Nothing happened. No click of the trigger or firing pin. Nothing. So he decided to clear the chamber on his Browning A-Bolt .30-06, work the bolt and put in another round and hope the buck didn't take off.
A few minutes later, Hughes, a 38-year-old commercial real estate broker, found himself looking down at a great buck one he appropriately nicknamed "Re-Rack" that was unusual not just because he let Hughes have a second chance, but because he was carrying more inches of antler on his skull than his body weighed.
A main-frame 5x5 with four sticker points, three of which are likely scorable, the buck's lower jawbone showed him to be 5 ½ years old. A likely entry into the state's record book, the deer weighed only 118 pounds.
"When I got to him, my first count was 14 points, but I was excited," Hughes said. "The next thing I thought about was how small his body was. I thought to myself, 'He'll outscore his weight.' I've killed does a lot bigger than this buck. I picked the deer up by myself."
The buck with the "tiny" body had a symmetrical 5x5 rack with matching sticker points on the G-2s and two sticker points at the base of its right beam. The tall antlers had an inside spread of 15 ¼ inches, with G-2s measuring 10 and 10 ¼ inches and G-3s measuring 9 and 9 ¼ inches.
But no one is suggesting that Hughes shouldn't have taken the trophy buck, not with the rack on top of its head. How did a deer with that small a body carry that big a set of antlers through the woods?
"I was hunting an 80-acre cutover in a low blind. They had mowed a double-wide strip down the middle, and there was a feeder at the other end, 125 yards away," Hughes said. "This was the first time anybody had hunted this place.
"I walked in, and I saw a big, fresh scrape. My first thought was, "There's a big deer here, but I just walked in over him."
Hughes sat without seeing anything almost the entire afternoon and evening. He remembered thinking that a 6:54 p.m. sunset was fast approaching when he noticed movement at the far end of the shooting lane, at 6:45.
"I knew immediately it was a shooter," he said. "It looked like he had a big fan waving around on his head."
Hughes mounted his rifle, took careful aim and squeezed the trigger.
"Nothing happened, no click, nothing," Hughes said. "After a minute fumbling around with the safety, I realize I've got to re-rack, and he's gonna be gone.
"I took the gun down and re-racked, and when I put it back up, he's still there," he said. "I knocked him down right there. Three or four minutes later, he's on the ground, and he started to kick, trying to get up, so I put him down again. That was it."
After Hughes got the deer out of the woods and got the usual congratulations for other hunters, one of whom, he remembered said it looked like "every bit of protein that deer ate must have gone to its horns."
Hughes said he never figured out what went wrong the first time he squeezed the trigger. He doesn't know whether he didn't have the bolt closed completely, had the safety on or whatever; he's just thrilled the buck let him "re-rack" and shoot a second time.
A thought he had shortly after getting to the buck wasn't hunting related at all. His wife was in her ninth month of pregnancy the day he went hunting. "One of the first things I said was, 'Now, I'm ready for us to have this baby.'"
Hughes' third son arrived on Oct. 21.