November 27, 2023
The story of “Johnny’s Buck” starts back in 2019, when my friend, Johnny Walker, accidentally ran over the then 2½-year-old buck’s right-side shed antler when he was tilling his fields. This ended up being an every year occurrence, because over the next two years we again found the right side from the buck, but never his left side.
After finding his 4½-year-old side in the spring of 2021, we knew that this was a buck that would be on the top of our hit list for 2022, since we estimated him to be around 165-170 inches. But we had no idea that he would turn into what he did.
In early July 2022, we started putting out our trail cameras. On this property, I had a good mixture of cell cameras and non-cell cameras. I like to put the non-cell cameras out during the summer in spots that are on field edges or are easy to get to, so I not only save some money on the cellular plan but also add in that “element of surprise” since you never really know what you’re going to get on camera until you start pulling cards.
I remember the first time Johnny’s Buck appeared on one of my camera’s cards. My heart dropped and I yelled for my dad to come over and check out the picture. We both just stared at the screen in awe of this massive buck. The character that this deer had added from the previous year was incredible: Multiple points off his right brow, long tines, an inside point on his left side, and excellent mass. He had it all!
After seeing those pics, I knew that this was the type of buck worthy of dedicating my whole season to. So, over the next couple of weeks, I started moving cameras from other farms, where we don’t have a lot of summer activity, to the property where the aforementioned pics were taken, in an attempt to better pattern Johnny’s Buck for the early season.
Surprisingly enough, the early season — up until late September — ended up being the one time when it seemed like this buck was living on the property and using it consistently almost every day. The only problem was that he was most active during the first hour of the morning, and hunting mornings at that time of year can be challenging.
Opening day of bow season arrived, and with it came unseasonably warm temperatures. So, I decided to hunt a different farm and patiently wait for the first good cold front to come through, and the right wind, before climbing a tree in pursuit of Johnny’s Buck.
Despite the warmer weather on opening day, I ended up having an incredible night of hunting. I saw several bucks, including a beautiful 150-inch 10-pointer that came within 10 steps of me. I had already made up my mind that it was either Johnny’s Buck or bust for the year, so said 10-point got to live to see another day!
A couple of days later, the temperatures cooled by 15 degrees, which made conditions perfect for my first sit for Johnny’s Buck. My buddy, Jake Ede, came along to film, and we had an awesome night. We saw 10 different deer, including a beautiful 3½-year-old buck we called “Warty,” but no encounter with Johnny’s Buck.
It turns out Jake should’ve come to film the next night, because the deer movement was even better. I ended up seeing more deer than the night before, with an hour and a half of light left!
At around 6:20 p.m., I looked to the edge of the clover food plot where I was sitting…and there stood Johnny’s Buck at the edge of the woods and slowly making his way to the food plot. He ended up eating in the food plot for 15 minutes but never got closer than 65 yards.
With the number of eyeballs that were in the field, I knew that it wouldn’t be long before a doe got nosey and picked me off, so I contemplated shooting, but 65 yards is about 15 yards outside of my comfort zone.
I could hear more deer entering the food plot, but my eyes were locked on Johnny’s Buck the whole time. Eventually, I could feel the thermals dropping across my face, and minutes later a doe caught my scent and promptly made my presence known — clearing the field — and my heart sank.
Was this the only opportunity that I was going to get at this once-in-a-lifetime buck? I wondered. I sat there pretty discouraged for the rest of the night, but eventually I came to realize that even seeing a buck like this one in person should be considered a victory, so I left the woods that night in a much better mood than I’d been in when the sharp-eyed doe ruined my hunt.
The previous year, Johnny’s Buck disappeared in early September, and he didn’t come back until late November. So, I hunted the same stand from which I had the encounter with him for five out of the next 10 nights — with no luck. The closest I came to seeing him walking around in daylight by my stand was on September 26, when he appeared on camera 15 minutes after I’d exited my treestand.
The next month, Johnny’s Buck showed up even less frequently on my camera, and I was getting discouraged as a result. I continued to hunt that farm, but with no daylight pictures and no encounters with him, I began to wonder if I would ever lay eyes on him again before the season ended.
On October 27, a month later, I finally had another encounter with this buck. I got to within bow range of him, but this time he came in right after legal shooting light, at which point he stuck around me for 20 minutes, drinking at the waterhole!
Not wanting to spook the buck, I waited until he got out to the bigger field before texting my dad and asking him if he could call Johnny Walker to see if he would be able to come pick me up with his truck. This ended up working like a charm, because Johnny went out to combine that night and later told me that the buck was back out in the field right next to the waterhole not even a half-hour after I’d left.
Seeing Johnny’s Buck for the second time reignited my fire, and I knew that if I just stayed the course I would eventually get my opportunity. Luckily, I own a videography/photography business, so I can work varied hours, which allowed me time to hunt that same farm hard over the next couple of days.
When October 30 rolled around, I got the idea to go check some non-cell cameras and move some of my cellular cameras to get ready for the grind that was ahead. It had also been insanely dry for weeks, so my dad, Johnny Walker, and I decided we should go fill up our waterhole that day as well — knowing that hydration is key for deer at this time of year, due to all the chasing that they would be doing.
After all the commotion that we made on that farm during the midday hours, I decided to take the night off to let the farm rest, watch some football, and spend some time editing pictures I’d taken the week before.
My dad wanted to hunt a different farm that night, so after editing for a while, I went and dropped him off. When I got back from dropping him off, I checked my phone and Johnny’s Buck was out with a doe in the same cloverfield where I’d encountered him on September 22.
As soon as I got the picture, I went into total panic mode, as I did not expect to see him on camera that night. I grabbed my bow, hunting clothes, and camera, and drove to the farm.
Once I got to the farm, I literally jogged to my stand. After the mad dash, I climbed into my treestand and got settled in.
An hour later, I heard some deer up on the ridge, so I immediately grabbed my bow and turned my camera on in case it was him. After a couple of minutes, I could see a doe and a buck fawn. Seconds later, Johnny’s Buck appeared!
He was just slowly walking behind the doe, grunting, and working his way toward me. The buck fawn made his way down to the pond for a drink. Then, Johnny’s Buck and the doe worked their way toward me, but the doe stayed high and didn’t come to the pond.
Johnny’s Buck stayed in the middle of the two and worked his way from the ridge to within 35–40 yards, at which point I stopped him in a shooting lane and squeezed off the shot. Luckily, my arrow flew true. Johnny’s Buck turned on a dime, ran 25 yards, and tipped over. I couldn’t believe what had just happened… I had finally done it!
I immediately called my dad and told him the buck was down and that I needed him to come to the farm ASAP! After calling quite a few friends to give them the good news, I climbed down and patiently waited for my dad, my brother, and Johnny Walker to arrive at the farm. To have them there with me when I first put my hands on this magnificent buck’s antlers meant the world to me!
The author lives in Altoona, WI, and is the owner of Mitch Stamm Visuals — a freelance videography/photography business.
Author’s Notes: On this hunt I used a Mathews Triax, Carbon Express Maxima Red arrows, Rage Hypodermic heads, a Trophy Ridge sight, Bushnell rangefinder, Vortex Diamondback binos, and various cell and non-cell cameras.
The video of my hunt for Johnny’s Buck will be posted on my YouTube channel “Bluff Country Outdoors,” if you would like to see the story come to life as well.