For more than 30 years, Jeff Kirkley of Marion County has trampled the Palmetto State in search of trophy bucks, taking many deer big enough to put a smile on the face of any hunter. But it wasn’t until the afternoon of Sept. 10 that he joined an elite group: hunters who have taken a trophy piebald buck, a big 9-pointer.

Over the past three years, this piebald buck had shown up in trail-camera photos, but they were the only real evidence of his existence; he’d never been seen.

According to Kirkley, one of his neighbors got a trail-camera photo of the buck as a button buck in 2012, which made it a 3 ½-year-old when the 2015 season began.

 “We got photos of him last year as an 8-pointer, but from 2 ½ to 3 ½ years old, he grew an extra point and some major mass,” Kirkley said.

The buck started showing up on trail cameras belonging to Kirkley and several of his neighbors over the past month. The word got out, and the chase was on again. A number of hunters were targeting the buck, but Kirkley didn’t plan to let him get away.

“I came up with a game plan to keep the buck interested, making every attempt not to pressure the buck from leaving,” he said. 

For starters, Kirkley decided not to set up a new stand overlooking one field, instead using an old wooden stand that had been up 15 years and was deteriorating. 

“I really didn’t want to put any pressure on him at all with a new stand, and the buck was using the field anyway,” he said. 

Kirkley took some advice from a friend at the local feed and grain center and purchased a few bags of Monster Meal Attractant and Newberry Feed’s Carolina Choice 14X peanut-flavored feed pellets, hoping to keep the buck at home until after the season opened. He found a spot in the middle of the 25-acre soybean field close to a few mature persimmon trees. 

“With soybeans, persimmons, corn and the peanut-flavored attractants available, I was hoping I could keep him around just a little longer,” he said.  

The first night he had the feed out, Kirkley’s trail cameras caught the buck coming into the feed, plus a few other bucks. 

“When products like these come onto the market, it is hard not to be skeptical, but the cameras don’t lie. These deer came in quick and started eating regularly on this mix,” he said. 

Kirkley could hardly wait for the season to open. On the afternoon of Sept. 10, the mysterious ghost buck showed up at 6:50, and he didn’t waste any time.

“I looked up and saw him walking right past the persimmon trees and heading towards the (feed). I propped up my .270 on my knee and squeezed the trigger while he was slowly walking,” Kirkley said.  “He leaped into the air what seemed like 20 feet, and he bolted back into the woods making a ton of commotion. He sounded like a log truck plowing through the woods.”

A perfect shot in the engine room quickly ended the saga. While the 160-pound buck may not make it into South Carolina’s record book with a 122-inch gross score, the elusive calico buck will live forever on Kirkley’s wall as the Marion County ghost buck he lured into his sights. 

--Read more deer hunting stories in our Deer Hunting Section.