For over four decades, Joey Johnston of Conway, South Carolina has trampled the woods in search of a buck capable of making the cut into the South Carolina record book. Every few years, Johnston kills a nice buck that always tapes out a few inches short of the 125 net minimum.
But when Johnston checked his trail camera on Aug. 27 just a few days before opening day of gun season, he realized the buck of his life had paid him a visit. Then a massive herd of hogs showed up and destroyed the area, diminishing his high hopes of bagging the record book deer.
He and his brother Stuart Johnston of Wildlife Creations Taxidermy have spent their lives chasing deer and other wildlife every free chance they get throughout the wilds of Horry County. Joey makes routine visits to Stuart’s taxidermy shop in Conway to see buck after buck that dwarfs anything Joey had ever killed or even seen on one of his trail cameras.
“I killed my first deer when I was 11 years old and I have been chasing that net 125 record book buck ever since,” he said. “It took 43 years, but I finally picked up a big one on camera. When I got home that day, I was floored by the size of the deer I had!”
Johnston started pouring the corn to the deer to try keeping it on the property. But, his worst nightmare happened instead. A herd of 30 feral hogs moved in, eating all the corn. As expected, he didn’t capture any more photos of the massive buck he had waited 43 years to encounter.
But Johnston wasn’t going to give up. He started putting out corn on another end of his club in a spot that was closer to where he thought the deer was laying anyway. And in no time, the hogs migrated to the new spot and obliterated the corn on that stand too.
“I basically had given up at this point and decided to focus on shooting these hogs. I got to get these hogs out of here so we can get our deer back,” he said.
The buck he was chasing was traveling with a group of four other bucks in a bachelor group. Johnston knew by the time he got the hogs out of there, the bucks would scatter and his early season opportunity would quickly disappear.
Johnston turned to hog hunting and baited up three spots on Sept. 1 and would go after the hogs on Saturday morning with his son.
“When we went hog hunting Saturday, there were no hog tracks anywhere. They had left and moved on to somebody else’s corn pile,” he said.
Johnston immediately started piling the corn back on his stand where he had last seen the big buck a few weeks before. And on the following Thursday, Sept. 7, a cold front moved in chilling everything down that made for perfect conditions at his ground blind overlooking his corn.
Johnston sat quietly all afternoon in the ground blind hoping to see some deer. Then, right before dark with a only few minutes of shooting light left, the bachelor group of bucks stepped out. Johnston pulled up his Leupold Monarch 56mm binoculars and immediately saw his deer standing amongst the other bucks. With very little shooting time remaining in the day, Johnston pulled up his .308 and prepared to take the shot, but he was having a hard time figuring out where to place the it.
“Since I was sitting on the ground, the deer were all stacked up there together. I could see his head and had to make sure I was shooting at the right body,” he said.
When he made the right connection, he squeezed off a shot and all the deer scattered like a covey of quail through the planted pines.
“I felt like I made a good shot on him and quickly started walking down the trail where he had run,” he said.
After 75 yards and still not seeing any blood, the trail ended and Johnston began to drop his head.
“I was tracking him by the kicked up dirt and the trail stopped. I didn’t have a good trail to follow anymore. So, I panned my light around and there he was laying to the left,” he said.
Weighing in at 198 pounds, Johnston’s buck is a 146-inch mainframe eight with 6-inch bases, 17-inch inside spread, and 24-inch main beams.
“It’s a buck I have waited my whole life for and I am lucky that he decided to come back with the bachelor group of deer so late in the year,” he said. “But I would rather be lucky than good any day!”