Heath Rayfield of Chesterfield, S.C., nicknamed one buck he saw last year in trail-camera photos “Clusters” because the main beams of his antlers ended sort of in clumps.

When the buck showed up in a trail-cam photo three weeks ago, however, things had changed. The buck, which Rayfield guessed at 4 1/2 years old, had sharp tips on its beams, drop tines on each antler and double split brow tines.

“I recognized him as Clusters from the first photo I got of him this year,” said Rayfield, who manages Buchanan Shoals Sportsman’s Preserve just across the state line near Morven, N.C. “I had him on camera the 22nd, 23rd and 25th. I figured, I’ve got to plan to get this deer killed. I wanted to kill him with a bow, but I knew I might have to wait until after Sept. 1 and try to kill him with a muzzleloader.”

Actually, it took Rayfield until Saturday, Sept. 8, to kill the buck, but it turned out to be well worth the extra week of waiting. Rayfield’s Chesterfield County buck carried a basic 4x4 main frame, with split brow tines on both antlers and drop tines on both antlers — the one on the right beam jutting downward a full 10 inches. Rayfield has scored the deer, which weighed 173 pounds, at 142 1/2 inches.

“I had pix of this deer last year; he was the ‘other’ deer running with the big buck that the kid (Deklan Woodell) killed on a neighboring farm,” Rayfield said, referring to a 171-inch non-typical giant. “We nicknamed him ‘Clusters’ because of the ends of his beams. He stayed on our farm until the first or second week of October, then he left. We didn’t get another picture of him until the last week of the season.

“I thought he was a 3-year-old buck last year, with the potential to jump way up there. He had two drop tines on one side and a couple of stickers. This year, he moved one drop tine to the other side and lost the stickers.”

Rayfield got a chance to hunt the afternoon of Sept. 2, and because of the wind, he hunted the back side of his 33-acre property. 

“I saw nine deer, and the last deer, I was 99.9-percent sure it was him, but he was 150 yards away, on the other side of a bean and clover field. On Wednesday, Sept. 5, he went to another stand, mowed a little lane in front of that stand with a tractor and put out a mixture of 100 pounds of corn and a bag of 4S Draw, a granular deer attractant, and put up a trail camera.

“I was going to hunt that stand on Saturday, but when I got up, the wind was blowing from the southwest, so I went to a stand on the other side of a pond,” Rayfield said. “He was the first deer to walk out, at 6:57 a.m. When he walked out, I said, ‘Dang, that’s a buck.’ He was quartering away, standing in some dog fennel at about 60 yards.”

Armed with a CVA Acura blackpowder gun and 250-grain Hornady SST bullet and topped with a Leupold scope, Rayfield took the shot. The deer bounded away, and he saw what he thought was a wound well back on the buck’s side.

“He was quartering away a little more than I thought, and I figured I hit him a little farther back than I wanted to,” he said. “I saw him go in a cutover, and I thought I saw him lay down, but I didn’t want to take a chance. I gave him six hours before I went back, and I found him about 10 yards from where I last saw him. The exit wound was right behind his shoulder, right where it was supposed to be.”