According to brother-in-law, John Petno couldn't find the center of a paper target while practicing on the shooting range the day before deer season open.

But after showing some patience and passing up some bucks on opening day, Petno zeroed in on the fine 8-pointer the next day and dropped him in his tracks from 150 yards placing his shot in the animal's neck.

Petno, who is from the Orlando suburb of Tavares, Fla., got an invitation from his brother-in-law, Billy Neal, for an opening weekend hunt, not only to try and take a big buck, but to establish early season bragging rights.

Neal, from Palm Coast, Fla., had access to a piece of property in Jasper Co.

"This is a family-oriented lease that has been under quality deer management for 19 years," Neal said.

Curiously, 2008 marks the 20th anniversary of the Quality Deer Management Association's pro-active techniques for growing bigger bucks.

Rules for the lease include a 3-buck limit for each member, with shooter bucks to weigh at least 150 pounds, carry a rack sporting at least eight points and a spread outside the buck's ears.

About 45 does are harvested annually on the lease, which has produced several bucks over the past five seasons that scored 125 or better - qualifying for the South Carolina Record Book.

Petro and Neal shared a blind on Opening Day, intending to video a quality buck while hunting under some oaks along the edge of a peanut field. The bucks didn't show up until dusk, and while antlers were visible, Petno passed them all up.

The next evening, Petno got back in the same stand, while Neal took his video camera to another spot. Petno waited a while for a buck to show up, but when he did, it was worth the wait.

"The buck came out 45 minutes before dark; I used my binoculars to study him for 15 minutes," Petno said. "Then, when I put the scope on him, that was it."

One shot from Petno's Mossberg .300 bolt-action rifle took care of things. The shot, at 150 yards, was a little more difficult because of a cast Petno was wearing on his thumb, but he was able to steady the gun before the shot.

Shot cleanly through the neck, the buck weighed 150 pounds, had an 18¼-inch spread with one beam measuring 21 inches and the other 16 inches. The tall brow tines are another indication of a quality buck.

When Neal radioed to see what the shot was all about, Petno was so excited that he could hardly talk. The hunters stayed in their stands until dark so they wouldn't disturb anybody else, then they carried the buck back to camp.

Leslie Buford at Wild Game Deer Processing and Taxidermy in Sheldon, who is mounting the buck, estimated that it would score 125 points on the Boone & Crockett scoring system, right at the minimum for inclusion into the South Carolina record book..

But that wasn't the end of the story.

A few days later, hunters were scouting the same peanut field for the group of bucks that had come in so late on Opening Day. They noticed buzzards circling in the distance, investigated and were shocked to find four bucks dead in the field.

A quick check found no gun-shot wounds, and it was determined that the deer had all been struck by lightning - possibly from the severe weather that accompanied Tropical Storm Fay, which had battered the area in the intervening days.

Bucks run in bachelor groups during the early season, and perhaps feeding together at night in an open field was partly to blame for their being struck. That was the only thing Petno and Neal could come up with for the four dead bucks.