Dawn was drawing near last Nov. 12, and Wes and Andrea Moffett were in a predicament. Their two young sons, Mason and Garrett, hadn’t fully readied their gear for the firearms opener, though they’d been instructed to do so the night before. Now their parents were impatiently waiting on them.
As precious minutes ticked by — and with the boys still not ready to go — the parents made an executive decision. “We opted them out of the hunt,” Andrea says.
Minutes later, as the hunters headed to the family farm in east-central Indiana, another potentially hunt-wrecking issue arose: They realized they’d left their shooting sticks back at the house. Upon confirming this, Wes was ready to forgo the morning’s hunt.
“My thinking was, we’re going to get here and bump everything out,” he explains. But Andrea convinced him they should just hustle on to their spots anyway.So the hunt for an epic Indiana whitetail almost didn’t come to fruition. What if the boys had readied their gear the night before? That would have changed the family dynamic of who’d hunt which setup. What if Andrea hadn’t talked her husband into hunting?
Back in late October 2013, Wes’s brother, Chad, spotted a big buck bedded in a finger of woods near a corn field the men were harvesting. As the brothers shelled corn, the buck stayed bedded. He even gave Chad an opportunity to take a couple of photos of him with his cellphone. Although those images weren’t the best, they revealed the buck to be a typical that would likely gross in the 150s or 160s Boone & Crockett.
This was the first time anyone in the family had seen this buck. What they now all understood is that they had a pretty big deer they could target during that season.
“We knew he was out there, but we didn’t go hardcore after him on that property right away,” Andrea notes. And no family member ever laid eyes on him again during the season.
The big deer continued his Houdini act once again in ’14. Nobody in the family ever laid eyes on him. All they could hope was that he was still alive and well.
In October ’15, Wes’s dad, Charlie, was doing some tillage work in one of their fields when he spotted the giant. Now they knew the buck was still around and that he’d grown even more. But as before, nobody laid eyes on the deer during the regular gun or muzzleloader seasons.
Finally, during late season, they got the break they’d been looking for. In early January ’16 Indiana held a special antlerless-only firearms season just after Christmas. Looking to put some venison into the freezer, Wes, Andrea and their boys went hunting.
On their way into their parking spot the hunters saw a few antlerless deer move into a draw. Wes had Andrea and the boys set up on one end of the draw while he walked to the other end and began to ease through it. As he worked his way into position to start the push, he detected a commotion.
“I walked around the north end of the draw and heard a snort,” Wes says. The deer then ran straight away from Wes, who recognized it as the big typical. The antlerless deer also were pushed out of the draw, but no one got any shots at them.
“He was moving fast,” Wes says. “I was glad to see he’d made it through the season.”
Several weeks later, on Jan. 31, Wes took the boys out to hunt on the last day of Indiana’s squirrel season. While out in the field, they ran into a neighboring landowner who was also familiar with the giant buck. He told Wes he’d captured very recent trail camera images of the deer without his antlers.
Based on this information, Chad and his daughter, Ella, decided to look for the buck’s sheds. They were on a neighboring landowner’s ground abutting their cousin Brian’s land when they picked up the left antler and sent a picture to Wes’s cell phone. Wes and Andrea immediately headed out to help look for the rack’s right side.
Chad and Ella had a previous engagement, so they couldn’t stick around to help look for the antler. Wes and Andrea began to search the immediate area adjacent to where the left antler had been dropped.
“We were excited to see that the buck was still alive and in the area,” Andrea remembers. “After exhausting the back half of the woods, we split up and began searching a wider area.”
Eventually, after nearly two hours of searching, they’d made their way to a thicket. They were now in a known bedding area, which was muddy and wet. They slogged on a bit in the thicket and eventually spotted the missing antler at the same time.
“Just seeing it sitting there was pretty amazing,” Andrea says.
These sheds revealed what the hunters were already starting to understand about the buck’s preferred core area. The right side was picked up about 400 yards from where Chad had found the left side on the same property. This knowledge, coupled with previous sightings of the buck, let the Moffetts know their efforts should be focused on a certain part of their land. And they had real proof of what they were dealing with. It was clear that this deer was an absolute giant. As Andrea remembers, “We got serious at that point about trying to kill the buck.”
Later in the summer they set up a few trail cameras to see what they might continue to discern about the buck’s use of the farm. In the process, they began to get images of the buck at different stages of antler development.
THE FATEFUL DAY
On opening morning of gun season, Andrea would hunt from a makeshift ground blind Wes had placed in their CRP field the previous Thursday. The setup offered a panoramic view. It was the highest point on a somewhat flat ridge that overlooked a slight valley in the fallow field.
Wes then headed to one of his trusted blind locations, about 300 yards northeast of Andrea. This stand was set up to watch an open lane that connected a couple of the timbered sections of the property adjacent to the CRP field. This is also the general area where one of their trail cameras had caught images of the buck in velvet in September.
As Andrea watched the frost-covered field, she had a cool northerly breeze in her face. Conditions were ideal. Even so, she hadn’t seen any deer in the first 30 minutes of the hunt. She decided it was time to ask for help.
“I just said a little prayer and asked God to send me something to put on the wall,” the hunter says.
Minutes later, Andrea glanced to the south and noticed a doe working toward her through the CRP. The field contained a lot of clover, and the doe was feeding on it. Then Andrea noticed another deer feeding and trailing the doe.
“I saw a part of his rack, so I knew it was a buck,” she says. But this wasn’t just a buck — this was the buck!
Andrea was sitting in a folding chair but had to reposition herself to get a better shooting position. She ended up getting out of the chair and onto her hands and knees. She was hunting with an H&R .44 Mag. Handi-Rifle.
After getting her scope lined up on the buck’s vitals, she calmed down a bit. The buck was 90 yards out when she fired.
“When I shot, the buck didn’t go anywhere,” Andrea says. “I assumed I’d missed, because he didn’t move or kick. He just stood there.”
The hunter quickly chambered another round, got lined up on the buck again and fired a second time.
“Once I got him lined up I was pretty calm,” Andrea recalls. “When I couldn’t find him (in the scope), I was nervous. All I could see was the doe, because she ran over to the fencerow.”
Andrea then continued scanning the area with her scope, trying to find the buck. Finally she spotted a tine sticking above the grass, but she couldn’t see any part of the deer’s body. Had the buck’s antler somehow shed right after the shot? Had she shot it off?
“You’ve got all kinds of stuff going through your head at that point,” the hunter laughs. “My mind was going 100 different directions.”
What Andrea didn’t know was that the buck was lying dead right where he’d stood. The CRP was just tall enough to hide every part except one antler.
Meanwhile, the doe was still standing there, as if unsure what had transpired.
“She would look over at the blind, and then look back where the buck had stood,” Andrea says. “She didn’t know what to do.”
The hunter, however, did go into action. She shot the doe, too.
Wes heard the shots, and after receiving a text from his wife he started working his way over to her. Then the couple walked over to where Andrea had seen the antler sticking up above the CRP. Upon finding the fallen giant, they began to quietly celebrate.
“I sat there and stared at him for a little while,” Andrea says. “I couldn’t believe I got him. We just kind of sat there and stared at it for a little bit. We talked about how The Lord had provided. God was like, ‘Here you go.’”
TALE OF THE TAPE
Veteran Hoosier Record Buck Program (HRBP) and B&C measurer Tony Wright of New Castle would measure the rack after the 60-day drying period ended. And as the accompanying score sheet shows, he came up with numbers rarely seen on a whitetail rack.
For instance, take the gross score of 200 0/8 inches as a basic 5x4 typical. That’s incredible. Each main beam is just shy of 30 inches. The left antler grosses 93 4/8, thanks in part to a huge G-2 tine of 15 6/8. Its counterpart on the right is 14 3/8. When you factor in that the inside spread is over 2 feet wide, you get the picture that this rack is indeed world-class. It’s among the few that are extremely wide but don’t seem to be, due to incredible height.
There are 12 inches of side-to-side differences and a 7 4/8-inch “flyer” point shooting off the back of the right G-2. If this non-typical tine hadn’t grown, the buck would have netted 188 0/8 as an 8-pointer!
While he’s of course not a true 8-pointer — that is, a clean 4x4 typical with no extra points — the buck is in effect one for scoring purposes. The left G-4 tine has no match on the right side and thus adds nothing to the net. Even with the abnormal point deducted, this buck‘s 180 4/8 net score puts him into exclusive company as one of the world’s top “8-pointers” of all time.
And to think what might have been had someone been able to shoot this deer a year earlier. Tony also measured the sheds. After adding the right side (91 1/8 typical) to the left side (91 4/8), then adding the same inside spread he had in ’16, then subtracting the side-to-side differences of 11 3/8, this buck would have grossed 206 7/8, with a net score of 195 4/8 as a clean 5x5. This would have surpassed the HRBP-recognized state typical gun mark of 193 7/8, a buck killed by friends Dwight Bates and Stacy Winkler in ’83.
But wait. What if roughly 4 4/8 inches (estimated from a trail camera photo) hadn’t broken off the left G-3? That side would have grossed 96 0/8, bumping the gross typical score to an estimated 211 3/8 and the net to roughly 204 4/8. The latter number is one only a handful of whitetails anywhere on earth are known to have reached.
The Moffetts, for their part, aren’t bummed out that they didn’t get the buck when he’d have scored even higher. “We just thank The Lord to have the opportunity to hunt such a buck,” Wes says. “It was no great hunting on our part. I’d like to tell you that it was, but it wasn’t.”
Some might suggest taking this giant whitetail was just a case of blind luck. But the Moffetts can’t help but believe Andrea’s simple prayer was answered.