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HUNTING: Local man bags big deer (12/02)

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69-year-old Bill Heath shot a 300-pound deer early in the season

By Josh Claywell

Bill Heath has been hunting so long he’s lost track of how many deer he’s taken over the years.

This time, Heath won’t have any problems remembering the deer he took the second day of opening weekend.

Hunting on a friend’s farm near Cecilia, the Elizabethtown resident bagged his biggest buck yet: a six-pointer with a 20-inch spread that, based on estimations by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, weighed nearly 300 pounds before Heath field dressed it.

“Weight-wise, he’s the biggest one I’ve taken,” said Heath, a 69-year-old cancer survivor who has plenty of pictures of the massive buck. “The most outstanding thing about him is his weight, more than anything.”

Heath was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2008 and one of his lungs was removed in March of that year. He returned to hunting about 18 months later.

Using a semi-automatic rifle and with an oxygen tank in tow, Heath shot the buck from about 125 yards. He didn’t realize how big the deer was until he climbed out of his stand.

Heath couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the buck. Knowing he couldn’t lift the deer by himself, he called a friend to help get the buck on a trailer.

“I’d only been in my stand about an hour and a half,” said Heath, who began hunting earlier that morning before going home and returning later in the afternoon. “He came to the edge of the clearing and I thought he would come out into it. But he turned around and I realized he wasn’t going to come out even farther. I knew I had to shoot right away. He came out just far enough where I could see him.

“I knew he was a nice-sized deer, but I didn’t realize he was that large,” Heath added. “He only went a few feet after I shot him. When I walked up on him, I saw he was pretty good size. My buddy said ‘My God, that’s a monster.’”

Heath said he had a chance to shoot a doe which wandered about 20 yards from his stand, but didn’t want to shoot it because he saw a young deer not too far away.

Heath also had a chance to tag a deer the first day of the season, but couldn’t get a clear shot.

“I saw the deer the first day, but they weren’t in a good position for me,” he said. “I don’t like to shoot at something when there are a lot of obstructions in the way. If I think I’ve got a good clean shot, I’ll take it.”

He got his clean shot the next day, shooting the buck before it could scamper off back into the woods.

The land owner, whom Heath said he did not want to identify, helped Heath load the animal onto a trailer. Heath then took it by the Hardin County Mill, where workers weighed the field-dressed carcass at around 220 pounds.

From there, Heath went to Beard Family Custom Processing on Dixie Highway near the Hardin County Fairgrounds to have the animal’s meat harvested into breakfast sausage, summer sausage and hamburger.

Heath met Fish and Wildlife deer biologist David Yancy at the processing plant, and Yancy took samples from the deer’s head to Frankfort to be tested for diseases and to find out how old it was. Heath was told the deer was probably 6 or 7 years old.

Hardin County conservation officer David Kuhn said the department is most likely testing for chronic wasting disease.

“They take samples of heads every year to test for diseases,” Kuhn said. “Chronic wasting disease is along the lines of mad cow disease, except it’s in wildlife.”

Diseased or not, one area hunter said Heath has bragging rights for life after bagging the monster buck.

“Usually a big deer around here, you’re talking 250 (pounds). That’s a great bragging right to take one at 250,” said David Gibson, vice president of the Heartland Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. “A lot of people will go years and years – I’ve been hunting since I was a teenager and I’ve never seen one in the woods that big. Tell him congratulations from me.”

Sports writer Nathaniel Bryan contributed to this report. Josh Claywell can be reached at (270) 505-1752 or at jclaywell@thenewsenterprise.com