A years-long quest is now complete
More than 6 1/2-years-old, 17 1/2-inch spread, 185 pounds and 7 points. These are the final numbers on a buck that has been keeping Whitney Phillips of Summerton, SC up at night.
“He was beat up and on his way down when we finally connected. But it’s not the size of the antlers on this deer. This is the first deer that I had an emotional attachment to. Please don’t tell my husband Trey,” she said, only half jokingly.
Phillips manages Clarendon Club, a sportsman’s paradise for deer and duck hunting that encompasses more than 3000 acres of prime hunting land on the shores of Lake Marion in Clarendon County.
“My Old Man,” as Phillips endearingly called him, has been the primary target for her Thompson Center Arms .25-06 for the past three seasons. At one point, he had larger antlers, but he and Phillips just couldn’t connect.
Numerous times, he walked past her stand with circumstances that would not allow for a shot. Too far. Too fast. And one time, too close, directly underneath her stand, seemingly taunting her. She dared not move for fear of spooking him. He walked away unharmed. So the chase continued.
“The Old Man and I met for a short visit last year when he came by my stand. Everything was perfect,” she said. “I slowly settled the crosshairs behind the shoulder and gently squeezed the trigger. NOTHING!”
But the problem, she soon realized, wasn’t the gun.
“I called Trey to tell him my gun was messed up, and he asked if I had loaded it,” she said.
Time to try again
After loading the gun, Phillips waited for another chance. This time, she got settled, gently squeezed the trigger. But again, NOTHING.
She looked at the back of the gun and noticed she had forgotten to pull back the hammer. So she pulled it back, anticipating that the deer would be moving on shortly. But there he stood, offering her a shot.
“She settled the crosshairs and once again squeezed the trigger. The bullet found its mark, spraying matter violently into the air. The matter in the air was sand, and the mark was the dirt in front of the deer. Her Old Man ran off without even a scratch.
“Immediately I regretted pulling the trigger. I waited all this time for this opportunity. And then I bombed it,” she said.
Luckily, the Old Man kept coming around, and was seen on other outings by every member of the Phillips family, including son Troy and daughter Clara, who often join Whitney and Trey in the stand, enjoying family time afield, which, along with big bucks, is a major part of the Clarendon Club story.
For the Phillips family, allowing bucks to mature to their full potential before harvesting them is their goal. Proof of their strategy is in the South Carolina state record book, where Trey’s name is written beside the 150 4/8-inch buck he killed on the property just a few short years ago.
On Oct. 13, the weather was just right. Mr. Gene (Eugene Phillips — the patriarch of the Phillips family) commented that someone always kills a good buck around the middle of October. Trey took the kids to school, allowing Whitney to get in her stand. Her buck had been moving around a lot, and had been spotted making visits on neighboring properties.
Phillips got in the stand before daylight, watching and listening to nature as the woods awakened. With the first hint of light, she could make out the silhouettes of deer in the bait pile, as well as other deer meandering about.
One look through her Zeiss scope confirmed the Old Man was there. The moment of truth was upon her.
She also noticed another buck that was considerably larger than her long-time target. But she didn’t consider shooting that one. Not even for a second.
“The Old Man was MY BUCK. He is old and I have hunted him hard. It was the one that I was after. And it was more about finishing what I had started than anything else,” she said.
Once it was light enough, the Old Man moved away from the other bucks, offering Phillips an opening. She gently touched off the shot. The Old Man ran away.
“Oh no. I rushed it again,” she thought.
The other bucks had not left the scene. So she had a good feeling the Old Man might come back if she hadn’t hit him.
After 4 long minutes, he came back. He stood broadside, 125 yards away. Phillips settled the crosshairs and gently squeezed the trigger. A hard hit with a visible reaction as the buck kicked out his back legs let her know the bullet hit its mark. The end of this multi-year craze engulfing the spirit of the entire family was finally coming to an end.
After a hurried wait, she began the search for blood. She saw right away that her aim was true. The ground was littered with blood. Turning in the direction of his travel, she saw in the distance the Old Man’s white belly.
The game was over. She finally had her guy.
She called Trey, then Matt Taylor of Woods ‘n Water Taxidermy in Manning, and then to her son’s school to ask Troy’s teacher to let him know the good news.
Once mounted, the Old Man will grace the wall of the Phillips’ home, and the stories of his adventures will be told for years to come. His legacy will always be remembered as another part of the Santee Cooper Life.