As my dad and I packed the car and prepared to leave our home in Berlin, Wisconsin, for a week of hunting in Missouri during the 2009 season, I was confident that this hunting trip would be like any other well-thought-out hunting trip we had taken. Boy was I wrong.
Coming on the trip with us was a good friend of my dad’s, Joel Hunt, and his daughter, Hannah. She was 12 years old at the time, and I was 13. This was her first hunting trip to Missouri, and it was my second.
Missouri became our place to go thanks to another friend of my dad’s, Shane McCormick, who was also with us on the trip and who lived in Missouri as a young kid. He still had ties to many farmers that let him hunt their land.
We arrived in Missouri on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, around 10:30 p.m. We set up our pull-behind camper and hit the hay, planning to hang stands the next morning on three tracts of land Shane had set up for us to hunt.
We woke up bright and early, ate breakfast and got ready to hang stands. Our first stop was at the home of a farmer named Lloyd, the same man who let us hunt on his land the year before. He told us he was sorry but his son already told other hunters they could hunt there. This was a heartbreaker. The best spot we had lined up — the honey hole, the gold mine — already had other hunters. This wasn’t the best way to start out the trip, but we left with our heads held high, believing that the other tracts of land would work out well.
The next stop was at a farm run by a man named Louis. We took our Polaris Ranger off the trailer, put a few stands in the back, and headed out. We drove the Ranger right down to the meeting point of a small hardwoods and a freshly cut cornfield. Deer tracks, buck rubs and good scrapes everywhere. We were all getting pretty excited by the looks of the land. We drove a little farther only to have that come to an end. We spotted a single-man tree stand hanging on a massive oak tree. At first we weren’t worried about it, because we thought that perhaps it had been set up for bow season. A little ways down we saw a couple more ladder stands set up on the treeline.
I thought to myself, Oh no, here we go again. I was right. Unknown to Louis, his friend, Cecil, had set up to hunt. I have to admit we were all getting nervous as it was almost 2 p.m. the day before opening morning and we were still without a place to hunt! When Cecil heard this he felt really bad. He did a really nice thing, and found us another area to try.
This tract of land was a huge block that had brushy fence lines all around the outside of it and picked cornfields in the middle. We found a decent spot to hang our stand, a small finger in the cornfield where the trees extended into the middle of the field. It also had a big creek bottom in it. Our stand was about 50 yards back in the finger, and close enough to the field so we could set a decoy out. We cleared two 20-foot shooting lanes — one going right in front of us and one going away from us.
After a long day full of twists and turns, we finally settled in to try to get some sleep, even though I can never sleep the night before opening day.
We all woke up around 4 a.m., ate breakfast, got dressed in blaze orange, said good luck to each other and took off towards our side of the cornfield. Once we got there, my dad parked the truck on the side of the road, and we got our guns, backpacks, decoy and other necessities for an all-day sit. On the walk to the stand, we lost one of our decoy’s horns. We finally got to our stand and set out our half-racked 8-pointer 60 yards out in the cornfield. Then we climbed up into our stand, with a gun in each of our hands and waited.
Opening time came, and there still was no sign of a deer. Dad and I were starting to get a little worried. By now we should have heard some leaves crunching, a stick breaking or some sign of life. There was nothing here, not even birds or a squirrel. The only thing we had seen was a lone coyote out in the middle of the field.
Dad and I were having a nice quiet talk when I heard something to the left of us. It was a really quick thumping sound, so I turned my head to see a buck with a monster set of horns darting at us at full bore. There was a corn stalk still with a cob of corn stuck in the antlers of this buck. I really had no idea how many points there were because the buck wasn’t stopping for anything. His head was down, legs were going crazy and he was in a full-out sprint.
I lifted my Ruger .243 off my lap, brought it to my shoulder and looked through my Nikon Monarch scope. It all happened so fast, because this deer was almost to my first shooting lane. I quickly put the scope on him and started following him. As Dad watched me, afterwards he said it looked like I was shooting trap by how fast I was swinging the gun. As soon as he got to the first shooting lane, I put the crosshairs right on the front of his shoulder, quickly pulled the trigger and let a bullet fly. By the time I worked the bolt to reload my gun he was gone.
I turned to Dad and asked him “Well, do you think I hit him?” Dad shrugged and told me that after I shot, he didn’t slow down one bit. He jumped a 15-foot-wide creek and didn’t break his pace. Dad convinced me that it was a difficult shot, and that most hunters would have missed.
So I sat there disappointed, but I still thought that I hit that buck. So I waited for a while until I couldn’t take it anymore. I asked Dad if I could go and see if there was any blood where he ran through the second shooting lane. Dad said I had to wait, and it seemed like an eternity before Dad said he would go look. He told me to stay in the tree. I agreed to his deal a
s I watched him climb down the tree stand and slowly walk towards the opening. As he entered the small patch of trees I saw him start walking around. Then he calmly bent down, stood up and started walking towards our stand. As he climbed up and sat down next to me I asked him, “Did you find anything?” He told me, “Don’t get too excited, but there’s blood everywhere!”
Immediately my heart started racing, and I was all ready to get out of the stand and look until Dad told me I had to wait a half-hour. That was the longest 30 minutes of my life. I kept looking at the time on my phone and counting down. As soon as it hit 30 minutes, I told Dad. He still wanted to wait longer, but we both got out of the stand and headed towards the blood. He told me that I could track it, and he would stand on the side with his gun in case the wounded buck made a run for cover. I started down the blood trail, but after 75 yards, the trail abruptly stopped. Down in the creek bottom was my monster buck.
I yelled to Dad and motioned for him to come over. We lifted the buck’s head up and Dad looked at me and said, “You just shot a Cabela’s buck.” Dad and I had always dreamt of what it would be like to shoot a buck worthy of making it on Cabela’s wall of fame. I couldn’t stop smiling, and my heart was pounding now more than ever.
The buck had a total of 21 points, and I knew that for sure because I counted them at least 10 times. I tagged the deer and actually sat right on him for an hour until Dad got a hold of Shane to help drag it out of the creek.
I hunted two of the last three days with my dad. We found another property to hunt on for those days, which resulted in my dad taking a nice 10-pointer. As for Shane, Joel and Hannah, they unfortunately didn’t get anything on the trip as the weather took a turn for the worse.
The official score is 203 7/8 inches non-typical. Hunting with Joel on this trip worked out well, as he owns his own taxidermy shop, Joel Hunt Taxidermy, and he’s the best around. I was so excited when I saw the half mount finished. Now the buck is in our basement, and that’s where he’s going to stay for a long time.