Twenty yards separates the chalk outlines of this Kentuckian’s first and best bucks.
If a deer hunter is lucky, he or she has a favorite spot that produces year after year, a place so rich in memories that they sometimes blur into one big never-ending hunt.
Luke Carswell was walking along in the morning fog in such a place in 2015 when he shot the biggest whitetail of his life. But his story actually began 14 years earlier, when his father, Gene, took 9-year-old Luke on a hunt that yielded the boy’s first buck.
“My dad started taking me with him on deer hunts when I was 6 years old,” Luke said. “When I was 9, he bought me a rifle, and I shot my first buck with it that fall.
“Like any kid, I was so excited that I hardly slept the previous night. We got up, and my grandmother fixed breakfast. By daybreak, we were set up and waiting.
“We were on the ground, backed up against a woven wire fence. Soon, two bucks came along, and I shot one of them at a little more than 200 yards with my .243,” he said.
“We went and got a tractor to haul the deer. By the time we got it out and skinned, only an hour had passed from when we started,” he added.
Although the hunt was short, a deer hunter had been born.
That first buck kindled a lifelong interest in whitetail hunting for Luke. By the time he reached his 20s, he had several good bucks under his belt and was guiding part-time for a Kentucky outfitter.
The Rowan County native has opportunities to see and hunt some of the state’s premier counties, but he’s always eager to return to the family farm.
“In 2013, I was working as a guide, and I had some time off during the third week of September,” Luke said. “I decided to camp out and do some bowhunting on the property where I’d shot my first deer.
“A friend of mine, Jeffrey Stamper, went with me. We had taken a four-wheeler down to the creek to get some firewood when we noticed a nice buck out in a field. The deer eased off into the woods after we shut off the four-wheeler’s engine.
“I took my climbing stand back to where I’d seen the deer that afternoon. When I started looking for a tree to climb, however, it was all locust and walnut – nothing suitable for climbing,” he said.
Luke settled for making a ground blind, and he sort of wrote off the afternoon as a scouting trip.
About 7:00, he looked across the field and saw a buck with a big rack coming toward him. It was at least 80 yards distant, but moving so quickly that Luke went ahead and drew his bow.
“The deer stopped and started looking around when it was at 40 yards,” Luke said. “I put my pin on its shoulder and released, but the buck ducked the string. The arrow hit an antler, and – just like that – the buck was gone.
“You’ve got to be kidding me! I thought.
“The buck had a nice wide rack, and I guessed it to be about a 10-pointer,” he said. “That was the last time anyone saw the buck that season, as far as I know.
“The next year, when I started putting my trail cameras out, I put one over some corn in the area where I missed the big deer with my bow,” Luke said. “I hung the camera about the third week in July, and when I checked it in mid-August, there were no photographs of bucks.
“Jeffrey was with me that day, and he said we should move it, but I told him no. ‘I know he’s down here,’ I insisted. In the end, we decided to move it about 50 yards.
“While we were driving on down to move it, we looked up and saw a buck,” he continued. “I told Jeffrey to keep looking around because it was the time of year for bucks to be in bachelor groups.
“Sure enough, the big deer stepped out,” Luke said. “It was still in the area. I was right!”
When Luke and Jeffrey checked the camera a couple of weeks later, they saw that the big buck had walked past it just four hours after they set it in place.
“We got several photos of the deer after that, and I could hardly wait until the season arrived,” Luke said. When it did, he bowhunted that spot for a week.
“The last evening I was there, the buck came in with about 10 minutes of shooting light left. Confident of 60-yard shots, I stopped it at 55 yards. But I shot under him,” Luke said.
That ended their second cat-and-mouse season.
The third year wasn’t going to be easy.
Starting an outfitting business while holding down a full-time job can take a toll on a person’s personal hunting time. During the summer of 2015, Luke had decided to strike out on his own and start a guide service: 7bar Outfitters.
He took out several leases on farms in the trophy-rich northeastern part of Kentucky. When fall came, he was busy setting up stand sites and guiding clients during the early bow season.
He didn’t have time to hunt until the state’s rifle season arrived.
“On the first Saturday and Sunday of gun season, I hunted a farm in Fleming County,” Luke said. “It was completely dead. I didn’t even hear any shots. Nothing. I was in good deer country, but I don’t think the rut had kicked in yet.
“On Sunday night, Dad called and told me a good buck had been seen where I took my first buck. So that’s where Jeffrey and I went Monday morning.
“It was breaking day when we arrived and went our separate ways on foot. I went on past the barns, through a gate, and stopped and killed a few minutes waiting on more daylight before heading into some bottomland.
“It was cloudy and overcast, and fog was rolling off the nearby creek. Visibility was less than a 100 yards,” he said. “It was the first cold morning of the year.
“I was watching the area toward the creek. I took about 10 steps, looked that way again and saw a flash of white. My first thought was I’ve messed up. I took another step, and then saw something sticking up in the tall weeds about 70 or 80 yards away.
“It was a bedded buck,” he continued.
“I got the .300 Win Mag’s scope on the deer. And when it stood, I shot what I figured was a 140-class 10-pointer. The buck bolted about 50 yards and disappeared in a drain,” Luke said.
Jeffrey heard the shot and called Luke immediately. He offered to join him, but Luke told him to continue hunting.
“After that, I called Dad,” Luke said. “He was working nearby. I told him I’d shot one, but then I heard kicking in the direction the buck ran so I hung up and walked over to the drain.
“The buck was dead by the time I got there. When I was within about 15 yards, I saw the left antler and was like, Whoaaaaa, he’s more than a 140-class 10-pointer!”
The deer fell less than 20 yards from where Luke’s first buck died 14 years earlier.
Hunter: Luke Carswell
Score: 196 6/8
This article was published in the August 2016 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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