On Oct. 27, the first day of muzzleloader deer season in central North Carolina, wind bands from Hurricane Sandy and a cold front swept across the region and made deer-hunting difficult.
Despite the weather, Earl Mitchell of Whitsett dropped his first buck at a place where few hunters would have set up a stand - a plowed field and it was quite a buck, a 139-inch Guilford County bruiser.
Mitchell, 32, said he had killed eight does with archery equipment over the past eight years, but never a buck.
"Me and my friend, Derrick Donnell from McLeansville, had used trail cameras, but we kept passing up decent bucks because we wanted a bigger one we'd seen on the cameras," he said. "This year, we decided to stop using trail cameras altogether."
They chose instead to hunt opening day of muzzleloader season from a ground blind overlooking a 4-acre field that'd grown up in weeds.
"We'd seen a lot of buck sign around the field, rubs on telephone pole-size trees and big scrapes," said Mitchell, who, along with Donnell, set up a Double Bull ground blind at the edge of the field on a 250-acre farm that had other fields planted in soybeans.
"I hadn't been able to hunt much at all this year," Mitchell said. "Usually I hunt twice a week from the start of bow season, but the last year's been tough for me. My grandmother died, and I was trying to start a lawn-service business, so I'd (archery) hunted only one or two days."
Mitchell said he and Donnell decided to use smoke poles because of their greater range. They'd both gotten frustrated at watching bucks walk away out of bow range.
"But when we got out there, the field had been plowed," Mitchell said. "We decided to hunt there because of all the (buck) sign around the field."
Even with their blind facing directly into winds gusting to between 25 and 35 mph, they had chosen a good spot.'
"We were playing the wind," Mitchell said. "I believe, too, if we'd been in tree stands, we'd never have seen this buck."
After reaching the field at 6:15 a.m., Mitchell sat inside the blind on the right-hand side because he's a left-handed shooter, with Donnell to his left. About 9:20 a.m., a doe came into the field with a heavy-beamed buck chasing her.
"I told Derrick to shoot, because it was his land and his deer, but he couldn't because he's a right-handed shooter," Mitchell said. "He told me to 'Put that deer on the ground.' "
According to Mitchell's rangefinder, the buck was at 75 yards. He raised his CVA Optima Pro .50-caliber muzzleloader and found his target in the crosshairs of his 3x9 Nikon Pro Staff scope.
"I had loaded (the gun) 2 years ago, hadn't shot it and never unloaded it," he said. "It had three 50-grain Pyrodex pellets (in the breech)."
The buck continued to chase the doe until Donnell started shouting and waving his arms out the blind's window. When the big deer finally slowed to a walk, Mitchell squeezed the trigger.
"I hit him a little behind (the shoulder), maybe eight inches, but an inch below the spine," Mitchell said. "I couldn't see anything because of the smoke (from his shot), so I asked my buddy if I hit him. He said the deer dropped right there."
The 180-pound whitetail had a main-frame 4x4 rack with three sticker points, with one tine longer than 11 inches and two more longer than eight. The heavy rack carried its mass all the way to the tips of the beams, which were 25 6/8 and 27 4/8 inches long. The rack measured more than 146 gross Boone & Crockett inches and netted 139.
"I never dreamed I'd kill a 140- to 150-inch buck. I don't know if I'll ever shoot another deer like that."