You might think the state of Maine is loaded with giant whitetails. In reality, it isn't.
Midwestern states harbor greater numbers of big bucks, for sure. But the buck killed last season by Ben Thibodeau near Millvale, Maine, rivals the best of them. What's more, it was the hunter's first deer!
Oct. 31, 2015, was opening day of Maine's gun season. But Ben had other plans. He and his wife had just purchased a house, and for insurance reasons, he really needed to finish some repairs to the roof. No biggie for a guy who works in the construction trade, but time was ticking on the repair job.
Besides, this was going to be Ben's third season chasing whitetails, and he still had nothing to show for it. After approximately two dozen days spent hunting over the previous two seasons, Ben had yet to even lay eyes on a whitetail. So you can understand why he figured this day would be no different.
But the hunter's wife, Casey, changed his mind. She talked him into going, if only for opening morning. That way, he at least could say he'd given it another shot. After that, he could come home and still get some work done on the roof in the afternoon.
Ben suspects his wife had to be questioning whether or not he'd ever actually see a deer, but she didn't want him to have any regrets about not going. So he called his stepfather, Byron Dill, and made plans for what would be his third opening day.
Byron and Ben had permission to hunt a small property, roughly 10 acres, that consists of a single field with woods around it. Although it's small, Byron has seen a fair number of deer on the place throughout the past couple of seasons they'd been hunting it.
Byron had spent most of his life hunting, but he'd then given it up for the most part until Ben had moved back to Maine three years earlier. When Ben had returned from Oregon, where he'd been in the Coast Guard, Byron's own desire to hunt whitetails had been renewed.
He'd never seemed to have trouble seeing deer on the property the two seasons they'd hunted it, but Ben had lacked such good fortune. A lot of times they'd been forced to hunt separately, due to conflicting schedules. Ben could only laugh when Byron gave him reports on the days he couldn't join him.
"Byron would always tell me about the deer and the bucks he had seen when he went hunting, yet I never saw any when I went," chuckles Ben.
Despite Byron's good fortune in seeing deer, the previous two seasons he'd never fired a shot. He didn't want to do anything to hurt his stepson's chances of tagging his first deer. So he chose to simply hold off until Ben had an opportunity.
But before opening day ever really began, Ben thought it might be another wash. After settling into his blind, he heard a gunshot in the distance. Daylight hadn't yet broken.
"I remember thinking there was no way it was legal shooting light yet," recalls Ben. "I couldn't see well enough to shoot at all. A quick check of my watch verified the shot I'd just heard was in fact prior to legal time."
As shooting light made its debut, Ben chambered a round into his Savage Model 111 7mm Rem. Mag. At this point, he never imagined that the too-early shot he'd heard might be about to help him.
"My blind sits right in the middle of a small finger of woods that juts out into a field," Ben explains. "A little after 7:00 a.m., I thought I heard something in the field to my right. I scanned the area but didn't see anything. Then I looked to my left, and I saw a solid shape.
"I couldn't make the object out very clearly," Ben continues, "and I thought it was probably a clump of goldenrod or something. But then, I saw it twitch and immediately thought, 'Oh my gosh, it's a deer!' I was really excited at that point, and I was nervous about making too much noise. This was the first deer I had ever seen in three years of hunting.'"
Although the deer wasn't close to Ben's position, the hunter was extremely nervous he might do something to alarm it. He wanted to make sure he didn't spook the first deer he'd ever actually spotted in the wild.
"I began moving very slowly and quietly," Ben remembers. "As I began bringing my gun up to prepare for a possible shot, the deer raised its head and I caught a flash of antler, so I then knew it was a buck."
And that's all Ben needed to know. The antlers atop the buck's head meant he was a legal deer, and a definite shooter for Ben. He wasn't planning to be picky on his first deer, especially considering he'd gone so long without even seeing one. So after confirming it was a buck, Ben was ready to take aim.
The deer was walking toward a grove of alders, which made Ben unsure of his chances of getting a shot. But as the hunter settled the crosshairs of his scope on the buck, he realized he'd have but a second to make it happen.
Ben could clearly see the buck's right shoulder between two trees, and he knew this would be his only chance for a shot. He wasted no time putting the crosshairs on the buck's vitals and squeezing the trigger.
The buck disappeared at the shot, but Ben quickly noticed a deer's head pop in the same place. Panic mode set in as Ben wondered whether he'd missed. He scrambled to chamber another round and find an opening among the trees to squeeze another shot through. But no such opportunity presented itself.
Then, a few seconds later, Ben heard his stepfather shoot. Ben was certain Byron had just shot the buck he'd missed, and he was elated someone had gotten him!
"Byron has been hunting all of his life and has taken a fair amount of deer, so I was confident that he made a good shot," explains Ben. "I knew he had either shot the buck I missed or that I may have possibly hit the buck, and he finished him off. I was really excited either way."
Upon walking to the spot where the deer had been standing when he'd shot, Ben was shocked to notice a dead deer lying in the grass. He could see a couple tines protruding from the vegetation, and he immediately knew he'd killed the deer he'd shot at. In fact, he'd dropped him in his tracks.
Naturally, Ben couldn't contain his excitement. He began waving to Byron and fist pumping. Who wouldn't? He'd just killed his first deer!
As Byron walked up, he quickly noticed something Ben had somehow missed in all of his excitement.
"Holy cow!" he exclaimed. "You just shot the massive double-drop-tine buck!"
But Ben wasn't buying it; he thought his stepfather might be trying to pull one over on him. However, as they approached the downed deer, it became obvious the buck Ben had shot was no ordinary whitetail.
"We just kind of looked at each other, and our jaws dropped," Ben remembers. "I couldn't believe it. It's the kind of buck you only see in magazines."
As hard as it was for the hunters to do, they decided to leave Ben's deer in the field in order to look for the one Byron had shot at. As it turned out, there had been another buck in the field, but it had been out of Ben's view. Upon realizing Byron's shot had been a clean miss, the men got back to the business of tending to Ben's deer lying dead in the field.
As is often the case with giant bucks, the excitement never dwindled. When the men returned to the fallen buck, they again high-fived and reveled in the awesomeness of what had just happened.
Then the realization hit them: They had a real chore ahead of them trying to get the deer to the truck. Try as they might, the whitetail was just too heavy for them to drag that far. So Byron left to get his 4-wheeler, which would make the retrieval much easier.
On his way back to the kill site, Byron stopped and asked the landowner to tag along to see the huge buck Ben had taken.
"Holy cow, you got the Millvale Monster!" blurted out the landowner upon seeing the beast.
Ben was a bit shocked that the landowner was so familiar with his buck.
"Oh, yeah, I have seen this deer for the last three years or so," he said. "Heck, I almost hit him with my Camaro last year!"
Byron had heard of the huge deer, and later review turned up some dim images of him in the background of trail camera photos. But Byron had never seen him with his own eyes. How appropriate that when this ghost of a buck finally fell, it was on Halloween.
Since downing the wide non-typical, Ben has experienced both the good and bad side of killing a trophy buck. In addition to those that are elated for him in taking his massive first buck, others have let envy take over. That will never change, as some will always resort to jealousy over praise. But overall, the good has far outweighed any of the bad.
And as the saying goes: "Behind every good man is a great woman." That might seem a cliché, but it certainly holds true for Ben Thibodeau. After all, if not for Casey, this unlikely story of a special whitetail hunt might never have been written.