Jeff Howlett of Hot Springs had a fine Thanksgiving, but the day after Thanksgiving was even better.
Howlett, 33, killed his biggest buck in northern Grant County. Howlett has not measured the antlers, but the 10-point rack is exceptional for an area that isn't known for producing exceptional racks.
"I've been hunting this club since I was 14," Howlett said. "The quality of our deer has gotten better, no doubt about it."
The club follows statewide Arkansas Game and Fish Commission regulations for legal bucks. Previously, club rules required a total of six points and a minimum inside spread of 12 inches.
"When we had the 6/12 rule, those were the worst bucks I've ever seen," Howlett said. "Ever since we went to Game and Fish [regulations], we just have a better deer herd. There's a lot less 'culls' it seems like."
Howlett's 10-point wasn't a freak. His wife Kaela killed a big 8-point on opening day of modern gun season that was probably a year younger than the 10.
"My mom has racks on her wall from a stand in that same area that will blow your mind," Howlett said. "Some of them put mine to shame."
While Howlett's stand has always been productive, it goes through peaks and valleys depending on the amount of logging that occurs around it. It used to be in very tight quarters in a thicket, but Howlett said the woods have been clearcut. The sight lines are now about 300 yards.
After a festive Thanksgiving, Howlett said he had to will himself to go hunting. His reward for perseverance was a phenomenal day of deer activity that culminated with the arrival of the 10-point. Before legal shooting time, a pair of does fed a short distance away. Two small bucks walked behind them. That's not unusual. There are a lot of young bucks on the property, and they are not particularly cautious. Howlett put his gun down.
"I wish I hadn't of," Howlett said. "An hour later, I saw the biggest deer I've ever seen out there. He was almost black, a big, big bodied deer. After that, for sure I put the gun out the window again and left it there."
Howlett was getting impatient. He said he usually kills his bucks on opening weekend. Besides Kaela's 8-point, Howlett's mother Pam got an 8- and 10-point on opening weekend, as well. Understandably, Howlett kept his finger off the trigger hoping for something special.
"It was getting toward the end of the season. It was time to get groceries," Howlett said. "I was ready to shoot anything legal."
At dusk, Howlett decided it was time to hit the checkout line. A doe and her fawn crossed in the open about 150 yards away. Howlett stopped them with a loud whistle."
"I was going to shoot her, but that buck was right behind her," Howlett said. "I whistle-stopped him. I counted three on one side and let 'er rip."
With two young sons, the Howletts must alternate hunting days. Kaela saw the 10-point earlier and had her heart set on getting it. Howlett said he told her jokingly that he was going to shoot it, which provoked some good-natured but pointed ribbing.
"I had to call her up and tell her, 'Honey, I killed your buck,' " Howlett said. "I was afraid she was going to be mad at me, but she wasn't."
Howlett shot the buck with a Savage Model 110 chambered in 270 Winchester. His scope was a Nikon Pro Staff. His ammunition was Hornady Super Performance.
"If you ain't using Super Performance, you need to," Howlett said. "It's a little pricier, but I've had to track only deer in the last 10 years."
Howlett uses Spy Point cameras that send photos to his phone in real time.
"This is the first year I've had them, and they're awesome," Howlett said. "We come from Hot Springs, and a lot of times we'd come here just to check cameras. The monthly [cellular] fee pays for your gas. When it's coming to you live, it gets you excited for the season."
Howlett said his cameras routinely photograph a big 9-point that always leaves right before legal shooting light in the morning, and it only shows up in the evening right after legal shooting time has passed. Howlett said he believes that's the buck that eluded him the morning he got his 10-point. He said he is not disappointed to have gotten the smaller specimen.
"My philosophy is don't pass up something on the first day that you would be more than happy with on the last day," Howlett said. "It was the biggest one I ever got. I was on Cloud Nine. I was just hoping my wife wouldn't be mad."