January 09, 2023
By Josh Honeycutt
Blake Rice is a passionate hunter who has always dreamed of shooting big deer. He got a nice 150-inch velvet deer in Tennessee, and he hoped to top that. But he had no idea of the manner it would occur.
On Nov. 8, 2022, that dream came to fruition in Illinois. He’d already hunted about 20 days this season. He was hunting with an outfitter and returned a few different times to hunt the farm he was allotted.
He’d been hunting a couple of deer that would score around 170. There was a third giant that was even bigger, but it spent most of its time about a mile away. Because of the distance, and thinking it was out of play, Blake hadn’t thought about that deer much.
Anticipating the hunt, he put out a deer decoy and settled into his tree saddle around 3:00 p.m. Soon after, one of his target bucks — a big 9-pointer — walked into the field. Unfortunately, a car pulled off the edge of a nearby road, and the driver glassed the deer. Obviously, it ran off.
Blake was upset but hoped for the best. Then, around sunset, Blake looked to the right and spotted his other target buck standing 250 yards away. Blake grunted and snort-wheezed at the massive 8-point. The deer disappeared back into cover and circled all the way around Blake. It reappeared and started snort-wheezing at the decoy, but the buck wouldn’t come any closer than 120 yards.
That continued for several minutes. Then, Blake instinctively looked back where that buck originally came from. There stood a third buck. It had a huge body, but Blake couldn’t see its rack yet.
“I grabbed my binoculars, and when I looked up, all I could see was rack,” Blake says. “I realized it was a lot bigger deer than what I’d been looking at.”
Blake grunted again. The bigger buck looked up and then put its head back down. Then, Blake snort-wheezed again. The buck started running straight toward the decoy and ran all the way to the base of his tree. Once underneath Blake, the buck grunt-roared, challenging the decoy and Blake’s vocalizations.
The buck tried to jump the fence but got tangled in some tree limbs. As the buck untangled, Blake spun, got into position and drew his bow. The buck cleared the debris and started toward the decoy again. After the giant turned broadside, Blake took the 7-yard shot.
The deer whirled, ran off and disappeared over the horizon. However, Blake didn’t hear the buck reach the dry, crunchy leaves in the distant tree line. Therefore, he thought the buck died in the field. Still, he started second-guessing himself.
“The longer I sat there and had the shakes to deal with, I started to wonder if I made a great shot or bad shot,” Blake remembers.
After calming down, Blake descended the tree and returned to camp. As they sat down to dinner, he described the deer to everyone. “I knew of the big deer, but I had never seen a picture of it,” Blake says. One of the farmers was there while I was describing what it looked like. He pulled it up on his phone and turned it around.”
“That’s a 200-inch deer we’ve been hunting,” the farmer told Blake.
As that soaked in, Blake became even more nervous about the situation. He continued to replay the hunt in his mind. Eventually, about four hours later, Blake and the farmer returned to start the blood-trailing process.
They located the arrow, which had bubbly lung blood on it. This reassured Blake that it was a good hit. Still, they couldn’t find much sign on the ground. But he knew the deer didn’t reach the tree line, so it likely fell in the field somewhere.
A few minutes later, the farmer spotted the deer just over the rise, but hadn’t told Blake yet. So, he returned to where Blake was searching for blood and told him to come look over the rise. Eventually, Blake relented and followed the guy up there.
“When we got there, it was unreal,” Blake says. “I knew it was big but had no idea it was that big of a deer until I saw him lying on the ground.”
The buck scores 208 7/8 inches. It was aged at 8 1/2 years old. Two other hunters had several of the buck’s sheds from previous seasons. Based on those, it grew its biggest rack at 7 1/2 years old.
“I’ve always dreamed of killing big deer,” Blake says. “But I never dreamed of killing a 200-inch deer. My big-deer dreams was a 170- or 175-inch deer. It’s still sinking in. Every time I touch those antlers, I’m in awe thinking about it. I replay how it all went down.”