Chris Warren Buck: 230-Inch Minnesota Velvet Bruiser
August 25, 2015
So when's the best time to hunt for a trophy buck?
Here in southeastern Minnesota, my first choice would be the November rut. But my second choice would be opening weekend of bow season, which falls in September. Ever since I started bowhunting at age 16 I've loved that weekend. You just never know what might happen then.
In all of those years, I can't remember ever having missed the first day of archery — that is, until 2014. But I had a solid reason to do so: My brother Josh was getting married that day. I did manage to hunt Sunday evening, however. And it was a hunt that would change my life.
Heading out to hunt, I pulled my trail camera's card. Once I'd reached my tree stand, I began scrolling through the photos with my card reader. One of the shots showed a full-velvet bomber of a buck. All I could see on the 3-inch screen was that he had a mess of points and crazy mass. At the time, I didn't know which buck it was — all I could say for sure was that he was a shooter. I could only smile at the thought of something so big being in the area.
I saw a half-dozen deer that afternoon. Three were bucks, one a 3 1/2-year-old 9-pointer and the other two smaller 6-pointers. One of the 6-pointers was still in velvet, which was a first for me; in my 22 years of bowhunting, I'd never seen a full-velvet buck while on stand.
No shooter bucks came out, but I felt pretty lucky to have seen that velvet 6, so it was a good evening on stand. When I got home, I took a closer look at the new trail cam photos and realized I possibly had some images of that big velvet deer from the year before. I wasn't sure, though, because the 2013 photos showed a buck with one side of his rack all messed up from what I assumed was an injury to the growing antler. I couldn't wait to get back out there the next evening.
Mondays at work usually drag on, and this one was no exception. After work, I grabbed my gear and headed back out for the evening sit. I was walking to my stand, taking the normal route, when I noticed a doe already in the field in front of my stand. That was the last thing I wanted to see on the way in, because now I had to try to slip to my stand without busting her and alarming other deer in the area.
I took an alternate route through a nearby corn field, walking as quietly as possible. I made it to the stand undetected — but then, halfway up, I heard the doe blow. Busted!
I shook my head in disgust and thought, Well, I'm here now, so I might as well stick it out. For me, busting deer is bad, but to get busted climbing into a stand is even worse.
I'd been on stand maybe 45 minutes when, to my surprise, a doe came out to feed. I guess I hadn't alarmed every deer in the area after all. Within the next hour or so I watched another six deer make their way past my stand and into a nearby hay field.
One of them was the same velvet 6-pointer from the evening before. As the deer came my way I could hear them more easily than I could see them, because of the thick canopy.Â Most of the time they'd just pop out in front of me, not offering a lot of time to get ready.
I had another two does come out, and by now I was getting used to the cadence of the footsteps. I heard another deer coming my way and assumed it was just another doe. But then I caught a glimpse of big velvet through the canopy. Instantly I thought, That's him!
Wanting to downplay it, so as not to get "the fever," I went for my bow and didn't look at the rack any more. The massive buck now was right under me. I drew and tried to settle my pin on him — but I was shaking so much I couldn't hold the pin for a second on my spot.
I finally had to let down in hopes I could settle myself enough to redraw. But after I let down, he took a hard right and stayed under the overhanging limbs along the field edge. Now I had no shot. I could only watch as the giant walked away.
The only hope I had was that he would eventually move out to the hay field as the other deer had. I figured I'd see him again but wasn't sure how far away he'd be.
The buck did hang a left into the hay field and soon was 40 yards out, moving broadside. Having by now watched him for about five minutes, I was able to calm myself for a shot. I drew for the second time and gave out a louder-than- normal "blaaat" to stop him.
The buck stopped right where I wanted him to. I knew the range but also realized he might try to jump the string because he was on alert, so I told myself, Aim low. Aim low. I've shot over the backs of my share of nice bucks and didn't want to do it again.
I touched off the Easton Aftermath arrow and instantly saw the buck spin. I lost sight of the arrow as it flew but heard the thwack as it hit him. He bolted for the woods line and crashed through the brush. I could hear him running, probably heading back to his sanctuary.
I was disappointed I'd lost track of the arrow's flight, because now I didn't know where on him the hit was. The hay field was tall and ready to be cut, so I wasn't sure how easy it would be to find blood. But I did. It was dark red, and I felt a bit nervous; I was hoping to see that bright-red stuff indicating a double-lung hit. I knew it was going to be cold that night, so I decided to back out until morning.
I've watched a lot of hunting videos and TV programs on which hunters say they're happy to wait till the next day to look for a well-hit deer. That's not me. I hate waiting that long, even if I know it's smart. I'm not happy or excited, just nervous that I might not retrieve the animal. I tried to sleep that night, but as you can imagine, there wasn't much sleep to be had.
When morning finally came, I was out there on the trail at first light. I had good blood for the first 75 yards or so, but then it started slowing. Finally, at about 100 yards, the blood trail turned off entirely. My worst fears hit me: Maybe I wouldn't find him.
Knowing I needed help, I called my brother Josh (for whom I'd skipped opening day). He was happy to come. While waiting for him, I decided to start checking nearby bedding areas. I knew the general direction of travel, so I made a beeline to the closest bedding area.
I walked out onto a hogback deer love to bed on and stood still, just scanning the area for about a minute. Suddenly, only a few yards from me the buck thrashed up out of his bed! All I could see was massive velvet antlers and an even more massive body. I'd never noticed him lying there. For a second I thought the beast was coming at me, but then I was relieved to see him run away.
As the buck bolted down the hill and out of sight, I could tell he wasn't feeling well. I was in disbelief — how could he still be going? I knew at this point I'd made a bad shot on him and had to refigure my approach. I decided to back out and give the deer still more time.
I went home to meet up with Josh and give him the story. It was really starting to hit me now, after seeing this buck up close and personal and realizing he was a once-in-a-lifetime deer. Would I recover him or not?
Josh and I talked about our options. We thought about going after the buck right away, with hopes of getting another shot — but the last thing I wanted was to kick him up again. So we decided to stay out and head back out the next morning, hoping the giant would bed up and hold tight not far away.
Of course, that night was tough. I give credit to Josh for being extra positive about it all. He just kept saying, "We're going to find him. We're going to find him. I'll be back in the morning, and we'll find him."
The next morning we decided that with no blood but a general direction of travel to go by, we'd comb the hillside. Josh would look high and I low. We'd then converge at the bottom of a power cut and regroup, if need be.
I followed deer trails, looking for blood and checking tracks, hoping to find some sign to go by. I had an arrow ready, just in case I had a replay of the previous day's encounter.
As I walked I scanned every inch of my surroundings, hoping to catch a glimpse of a white belly or that massive velvet rack. But I saw nothing. Finally, an hour or so into our walk I had to stop. That's because I remembered what my 11-year-old daughter, Cassie, had told me the night before.
"Dad, don't worry," she said. "All you have to do is ask God for help, and he will make it right — even if you don't find the deer."
I took a minute to ask The Lord to "just make it right, whatever the outcome." I prayed that if I couldn't find the animal, God would help him recover and not suffer. Then I started back down the trail.
I eventually made my way close to the power cut, where I figured my brother and I would meet up. That's when I caught movement. No, it wasn't a deer, but Josh coming down the hill to meet me. We were about 25 yards apart.
And then, at almost the same time, I saw the buck.
After quickly drawing my bow and taking aim, I released on the bedded deer. The arrow hit him, but he didn't flinch. Only then did I realize the giant already was dead in his bed. We'd found him!
I couldn't believe it. I'd almost convinced myself it just wasn't meant to be — but now, here he was! Flooded with all kinds of emotions, I dropped my bow and started hooting and hollering. The deer looked even bigger now than when I'd seen him the day before. No ground shrinkage here, for sure!
After the mandatory 60-day drying period had elapsed, official Pope & Young measurers Dave Boland and Craig Pierce taped my 23-pointer at a gross score of 236 4/8 and a net of 230 4/8.
The 6x6 typical frame grosses 199 0/8, in large part due to the eight circumferences' total of 49 3/8. The greatest spread is 26 6/8, and the inside spread 19 0/8. Among velvet bucks taken by bow, my deer ranks as the largest ever from Minnesota, and No. 2 in the world.