On the afternoon of Aug. 15, with the temperature pushing 90 degrees, Zachary Dinkins of Gilbert, S.C., opened South Carolina’s deer season by killing a Lexington County buck that had been nicknamed “Swamp Donkey” — a 9-point, 22-inch wide, 224-pound brute.

“We have watched this buck grow for the past few years,” Dinkins said. “We like big bucks, and we cannot lie. We wanted him to get to his full potential before taking him out of the crowd.”

Dinkins and other hunters on the 42-acre tract manage the property with specific rules in order to allow bucks to mature, and he said they have been successful, thanks in part to hunters on a neighboring 150-acre tract that go by the same, strict guidelines. Only a first-time hunter can take a buck of his or her choice if it doesn’t meet the size minimums.

Swamp Donkey was a buck that lived in the swamp, surviving on the heavy mast that comes from the white oaks surrounding his lair. He had been seen in trail-camera photos from across the property, day and night, even venturing off the property to dine on succulent muscadine grapes when they ripened. And he had evaded Dinkins until opening day.

“The first day of the season is the best, because the deer simply don’t have any pressure on them,” said Dinkins, who used D/Code Field Spray to cover his scent as he passed through pine trees to a 16-foot ladder stand he had set up on a fire break. 

The afternoon was cloudy with a light wind, just as expected, perfect for his stand’s location. Dinkins made his way into the stand and gave another good spray of cover scent to help eliminate any odor. Shortly after sitting down, a nice 8-point buck stepped out and made its way to a nearby corn pile, but it wasn’t one of the bucks Dinkins was looking for. Eventually, that buck made its way across a shooting lane and walked off unharmed.

“Body size and age are two key factors that we look for in measuring up a good buck,” said Dinkins, who explained that hunters on that property are looking for bucks from 4 to 6 years of age, weighing 200 pounds or more. Racks are expected to have at least an 18-inch spread and tine lengths that distinguish them as older animals.

After the smaller buck passed by, things calmed down, but 45 minutes into the hunt, at 7:45, Swamp Donkey appeared and walked out just 75 yards away, right in the corn pile. Standing broadside and looking in the other direction, he presented Dinkins with a great opportunity.

“I knew it was him and I decided to shoot” said Dinkins, who placed a bullet from his Ruger .270 perfectly behind the buck’s shoulder, dropping it in its tracks.

The buck carried a 4x4 rack with a sticker point on one side. Totally covered in velvet, the buck had a 22-inch inside spread, weighed 224 pounds on the hoof and unofficially scored more than 140 inches gross. 

Dinkins decided to allow Alec Nobles of Selective Harvest Taxidermy to mount the buck in full velvet, even though that would disqualify it from inclusion into the South Carolina record book.