Jason Sanders and his brother Nathan, home for the Thanksgiving holiday, eagerly laid out their hunting gear and clothes for the next day’s hunt. Jason opened a gun case and took out his trusty .410.
Nathan had bought him the pump shotgun so he was surprised when his brother objected.
"We talked about it, and he said not to use it," Jason said. "I ended up borrowing my dad’s .20-gauge."
Good thing Jason had a little more firepower.
The next day, Jason, Nathan, and their father Lenny set out in the predawn, each looking forward to a day of hunting together in their home grounds of Newton County, Indiana. It was Nov. 25, 2005.
"We tried a couple other areas first, and there were a few does shot and some small bucks seen," Jason recalled. "We went home and ate lunch, and then went to another spot."
Fines For Shooting Small Bucks
No matter where they hunted, in recent years they’re adopted a deer management policy. A buck’s antlers had to be wider than his ears, or the hunter paid a $200 fine — used for food plot or stand supplies.
"You could tell it was starting to work," Jason said. "There had been some respectable 10- and even 12-pointers shot, and a friend of my dad’s had sent trail camera pictures of other bucks.
"My dad and my brother had each found a shed from a big buck," he added. "They found them separately, but when they compared them they believed they came from the same buck."
And Jason would soon prove that their theory was correct.
After lunch, Jason took a stand in a well-known patch of woods, where he’d squirrel-hunted since he was about 7 years old.
"We know it inside and out, and that’s where my dad and brother had found the sheds," Jason said. "I was in a maple tree fork, maybe chest high where we’d built a platform into the forks, not very high, but it’s a great funnel area."
Jason headed to the stand about 1 p.m., just sneaking along and watching for deer. When he was nearly to the stand, five or six does leapt to their hooves and ran.
"You hate to jump deer, but they didn’t go far, just into a thicket and stopped," Jason said. "It was breezy enough to cover the noise I was making, and I didn’t think I’d done too much harm."
At about 2:30, Jason saw and heard lots of movement in the thicket.
"I could see a nice 6-point and nice 8-point, chasing does and chasing each other, and I was trying to get a good look at the eight, to see if it was one to shoot," he said.
Big Rack Appears
The deer were crashing around in a willow thicket, which is about 100 yards thick and one-quarter-mile long. An old vehicle crossing, worn to a ditch, crosses it.
"I was trying to figure out if I was going to shoot the 8-pointer when at the crossing, I could see a big rack sticking up out of the ditch," he said. "I remember thinking, ‘Nope!’ and then watching for the rest of that buck to show up."
The big buck was watching the other two, and stepped briefly into a clearing before disappearing.
"He started walking forward and I lost sight of him," Jason said. "When I saw him again I almost chuckled — it seemed like a small body and a huge rack, it didn’t look real."
"But I knew he was a huge buck and I remember coaching myself to pick a spot and squeeze the trigger, nice and smooth," Jason said. "The deer was quartering away when I shot, and at the shot he jumped and spun 180 degrees and just stood there."
"He was looking back and forth, like, what just happened, and I was thinking the same way," Jason added. "I had a moment thinking, ‘what did I do, did I miss?’"
Jason jacked a round into the gun and at the sound the buck looked right at him. Jason took the best shot he had at the buck, which was quartering toward him, picking a spot in the neck. Then it was time for second-guessing again — the buck went behind a brush pile and disappeared.
"I was shaking so bad. I wanted so much to go get my dad and brother, but I didn’t want to get down and start walking around, ruining everybody else’s hunt," he said. "And as I waited I was thinking, was it really as big as I thought? Was I going to have to pay the $200?"
A Welcome Sight
At dusk, Jason climbed down from his perch in the maple tree and checked behind the brush pile, where the buck had dropped. Lenny and Nathan had heard him shoot, and towards dusk Jason saw a welcome sight — his dad driving towards him, coming through a field.
"Aw, I just killed the biggest deer I’ve ever seen in my life," Jason told his dad. "Follow me."
"My dad has gotten to the point in his hunting where he’d rather carry a camera," he added. "That came in handy that day."
Jason Sanders took his brother’s advice and toted a little more firepower to down his huge Newton County, Indiana, buck.
His father and brother would later match their sheds from the previous year to Jason’s buck. And Nathan has since become a taxidermist. The buck scored 182-6/8, and field dressed right at 200 pounds.
"When I had time to think about it later, what I remember is how that buck looked, confident and majestic, in control of that place," Jason said. "All my life, I’d gotten up early and walked miles and miles trying to shoot a buck like that — it finally worked out."
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