By Dale Weddle
B & C Field Reporter
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
This is the story of Kentucky’s largest Boone and Crockett whitetail taken during the 2012-2013 season—a truly magnificent non-typical that is the largest B & C deer killed in the past four years and number 18 all-time from the Bluegrass State. In many ways, the story behind Larry Finley’s hunt for this giant whitetail is a story of past meets present. A story of deer camps of the 50s and 60s meets Quality Deer Management. In any event, it may hold the key to success for those who wish to continue to hunt this majestic animal in the future.
Larry Finley moved from Clay County to neighboring Laurel County in 1978. About four years later, he decided it was time for some major upgrades to his home.
“Little did I realize that a decision to remodel my house in 1982 would result in lifetime friendships that would forever affect my hunting and fishing,” Finley related. “The guys I chose to do the work on my house, Bud Ward and Clyde Pennington, were from Jackson County. Most of their work crew were related or friends. I soon discovered we all shared a love for the outdoors and hunting.” A bond soon developed, and the men departed with the job done, but a promise to stay in touch.
Finley continued to hunt and fish with various members of the group around the southeastern part of the state.
“Occasionally, we would take trips to Land Between the Lakes and other public hunting areas farther west,” Finley said. In about the 2000 season, the Jackson County guys acquired a lease in Harrison County and hunted that for four years until some changes caused the property to no longer be available. However, diminishing places to hunt, along with the positive experience of leasing property, had kindled a desire to find another more permanent leasing situation.
In 2005, the deer hunters came cross what they had been looking for—880 aces in Pendleton County. Located on the Ohio River, Pendleton County is one of the many northern Kentucky counties that have been producing good numbers of deer and some quality sized bucks. The county has ranked in the top four counties for the past five years in numbers of deer taken in the state. It has gradually been moving up, and by 2010 was second only to Owen County in total number of deer harvested. So, with hopes of good hunting seasons in the future, several of the guys went together and leased the property with an annual renewal required, but a commitment from the landowner that the property would be available for many years to come if they wanted to keep the lease.
The first year, they saw hardly any deer, taking maybe a couple. The group was still hopeful the deer hunting would eventually get better with some food source improvements. They started to make trips up I-75 on a regular basis during the off season, putting in food plots of milo, clover, mixed grasses and turnips. As a result of their efforts, more deer were being seen, and gradually the number taken each year increased.
Around 2008, Finley finally joined in on the lease, bringing the number of hunters to 13. By now, the men had made major improvements and were also taking advantage of their many skills to develop a major deer camp which the owner had given them permission to set up.
“We had general contractors, concrete men, roofers, electricians and mechanics,” Finley related. “Anything we needed done, we could pretty much do it ourselves. We built a large cabin that sleeps six and put in some more campers and a place to cook.
“We like to eat big,” Finley said. “So Friday nights became cookout nights usually with fish, but sometimes with other food, but always a big spread. One part of the property took on the look of an old time deer camp with big crowds on the weekends, lots of good natured joking, good food and oftentimes a nice buck or two hanging from a tree. It got to where you just loved getting there on Fridays and hated leaving on Sundays. Although we practice a lot of deer management with food plots and the like, we’re pretty much old fashioned in our hunting approach as only two of the 13 use trail cams. We stand hunt and still hunt according to what you like to do, but generally just have a love of being together as friends and enjoying the outdoors.”
During the 2011 season, we started seeing signs of a super deer with some larger size cedar trees torn up,” Finley said. “A buck had really, really horned the heck out of a lot of good trees, real high up. This got everyone’s interest up. Then, some neighbors reported seeing a very large buck in the area and, when 2012 season came along, the big sign continued to be found.”
Finley hunted the early muzzleloading season and killed a doe. He didn’t see a whole lot of activity but at least had meat for the freezer. The best time of the year was still a month or so away.
The big buck sightings, along with continued appearance of some really big buck sign, had everybody charged up as they arrived in deeper camp for the opening of modern gun season.
“It was warm that weekend,” Finley remembered. “Actually, the worst hunting conditions you could ask for. I was hunting out of a ladder stand that I had borrowed. I had hunted this particular hollow for the last four years and liked the location. It had a real good clover field close to it, and when I climbed in the stand on Saturday morning, I already knew from scouting, there was a dandy scrape line nearby.”
Finley hunted the morning, took a three-hour break and then came back for the afternoon sit.
“The only thing that happened that Saturday was a little four-point just pestered me to death,” Finley recalled. “He came by my stand four or five times during the day.” The deer had an ugly little rack, and the hunter just passed the time by watching him come and go.
“On Sunday, my allergies were killing me,” Finley said, “and I got in the tree stand late. It was about 10 minutes after daylight. After a while, still fighting allergies, I sneezed, not very loud, and then I was just sitting there with my head back when about 8 o’clock, I heard a pow! One of the other guys had shot at something, so I sat up, looked around. Then, I saw him. He was pouring it on coming down this hill, and I immediately saw it was a good buck. I stood up and got my gun up. He was coming to my left. I started trying to get him in my scope but couldn’t do it. Then, just out of the blue, he locked up. I got on him with the scope, shot, and he bolted out of there. Just like that, it was over.
“I thought I had missed and was really worried,” Finley related. After sitting there for about 30 minutes, he got down and began to search for signs of a hit. All kinds of thoughts were going through his head: no deer, no blood, deer of a lifetime, and I’ve missed him.
As the dejected hunter was crossing the dam of a small pond, he finally found what he had been hoping for. A pool of blood! With renewed hope, Finley decided to go back to camp to get Bud (Ward) and Clyde (Pennington) and some more help. “Those two guys are real good trackers,” Finley said. “I swear Bud is part beagle.” The group of hunters returned to the dam where Finley found the first blood and were soon on a trail, at first going uphill. Then, as the big deer started to lose more blood, he turned toward how ground—a good sign. The men had spread out, and Finley was working his way around a hill when Pennington drove up on a four-wheeler and said, “Man, we’ve found him! You’ve killed a good six-pointer!”
Of course, the six-pointer stuff was a joke, as Finley soon discovered. What followed was a bunch of back slapping and the guy that shot at the deer before Finley had to turn the buck over to see if it had another hole in it where he had shot. However, his shot was a clean miss and none could be found.
The size of the buck was mind boggling. The 10-point main frame had amazing mass, later determined at over six inches at the H-1s and over five inches at all circumstances. It has good symmetry with only a total of three inches of side-to-side deductions. The G-2s and G-3s are all over 11 inches. Add in an additional 36 4/8 inches from the 11 abnormal points, and the 21-point non-traditional nets 223 7/8, making it the largest non-typical from Kentucky to go into the Boone and Crockett records books since Robert Taylor’s 249 6/8 giant from Butler County taken during the 2008 season.
It’s a tough thing for all of us to admit, but the days of easy access to quality private land in Kentucky are pretty much gone. If you want to have a chance in the future, most of us are going to have to find a group of guys like Larry, Bud and Clyde who are easy to get along with and fun to hunt with and located and maintain a lease. For these guys, it paid off in 2012 with nine or 10 bucks harvested, the largest of which now graces Larry Finley’s wall.
(Clarification: A velvet buck taken in Muhlenberg County with bow and arrow early in the 2012-2013 season scored more than the Finley buck, but Boone and Crockett does not accept velvet entries).
This article appeared in Boone and Crockett magazine. Dale Weddle is a freelance outdoor writer from Nancy, Ky. He is an official measurer for Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young Clubs and can be reached at email@example.com. The Boone and Crockett Club was started in 1887 and is the oldest wildlife conservation organization in North America. It was founded by Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell. For more information visit www.boone-crockett.org.