December 16: Doug Hampton

Most who will take a minute to just look at the photo's of this journal entry will never know why this buck is special.... But if you live in southeast Arkansas, you'd definitely look at him with a whole new perspective. He wasn't just any buck around here..... He had become local legend...

Local Legend

In the past few days since firing the shot that killed my largest Arkansas buck, I've been bombarded by text messages, e-mails, Facebook messages, and even game camera pictures of this buck. The majority were congratulations, but some were of the "you killed my buck" variety. Of the ones that called him "their buck," I simply asked where did you get his picture, when, and how many pictures did you get of him? Nearly every single response, which was 9 total, were for the most part the same ..... "I only got one picture, and it was in the last week." It appears that over the week before December 16th, that the buck had done quite a bit of traveling. As far as 2 miles in nearly every direction. After explaining to each person that I had thousands of pictures, 2 years of sheds, and 4 years of photos, they understood that I had a long relationship with the one-eyed buck that all the hype was about. Oh, I understand their disappointment completely! The last buck from this county that rivaled his score, at least that I know of, was taken over 13 years ago. And the only one I know of before that, was taken around 1977. So for the area, this buck was really special. I guess he was special enough that I dedicated nearly my entire season to trying to harvest him. Most folks would say for the south, he's equivalent to a 200" deer in the midwest. But for the area he was taken, I'd say they're still cutting him short. He's hands down the biggest buck that I've ever seen in the area by a good 20 inches. I knew that there were at least 3 other hunters that were hunting the same buck. I had also run poachers off trying to road hunt in the area. His time was limited no doubt. But would he be taken by one of us, or would he fall to another hunter that had only heard rumors of the huge buck?

In The Beginning

In 2008, I leased a piece of property from one of my good friends. It didn't take long for me to realize that the property had great potential for growing a better than average buck. The Reconyx cameras were placed on all parts of the property. There was a 3 year old buck with major potential showing up with regularity. Long tines, long main beams, decent mass, and an unmistakable eye that didn't glow in the night pictures. One eye appeared to be put out, yet the deer never squinted or showed any signs of pain. I nick-named the buck "Popeye," because of the eye that appeared to be put out in night photos. He was a few years from the hit list, but no doubt was on my radar. 2009 was the year that Rod and I were on Dream Season Celebrity. I hardly stepped foot on the property except for the last few days of the season. I passed a few real nice bucks and had Popeye on my cameras. I never encountered him that winter, but he was at least a year away from being in danger.

Given The Slip

Early in 2010, I got word that they were going to be thinning the timber on my property. I pulled all my cameras just weeks after putting them out, to keep them from being damaged. In those few weeks, I had zero pictures of Popeye. This was not uncommon for him though. I had never gotten a velvet picture of the buck in the previous 2 summers. I knew he was not living on me during the summer months, but he had always returned during October. The Loggers stayed on the place through the bow season and the first part of the gun season. As soon as they left due to the weather, my cameras were back running. On the first set of pictures, Popeye was back, and he was bigger than ever! I only had a week to hunt him before the season went out. I spent hours and hours in the blind waiting for an opportunity, and finally one morning it happened. Popeye walked out at about 150 yards. I was filming myself. By the time I got everything together and the camera on the buck, I could only see the back half of the deer. This would be the first, but not the last time Popeye would give me the slip.

Dedicated To Popeye

The fall of this year would be dedicated to Popeye. Food plots were put in, cameras were placed through out the entire property, and stands were put up. Nearly every spare minute away from work was dedicated to preparing for Popeye. He was number one on my hit-list in my home state. After 2 months passed without any pictures, I was wondering if he was even still alive. Finally, a few weeks before the gun season opened, Popeye returned!

My son had taken a 154" buck in Kansas during the early muzzle-loader season, so he wanted to film me try to harvest the buck. On opening day, my son and I were nestled into a ground blind. A few does had come out into the food plot and began to eat. They suddenly snapped around and I glanced to see what the commotion was all about. There he was!... By the time Coltin got the camera on him, we ended up only getting a few seconds of footage before he ran the does back into the timber. He stopped long enough that I could have taken a shot, but we would not have had the impact on video. Popeye had gotten by me for the 2nd time in as many years. I was gonna be hunting this buck nearly every opportunity that I could. I vowed that the 3rd time would end differently.

His Time Has Come

Rod Owen, my Dream Season team-mate had just dropped me off at the house. It was around 10 a.m. on December 16th. The morning before, Rod filmed me kill a 20", 6 & 1/2 year old buck in Mississippi at Tara Wildlife. I probably should have taken the rest of the afternoon to unpack and relax. But during the trip back from Mississippi, I could only think of one thing. I was ready to get back in the woods after Popeye. I ran by and saw my wife and son for just a minute, and then off I went to the lease. I would be hunting and filming myself, due to this spur of the moment decision. I remembered about the time that I was arriving to my property, that I had forgotten to grab my gun, which would definitely come in handy in the case that my prime target should show up. So back to the house I went! It was still early as far as the evening was concerned, so I walked down the planted shooting lane and pulled the card on my Reconyx camera. I brought my computer to the blind and started going through the pics. The day after leaving for Tara, Popeye had fed in the food plot from 7:45 a.m., until around 8:30. I was excited, until I realized that I had no more pics for the next 4 days. I knew that if someone had killed the 6 & 1/2 year old buck, that I'd have heard something about it. About the time that thought was entering my head, my phone buzzed from a text message. "Aren't you hunting a big deer? What does he look like?" my cousin asked. "Why???" I responded. A picture with a text asking, "Is this him?" was the next response. And to my surprise, it was! He was a mile and a half away, across 2 major roads! My heart sank. I began staring for deer in hopes that he'd show up sooner than later, but in the back of my mind I didn't think that he would. With only 2 & 1/2 days left in the regular firearms season, time was running out.

The Moment Of Truth

The evening progressed rather slowly. Only a few deer had shown to feed in the food plot, even though the temperature was steadily diving. Just before 5, a small 8 point came out and began feeding. He turned and started walking away. I was busy filming, when through the viewfinder I noticed a huge buck step out just beyond the smaller buck. I left the camera running as I reached for my Nikons. One glance was all it took to know exactly who it was. I reached down and grabbed the Thompson Center .308. I had already taken a great buck just 16 days earlier with this rifle, so with great confidence I steadied the gun. The cross-hairs were dead steady behind the crease of his shoulder as I put pressure on the trigger. The recoil surprised me, which usually is a good thing... I had no question that it was "Popeye." He's unmistakable for this part of the country. It was silent in the moments after the T.C. had roared . I had planted the plot in Biologic, specifically to kill this deer. I remember thinking that it may have just paid off. The emotions of what had just taken place were beginning to creep out slowly but surely. I felt good about the shot, but the woods fell eerily silent soon after. There was no crash and I saw nothing after the recoil..... The anxiety was outrageous!

In The End

I called my son to tell him that I had taken a shot. I told him that I was on my way to pick him up so that he could film the recovery, if my shot was true. After returning to the stand we began the longest walk of the year, down to where the impact hopefully took place. I found a drop of blood and a huge track leaving the point of impact. I raised my flashlight to find that my biggest home state whitetail ever was just a few yards away. I exploded with emotion and me and my son shared a great big hug! It was finally over! My quest was complete. To top it all off, he was much bigger than I had ever expected. He sported a heavy rack with 36"s of mass, a 17" inside spread, and 13 scoreable points. 2 more points fell just shy of the needed 1" measurement. He has a split eye-guard that adds character to the rack. He weighed over 200 pounds post rut, which is above average for the area. He is truly a dream buck for me. I'll miss the anticipation of checking the cameras in hope that he's still there. I'll always be able to see him as he hangs in my living room while I relive the memories of the hunt. God has blessed me tremendously this fall. My family has taken 6 bucks on video, and 2 are from my home state of Arkansas. We look forward to sharing these hunts with everyone this summer on Dream Season "The Journey."