December 01, 2023
Breaking News Bucks is presented by ARCUS hunting brands. To find out more click here.
On Nov. 11, 2023, Indiana bowhunter Garrett Konopa killed the buck of his lifetime. The rack on this whitetail buck is what a whitetail hunter’s dreams are made of, but this story is about more than just inches of antler and hunting strategy. This is the story of a special day, friendships, family, and a little luck.
Garrett is a U.S. Army reservist and full-time sheriff’s deputy. He was home for the weekend from basic training at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy when he took this amazing buck. The recently married 22-year-old has a love for the outdoors that was instilled at a young age. Beginning at a very early age, Garrett shared hunts with his parents, Mark and Nicole, his grandfather Tony, and several family friends. It was a common love of the outdoors that helped cement his friendship with good buddy Zach Benjamin. Garrett and Zach share trail cam photos, strategy, and a fair amount of time in the same tree, as they routinely video each other’s hunts, even when there’s a buck tag in their own pocket.
That was the case on the morning of Saturday Nov. 11, which found Garrett and Zach perched 20 feet above a picked cornfield in an old ladder stand. Even with his hunting time limited because of work obligations, Garrett had already passed up a few decent bucks on previous hunts, hoping to get an opportunity to take a mature, big-racked buck.
Garrett’s patience was about to pay off in more ways than one. Shortly after daybreak, a doe burst from cover into the cornfield, followed by three lust-crazed bucks. As Garrett and Zach sized up the bucks, Zach commented that one of the bucks looked big enough to him. Garrett handed his bow to Zach, and took over videoing with Zach’s phone. A few moments later, the biggest of the three bucks walked past their tree at 12 yards, and Zach made a great shot! Garrett captured the shot on video, and the buck went down within 80 yards.
After recovering the buck and taking lots of pictures, Garrett and Zach dropped the deer off at a local processor and returned to the same farm. The bucks were chasing, and they knew their chances at seeing another nice buck were good. This time, Garrett chose a ladder stand in a creek bottom on the opposite side of the farm. Upon arriving at the farm, they happened upon the landowner and spent a few minutes catching up. The Konopas, along with another family, have hunted this property since the mid 80s and have maintained a good relationship with the owner and her family. While the group has taken many nice bucks on the farm, at that time a 186-incher taken in 1989 was the biggest buck ever taken off the far. That buck was downed with a shotgun by family friend Tom Maxson Sr. This afternoon, Garrett and Zach were heading to Tom Sr.’s favorite stand.
Climbing into the old stand at 1:45 p.m., Garrett and Zach were immediately covered up with deer. This particular stand has a history of being better for gun hunting, as deer tend to stay just out of bow range, but this day would be different.
As a group of seven does fed around them, Garrett noticed a buck approaching the does. Garrett wasn’t sure what the buck’s rack would score, but there was really no need to field judge this buck. He was a shooter, and Garrett began looking for a shot. When the buck closed the distance to 30 yards, Garrett started to draw his bow. One of the old does caught his movement and the group busted away, seemingly ending his chances at harvesting the biggest buck he had ever seen. However, Garrett’s luck was about to change.
Dejected and shaken up by what had just transpired, the hunters watched as the buck abruptly stopped and turned his attention to a doe that had run the opposite direction. With does in every direction, the buck stood and surveyed his options, then turned and took a path that would bring him back past the tree stand. As the buck passed by, Garrett grunted with his own voice to stop the buck in a shooting lane. At 40 yards, the buck stood broadside, and Garrett put a Rage two-blade broadhead perfectly behind his shoulder. The buck ran about 30 yards, stopped, staggered and went down.
Zach had captured the entire thing on video. Overcome with adrenaline and emotion, Garrett immediately called his dad and a close family friend, telling them that he had just shot a buck that he thought would go at least 160. Zach took a quick picture of Garrett with his buck, and when his dad received the picture in a text, it was very apparent to him that Garrett had underestimated the buck’s rack!
Garrett and Zach left the deer in the woods with their gear and returned to Garrett’s parents’ house to meet up with his dad. Garrett’s dad, Mark, realizing from the picture that his son had just done something very special, was emotional as he hugged and congratulated his son. The boy that he and their buddies had mentored since childhood had just shot a buck bigger than any of them had ever seen.
The group loaded up a four-wheeler and returned to the creek to recover the buck. Upon seeing the deer in person, Mark was stunned by the size of the rack. The young woodsmen and their mentor spent a long time just looking at the buck, enjoying a moment they all realized would likely never happen again. After taking dozens of pictures and some additional video, they headed to Mark’s house to share the moment with family and friends. By now, four hours after the shot, pictures had begun to circulate among family and friends, and Garrett got a hero’s welcome upon arriving at his parents’ barn.
The huge rack has a typical 10-point frame. With long, thick main beams, it carries mass up through the tines. The rack actually makes the mature buck’s head look small. Later that evening, a quick scoring session put the rack’s gross “green” score at 198 4/8. The rack’s spread was just under 23 inches, and main beams were just over 26 inches. Six of the mass measurements were over five inches. The rack is very symmetrical, but two long, split brow tines will bring the net score closer to 180 net typical. Garrett isn’t complaining about deductions. Visually, the rack is simply stunning.
The area where this buck was taken consists of creek bottom, small woodlots and crop fields. The area receives a fair amount of hunting pressure, but most hunters on adjacent farms let young bucks walk. Garrett and other hunters in the immediate area had no pictures of this buck, but a good family friend who lives a couple of miles away did have pictures of the deer from the previous two years. The deer had put on an estimated 30 inches of antler from one season to the next.
Garrett and Zach both shot their deer with the same Mathews Z7 Extreme bow, which was handed down to Garrett by his father. Both Mark and Garrett have taken many deer with this old Mathews. The tree stands both deer were shot from were set with the help of a dear family friend who has long since passed away. The farm where the buck was taken is hunted with permission obtained in 1985, and Garrett is especially grateful for the owners who have shared this special place with his family for decades. Brad Reinholt Taxidermy in Moores Hill, Indiana, is doing a full-body mount of the buck. The Reinholt family has been close friends with the Konopa’s for many years. Brad is a full-time Indiana Conservation Officer and was the inspiration behind Garrett choosing to pursue a career in law enforcement. Garrett says he will cherish all the sentimental aspects of his hunt as he admires the mount for years to come.
The day after this successful hunt, Garrett and his wife, Maddy, learned that they are about to become parents! Garrett is already looking forward to sharing his passion for hunting and the outdoors with the new addition to the family. With generations of hunting experience and family tradition behind them, one can’t help but think this kid will someday be a big-buck killer, too!
The story of this giant Hoosier state whitetail doesn’t include years of history, sets of shed antlers or elaborate management practices. However, what it lacks in common with many modern day big buck stories, it makes up for with all the old-fashioned elements of a great hunting tale: friendship, family, a hand-me-down bow and a little luck.
Note: Author Tommy Maxson is a longtime Konopa family friend who has shared countless hunts, including this one, with the family.