Trophy deer hunting seems to get better in North Carolina every year. The 2009 season was no exception.

Whether or not the total harvest will set a record for a third consecutive season is unclear, one thing is clear - the Tarheel State continues to grow wall-hanger bucks. In part, that's a tribute to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission's de facto "quality deer management" strategy that limits hunters in the central, northwestern and western deer sections to two antlered bucks per season.

The "2-buck rule," in place across two-thirds of North Carolina since 2001, has fulfilled two major objectives - reducing the harvest of young male whitetails and stockpiling older deer. All it takes is 3½ years for bucks to start growing eye-popping antlers.

It's possible that bucks older than eight years account for some of our "Deer of the Year," but most of the following trophies were between three and five years old, according to biologists, hunters and taxidermists. That means hunters allowed them to walk and live when they were younger.

Before 2001, when hunters could take four bucks statewide, trophy racks like today's wall-hangers were fairly rare, because there was little incentive to be selective. But now, large bucks are seen - and harvested - from the coast to the mountains.

So cruise the next few pages, read the stories and view the photographs of some of 2009's jaw-dropping whitetails. These are bucks that fill the dreams of hunters - dreams that became reality because of hunter selectivity and the 2-buck rule.

Liberty man dials long distance

Brian Davis of Liberty believes in his .270 rifle.

How could he not after downing the buck of a lifetime, a 17-point beauty, at 223 yards in southern Guilford County?

The best part of the story was his 12-year-old stepson, Jacob, was witness to his marksmanship.

"We were hunting Nov. 21 on a small family farm, maybe 70 acres," said Davis, a 35-year-old well-driller. "We got into a 2-person ladder stand at 5:50 a.m."

The stand was angled at the corner of a grown-over grain field and a narrow wood strip. Another farm's cow pasture was visible across a small valley through the trees.

"We saw some does (in the other pasture) about 500 yards away," Davis said. "A small 6-pointer was with the does."

Davis handed his binoculars to his stepson to look at the does when he spied a high-racked buck headed for the grazing deer.

"I said, 'Oh, my God' when I saw the buck, and Jacob said the same thing when he got the binoculars on the buck," Davis said. "I was shaking all over."

The two hunters got more excited as the buck slowly meandered its way toward them.

"Then a doe crossed a fence into the woods, and the buck followed her," Davis said. "They stayed in there for 10 minutes."

With nothing to lose and the deer no longer visible, Davis started blowing a grunt call.

"I heard a real loud bleat, then the doe stepped into the open, followed by the buck," he said, "He stood perfectly still for two or three minutes, looking back into the pasture at the 6-pointer."

Davis told his stepson he was going to try a shot, and that Jacob should watch with the binoculars.

Getting a solid position on the stand's shooting rest with his Remington 700, Davis put the crosshairs of the Leupold scope - cranked up to 9-power - on the buck's shoulder, took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger.

"After the shot I said, 'Where'd he go?' and Jacob said he'd disappeared," Davis said. "Then I looked through the scope and saw (the buck) trying to get up."

It took about 10 minutes to walk to the big whitetail. Once there, they counted 17 points on its handsome rack.

"That's the farthest I've ever taken a shot at a deer, but I think having waiting almost 15 minutes helped calm me down," Davis said. "When he came out of the woods, I felt like it was my only opportunity."

Aiming just behind the buck's shoulder, Davis had hit a little back from where his crosshairs had intersected, but his shot got the job done.

"He turned as I shot, but t was just meant to be," he said.

Davis' brother-in-law, Troy Searcy, had trail cameras on the property, but the big buck had never been seen.

"I believe he was chasing does and came from some place else," Davis said. "A guy who bow-hunts the adjoining property said he saw him earlier but didn't get a shot."

The buck, which weighed 170 pounds, was aged at 3½ years by taxidermist William Sawyer of Forest Oaks. Tony Royal scored the rack at 185 1/8 Buckmaster inches, and Mitchell Bell's tape measure showed the 6x6 main frame had 177 gross Boone-and-Crockett inches.

First buck is golden

Wayne Golden of Roxboro knew exactly where he wanted to be opening day of 2009's rifle season - sitting in a 2-man stand with his 11-year-old son, Trey, overlooking a 200-acre Person County cutover.

During the summer, Golden, a 40-year-old field service rep for Gregory Poole Equipment Company, had gotten a trail-camera photo of a huge buck in the cutover.

"We'd built a 2-man permanent blind about 15 feet up in a little patch of trees in the cutover," he said. "We had one little clearing we were watching. The deer were bedding down in the cutover."

Golden had put out corn in the clearing for a month before Nov. 17, 2009, and he hunted the stand the entire week of blackpowder season. Each day, he put Tink's 69 scent on a drag rag before walking to the stand, then placed the rag in a tree on the edge of the clearing about 50 yards from the stand.

"When me and Trey went back opening day of rifle season at 3:30, I noticed the rag was gone, so I walked over to the tree and squirted two-thirds of a bottle of the stuff on the tree's trunk," Golden said. "Then I stepped back and squirted the rest of the bottle. (Scent) was dripping off the tree on the ground."

At 5 p.m., with Golden eating sunflower seeds and drinking a Pepsi and Trey playing Nintendo, the youngster looked up and said, "Daddy, I see a big buck coming." Golden also glanced up - and promptly hyperventilated.

Walking in the clearing toward the tree was a massive, almost perfect 10-point buck. Golden recognized the deer as the one he'd named "Hollywood" because it was so beautiful.

"He walked to the tree, smelled it, then put his nose in the dirt," Golden said.

Father and son were shaken.

"Trey had to get his .243 youth-model rifle on the rifle rest," Golden said, "but he was shaking so bad, as much as I was, I knew he wasn't holding steady."

Golden kept waiting for his son to shoot, saying "Get on him, get on him." But the boy, who'd shot four does the previous two seasons, refused to pull the trigger because the crosshairs in the Simmons scope were bouncing. Then the buck started walking toward their stand.

"(Trey) was shaking like a leaf, so I told him to take a couple of deep breaths, look away from the deer and calm down," Golden said.

A sixth-grader at Northern Middle School, Trey followed his dad's advice, aimed again and squeezed the trigger with the buck quartering toward them at 40 yards.

"He kinda buckled into a horseshoe shape, ran straight toward us, then back to the thicket," Golden said. "Then, he just laid down on the edge of the clearing."

Trey immediately climbed down and ran toward the buck, while his father had to wait a minute "because I couldn't stand up," he said.

They discovered a 4½-year-old, 175-pound buck with 10 points that will score between 150 and 160 as a Boone & Crockett gross typical, according to taxidermist Randy Dunkley of Hurdle Mills.

"The inside spread of antlers was 21½ inches, and the brow tines were seven inches long," Golden said.

"Trey was ecstatic," Golden said. "He called all his friends on the cell phone and told them he killed the Tecomate buck."

Surry County buck: a prayer is answered

Bobby Dean Billings Jr. of Dobson, laid off from work at Tyco Electronics, didn't know if he'd have much to be thankful last November.

That is, until Thanksgiving Day at 4:45 p.m., when an answered prayer turned a miserable weather day into something special.

"I was hunting a neighbor's property, a loblolly pine tree farm. I was in an open metal tripod tree stand in the woods between two thickets," said Billings, 38. who admitted he wasn't really excited about hunting that evening.

"We hunted all morning, then went back about 3 p.m.," he said. "It was overcast, and I told my uncle, Gary Watson, I thought it was gonna rain. But he said no, the forecast didn't call for rain. It's kind of a running joke in my family (that) if I go fishing or hunting, it's gonna rain."

About 3:45 p.m. the first rain drops began to fall on Billings, whose stand overlooked a scrape and rub line between the thickets.

"I put the stand in there because it had some tore-up rub trees as big around as your leg," he said. "I also had some trail camera photos of two good bucks, so I knew something good was in the area. I just didn't have any idea it would be that good. But I still was feeling kinda sorry I was getting soaked."

Billings' gloom soon evaporated.

"I started praying," he said. "I said, 'Lord, just let me see a big buck and be able to get him.'"

Five or 10 minutes later, Billings saw a deer walking toward him, 100 yards away.

"I first saw his body through a hole in the thicket," he said. "I couldn't see horns, so I threw up my scope and saw the shadow of his lower left beam. He turned his head, and I could see the second beam. I knew then it was a shooter."

Billings lost sight of the deer, then saw its shoulder through a 10-inch square hole in the brush about 40 yards away.

His Winchester .300 Magnum, mounted with a Redfield scope, barked loudly - then Billings saw nothing.

"(The buck) just vanished," said Billings, who waited 10 minutes, then climbed down from his stand and chambered a second bullet. The buck, which had begun to circle Billings's stand when he shot, had turned and run down the hill, out of the hunter's line of sight.

"I didn't know if he'd run off or I missed him," Billings said.

He circled up the hill about 10 yards to get a better vantage point and spied the buck, and as he walked closer, he saw the buck was down for good.

"That's when I saw how massive the horns were," he said. "My mouth flew open. I didn't know what to say. I looked up in the sky and said, 'Thank you, Lord.'"

Watson later told Billings that the buck had sneaked around him with two does farther down the hill just minutes earlier, and he'd also been praying the buck would give him a shot.

"He was up there praying the same thing I was - 'Lord, turn him around,'" Billings said.

The buck field-dressed at 177 pounds, which would have made its live weight around 220 pounds. It had a nearly perfect 10-point rack with a 1-inch sticker point off each G2 tine. A deacon at Billings' church later rough-scored the antlers at 157 B&C inches.

Camp Lejeune hunter 'slugs' a monster

The North Carolina coast doesn't produce many trophy bucks, but Curtis Thomason of Hubert found a de facto trophy area at Camp Lejeune Marine base.

"I was hunting the base for the first time," said Thomason, a 45-year-old electrical foreman for Gaylord, Inc. who was the guest of a retired gunnery sergeant, Randy Gerslinn, his supervisor at Gaylord.

Only still hunting is permitted on Camp Lejeune, weapons are restricted to archery equipment, slugged shotguns or muzzle-loaders, and only hunters who are in the military, the civil service or guests can hunt.

"You also have to apply for the base hunting license and take the base hunter-safety course," Thomason said.

Thomason and Gerslinn logged in Nov. 14 at the base's wildlife center and chose an area to hunt. After a short drive, Thomason carried his Summit Viper tree stand on his back about 350 yards, while Gerslinn went another direction.

"I saw two thickets with a clearing in-between," Thomason said. "It was just blind luck; I'd never been there before."

He ratcheted his tree stand 20 feet up a pine at 3 p.m. and settled in to wait and watch.

"It was nice, 65 degrees and just a little wind," the Thomasville native said. "I saw a doe moving pretty fast to my right about 200 yards away; she got within 15 or 20 yards of my stand. Then I saw a buck maybe 150 or 175 yards out, and he was on the doe's path, grunting every other step."

About 50 yards from Thomason's stand, the buck saw the doe and started trotting toward her. That's when Thomason hit his grunt call to make the big deer pause. He aimed the 12-gauge Winchester automatic, topped by a 3x9 Bushnell scope and holding Brenneke slugs - it was Gerslinn's gun - at the deer's right shoulder and fired. It was exactly 4:55 p.m.

"The buck jumped six or 10 feet straight up in the air, then ran 50 yards before he fell," Thomason said. "Randy came over after he heard me shoot. I was still in the stand because I didn't want to take my eyes off where the buck fell."

A Camp Lejeune wildlife officer said Thomason's buck, aged at 9½ years, was the largest killed there in the last 20 years.

"The rack, which was 22½ inches wide inside, is heavy," Thomas said. "It's also eight inches in (circumference) between the G2s and G3s on both sides, had 11 scorable points, and field dressed at 175 pounds, which means the buck probably weighed 220 pounds alive."

A taxidermist has measured the rack at a gross 152 B&C inches.

Caswell trophy falls to young hunter

Youth was well served in Caswell County on Nov. 14.

That's when 12-year-old Seth Bryant of Greensboro, hunting with his dad, James Bryant - but by himself in a stand for the first time - bagged one of North Carolina's most-impressive 2009 8-pointers.

The rough score of the rack, with a 21-inch inside spread, was 140 B&C inches.

"Opening day of gun season always brings back memories of hunting with my dad, who passed away in Feb. 2007," said James Bryant, a 41-year-old account executive at Apria Health Care. "This hunt was going to be special because it'd be Seth's first time in a stand by himself."

After seeing only a spike buck that morning, Seth and his father rode a 4-wheeler to Seth's 10-foot-tall, 2-man ladder stand that overlooked a food plot overseeded with rye and adjoining a 4-year-old cutover flanked by oak woods on the left and a pine thicket on the right. James Bryant then left and drove to another stand beside a harvested corn field.

"I saw five turkeys walk across the field into the pines, then two does ran through the cutover with a buck behind them, but I couldn't get a shot," Seth Bryant said.

About 20 minutes later, a doe walked into the field from the oaks and looked behind her, but she traipsed across the field and disappeared into the cutover.

"Then I heard a buck grunting in the woods to my left and behind me," said Seth Bryant, a seventh-grader at Jamestown Middle School.

Finally the grunting stopped, and 10 minutes passed with no sounds.

"Then I saw horns out of the corner of my left eye and turned and saw the biggest buck of my life walking in the field," Seth said. "He was taking the same route the doe took."

It was 4:20 p.m. when Seth Bryant shouldered his Remington 700 .243 rifle to his shoulder and looked through its scope.

"I remembered what my Papa Grady told me when I was target shooting - to get your breathing right," he said. "I took a deep breath and put the crosshairs on his shoulder."

When he pulled the trigger, the buck jumped straight up, then ran into the cutover.

"I heard him crash at the edge, then I called my dad on a cell phone and said, 'Big buck down; big buck down! I shot a monster!'"

Within minutes, James Bryant rode to his son's stand, got directions from his son, and they found the wide-racked 8-pointer 25 yards inside the cutover with a hole in its shoulder. The buck weighed 180 pounds.

Northern Guilford yields muzzleloader monster

If anything proves that North Carolina is home to whopping bucks, it could be that brothers killed 10-pointers on the same day in two counties 150 miles apart.

That's what happened when Dustin Long of Summerfield downed a 151 4/8-inch Guilford County monster on Opening Day (Nov. 7) of 2009's muzzleloader season, while his younger sibling, Devin Long, bagged an Edgecombe County buck that scored in the high 130s.

"What a coincidence," said Dustin, 33, a UPS supervisor who lives near the Rockingham-Guilford county border. "I don't think that's probably happened before in this state."

Dustin Long opened the season in a tree stand where he allowed an 8-pointer to walk out of a food plot of clover and chicory he and his father, Dennis Long, had planted.

"I knew a bigger buck was down there," he said.

He returned to the stand at 2 p.m. Action was slow until three jake wild turkeys walked into the field and stayed for an hour.

"They were just walking out of the field when my wife called me on my cell phone," he said, "but I was seeing some movement in the woods, so I had to end the call."

Twenty minutes later, a single doe walked into the food plot.

"Then, I saw this buck standing like a statue about 100 yards away in the field, looking directly toward me," he said. "I think he was zeroing in on some Code Blue (deer scent) I'd hung in a tree."

The big buck finally started working its way toward Long. He raised his .50-caliber Savage Accu-Trigger in-line muzzleloader to his shoulder and peered through his Simmons scope.

"I worked on my breathing to get calm, put the crosshairs on his shoulder, shot, and he fell in his tracks," Long said. "After the smoke cleared, I realized I'd just shot the biggest deer of my life."

The buck's left main beam was 24 inches long, while the right-hand beam was 24 4/8 inches. Tines measured between five and 10 4/8 inches; the buck carried an inside spread of 19 inches.

"Travis Atkins, my brother-in-law, scored it for me before we took (the rack) to taxidermist Ken Gallimore of Denton," said Long, who has been deer hunting for only four years.

"My younger brother, Devin, took me the first time, and I killed a 7-pointer," he said. "I was hooked. I've bought guns, bows, muzzleloaders, all kinds of stuff since then. My son, born two years ago, now has a lifetime license.

"But this buck was the thrill of my hunting career."

Wide-racked Davidson County buck will be a TV star

Starting a televised hunting show is a difficult undertaking, but D.R. Harrison couldn't have gotten a better episode than by downing one of the widest-racked bucks taken in 2009.

Harrison, who created "Antler Addiction," a company that produces an on-line show for The Hunting Channel and My Outdoor TV, used archery equipment to bag a Davidson County buck Nov. 20 with a 24 1/8-inch inside spread.

Joey Thompson, an NCBA scorer, measured the buck's rack at 162 7/8 net non-typical inches.

"I knew the deer was there, but I hadn't seen him since Oct. 3," said Harrison, a Welcome resident. "I was determined to hunt him, because you don't often see a deer that's 24 to 26 inches wide."

A pro staffer was supposed to accompany Harrison to a farm that day and film the hunt, but he didn't show up, so Harrison carried his bow and the camera equipment, put his Screaming Eagle stand 30 feet up in a white oak and attached the camera at 2:45 p.m. He completed the work just in the nick of time.

"About 3:30 p.m., a doe and buck came over a ridge and bedded down about 115 to 120 yards way in a honeysuckle thicket near a drop-off," Harrison said. "I was hunting big hardwoods with about a 2- or 3-acre honeysuckle, briar and pine thicket and also a creekbottom.

"After 45 minutes, it was starting to get too late to film, so I squirted some doe estrus spray in the wind, which was swirling and blowing directly downwind to them."

Then he hit his grunt call three times, and the buck jumped up, which startled the doe; she ran down the ridge, then came up the other side toward the hunter.

"(The buck) started after her, and she came right by my stand at 17 yards," Harrison said.

At full draw, shooting a Mathews bow with a Phathead Carbon Impact arrow and 100-grain Field Force 3-bladed broadhead - and with the camera rolling behind him - Harrison whistled, and the buck stopped.

"I hit him on the right side with a double-lung shot," he said. "He ran 75 yards and crossed the ridge behind me, but I'd hammered him good and could see a big blood trail."

Harrison easily trailed the buck and found it just over the hilltop.

"He was a main-frame 4x5 with a broken-off right brow (tine)," the hunter said. "I believe this was one of the deer I saw last year when he was an 8-pointer, but he was really wide."

The rack's outside spread was 26 1/8 inches and the G1s were five and seven inches long, with 13-inch G2s and 24-inch main beams.

"He'd lost three or four inches off a drop tine, too," Harrison said. "It he hadn't had so many deductions, he would have blown the state bow record away."

Hunter thanks Wal-Mart for trophy of lifetime

Drew George credits Wal-Mart for his biggest buck - and, no, he didn't purchase a trophy deer at the store.

A 25-year-old Mount Airy police officer, George has to work his hunting hours around a demanding job schedule. During November, he decided to get serious about smoke-pole season, even though he'd never even fired a muzzleloader at a deer.

So he went to the store and bought a cheap scope to mount on his Traditions .50-caliber rifle and picked up a bottle of the store-brand Doe-In-Estrus scent.

"I sighted in the rifle two days before I went hunting," he said.

George made his first shot count Nov. 19 in Surry County, downing one of the year's top primitive-weapons trophies.

"I'd got permission to hunt some land because a buddy of mine had permission, and I asked the landowner about me hunting, and he said okay," he said.

George had seen small bucks, but nothing spectacular; he'd hunted during archery season and arrowed two does there.

"I'd put up a ladder stand at the edge of a pine thicket and hardwoods with a field on each side," he said. "The deer usually come out of the pine thicket into the hardwoods.

"I had two drag rags soaked in Wal-Mart doe scent, and I walked in a circle around my stand to where I'd knew deer had been coming out of the thicket, then I made another circle behind me in the oaks and back down the trail (to his stand)," he said.

He placed the scented rags on a couple of tree limbs, then climbed into his ladder stand.

"I started making bleat and grunt calls after I got in my stand," he said.

At about 5:30 p.m., just minutes before dark, he saw a doe slip out of the pine thicket, followed by a bruiser buck.

"He was right on her tail, but when he got to where I'd put a scent rag, he stopped and was looking at it," George said. "He was about 80 or 90 yards from me."

George put the crosshairs on the deer's right shoulder and pulled the trigger.

"The buck fell in his tracks and never moved," said George, who figured the buck weighed "close to 220 to 230," pounds because he couldn't lift it into a low-rider trailer and had to drag it onto the bed.

"I couldn't start to pick it up," he said.

George estimated the main-frame 5x5 rack with two abnormal points will score between 160 and 165 Boone-and-Crockett inches "because the rack covered up a 156-inch Illinois buck rack at my taxidermist's."

"I've been hunting with a muzzle-loader for five years," he said. "I always wanted to kill a big deer, and this year I got lucky."

Natural selection works for Union County hunter

James "Chris" Helms of Monroe is a selective hunter, and the ability to wait gave him a chance at a buck-of-a-lifetime last Nov. 17.

"I'd seen this buck opening day (of rifle season, Nov. 14) in a cutover, but (I) couldn't see enough of him to get a clear shot," said Helms, 45, a state-government worker. "I never took my safety off, even though I watched him for a good bit."

He was hunting Union County land that joins a farm with harvested soybean fields.

"My (tree) stand is on the edge of an oak woodline that's one side of a soybean field," he said. "Another side has a cutover."

On Nov. 14, Helms saw and heard a panting buck with one broken-off tine in the cutover. A huge whitetail that had been fighting the buck with the broken tine followed the smaller buck in the thicket, but Helms said he could only see bits and pieces of the big deer in the heavy underbrush and just watched it with his binoculars.

"The following Tuesday, I got in the same stand about 3:45 p.m.," Helms said. "I'd taken several deer out of this stand in the past, including a 144-inch 8-pointer, but the area had very little big buck sign this year."

About an hour later, several does came out of the woods into the soybean field, followed by the buck with the broken tine.

"I was hoping the big one would be following the broken-tine buck again," he said.

His wish was granted.

"After 15 minutes, I started to doubt it, but then he came out of the exact same path as the broken-horn buck at 5:20 p.m.," Helms said. "He was 200 yards away, looking at the does but not chasing them."

Several does also stood near Helms, so the tension was unbearable.

"I knew I couldn't move or they'd spook, and I knew I couldn't hit the big buck at that distance because I was shaking too much," he said.

Helms decided to settle his nerves by practice squeezing the trigger of his Browning .270 rifle with the safety on. After several tests, he got a good rest, clicked off the safety, put the crosshairs on the buck's shoulder and took the shot.

"(The deer) made a lunge forward and went down," the hunter said. "I put my binoculars on him and saw his white belly patch."

Carlisle Sutton, a Pageland, S.C., taxidermist, scored the buck at 165 7/8 gross inches and aged the deer at 5½ years. It weighed 202 pounds.

"It's amazing to see the better quality of deer in North Carolina now, and I attribute it to the 2-buck limit," Helms said. "Who would think Union County could grow deer like this? You just have to let them grow to 4½ or 5½. I know it's hard for people to wait when they see a 3½-year-old deer at 115 inches, but if they'll wait, a bigger buck will always be behind."

Scents makes good sense for hunter in Davie County

It makes good sense to use deer scents, as Jason Lail of King can attest after shooting the biggest buck of his life.

"I'd sprayed down my clothes and had put out Trophy Leaf (scents), Tink's 69 gel and sprayed (into the air) some H.S. Dominant Buck urine," said Lail, a 25-year-old printing press operator for Miltak Graphics. "I'm certain it worked, because it fooled a 7-pointer and this buck, and both were downwind of me."

When the big boy came into sight, Lail was sitting in a climbing stand at a spot in Davie County he'd only hunted once previously in the morning.

"I'd seen big buck sign everywhere, so I knew there was a good deer there," he said. "He'd rubbed saplings and huge trees everywhere (that) I couldn't get my hands around. I had some trail-camera photos of decent deer, but I hadn't seen this one."

Lail reached the oak tree and went up in his climbing stand 30 minutes before daylight on Nov. 14, the first day of muzzleloader season.

"(The stand) was on a ridge at the edge of a clearcut," he said. "I had the clearcut between me and some bean and corn fields. I saw (the big buck) about 7:27 a.m. I'd gone up the tree about 30 minutes before daylight."

At about 7:10 a.m. and before he saw the large buck, a 7-pointer walked up the hill. Lail didn't raise his gun.

"We don't shoot little bucks because we have good genetics on that property," said Lail, who waited 20 minutes before seeing the big deer walking in the same direction, coming up from below him.

"I noticed him coming up the ridge straight toward me," he said. "Then he stepped out into an old logging road about 60 yards from me, and all I saw were antlers. He was circling downwind, but he never smelled me. The 7-pointer also never smelled me, and I'm sure it was because I'd sprayed my clothes for scent prevention."

Lail put the crosshairs behind the bigger deer's shoulder, and smoke billowed out the barrel of his muzzleloader, sending a .50-caliber bullet toward the deer. When the smoke cleared, the buck was on the ground, kicking.

"I didn't hit him exactly where I was aiming," he said, "but it worked out because the spine shot knocked him down. He was scrambling around in the leaves, so I re-loaded and shot him again."

After Lail ratcheted his stand to the ground and walked to his trophy, he found a 160-pound buck with a main-frame 8-point rack and two scorable "kicker" points. Taxidermist Tommy Foster later scored the rack at a net 153 3/8 inches.

"What makes this rack's score is its mass," Lail said. "I couldn't get my hands around either antler base, and that mass carries all the way out to the ends (of the main beams)."