At about 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 15, the opening day of deer season in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, Steve Rodger felt about as low as a hunter could feel -- lower to the ground than a Louisiana mud varmint, lower than a snake’s belly -- you might say.
He’d missed a shot at a huge, no, an enormous whitetail buck in full velvet out in the open in a food plot -- a buck he’d hunted all of the 2016 season without seeing in person -- and he was sure his chances for 2017 had just died.
“I was sick to my stomach; I wanted to puke,” said Rodger, who hails from Key West, Fla., where he’s host of Into the Blue, a television fishing show. “I figured, he’s going to turn nocturnal, and I’m gonna chase a deer all year that will never come out in the daylight.”
But when he started to glass the waist- and chest-high pines on the right side of the food plot -- where the huge buck, three 8-pointers and a 6-pointer had all run after his shot, he saw some dog fennel moving. Then, he saw the tips of some antlers and recognized the biggest of the 8-pointers. Then, he saw more bucks. Finally, he saw the rack of the biggest buck.
“I realized, he’s coming back out into the plot. His nose was in that direction,” Rodger said. “He put his front feet out, and I let it rip.”
This time, at 220 yards, Rodger was dead on. A few minutes later, he was standing 60 yards back in the pines admiring a fantastic buck, a 232-pound monster that wore a 5x6 main-frame rack with two sticker points in full velvet that pushes the 160-inch mark.
Rodger was hunting on the Creek Plantation, which is about evenly divided between Barnwell and Allendale counties. He’s hunted the property for about 10 years, but he’s not exactly sure in which county the tripod stand he was sitting, watching a 3-acre patch of cow peas and buckwheat, was actually in. And he was shooting a rifle belonging to his wife, one he was not particularly familiar with.
“I thought about not hunting, because all I had was my wife’s gun,” Rodger said. “My dad was driving my guns up (Wednesday). I hadn’t shot it since I put the scope on it and sighted it in, except I cracked one off the day I got here to check, and it was on.
“I had trail-camera pix of this deer last year, but I never saw him in person. I had one on Dec. 31, so I knew he had made it through the season. But I didn’t put out trail cameras this year, because I didn’t want to take a chance of spooking him and making him nocturnal. I decided to plant this food plot in cowpeas, and I figured, if it happens, it will happen the first week, so I went.”
Two does entered the food plot around 7:30 p.m. and began to feed. After 10 minutes, they started acting spooky and left, but Rodger was sure he hadn’t spooked them because, he said, “The wind was perfect. They kept looking behind them; I figured it was a hog, because we’re overrun with them, and maybe I couldn’t see him because the beans were knee-high.”
A couple of minutes later, the procession of five bucks arrived and began feeding. “I wasn’t absolutely sure he was the same buck as last year, but I was pretty sure,” Rodger said.
The bucks stayed at the far end of the food plot, 330 yards from the tripod.
“I realized they weren’t gonna come any closer,” he said. “I was shooting a 120-grain bullet, and I knew it would drop 12 inches at 300 yards, so I held high and let it fly.”
All Rodger could see after the shot was bucks running, but he thought he’d seen the big buck standing after the shot.
“I was thinking, ‘Do I go and look, because I’d be sick if the buzzards were on him two days later, but I didn’t want to get down and spook them,” he said.
That’s when his binoculars entered the picture, and the picture came back into focus. His shot was dead on, taking the buck through both lungs.
When the tape measures came out and the picture-taking began, Rodger got a better idea just exactly how big his buck was. In full velvet, it carried a main-frame 5x6 rack with six points on the left beam, which was adorned with one sticker point on the tallest tine and a tiny sticker point on the main beam between two other tines. The buck was only 14 inches wide inside, with main beams slightly longer than 22 inches, but it carried three tines that measured 9½ inches each, and it had extremely good mass: 5½ inches around each base, and the horns were heavy all the way to the tips.
Rodger figures the buck will gross score around 161 inches and net in the low 150s.