Bryon Raper's dream was to someday own the old family homestead that had been sold many years ago. As a boy, he vowed to buy back the farm if he ever had the chance.
He had no way of knowing it back then, but his dream would come true 40 years later. And to make it even sweeter, he'd end up shooting the buck of a lifetime after reacquiring that property.
The Early Years
"I started hunting with my dad and uncle, Loren Schook, when I was 12 years old," Bryon begins. "That first year I shot a doe, and it was quite the deal, considering there wasn't all that many deer in the late '60s and early '70s. Iowa was still on a draw system for doe tags, and it was like winning the lottery when you got one.
"Originally the farm was purchased by my Grandpa Raper in 1955. My dad, Paul Raper, purchased the farm in 1966. It stayed in the family until 1973, when it was sold. The land changed hands two more times between 1977 and 1983. When the last owners had both passed away, the family approached me about buying it," Bryon explains.
This tract in Cherokee County proves you don't need several square miles of prime land to have quality deer hunting.
"The farm is just 93 acres," the owner says. "But compared to the surrounding ground, it's the best hunting property in the area. It's hilly and consists of about 45 acres of timber and 40 acres of crop ground. The rest consists of cedar trees and CRP. There's a creek that meanders around the edge of the timber and creates a natural funnel deer tend to follow."
Big Buck Rumors
"The year prior to my buying the farm, the landowners didn't allow anyone to hunt," Bryon notes. "That was good news, because it meant the deer would be relatively undisturbed.
"Shortly after buying the farm, I learned the neighbors had been seeing a big non-typical running the property for the past two years. They didn't have any pictures, but they thought he would easily go 200 inches.
"I started setting out trail cameras in July, hoping to get a better idea of the number and quality of deer we had to hunt. Since the farm hadn't been hunted the year before, I had high hopes a couple of big bucks had moved in.
"Late August I pulled the memory cards and was surprised to find a video clip of the big non-typical. The buck walked straight up to the camera and posed broadside, then meandered off. It was like he had read the script. I was excited, to say the least."
Bryon's enthusiasm soon began to wane a bit, however. "We didn't get many pictures of bucks early on (in the fall), and that had me a little concerned," he recalls. "It wasn't looking too good in terms of deer to choose from. Other than the non-typical, I had pictures of a big 8-pointer. That buck had been seen so many times going through the CRP field I nicknamed him the 'CRP' buck."
The Season Opens
Once opening day rolled around, it didn't take Bryon long to see the non-typical with his own eyes.
"It was shortly after the season opened," he recalls. "Ironically, it was in the middle of the day. That pretty much confirmed that his core area was on my farm."
"It was sometime in mid-October when I learned one of the neighbors had had a close encounter with the buck on opening day. Evidently his arrow hit a tree branch and was deflected. From what I was told, the arrow missed the vitals completely and sliced a hole through one of the buck's ears."
"I had a couple of stands in the bottom on the side hill overlooking a 40-acre field. On the far end of the field along the fence line a narrow strip of timber forms an oxbow maybe 40 or 50 yards wide. It's a natural corridor the deer tend to follow to and from the crop fields and their bedding area. From those stands I watched deer travel through the pinch point on numerous occasions."
One of them was the non-typical.
"The first three weeks of October the sightings became more frequent, and it was obvious the buck felt comfortable moving about, even during the daylight hours," Bryon says. "He would travel to the north end to feed a good hour before sunset and return to his bedding area between 8:00 and 8:30 in the morning. He was pretty consistent with his travel pattern.
"Just about anytime we went into the bottom, we could count on seeing the CRP buck. Although he was a nice buck, I felt he needed another year. Besides, I'd set my sights on the non-typical I'd nicknamed 'King.'"
"It was a couple days before Halloween when I had my first encounter with the buck," Bryon continues. "There were a couple of minutes of shooting light remaining, and I was just beginning to climb out of the stand when I spotted the buck 50 yards away on the hillside. Unfortunately, he was staring directly at me. Evidently he had been bedded along the corn field.
"I was pretty upset with myself, mainly because I figured my chances of seeing him again were slim to none. The buck eventually walked off and out of sight. As it got dark I heard rustling in the cornfield, and then it got quiet. Figuring he had moved on, I climbed down and backed out.
"The following morning I hunted a different stand, but in the same general area. Around 8:30 I spotted movement to the north where I had seen the big buck the night before. Much to my surprise, it was the King, and he was following the same trail.
"The buck passed by a box elder tree, which is the only tree big enough for a stand in the area. All season just about every deer stopped at that tree or walked within range. There was a scrape close by that the bucks and does would stop at. I can't tell you how many times I'd thought about hanging a stand in that tree, but hadn't for whatever reason."
The Rut Kicks In
"The first week of November rutting activity started picking up, so I hunted every chance I got. By then I had seen the non-typical several times but couldn't close the gap.
"I had three days off work, beginning Friday, Nov. 9," the bowhunter says. "That morning I hunted a stand on the north hillside overlooking the soybean field, CRP and narrow strip of timber. It was around 8:30 when I spotted movement along the tree line. It was the CRP buck heading back to his bedding area.
"Like many times before, he stopped under the box elder tree and worked the scrape. Although I had no intentions of shooting him, I got out my grunt call and gave several soft grunts. Like before, he didn't pay any attention and continued about his business.
"That morning, I made up my mind to hang a stand in the box elder tree. Shortly after lunch I headed back with a stand. The tree is pretty gnarly, and I couldn't get more than eight feet off the ground, but I had great cover around me. The main trail was just seven steps away."
Bryon hung the stand, cleared a bit of brush and a couple of shooting lanes and then slipped back out. "Since I'd just hung the stand, I decided to let the area cool down and hunt elsewhere that evening," he says.
Patience Pays Off
"My son, Ben, decided to hunt the next morning, so I told him he could choose any stand but the new one. Ben's shot several nice bucks and told me it was my turn to shoot a big one. I told him I hoped so, because I was getting kind of old.
"He decided to hunt the north stand on the hillside, close to where I'd had the encounter with the non-typical two weeks before. That particular stand is like sitting in a stadium, where you can see nearly everything below. The bottom is fairly easy to get into for morning hunts, because nothing had bedded down yet. The wind was calm with clear skies, and the temperature was around 40 degrees. We left the house early and arrived a good half-hour before daylight. I had a gut feeling it was going to be a great day.
"It was just getting light enough to shoot when I happened to look down and saw a doe standing on the trail, looking directly at me," Bryon continues. "I have no idea where she came from, but naturally, she didn't stick around long.
"It was probably 45 minutes later when I looked over and spotted the CRP buck walking the edge of the field. It was Nov. 10 — by now I'm getting an itchy trigger finger, and he's looking pretty good.
"I tried every call imaginable, but like all the other times, he didn't show any interest. He continued on about his business and made a circle around two sides of the field. Eventually, he made his way up the fence line. About 10 minutes later the CRP buck came back again. This time he cut across the CRP and walked up the hill."
Clearly daytime buck activity was picking up with the rut. But when would the non-typical make another appearance?
"It was around 7:45 when I started wondering where the King was," Bryon remembers. "He normally came through around this time. Those thoughts hadn't cleared my mind when I looked toward the west and saw a big deer moving behind a screen of thick brush. My jaw dropped in disbelief. It was the King, and he was walking nonchalantly along the tree line.
"I thought to myself, 'Yeah, here we go.' I got out my call and grunted a few times, then followed up with a few doe bleats. The buck looked in my direction a couple of times but didn't show any interest. He continued walking up the north fence line, then turned and started heading east toward a stand I have about halfway through a patch of CRP. It's a stand Ben could have hunted but chose not to. Ironically, the buck walked within 15 yards of the stand and started making a scrape. He put on a pretty good show, pawing the ground, throwing dirt and thrashing his antlers in the trees. It was fun watching him work himself into a frenzy.
"All of a sudden, I heard what sounded like someone rattling antlers," Bryon says. "At first I thought it was someone hunting nearby, but then I spotted the two young 6-pointers going at it hot and heavy, maybe 100 yards away. I watched through the binoculars as they pushed each other back and forth. For a couple of little guys, they were sure making a ruckus."
And Bryon wasn't the only spectator interested in the scuffle.
"I glanced over, and the King was walking toward them," he says. "The second the two small bucks spotted him, they took off running. One followed the fence line, and the other in my direction. I started thinking this just might work out if the big boy follows the small buck heading my way.
"That's when I decided to try the snort-wheeze call," Bryon says. "I hadn't ever used it but thought now might be a good time. I let out a snort-wheeze, and the buck stopped and stared my way. I let out another snort-wheeze, and that definitely got his attention. He laid back his ears and started walking stiff-legged toward the small buck. I knew then I was going to get my chance.
"He was probably 40 yards away yet, but I got into position and came to full draw. There was a limb that hung out and partially covered the trail, so I'd have to wait until he passed beneath it. The small buck passed in front of me, paused long enough to look up and then looked back. The King was cutting the distance, and the little guy took off on a fast trot."
After all this effort to get on the non-typical, the moment of truth appeared to be nearly at hand. But key decisions still lay ahead.
"As the buck continued down the trail, I ran the scenario through my mind. I thought about stopping him, but at the same time worried that I might spook him, or he might see me. About the time he reached the overhanging branch, he came to a stop. My forearm partially covered my face and his head. His vitals were covered by the tree branch, but I peeked over my forearm and could see the tops of his antlers turn toward me. There was no doubt he was looking directly at me. That's when I noticed his tail twitching and knew it was now or never.
"I leaned out beyond the branch, settled the pin on the vitals and let the arrow rip," Bryon says. "I heard the distinct sound of the broadhead busting ribcage. Instantly, the buck trotted back in the opposite direction. It wasn't until I saw him running straight away did I realize just how big he was. He was an absolute giant!"
From all appearances, the buck also was in serious trouble. "I could see blood pouring from his side where the 2-blade Rage had sliced through the ribs. The shot placement looked a tad back and maybe a bit low, but still solid. I figured he wouldn't go far and continued watching him thru the binoculars.
"I'm guessing he'd gone maybe 125 yards when he lay down. That's when I started second-guessing the shot and decided to give him another 5 or 6 hours. I sat in the stand for another 45 minutes before climbing down.
"I met up with Ben and was surprised to hear that he had watched the whole thing from his stand. We discussed the shot placement and decided to back out and come back later."
As tempting as it had to be to continue the search for the shot buck, Bryon knew better than to push his luck. He wasn't taking any chances with this deer.
"It was sometime mid-afternoon when Ben and I headed back out," he says. "When we arrived, I found the arrow right away. Blood on the arrow and ground indicated a lung hit.
"We had a good blood trail for 40 or 50 yards," Bryon recalls. "And then it started petering out. I started questioning whether I'd gotten only one lung and whether or not to back out and give him more time. That's when I saw the buck jump up and take off running. I was overcome with a sick feeling. At that point I was almost certain it was a one-lung hit and decided to wait until the next morning to continue the search."
Leaving a deer overnight is always tough. Knowing it's a giant can't make it any easier. But Bryon had the discipline to take his time.
"We waited until around 9 to head back out, picking up the trail where the buck had jumped up," the bowhunter recalls. "From there, we went another 30 yards or so and lost the trail when he crossed the creek.
"Not knowing which direction he'd gone, I found the heaviest used trail and started looking for blood," Bryon continues. "I hadn't gone far when I picked up the trail again. Long story short, we'd probably gone 250 yards in total when Ben shouted, 'There he is!'
"I was in shock and couldn't believe we found him," the bowhunter admits. "All I could think about was running down there and laying my hands on the horns. The old cliché regarding lack of ground shrinkage certainly rang true in this case. The buck was absolutely huge and had more points than I had originally thought.
"Sitting over the deer, I started thinking about all the things that had to happen right in order to take a buck like this," Bryon concludes. "The best part was the fact that I shot the buck on the family homestead, where I'd shot my first deer. And it couldn't have been sweeter."
As deer hunters, we all have dreams. But the one Bryon Raper had, and acted on, was a bit out of the norm. He wanted to buy back the family farm. Forty years later, not only did he do just that, he also shot the buck of a lifetime on it. Taking this monster was the icing on the cake . . . and certainly worth the wait.
Any serious whitetail hunter knows that it's not often that we get a second chance on the buck of a lifetime, or even a first chance for that matter. But luck was on the side of Kyle Heuerman and his girlfriend Jennifer Weaver when they put an arrow through this 196-inch Illinois brute.
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We estimate he was 7 1/2 years old. That's based on photos from 2010, when he clearly wasn't over 3 1/2. When I got him he weighed over 300 pounds on the hoof, as suspected.
Official B&C measurer Glen Salow came up with a 'green ' gross score of 258 7/8 inches. After the 60-day drying period, he again taped the rack. This time he got a gross non-typical score of 261 3/8, with a net of 230 7/8. The gross score evidently makes this the highest-scoring wild whitetail ever harvested on professional video.
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Jon's no stranger to free-ranging whitetails across the central plains, having guided a number of clients to trophies and harvesting many big ones himself. In fact, going into 2013 he'd shot two net Boone & Crocketts: one a non-typical scoring over 200, the other a typical from public land.
With such success behind him, Jon felt all of his hunting dreams already had come true. At least, he did until a buck he'd never seen showed up on one of his trail cameras.
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Knowing I couldn't even come to my knees without breaking the little concealment we had, I decided to lie on my left side, using my left elbow for as solid a rest as could be achieved within the slight incline of the old fencerow. But when I shouldered the rifle, the sight of the crosshairs oriented at a 10-4 o'clock angle was definitely a different look from the normal 12-6 position we all practice from. Even so, I didn't figure that would matter if I aimed at the right spot and squeezed off a clean shot.
I settled the crosshairs where I needed to place the bullet and steadied the rifle. Whispering 'fire in the hole ' while floating the crosshairs on the spot, I gently squeezed the trigger until the recoil removed the buck from my view.
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With a whopping 40 inches of non-typical growth, he has a gross Boone & Crockett score of 215 3/8. The rack's 21 6/8-inch inside spread certainly helps to show off its unique character. He was just a special deer, and very much a result of patience in both management and hunting.
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Ryan Sullivan was only 19 when, during the 2013 season, he arrowed an Arkansas buck of gigantic proportions. Like many of his fellow Arkansans, Ryan is a deer and duck fanatic. For several years, however, he gave up most of his duck season to lock horns with the world-class buck.
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Junior's outstanding whitetail is the biggest ever recorded from Monroe County, and he ranks as one of the Bluegrass State's top bucks from the 2013-14 season. This great non-typical also is the latest member of Kentucky's all-time Top 30 list.
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At 16 yards, Mikell took aim at the giant and released his arrow. In an instant, the shaft had passed through him. The deer instantly whirled and ran out of sight . . . but then, within seconds the archer heard him crash to the ground.
'I remained in the stand for several minutes to gather my thoughts and calm down, ' Mikell says. 'I'm sure the entire encounter only took a few minutes, but it seemed an eternity. '
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Three double-digit tines of 10 2/8 to 13 5/8 inches, plus 7 1/8- and 9 3/8-inch brows and a 21 3/8-inch inside spread, add plenty to this regal crown. Put everything together and you have a gross 9-point frame score of 193 6/8. That's as big as it sounds.
Typical asymmetry and 11 6/8 inches of abnormal points total 25 1/8 inches of deductions, so as a typical, the deer nets 'only ' 168 5/8. But the 8Ã—5 rack's total gross score of 205 4/8 is much more reflective of its stunning size. Regardless of score, the Robinson buck is clearly a marvel of nature.
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The action was fast and furious right from the get-go. At daybreak a doe busted through the cedar thicket with an eight-point suitor following close behind. The doe, however, wanted nothing to do with her pursuer and jumped into a nearby pond in an attempt to flee the buck.
This, however, wasn't the last of the action. Nick continued to watch several bucks harass does throughout the morning, but chose not to take a shot at them.
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