Out of a thousand week-old trail-cam photos, one had Johnny Lawrence of Pine Hall so excited he woke up extra early on Nov. 1, the opening day of blackpowder season in Rockingham County. With a 17-point non-typical buck on the ground by 8:15, the excitement really began.

Lawrence was hunting a 50-acre lease when his trail camera picked up about a thousand photos the week before blackpowder season began. One of them was of what he thought was a big, 10-point buck.

“That picture got me a little excited because I thought if it had a decent spread — and I could see he had something cool in the middle of his rack — he could be a decent 10-pointer,” said Lawrence, a 49-year-old native of Madison, who had no idea how unusual the rack on the 17-point non-typical was until after he killed the buck that opening morning.

The single trail-cam photo didn’t show everything, because the side view aligned a drop tine and a brow tine, plus many of the rack’s other unusual features.

The buck’s rack tallied 168 4/8 non-typical inches with a “dagger in the middle,” a 9-inch-long left brow tine, Lawrence said. The overall rack is a 5x5 main frame with an 8-inch drop tine off the left main beam and six other abnormal points.

But what the trail-cam photos did show was enough to shake Lawrence up. The prospects of having a 10-pointer walk in front of a box stand he’s placed along the edge of a ¾-acre food plot was enough to shake him awake at 5 a.m. and get him into his stand 45 minutes later.

“We have a (corn) feeder at one end of the food plot, and when I got in the stand, I could see silhouettes (near the feeder) because it was raining pretty steady,” he said. “It rained the whole time, in fact.”

Lawrence sat patiently watching the food plot until 8:15, a few minutes after two does had walked out of the field.

“That’s when I saw a buck in the woods behind the feeder, may 20 to 30 yards farther than the feeder” that’s 90 yards from the stand, said Lawrence, who raised his .50-caliber CVA Optima loaded with 100 grains of Pyrodex and a 300-grain Powerbilt Platinum bullet and aimed at the buck’s shoulder.

“All he was doing was (checking) the wind for does,” Lawrence said, “but he was gonna walk off, so I had to take the shot. He’d come out of a cutover bedding area.”

However, after the smoke cleared, the deer had pulled a Houdini and disappeared.

Taking a few minutes to calm his nerves, Lawrence reloaded, climbed out of the box stand and walked to where he’d last seen the deer.

“The problem was red maple leaves on the ground, lots of other deer tracks, and the rain,” he said. “It was pouring.”

Lawrence couldn’t find any indications his bullet had found its mark. So he called brother-in-law, Cory Cook of Stoneville, and asked him to come help look for the buck.

“While I was waiting, I thought I might as well walk up a ridge behind the stand where deer usually go,” Lawrence said.

A hundred yards into the woods, he found the 182-pound buck on its side underneath a maple and half-covered in leaves.

“It was still pouring rain, so I walked back to my truck to take my reloading stuff, powder and all that I had in a backpack and put it in the truck,” Lawrence said.

“Then Cory got there, and we walked back, and that was really the first time I looked at the antlers.”

Lawrence described the buck as “another Rockingham County giant” and there’s no way to dispute the claim, as the county has produced a succession of great whitetails in recent years.

This one was unofficially scored at 168 4/8 inches. It carried a 5x5 main-frame rack, with a 9-inch left brow tine – Lawrence called it a “dagger in the middle” – an 8-inch drop tine off the left beam, and six other abnormal points.

“It’s not an official score,” he said. “I’ll probably take it to the Dixie Deer Classic to get an official score,” said Lawrence, who has taxidermist Keith Bowman of Germantown mounting the buck.

“I killed a 140-class 8-pointer over near Bethany, and that was my best deer until this one,” he said.