly, just a few drops of blood were found and Travis’ friends were concerned, suggesting the group back out until morning.

“I felt really good about the shot, and so I told everyone to go a little farther,” Travis recalled. Just a few minutes later, Travis, in the lead, shined his light down toward the creek and glimpsed the buck in the water.

“We all just kind of lost it,” Travis said of the moment. “It was emotional. Everyone was so tore up. I knew it was big, but I didn’t realize how big it was until I had the rack in my hands. When I couldn’t get my hands around the bases, it was crazy. The mass was unreal.”

The tall, heavy buck and its mainframe 10-point velvet rack (with 12 scorable points) posted a BTR score of 193 1/8 in the Compound Bow Typical category.

For more details of this stunning buck and amazing three-year quest, be sure to check out the full-length feature story in this year’s Pre-Rut issue of Buckmasters magazine.

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Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd