August 01, 2023
I thought I had just shot a buck that might possibly make the Boone and Crockett record book. What I saw when I found him was a buck that dreams are made of; he was way bigger than I had originally thought!
I grew up hunting in Lebanon, Tennessee. Hunting with my dad, uncles and cousins was something that I will forever cherish. We were simple, blue-collar hunters; and we did it for the enjoyment of the hunt and being with the people you loved. As I aged and began studying the those who consistently killed mature bucks, I began to increase my knowledge of deer hunting. I learned what it took to kill mature deer and started implementing it into my hunt strategy.
Although I have killed some decent bucks in Tennessee, I always dreamed of killing a Pope Young or Boone and Crockett deer. Those opportunities are few in Tennessee, but in my early 30s I had the opportunity to start hunting Southern Illinois with some buddies from work. Greg Allison and I work together and have been bowhunting Southern Illinois for several years. Both of us have shot a few Pope and Young bucks, and we each have a buck that grosses in the 160s. To us Tennessee boys, that’s more than I could have ever dreamed of growing up!
Greg and I normally wait to start hunting until Nov. 4, and we hunt through Thanksgiving weekend off and on. The forecasts for the last weekend of October 2020 were calling for a cold front to come through. We made the decision to take off work Thursday and Friday of that weekend and haul the camper up early Thursday morning to start hunting that afternoon. The cold front was supposed to come through Friday, and Saturday morning would be a high-pressure, cold day.
We hunted that Friday, Oct. 30, morning and evening without much action. We saw a few deer including some smaller bucks, but nothing to get excited about. We still had two more days to hunt before we had to be back to work in Tennessee.
On Halloween morning we had a southeast wind, so we hunted a different part of the farm. This particular stand is a half-mile from the road, and it sits at the back of a standing corn field that is split down the middle by a ditch full of willows and bushy trees. That ditch meets the edge of the woods at the back of the corn field, and at the head of this ditch where it meets the woods is a great pinch point to hunt.
The morning started off slow, but around 8:00 a.m. I turned to my west and saw antlers coming, so I grabbed my bow and stood to range where this buck would come out in my shooting lanes. When he did, he was at 35 yards and quartering to me. This was a buck that would have been my biggest typical bow buck. He was headed towards the ditch, which would give me an even better shot at 25 yards. However, the buck hung up at 35 yards quartering to me with his nose in the air. Eventually, the buck caught my scent and didn’t like it, so he tucked tail and went back the way he had come from. I hunted until noon before getting down to meet Greg for lunch.
I was back in the same stand by 2:00 p.m. that afternoon. Greg was now hunting the same field as me, but he was about 350 yards to my northeast. After a couple hours of no action, I began to hear what sounded like corn stalks breaking, but when I looked out across the sea of corn in the direction it came from everything looked normal. This continued for most of the afternoon, but it wasn’t until the sun began to set that I could tell what direction it was coming from. The last time I heard it I scanned to my east, and I could make out a single stalk of corn moving in the field.
It didn’t take long to find what was making the noise in the corn. A good buck was bedded in the corn at that spot and would reach up and grab a cob off the stalk to eat. I watched him in his bed for close to 30 minutes, then he stood and began feeding toward a smaller buck in the field. It was at this moment that I realized this buck was a giant and probably the biggest I had ever seen, but it was still hard to see exactly how big he was because of the standing corn. I eventually lost sight of him.
I kept my attention on the standing corn, trying to spot the giant again since it was getting close to last light. After a few seconds, I noticed movement in the corn 50 yards from me; it was the giant heading towards the ditch. He stayed in the corn as he worked his way to the ditch with his head up, and he stopped 10 yards from the ditch where my thermals were dropping and threw his head up and licked his nose to try and smell one last time.
He trusted his nose and began angling out of the corn and into my shooting lane. As he was coming out, I turned to grab my bow with my left hand, and a doe I never noticed snorted and took off. I turned with bow in hand back towards the giant. He was at 20 yards with his attention on the doe that just blew. This gave me the opportunity to draw and settle my pin. He made it out to 25 yards and stopped, so I settled again and squeezed off my shot. I could see the lumenok on my arrow find its mark, but the buck had started walking as I shot, so the hit was back.
He bounded off into the corn and stopped at 40 yards, hunched up and tucked his tail. I had no second shot because of the tall corn. Eventually, he walked out of sight. Knowing it was a fatal hit, but one that would take a while for the giant to expire, I waited until well after dark before getting down and going straight to the truck.
After talking it through with Greg, we decided the best decision was to leave everything as is and come back the next day. I got in touch with a tracking service since it was likely a gut shot. The tracker had other tracks the following morning, so he couldn’t meet until 1:00 p.m. the next afternoon. It was long and stressful!
After meeting the tracker and his hound, we went straight to the arrow that had been left alone the night before. We found the arrow, but there was little blood at the site of impact and what blood we did find looked like liver blood. The winds were extremely high that day and there were blue bird skies with low humidity. Along with these conditions and the standing corn, the tracker warned that his hound may have a hard time with a no-blood trail.
Ultimately, the tracker didn’t find the buck. Greg and I had to head back to Tennessee, and I worked Monday through Thursday that week and was able to get off Friday. So I headed back to Illinois Thursday night and would begin the search again Friday morning.
My plan was to get to the farm mid-morning and watch for buzzards. If that didn’t work, I would walk the whole creek looking for the rest of the weekend since deer hit back tend to go to water. I got to the farm at 8:00 a.m. and scanned for buzzards. After about five minutes of scanning, I noticed a buzzard fly out of a tree at the creek only 80 yards or so from my truck. I went straight to the tree and once at the creek I looked across and saw the giant.
As originally thought, the shot ended up being a little back; but because of the angle it still only exited three inches behind the opposite shoulder.
As I stated in the beginning, he was way bigger than I had originally thought. I thought he was a 170-class 10- or 12-point. He was a mainframe 12-point, but what I didn’t notice was all the extra kickers he had. His 12-point typical frame grosses 179 1/8, and he has a total of 11 abnormal points adding up to 29 4/8 inches. He grosses 209 3/8 as a non-typical. His final net non-typical score was 196 1/8 with a total of 23 points. I now refer to him as “MJ” for number 23 Michael Jordan. He is officially accepted into the Boone and Crockett record book and also Pope and Young.
It was a surreal moment to walk up on a buck of this magnitude, but I was also disappointed that I didn’t find him the night of the shot. Every deer hunter dreams of the illusive 200-inch buck, and I’m humbled that I was able to close the chapter on a buck that beat that mark. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Keep dreaming, fellow hunters!