For years, Justin Kelley searched his home county, Anderson, for a trophy buck, but he never imagined that his dream would come true on a tiny, 4-acre woodlot. That’s exactly what happened on Oct. 17, when a 158-inch buck poked his head around a tree and walked right to Kelley’s tree stand.

Kelley, who has a full-time job as an electrician, also runs a landscaping business on the side, and when he explored a small woodlot behind the home of one of his clients and found it oozing with deer sign, he asked and received permission to hunt there.

On his first few trips to the tract with a bow, he didn’t see anything he wanted to shoot, but he did find evidence that a deer with a big track was passing along the edge of the property on a regular basis. He moved his climbing stand on Oct. 16 and planned to hunt it the next morning for a few hours before his son’s first birthday party.

“I would rather have hunted longer, but I figured if they were moving, this deer would come out at the break of day,” said Kelley, who knew he had to leave by 8:30 a.m. 

Kelley watched the sun rise from his stand the next morning but didn’t see anything and was beginning to pack up his gear when he heard rustling in the leaves to his left.

“I could see a deer’s body first, and then I could see half of his rack sticking out the other side of the tree,” he said. 

The deer was only 15 or 20 yards away, and when it turned and started toward his stand, it presented him with a shot he couldn’t have taken had he brought his bow that morning; he’s right-handed, and the shot would have required a left-handed shooter.

Fortunately, he was carrying a .30-06 that he’d gotten after his grandfather passed away; it was the rifle’s first trip into the woods with him.

“Something told me I needed to take that rifle with me that day. I am glad that I did; that would have been an impossible shot with a bow,” Kelley said.

Kelley put his rifle on his left shoulder and made a clean, left-handed shot as the buck walked almost directly under his tree at 8:23. The buck, which had 11 scorable points and a 20-inch inside spread, collapsed almost on the spot.