Jake Thornbury made good on his chance at the buck of a lifetime
Hunter: Jacob “Jake” Thornbury
Buck Score: 196 5/8 inches
Date of Harvest: September 5, 2022
Location of Harvest: Shelby County, Kentucky
Weapon of Harvest: Hoyt Ventum Pro 33
Few hunters ever see a near-200-inch whitetail, let alone shoot one. Last season, Kentucky deer hunter Jacob “Jake” Thornbury did just that, though. He believed the deer to be about 5 ½ years old.
“When I found this deer after tagging out early in the 2021 season, he appeared to be a mature buck,” Thornbury said. “In recent years, I’ve tried to chase the most mature deer that I have access to. I knew from the first picture I got of this deer in 2021, that this deer could be something very special, and he would most likely be my target buck going into the 2022 season.”
Fast forward to June of 2022. Thornbury started taking inventory of bucks for the upcoming season. He went out and glassed a soybean field. Incredibly, the buck entered a soybean field with some other bucks, and it had grown a lot. By July 1, the buck already sported 22 countable points.
Two weeks later, tragedy struck. “I ended up losing permission on the property,” Thornbury said. “I was devastated, and it I thought my opportunity at this deer was over. It was truly heartbreaking to put so much thought and effort into a specific deer and then not be able to hunt him because of losing permission just two months before season.”
Coincidently, a few weeks later, a close friend of his leased the neighboring property, and Thornbury had permission to hunt there. There was a good chance the deer would spend some time there, especially during the rut. He didn’t expect the odds of seeing the deer there during the early season to be very high, though.
The last week of August, things changed. His friend with the lease called.
“I know you haven’t looked at the cameras today, so don’t freak out,” he said. “Are you sitting down?”
“You’re lying,” Thornbury replied. “You’re lying. I know your lying.”
“No,” the friend said. “You’re going to get your buck. You’re going to kill him.”
“I literally screamed with joy over it,” Thornbury said. “I didn’t believe it was possible he would end up so far away from where I had him patterned just a month and a half earlier. We were over a mile and some change from where he was when I lost permission.”
It wasn’t all fields of daisies, though. He still wasn’t living on the lease property. The buck seemed to cross a main highway about every five days or so. For a reason Thornbury can’t explain, the deer continued with the morning pattern.
“I didn’t expect to see that deer again, with the exception of during November if he followed does across the road,” Thornbury said. “It wasn’t much information to go on, but it was enough to have some hope. With season closing in, we continued to run that cam. He wasn’t very frequent, but he would pass through. We set the stage and hung the stand. All there was left to do was to wait until the opener.”
He hunted the opening weekend without any luck. Then, on Monday, September 5, 2022, everything aligned. He arrived extra early to prevent spooking deer. It was a cooler morning with clouds and light rain forecasted for midday. Thanks to the damp ground, Thornbury eased into his stand location. He could smell the rain moving in.
Once settled, he waited for daylight. Comically, the buck’s nickname was 40-G, because a friend of Thornbury’s said the deer looked like a $40,000 high-fence deer. So, he wrote “40-G” and “Focus” on his arrow, as a reminder to focus on the shot. He nocked that arrow and waited.
As light slowly appeared, he started scanning. The area is mixed timber and ag. The region is full of rolling hills, alfalfa, corn, soybeans, and oaks. His stand location was on the edge of a soybean field in a tree line. The buck was using the cover of the tree line to cross the road and into a neighboring bedding area.
“I knew I needed to get in extra early, because another bachelor group was generally using the spot just before legal shooting light, and I needed to beat them there,” Thornbury said. “The morning of the hunt, 10 minutes after I got in the stand, I heard deer walking around me. They fed around for probably 30-plus minutes. Just as I saw the silhouettes of the bachelor group, a few does came down the tree line underneath my stand. About a minute later, I heard another deer right below me.”
It was the big buck. The giant walked away from the tree line into the soybeans. It wasn’t legal shooting light yet, and he knew he’d have to wait awhile before taking a shot.
“I checked the time on my phone, and then closed my eyes and started praying he would stick around until legal shooting light,” Thornbury said. “I kept opening my eyes every minute or so to ensure he was still there. Twenty minutes later, my opportunity came. After legal light [started], I got my shot. I drew back, settled my pin on his shoulder, and let my arrow fly. It passed through the deer and stuck in the dirt a few yards behind the beast.”
The broadside, 22-yard shot did the trick. The deer ran 50 yards, stopped, went wobbly, and fell over in the beans.
“It was a surreal moment, with all the emotions that went into this deer,” Thornbury said. “When I watched him fall, I thanked God for the opportunity at such a magnificent whitetail.”
Of course, he called his friend Johnnie, and hunting buddy, Alex, who let him hunt his lease. Both arrived in short order to help recover the deer. Thornbury waited at the truck, and all three of them walked up to the deer for the first time.
“Nothing prepared us for seeing the deer up close and personal,” Thornbury said. “We all knew he was big, but none of us knew he was as big as he was. As we walked up to the deer, we all just stood there in amazement. We exchanged hugs and high fives and I thanked all of them for being there with me and supporting me through the hunt for this deer. I wasn’t the only one who played a part in this hunt. I’m forever grateful.”
The buck weighed over 250 pounds and sported a massive rack. It’s 22 scoreable points measured 196 5/8 inches.
“Deer hunting is my true passion,” Thornbury said. “Chasing the experiences of the outdoors has always been my true calling. I am at my happiest anytime I can be in God’s creation. We are so blessed here in the states to do freely what we all love so much, and I am so thankful for that and those that make it possible.”
Whitetail Lab: Big Buck Tactics
Most early season deer hunters don’t hunt mornings. But Thornbury took a calculated risk, and it paid off. “It’s no secret that hunting mornings over food in the early season isn’t a good idea,” Thornbury said. “The combination of a few factors is why I chose to break that rule and it ultimately worked in harvesting such a big and mature deer.”
First, he had the right access to do it. “First and foremost, the issue with morning hunts is access and spooking deer walking in,” Thornbury said. “However, the setup allowed me to access by walking down the main road and in behind the tree line he was traveling to get in the stand undetected.”
Secondly, he was completely out of the game of an afternoon, anyway. “I had not a single picture of my buck in this location in the evening, but only just at legal shooting light in the morning,” Thornbury said. “It wasn’t ideal, but it was my only shot.”
It’s important to follow traditional deer hunting best practices, but sometimes, situational tactics trump these ideologies. “Remember, sometimes you have to go against the rules of how to hunt deer to kill a mature deer,” Thornbury said. “I shouldn’t have been able to hunt that deer in the morning. The scenario and access proved key to being able to harvest him. Access being the most important. I truly believe access kills big deer, and I will continue to use that tactic in my future endeavors.
With the help of his cell cam, he was able to pattern the deer, which led to the above opportunity. “Another crucial tactic I’ve started to utilize more and more is cellular trail cameras,” Thornbury said. “They allowed me real-time pictures and helped me, and my friends develop a plan on my deer.”