Joe Lacefield chased this massive Kentucky velvet buck for three years with traditional gear
Rack Report Details
Time of Year:
September 4, 2021
Herwaybow Custom Longbow
Joe Lacefield knows wildlife, including whitetail deer, about as well as anyone on the planet. The longtime private-lands biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife grew up hunting and fishing along the Kentucky River basin. He paid his way through college by running a trapline. After spending all day afield helping private landowners across central Kentucky improve the wildlife habitat on their property, he comes home, loads up his three kids, and heads to the woods or the water. Lacefield knows critters.
So, when he pulled the card from one of his trail cameras three years ago and saw this buck, he knew it was something special. He estimated the buck to be either 3 1/2 or, more likely, 4 1/2 that first year he got him on camera. The buck was traveling with two other mature deer, and Lacefield says he would have been happy with any of the three. He later found out that one of the three bucks had been killed by a neighboring hunter later in the season and then found the other dead from epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) the following summer.
Lacefield hunted those bucks the rest of the season. Though he got a random trail-camera photo or two here and there, mostly at night, the bucks never had a real pattern. Lacefield never laid eyes on any of the three in person that first season.
Last year, things were looking up. He moved some cameras around and started getting more regular trail-cam photos of the deer. A neighboring landowner had found one of the buck’s shed antlers, and Lacefield had found the other one while tracking radio transmitters on wild turkeys for work later in the spring.
Again, Lacefield hunted the buck all season. He got close one evening when the deer got within 15 yards but never offered a shot he was comfortable taking with his traditional gear. “The buck was extremely wary. I watched him take nearly 30 minutes to cross 60 yards. He would take two steps, stop, smell the air and look around, then take two more steps. He got close enough, but just wouldn’t turn to give me a good shot.” Lacefield hunted the remainder of last season, passing on several mature bucks and taking three does with traditional gear in the process, but never saw the buck again.
This season, Lacefield was once again getting the buck on random cameras at random times with very little pattern. Then, in the days leading up to the season opener, the buck showed up two evenings in a row on the same camera. Lacefield knew where he would be hunting the opening afternoon.
The spot was next to a tall bluff, and he knew swirling winds would be a problem. Lacefield thought back to a conversation he’d had with another hunter who swore that smoking his clothes before a hunt helped him go undetected by deer. A beekeeper, Lacefield knew of the calming effect smoke had on his bees, so he figured it couldn’t hurt. “I fired up my bee smoker and smoked all of my clothes, all of my gear, everything I could,” he says. Then he headed to his stand.
Lacefield wasn’t expecting to see deer until near the end of shooting light and was distracted by something when he heard deer walking nearby nearly an hour and a half before dark.
It was a pair of 8-point bucks, one in velvet and one recently shed. The deer made their way to some nearby pears and began to feed. Lacefield was in an awkward position and was now pinned down by the two nearby deer. He was forced to remain rock solid as both bucks eyeballed him in his stand, but neither winded him. Soon, a third buck joined the pair, followed by a fourth. Two of the bucks, both recently hard antlered, began to spar nearby. Lacefield was still holding stock-still to avoid spooking the bucks, all in easy bow range.
Soon, the deer moved off and Lacefield was able to get into a slightly more comfortable position, but they didn’t stay gone long enough for him to stand up.
Over the next hour, as many as seven bucks moved in and out of his view, most within 30 yards at any one time. “I firmly believe that smoking my clothes and gear before the hunt helped prevent the deer from spooking,” Lacefield says. “Most of these deer knew I was there. They kept giving me the classic head bob where they would pretend to feed, then throw their head up and look straight at me, then lift their nose to check for scent.” But none of the bucks spooked.
At 7:25, just a few minutes before the end of shooting light, Lacefield became aware of another buck working down the trail toward him. It was the big 9 he had been chasing for three years. The giant buck showed all the signs of being dominant. He stopped and worked a nearby scrape and licking branch, something none of the other bucks had done, then moved straight to the pears, pushing the younger bucks out with a low grunt and bristled hair as he did.
The big deer worked into range for Lacefield’s traditional equipment. When the buck’s head went behind a tree, Lacefield drew his custom Kevin Brown Herwaybow XRTD longbow and concentrated on the buck’s vitals.
“I was still in a bit of an awkward shooting position because I was worried about moving and spooking the other bucks. I was really taking care not to hit my limb tip on my stand as I shot,” says Lacefield. He released the arrow and watched his broadhead sink into the buck’s side, farther back than he would have liked.
The buck crashed off, running straight up the bluff. “I watched him go out of sight, then cupped my hands to my ears to hear him crashing through the timber,” he says. “I could hear him busting through the brush for what sounded like 50 yards, then everything got quiet.”
Lacefield waited 45 minutes, then climbed down. He called his brother Dickie and told him what had happened. By the time his brother got there, an hour and a half had passed since the shot. The two started up the trail and found the arrow and some dark blood. They decided to back out and call a nearby team with a tracking dog. The dog handlers said they could come but were on another track already and it would be late.
He waited. At nearly midnight, he checked in with the tracking dog team, and they said they had just found their deer and were on the way to the taxidermist with the hunter. It was still going to be a bit before they got there.
Lacefield — with his young son Ashton, who had stayed up well past his usual bedtime to help track the deer — headed back in to look before any more time passed.
Lacefield decided to skip the trail and go straight to a thick bedding area in the direction the deer had run. On his way, he went across a creek draw and noticed a bed near the trail. There was blood in it. Lacefield stopped to look around. There was his buck, just 10 yards away.
A certified Boone and Crockett scorer, Lacefield taped out the giant velvet 9-point at a green score of 179 2/8. He says that tooth wear indicates the buck was 7 1/2 years old.
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