As a winter front pushed through northwest Arkansas on Dec. 12, 2011, the gray and ominous clouds hung low in the winter sky, drizzling rain. Days like this are exactly what Aaron Jolliff, of Bella Vista, Arkansas, has always loved to hunt—and for good reason. The low light, consistent wind and cool temperatures were the manifestation of a cold front that he was confident would incite deer movement. It was 3:30 p.m. before he and Nick Gann, both his close friend and business partner, made it to the custom-built, elevated box blind in Benton County. With Hoyt bows in hand, they were anticipating the whisper-thwack of the string followed by the subtle sound of sharpened steel finding its target.
The flexibility of Aaron’s work schedule has been key to his hunting success in the past. The ability to make quick decisions on when to hunt based upon the timing of the rut and weather conditions is probably the most valuable tool that any hardcore whitetail hunter can have. The pair was just about to prove how valuable.
Jolliff had offered to take Gann to his bowhunting hotspot because the area was being hit hard by does coming to the supplemental winter feed he had put out. What you wouldn’t know is that Jolliff had been strategically hunting the small, 40-acre property since October 1, and he was beyond discouraged. His invitation for Gann to shoot a doe stemmed from his confidence that all hope had been lost at harvesting the bruiser buck that he had shot at and missed two different times in 2011.
The giant, heavy-horned 6×6 had a huge body and sky-scraping tines stacked like cordwood on long main beams. From the trail camera pictures, many had speculated that the buck would score over 180 inches and the two missed opportunities haunted Jolliff day and night.
Earlier that afternoon, Gann had helped Jolliff set up and paper-tune his new Hoyt Carbon Element. Owners of a northwest Arkansas sporting goods store that has an archery pro-shop, Jolliff and Gann made quick work of setting up the new bow, and Jolliff was shooting bullet-holes and bulls-eyes in no time. Jolliff had hunted with another Hoyt all season long, but for some reason this afternoon seemed to be the right time to the make the switch. After they set up the bow, they hit the road and headed to their hunting land some 15 miles away.
Jolliff had no intention of firing the new Hoyt, but he brought it just in case. Gann was looking for a late-season doe to fill the freezer and they were certain he would be the only one shooting. However, certainties in hunting are oxymoronic, and Jolliff was about to prove it. The pair agreed that if, by chance, the big buck showed, Jolliff would be the shooter.
The blind was strategically situated on a 40-acre tract of land on the edge of a large field surrounded by thick cedars. This is no ordinary box blind; it was designed by the late Randy Morris, a close friend of Jolliff’s, whose wife and family still own the land. From childhood on, Jolliff had hunted the property in an old ladder stand, but six years ago Morris told him, “I want to build you a better treestand.” Reluctantly, Jolliff concurred, but he had no idea what Morris had in mind.
“Randy had a heart of gold for children and people, for that matter. He was a dear and close friend,” Jolliff said. Morris wanted the best for Jolliff, but also he wanted the stand to be used for taking children hunting and even designed it so a wheelchair could be hoisted up with pulleys into the box blind for handicapped children. By the following fall, the blind had been constructed and Jolliff was in shock when he saw how Morris had gone “over the top.”
The stand is approximately 80 square feet with such luxuries as hardwood trim, carpet, a heat and air system, electricity, a ceiling fan and, at one time, two camouflage La-Z-Boys! Morris had gone all-out. A hardcore and experienced bowhunter, Jolliff was extremely grateful for the stand and utilized it when it made sense. However, he often found himself continuing to hunt the property in his lock-on stands.
Since the blind was constructed, Jolliff has hunted with several children that have harvested their first deer from within its walls—exactly what Morris wanted. Unfortunately, he never got to see the full utilization of the blind and the fruit that it would produce for Jolliff in 2011. Tragically, in 2009, Morris was killed in a motorcycle accident at the age of 59. However, three years later, Jolliff and Gann found themselves hunting in the blind because of the wet, drizzly conditions.
In the fall of 2010, Jolliff’s camera got one fleeting night of pictures of the big buck, but he never showed again. However, in September 2011, the big buck showed up on camera and stayed. This was the buck that Jolliff was certain he wouldn’t see again—and certainly not on this hunt.
It was October 23 and Jolliff was carrying a muzzleloader to the tree. “I had actually seen the buck the weekend before while bowhunting,” Jolliff recalled. “He was across a field working a scrape. I love to bowhunt, but the Arkansas muzzleloader season was open and I didn’t want to pass on an opportunity if he was out of bow range.”
With this thought in mind, Jolliff had called a good friend that had a Thompson/Center .50-caliber muzzleloader and asked if he could borrow the gun. “I had actually sighted in the gun for my friend. He had hunted with it a couple of times and put it in the gun case. I knew that it was the one thing that you don’t do in hunting—borrow a gun and not shoot it before the hunt—but I did.”
In past years, late October has been one of the most productive times for Jolliff on this particular property. A fresh scrape and recent sighting of the buck had him anticipating putting his hands on the rack. Then, like clockwork, shortly after daylight, the big buck appeared on the edge of the field and worked his way to within 50 yards. It appeared as if the hunt for the giant was going to be easy. “There wasn’t a twig between us,” Jolliff said. “He was standing in the middle of a wide-open field. I put the cross hairs on the buck and squeezed off.”
After the shot, Jolliff watched in bewilderment as the buck bounded away unscathed. After the hunt, when he shot the muzzleloader at a target, he found that it was shooting eight inches low! He was confident the buck was spooked for good. Jolliff continued to hunt for the buck through October and on into November, but the buck disappeared. He wasn’t sure if the encounter with the buck had pressured him off the property or if the rut had taken him to faraway lands. It didn’t really matter—the buck was gone.
After a long November of sleepless nights because of a newborn baby and haunting thoughts of the missed shot, Jolliff’s Arkansas rifle season came and went, but the buck hadn’t shown himself. Then, unbelievably, the day after the Arkansas firearms season ended, Jolliff was shocked when he checked his trail camera and saw a nighttime picture of the giant buck. He was back.
Jolliff immediately began to make plans to start hunting the buck again. On the weekend of December 3, Jolliff’s wife and newborn son went out of town to visit family, leaving Aaron home alone. He made plans to hunt every morning and evening that they were gone. On the morning of December 3, Jolliff was late getting to the stand. As he left the truck, it was just breaking daylight.
“I was walking and when I came into sight of the stand, I saw what looked like the silhouette of a deer,” Jolliff said. “As I looked closer I could see three deer, and all of them were looking the other way. I immediately dropped to my knees and then began to belly crawl closer to the deer.” He closed the distance considerably in the high grass, and when he raised up, he recognized the big-bodied buck. It was him!
With an arrow nocked, he guessed the distance to be thirty-five yards. When he drew and shot, the arrowed sailed directly under the huge buck, missing him cleanly. The two does skipped off 30 yards away and stood at full alert, but the buck didn’t seem too concerned. “The buck kept looking at the does and then he let out a couple of big grunts and actually turned and started walking towards me.” Aaron said. He actually drew on the buck one more time as he walked behind a cedar tree, but had to let down after several minutes of holding the draw. Then the buck casually walked down a fencerow, staring at Aaron, but ended up spooking when Aaron drew for the third time!
“I’ve never been so disgusted in all my life,” Aaron said.
This was his second miss at the giant, and he was certain he wouldn’t be getting any more chances. Bucks of this caliber don’t make that many mistakes, right?
As Jolliff and Gann walked to the box blind, they had no expectation of seeing the big buck. But Jolliff was carrying the new Hoyt just in case. After climbing into the blind around 3:30 p.m., Jolliff recalls, “Within about 20 minutes of getting there, we started having some does come in to feed.” The first few where very skittish and Gann moved very cautiously to get in position for a shot at the largest doe. “The old doe that Nick wanted to shoot never would turn just right,” he said.
As Gann patiently waited for the right opportunity, more does and yearlings piled into the field. Within minutes, they had eight to 10 deer within 30 yards of the blind. As Jolliff listened, he said, “I hear a heavy-footed deer coming. Wait just a minute before you shoot.”
Jolliff leaned out to view back behind the blind and he saw two does standing at the field edge. “It’s just does,” he said. But then, “Once they came into the field I heard the heavy footsteps again.” Jolliff recalls the steps were noticeably different than all the other deer. “Nick was standing up with his release on his string about to shoot when he looked back behind the blind. I couldn’t see that direction, but I watched Nick’s eyes get big and he said, ‘It’s him, get your bow.’”
By this time, the deer were at ease and feeding heavily in front of the stand. The huge buck jumped the fence and circled downwind of the herd of does, scent-checked them and then came in to 24 yards. Jolliff grabbed his Hoyt and was ready when the buck turned broadside. At full draw with his pin on the deer, he released the arrow tipped with a Rage two-blade broadhead. At the drop of the string, the arrow struck the buck directly behind the shoulder and passed all the way through.
Jolliff and Gann listened intently and were certain they heard the giant deer fall. Shocked at the buck’s third daytime appearance, the pair climbed out of the stand to track the monarch. After a very short blood trail, the two friends found the buck lying 40 yards away. The buck was Jolliff’s, and to top it off, one of his closest friends was there with him to witness the whole event!
Jolliff’s buck was officially measured in April by Pope & Young, grossing 183 1/8 as a 6×6 mainframe typical. After deducting 7 1/8 inches of abnormal growth and 5 2/8 inches in side-to-side difference, the rack netted 170 6/8 inches, making it one of the top bow-killed typicals in Arkansas history!