Whitetail fate played its hand for Arkansas’ Shane Frost on January 23, 2012. The setting was in the big-timbered, fertile ground of the Black River Bottoms in Clay County in northeast Arkansas. The ancient oaks and sloughs, in all their years, had likely never witnessed a more epic bowhunting scene.
Twenty-eight feet high in a lock-on stand sat a lone bowhunter, as still as a stone, with nervous palms grasping his weapon. Seven yards beyond the perched hunter, a 28-point, drop-tined swamp monster with antlers as massive as a cluster of young cypress knots, swaggered in behind a group of does. Without warning, the buck stopped and snapped his glare directly into the hunter’s leaf-barren tree. With squinted eyes, Shane Frost, of Paragould, Arkansas, in a motionless reflex, prayed a silent prayer that the monarch wouldn’t bust him. Within seconds, fate would choose its path.
This wasn’t the first prayer Frost had prayed while this buck was within the strike zone. A previous encounter with the beast in December 2010 plagued him day and night. Without trail camera pictures or previous sightings of buck, the giant appeared like a river-bottom mirage on a chilly day the previous season. Awestruck and shocked by the buck’s appearance, Frost drew his bow when the deer got within 40 yards. The buck stepped into an opening, but remained at a quartering-to angle until he bolted into the timber to run off two subordinate bucks.
“I could have let an arrow fly,” Frost said, “but I just wasn’t going to take a marginal shot at a buck like this.”
Shane would not see the buck again until November 2011.
Much of the mystique of whitetail hunting is found in the connection between the hunter and the hunted, both noble in their own right. Compared to many other game species, whitetails have a relatively small home range; bucks are easily identifiable year after year and are, by nature, very habitual. This is what makes the game of trophy whitetail hunting what it is.
A buck that gets past you this year will likely be bigger next year, and he might be more patternable. A sighting or a trail camera picture of a buck on your hunting ground tempts you to think you’ll kill him with ease, but in the same thought you know a daylight encounter would be breathtakingly rare. This is whitetail hunting—our quarry is within reach, but is extremely difficult to lay your hands on.
Frost, a crop consultant by profession, has been bowhunting in the Black River country of Arkansas for more than 20 years and has taken numerous Pope and Young-class bucks. Outside the levees, the land is scalped by huge agricultural fields and dotted with small blocks of timber. Inside the levee of the large river, it’s all hardwood bottoms. Huge oaks and tupelo trees intermingle with cypress groves and sloughs to create a jungle of perfect whitetail habitat. Outside the levees, deer have abundant food, including soybeans and corn, much like in the Midwest.
Hunting the huge river bottoms is difficult because there aren’t many topographical features to funnel deer into predictable travel patterns. In mountainous or hilly country, terrain features make deer movement predictable. In flat land, deer travel is nearly impossible to predict.
In Arkansas, it is legal to hunt over bait, and in situations like this, it’s a extremely helpful if you want to be consistently successful. Hunting for a mature buck over supplemental feed is much more difficult than many people think. Deer quickly become extremely skittish, and mature bucks rarely visit these areas in the daytime.
After the first encounter with the buck in December 2010, Frost hoped to get pictures of the buck—or see it—in the fall of 2011. A friend at camp had shot at and missed the buck during the 2010 Arkansas shotgun season after Christmas, but no one was for sure the buck hadn’t been hurt.
In the spring of 2011, Frost was pleased to hear that a neighboring landowner found a single shed antler from the buck.
“At least the buck was still alive,” Frost said, “but, after that, everybody knew about the buck.”
Word spread quickly that a giant non-typical was roaming the Black River bottoms and, according to Frost, “in the fall of 2011, the deer started to get pressured from all around the property.”
The summer and fall ranges of the buck spread through several different properties, and numerous hunters had pictures of the giant. The buck summered about one mile away from the 1,700-acre property that Frost hunts and hadn’t shown up on his hunting ground until early December the previous year.
Through the late summer and early fall, he checked his cameras often, hoping to get a clue about the monarch’s return, but nothing surfaced. Then, one day in early November during the Arkansas Youth Season, an amazing find surfaced at the camp. Eight-year-old Cooper Lutz and his father were walking through the timber towards their stand when Cooper spotted a huge, broken antler. Upon inspection, Frost and several others from camp thought it might be the big non-typical. However, no one had a single picture of the buck in the fall of 2011, so they didn’t know what his new rack looked like! They could only guess that it was his antler.
With the new find, Frost’s interest in the big buck had peaked. In late November, he saw the big buck from the stand for the second time ever. The buck was far out of bow range, but he was 100-percent convinced it was the big non-typical.
“The buck was getting pressured so hard in early 2011 that I think he had become extremely skittish and wouldn’t come near feeders or cameras,” Frost said. No body was getting pictures of the deer, but he must have been there all November. He had just gone totally under the radar.
With eager anticipation, Frost hoped the buck would show up on a camera. Every late-season hunter knows a buck’s pattern changes dramatically once the rut is over and he starts to focus on recovering from the stressful rut. Biologically, the buck would have to gravitate back towards a consistent feeding pattern, and Frost just hoped the buck would be stay on the property.
Thirty-one long days clicked by in December and the buck was still a no-show. Neither hide nor horn of the buck was seen as the days shortened and winter set in. It wouldn’t be until early January that the spectacular images of the broken-beamed non-typical illuminated Frost’s computer screen as he checked his cameras. As soon as he arrived, the hunt was on.
Frost monitored the camera where the buck was feeding and began to hunt the stand when the conditions were perfect. Many deer, including several 2 1/2- and 3 1/2-year-old bucks, were using the area in the daylight, but the giant non-typical never did. He only came in the night. Frost had a strong suspicion that the buck was bedding in a large, selective-cut timber harvest area a couple hundred yards away.
January in northern Arkansas typically brings some frigged temperatures that make the daytime appearance of mature bucks in feeding areas more likely. However, the winter of 2011-12 was one of the warmest on record, and the cold temperatures never came. The buck never showed before dark.
As the weeks crept into January, Frost began to worry the buck would drop his antlers. Arkansas has one of the longest bow seasons in the country, running from October 1 until February 28. Knowing that time was running out, in mid-January, Frost put a camera up closer to the selective-cut that he suspected the buck was bedding in. He thought by chance he might catch the buck feeding earlier in the evening, maybe even before dark.
Around January 20, the buck disappeared from the original spot Frost was hunting. Following his instinct, he had a strong suspicion that the buck was feeding in the area where he had placed the second camera. He hadn’t checked it in 10 days, but on January 25 the wind was perfect and he decided to hunt the stand for the first time.
“I got into the stand around 3 p.m. and about 30 minutes later, I saw two young bucks stand up in the brush, 75 yards away,” Frost recalled. As the bucks came to 40 yards, he noticed they were becoming very skittish, and he saw a group of does coming towards the stand. Trailing behind the does, coming up out of slough, was the huge non-typical! Frost’s gut feeling was right!
As quickly as the deer appeared, they were within bow range. Two of the does came directly under the stand and a couple others skirted out slightly from the stand. Standing, with his bow raised, Frost was poised and motionless hoping that one of several pairs of eyes wouldn’t pick him out in the tree. All the does passed without spotting him and Frost waited in anticipation to see which way the buck would go.
It appeared he was going to come right under the tree, when at the last minute he diverted and followed the path of the other does. The buck stepped into an opening broadside, at a mere seven yards! At this point, without warning, the buck looked directly up in the tree at Frost! All he could do was squint and pray. After what seemed like an eternity, miraculously, the buck dropped his gaze and continued on after the does. Frost knew it was risky, but he slowly drew his Mathews Z7 bow in the leaf-barren oak, placed his pins on the buck and released!
The 100-grain Shuttle T-Lock broadhead struck the giant high and slightly back. The beast bolted and Frost watched as the buck crossed a small slough. He knew the hit was lethal, but he was convinced it wasn’t the best shot. He was certain he hit liver and a least one lung. In most situations this wouldn’t be reason for concern, but in this swamp country blood trailing a deer can be difficult. After finding his arrow, he backed out until the next day.
Unfortunately, Frost’s daughter was scheduled to have sinus surgery early the next morning. Being the family man that he is, he and several friends didn’t make it back to the woods until 2 p.m. the next day.
“The dried blood was difficult to follow after he crossed the slough,” Frost recalled. The group trailed the buck into the night, searching with flashlights, but couldn’t find a strong blood trail on the other side of the water. Things then got worse when a strong rain blew in over night—literally a blood trailer’s worst nightmare. Frost knew the blood trail would be gone and their efforts would be spent walking and looking for the buck.
To make a long and stressful tracking story short, Frost and several friends spent the entire next day looking but didn’t find the buck. It wasn’t until the third day, on the way out of the area and within sight of the road, Frost and his good friend, Tommy Hancock, saw the buck belly up! The buck had swam a 60-yard-wide bar ditch and died within sight of the small farm road! With the cool temperatures, the buck was in perfect condition and was miraculously untouched by scavengers. Frost was ecstatic and relieved.
When they got the buck back to camp, the piece of horn that young Cooper had picked up fit seamlessly on the rack. After the 60-day drying period, Boone and Crockett scorer Todd Sharp scored the buck at a whopping official net score of 216 3/8 inches. Boone and Crockett regulations permitted the broken piece to be scored and counted, however, Pope and Young regulations do allow any broken pieces to count. The buck would have been the new Arkansas state-record non-typical bowkill in Pope and Young, beating the current record of 215 4/8 inches. However, the buck can’t be entered into Pope and Young at the full score.
Regardless, the buck’s Boone and Crockett score is phenomenal, and in reality, this is the largest non-typical buck ever taken with a bow in Arkansas. The keys to this hunt were persistence, smart hunting and not pressuring the buck too much. Combine this with a last minute “home-run swing” to switch stands and get closer to the buck’s bedding area and you have an extraordinary hunt. That being said, it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving, persistent and hard-hunting Natural State bowhunter.