In the winter of 2013 I began to take notice of a great young 5x5 that had survived the rifle season and was showing up in the center of my property quite frequently. I thought to myself that this young buck held some promise to turn into a trophy class animal. I came across one of his shed antlers in late February and was convinced that he was only a fine looking 2.5 year old buck.
In August of 2014 I started getting frequent pictures of this buck and decided to give him a name as we do with several buck each fall on the land that we have. In the past we have had names like Stilletto, Lighting, Harry, Buckzilla, Fourplay, Pappy, Crown Royal, Old Guy, Tight, Crazy Legs and many others. This young 5x5 became known as Joker.
These names help myself and others that hunt with me keep track of which buck we are talking about. It seems to make it easier to explain rather than describing a buck by his rack each time. For example, I saw that narrow 5x5 with the short brow tines that is usually near the food plot that had turnips in it last year. It is easier to say, I saw Slim from the Gnarly Oak at the Trouble food plot. And, yes, we also name the stands and food plots.
During the fall hunting season I had an opportunity to harvest Joker on 4 different occasions. I passed him up because I had other bucks that were more mature and I was pleased that Joker was staying near the center of the property for the most part. I run up to 30 trail cameras during the early fall on mineral sites. Mid September I relocate the cameras to scrapes and funnel trails. This practice has provided me with valuable information on the habits and rutting behavior of individual bucks.
In Jokers core area, he was competing with mainly two other bucks that were more aggressive and more mature. I allow friends to hunt my property with the understanding that they can only shoot a 4x4 or smaller buck. This management practice allows novice hunters to take any buck other than the upper end trophy bucks and the experienced hunters can help take out the older Bully Bucks that have less trophy potential. Harvesting the Bully bucks give the chance for younger bucks like Joker to establish a home range without getting pushed off the property and relocate onto the neighboring property. In late October 2014 my son filmed me harvest Swagger, one of the two mature bucks in Joker's core area.
Late in the season a Bully buck was harvested with a bow and another 4x4 was harvested with a muzzle loader. These two bucks were aged by a Montana lab to be 4 and 8 years old.
In February, 2015, I located both of Joker's sheds and he would have scored in the mid 130s.
With the temperatures in the 90s in mid July, it was time once again to get the trail cameras out and working again. It wasn't long and I was getting velvet picture of Joker once again. The interesting part was that he was almost a mile away from his core area from the fall rutting of last year. Around September 3rd, Joker appeared on a camera back in the area he had been in 2014. During the middle of September, he started scraping and rubbing in all the same locations as in the past. Now Joker carried an impressive 160 inch rack ! Around Halloween I began getting photos of him in the day light.
On the morning of November 6th, I was sitting in a funnel area on a high ridge. I started a rattling sequence and followed up with some light grunting, Shortly afterwords I caught movement coming my way. It was Joker and I prepared for the shot. At 60 yards I looked again and did a double take ! %^%$@# Joker had broken the whole right side of his rack completely off just near the brow tine.
I was disappointed to say the least but it was an awesome experience to have this great buck walk past at 7 yards. I ended up having this buck within bow range another 6 times before the season's end.
I was fortunate to find the left shed and also the two pieces of the broke right side. The two parts were almost 3/4 of a mile apart.
This brings us to the 2016 summer scouting season. Once again Joker was first located more than 1 mile away from his core area.
And, on cue, Joker appeared back home early in September. I was getting 20 plus pictures per week of Joker on scrapes, all during the night. I predicted that his rack would now score around 170 inches.
On November 1st I recorded my first daytime pic of Joker chasing a doe near noon across the top of my farm dam. This was one of the funnel areas I had planned on taking advantage of during the rut.
I hunted the next 15 days in various locations and never laid eyes on Joker once. And to make matters worse, the last picture of him was on the 3rd of November. Things were not adding up, and I began to question my every move. Was I just one step behind Joker or had he been rutting in a new area? Did Joker chase a doe in heat onto the neighboring property and get wounded? I knew the neighbors well and was pretty sure they would be showing proud pictures of their success. Did he get poached and taken away? I checked a camera on November 20th and it showed a trespasser on my property with a rifle ,climbing tree stand and rattling horns over his shoulder. The main issue with the picture was that it was taken November 10th, two days before the rifle season.
I switched my hunting to other mature bucks and harvested other bucks on the Indian Reservation and my property. This still gave me 1 Nebraska tag for Joker. The trespasser was located on two other cameras, and has been identified and the issue is in the hands of the law enforcement.
The season ended with a tag in my pocket and me wondering what had happened to the incredible buck, Joker. In early February I start my shed hunting. I allow myself to go into areas that are deemed off limits until the season is over. I wondered if Joker got wounded during a fight and died in his bedding area. So last week I entered the bedding area and found the carcass of Joker in less than 15 minutes. I had dreamed of having his rack in my grasp but not in this way. I was saddened to find him and knew that our chess match was over. The method of Joker's demise sickened me.
Mother nature took Joker in a very cruel and unusual way. Joker had laid in his bed and rolled onto his side to scratch himself with his rack and got his leg entangled in his rack! Joker's horns now score 177 ". This ends a chapter that defiantly consumed me for the last few hunting seasons. With his demise this brings an end to the chess match between myself and the great Joker.........
Mike Lutt has been bow hunting since 1976 and has been a member of the NBA for 30 years. He has been married for 32 years to Rhonda and they have three children that are out of the nest! Mike spends hours scouting and bow hunting in Nebraska and any other place he can find.