It’s crazy to think this story really starts about a decade ago. I’ll begin there because of a very valuable lesson that has resulted in great success over the years.
While attending college, I obtained permission to hunt a farm in northern Missouri. The first couple years I came up empty-handed but got trail camera photos of great bucks in the area. The terrain proved to be tough to hunt, with the biggest ridges and ditches I’d ever seen. The canvas of the land created swirling winds, which often resulted in busted hunts.
I knew there had to be a better stand location than any of my current setups, and finding it became my point of emphasis during the off-season. After I’d consumed another great big bowl of tag soup, shed season quickly rolled around, and I put the miles on the boots. Yes, I was looking for prized antlers, but more importantly, I was on a scouting mission. Shed season is a great time of year to gather knowledge, as the foliage is gone and trails and deer sign are much easier to see.
I’ll never forget the moment I was walking down a trail and discovered exactly what I needed. I found myself skirting around one of the deep ditches and suddenly realized that not one butmanytrails all funneled into the same spot. The deer were clearly avoiding the ditch, and I had just found the holy grail of funnels. I looked around and picked out the perfect cedar within bow range of where all the trails came together.
That fall, my first weekend hunting the new funnel location during the rut resulted in my biggest Missouri buck to date. It solidified that the time put into off-season scouting would pay off, and I knew this would be a spot destined for success for years to come. What I didn’t realize was that a decade later, the results of that eye-opening scouting mission would blossom into the chance of a lifetime at a buck bigger than my wildest dreams.
In early November 2017, I started getting photos of a deer I felt had a lot of potential. He was the one deer I hoped would make it another season. I had him pegged at 3 1/2 years old (4 1/2 at most), so I knew he had his best rack yet to come. He was a big framed 8-pointer with one extra inside tine and good mass.
I never laid eyes on the buck, but he was on the trail camera often in the daylight during November and near my favorite funnel stand. I was super excited when my camera check after the season confirmed he’d made it through all the pressure applied during Missouri’s firearms and muzzleloader seasons.
Heading into the ’18 archery season, I had one deer on my mind. I put out trail cameras but didn’t get any photos of the buck in velvet, so I headed into the season wonderin g if he’d return. In the back of my mind I knew he hadn’t shown up on camera until early November the year before, so I was still optimistic.
A mid-October cold front found me sitting in the cedar tree stand surrounded by a fresh blanket of snow. I was hoping the cooler temps would get the buck to travel more and possibly show himself. Not only did I not see the buck, but also a trail camera check showed no sign of him. Another nice dip in the temperature had me sitting in the cedar tree on October 27th. It was a slow morning of deer activity, but the fact that November was only a few days away and the chance of the buck returning to the area kept my hopes high. I got down from the stand and pulled my trail camera card and headed back to the house.I couldn’t get there fast enough. But scanning the photos was a major disappointment . . . until the very last set of photos.Bingo! There he was!My Reconyx camera had snapped photos of him at 3:00 a.m. on Oct. 27. He’d been there just a couple hours before I arrived!
And not only was he there, but he was bigger than I’d ever imagined he would be. His frame was incredible, and the mass carried to the end of each tine. The tines were somewhat bladed and looked like giant knives or swords, so I decided to call him “Havalon.” I thought he was big enough to flirt with the magical number of 170 inches as just an 8-pointer. I really couldn’t believe my eyes and thought,No, no way is he that big, but I was sure hoping to find out how big he actually was.
With a deer this special, I knew I needed to devote all possible free time to hunting him before the fast-approaching rifle season started. As the calendar turned over to sweet November, my excitement was barely containable. If Havalon was going to make a mistake, I felt it would be soon.
Clayton Campbell and I are filming buddies forHeartland Bowhunter, which airs on Outdoor Channel. We’ve been taking turns filming each other’s hunts for over 10 years now. We lined up our schedules to give it a whirl Nov. 5-8. I felt that at some point in that span, one of us would get a chance at the buck.
I was first up to bat the morning of Nov. 5, hunting the favorite funnel stand. Despite its being one of the best calendar days of the year, we only saw a few does. The evening hunt found us in another area because of the wind direction, but again we didn’t see much.
We switched things up on Nov. 6, with Clayton behind the bow. That didn’t change our luck, either. The temperature really dipped on Nov. 7, and Clayton was back in the saddle at the favorite funnel stand. That morning the action picked up, as we saw some nice younger bucks cruising, along with some does. We left our gear in the tree and returned to it for the evening hunt, which resulted in similar sightings.
As the light faded that evening, so did our confidence. Up until this point we’d put in a lot of effort in both Kansas and Missouri but had yet to see a mature buck while hunting. So the night of Nov. 7 we debated whether to try one last time or move on. The wind direction was right to sit the favorite funnel stand yet again, so we decided to give it one last go.
That night I scanned through trail camera photos from the year before and noticed Havalon had walked by on the morning of Nov. 8.What if he does it all over again one year later?I immediately thought.How cool would that be?I’ve heard from others and even seen it on my trail cams over the years that a buck sometimes will return to an area during the rut like clockwork year after year. Havalon had frequented this area the previous November, so we were really hoping he’d do it again.
Just before bed I texted my wife and some buddies that I had a breakfast reservation with Havalon in the morning. My alarm was set and suddenly the excitement and glimmer of hope that he’d finally show himself returned.
The next morning was the coldestof the season. The temperature was 18 degrees, and I had on so many layers of clothes it was almost comical. I was behind the bow this time and sitting on pins and needles as daylight broke.
The morning started with a group of does filtering by. A short time later came another group. But to my surprise, no bucks were harassing them.
A little later we saw a couple small bucks cruising, so the action was pretty good. But then of course it slowed down, and it was getting late in the morning. Over an hour passed with no deer activity. Clayton and I enjoyed some coffee and joked around about how depressing the drive back home was going to be and how we had yet to even see a mature deer throughout the season so far. I then looked at my watch and said, “We’re leaving in 15 minutes.”
Only a few minutes later, I caught movement about 100 yards away across the ridge. I got my binoculars on the spot and could tell it was a deer. Then the head came up.
“It’s him!” I told Clayton. “It’s Havalon!”
I could tell he was on the path some does had taken earlier, but they’d ended up hitting another trail and skirting us at 50 yards. I was scared this giant buck might do the same. He walked down the hillside, and I drew my bow as he came into view at 50 yards. When he got to the funnel I’d found a decade ago, he had a decision to make. This is where all the trails come together, and I was going to at least get a chance — but I was hoping he’d take the path that led right by us at 10 yards.
Thirty seconds later, Havalon still hadn’t made up his mind. Then he took five steps closer and evaluated his options for another 30 seconds. By this time, adrenaline was really pumping; I felt as if I could hold the bow forever. Finally he made up his mind, flicked his tail, put his head down and started to walk at a good pace on the 10-yard trail.
He got through a little dip and angled up the hillside toward us on a steady walk. It was all coming together just as I’d dreamed for years and years. When he got to within 13 yards, I stopped him, settled the pin and released. Immediately I knew the arrow had hit its mark. He ran about 80 yards and tipped over.
Although I was in shock, I erupted with excitement. Our luck had turned around on a dime about 10 minutes before calling it a trip. I simply couldn’t believe what just happened. It hit me that this was a very special moment, and I was in no hurry to get down and put my hands on him. Instead, I celebrated with Clayton in the tree. I decided that rather than text everyone, I’d go “old school” and call all my closest hunting buddies and family members. My papa was first on the list.
An hour and a half later, we finally got out of the stand. As I turned the corner of the ditch the deer had fallen into, there he was. I was in disbelief all over again. The deer was far bigger than any of us had ever thought, which was mind-blowing. The frame, mass and tine length were crazy. At this point I realized truly how exceptional he was. I just kept saying he was a mega-giant. He was a mainframe 8-pointer with a kicker off the back of each brow tine. He was easily the biggest buck of my life and the 8-pointer of all 8-pointers for me.
After packing out the buck and spending several more hours blowing up the phone lines, we decided to score him. I’ve never been a big score guy, but I was anxious to see what he measured, as it would perhaps put it all into perspective. I’ll never forget jumping up and down and hugging my college buddy Travis Milne and screaming like a little kid after we came up with a gross score just north of 180 inches. For a mainframe 8, that is simply unbelievable.
After a mandatory 60-day drying period, I had Havalon officially scored. He’s actually the largest basic 8-pointer ever taken with a bow in Missouri. He’s truly amazing and such a dream come true. I’m so thankful of Clayton being by my side through the years and for capturing incredible video of the hunt. I also can’t thank my wife, family and friends enough for supporting my passion and being with me every step of the way.