For all of the instruction on how to successfully target big whitetail bucks, successful deer hunting ultimately comes down to one simple principle: being in the right place at the right time.
And that often is tied to one or two key decisions made by bowhunters in the woods on any given hunt.
For bowhunter Jeff Duncan, all the variables were perfectly aligned on Sunday (Nov. 4). That's when the Sanger, Texas, archer arrowed one of the largest non-typical bucks ever reported in Texas while hunting on an archery-only hunt at the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge near the Oklahoma border.
The 27-scoreable-point monster whitetail had been brought down after eluding hunters for nearly a decade.
The Duncan buck, known affectionately to local archers as "Big Boy," was scored for the Texas Big Game Awards program Tuesday with a gross non-typical score of 234 3/8-inches and with a net score of 230 6/8-inches.
Those numbers make the Duncan buck the third largest non-typical to ever be entered into the 10-year old TBGA program.
And should they hold up following the mandatory 60-day drying period required by the Pope & Young Club, the Duncan buck appears poised to become the state's new No. 1 non-typical in the P & Y archery record book. George C. Courtney's 214 4/8-inch buck, killed in 1991, is the current P& Y non-typical record for Texas.
"It's amazing, that's all you can say. There are tines sticking out everywhere. It's a magnificent deer," said biologist Rick Cantu, a Hagerman NWR assistant refuge manager.
A decade in the making
The Duncan buck, which is believed to be 10½ years old, also is one of the top non-typicals of all-time. Should Big Boy's numbers hold up until the buck is officially measured early next year for the Pope & Young Club's records program, the Duncan buck could place as high as 32nd on the all-time list.
But Duncan's harvest of his fifth archery buck almost didn't happen. At least until he made a decision to abandon the area he and hunting partner Terry Smith had scouted the previous weekend after drawing a permit for the first of three refuge hunts.
"We got in there and set up Saturday morning and didn't see anything," Duncan recalled. "We hunted again Saturday afternoon and didn't see any deer."
The hunter's luck didn't improve much the following morning at the halfway point of the three-day hunt.
"We hunted the same spot on Sunday morning, still with no luck," said Duncan, 40, a part-time taxidermist. "We were not seeing any deer at all and we decided that we needed to make a move."
Duncan and Smith accepted some good, old-fashioned Texas hospitality and took the invitation of fellow hunting partner Dennis Jordan to move into the area that he was hunting within the 11,300-acre refuge along the shoreline of Lake Texoma.
"He said he thought there was still some room in there for some more people as long as we didn't go too far back in there," Duncan said.
The father of three and grandfather of three made a quick scouting trip through the area he had chosen to hunt and found a spot to put up his ladder stand. By 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Duncan was up against a tree and hoping to arrow a record class buck.
Around 2:30 p.m., Jeff heard another hunter trying to rattle in a buck, to no avail. Finally, around 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 4, the archer of 10 years saw his first deer in nearly two full days of hunting. But the close encounter with the white-tailed kind nearly cleared the woods of any wildlife when the does got nervous and started snorting and blowing in alarm.
"I was really surprised that they didn't scare everything out of the country," Duncan said. "I had a doe-in-estrus can call and I turned that thing over a couple of times to try and get those does to settle down and to think maybe there was another deer up there close to where they thought they were smelling something coming. They settled down a little bit and finally came on through."
The big payoff
Just a few moments later, Duncan's decision to change stand locations paid off in spades when he heard another deer moving through the autumn woods. Except this time, it wasn't a nervous doe. As the archer turned around, he saw the body of a large deer go into the brush where it stood for a few seconds.
When the big deer emerged from the brush, Texas bowhunting history was about to be made.
"As soon as he came out, I saw the drop tines and lots of points up, so I just tried to put that out of my mind," Duncan recalled. "I knew it was the deer that I wanted to shoot."
As Duncan battled his nerves, he tried to gauge the deer's path and when he might be able to get off a good shot. As the deer approached an opening 35-yards from the archer's stand, Jeff knew it was now or never.
"When he passed between these two trees, I knew it was either take a shot there or the next time he was going to come out, it was going to be 50 (yards) or better away from me."