"If I ever had that buck in front of me, I'd have a heart attack!"
How many times have we heard excited hunters say those words? Many of us have experienced the thrill of discovering a big buck on trail camera, and the "heart attack" expression has become a common turn of phrase. We've also seen numerous TV personalities shoot bucks and carry on to the extent that you think they need to calm down before risking a cardiac episode.
In September 2014, Illinois hunter Mark Teague got a trail camera photo of a giant non-typical buck. Mark wondered if he'd be able to handle an encounter with the massive-racked brute. Little did he realize, though, just how prophetic that thought would be.
On Oct. 28, 2014, Mark climbed into his ladder stand and quickly started to see deer. He was bowhunting only a short distance from his daughter, Sarah, who was trying to kill her first deer with a bow. A small buck made an appearance at Mark's stand, but the hunter had no intention of shooting him, knowing the giant non-typical was in the area. The small buck eventually exited, and Mark started to relax and enjoy the peaceful evening. But suddenly, he spotted the heavy antlers of a definite shooter coming through the brush. As the big deer approached, Mark stood in order to get a clear shooting lane.
The buck stopped at 29 yards, allowing Mark the chance to release his Rage-tipped arrow. But due to the angle of the shot, Mark's bowstring hit his sleeve, causing the arrow to completely miss the buck. Remarkably, the buck didn't spook!
Of course, Mark's first thought was to get another arrow nocked. But by the time he did, the buck had moved. To get a second shot, the bowhunter would have to lean out halfway around the tree.
Just as he was about to get into position for a follow-up shot, Mark felt dizzy, developed a cold sweat and experienced blurred vision. He wasn't sure what was happening, but he knew he needed to sit down.
After doing so, he stayed in the stand for a few minutes, watching as the giant buck walked toward where Sarah was hunting. But even then, Mark still didn't feel well. Needing to get his feet on the ground, he carefully climbed down the ladder, then eased his way to Sarah's location.
They eventually made it back home. Once there, Mark's wife insisted he go the hospital. When he got there, it was confirmed that the strange feelings he'd noted in the tree stand were in fact indicators of cardiac arrest. After an evaluation, the staff concluded Mark had indeed suffered a heart attack. He was surprised at the news, considering he's only 51 years old and in good shape. He'd had no previous indications he was at risk of a heart attack.
Refusing to be held down by the heart attack he'd just suffered, the next day Mark went to work. And against doctor's orders, he went hunting that evening. Believe it or not, he saw the giant non-typical again, but no shot was offered. Although naturally excited to see the buck, the bowhunter tried to stay calm. He didn't want to get riled up to the point of suffering another heart attack.
Mark continued hunting the buck during the first and second shotgun seasons, but he had no luck. It wasn't until the Monday after the second gun season that Mark discovered another photo of the buck on trail camera. Needless to say, the hunter was relieved to discover the buck had survived.
On Jan. 2, 2015, Mark stopped while on his way out of the woods to check a camera located over a scrape. What he found was amazing. The buck's photo had been taken while working the scrape just two minutes before Mark had arrived. Hoping to close the deal, the bowhunter continued to pursue the buck for the remainder of the season. But on Jan. 15, 2015, the last weekend of archery season, Mark watched the buck walk away onto the neighbor's property. After a trying season, Mark would have to wait to get another chance at the "Heart Attack Buck."
In hopes of documenting that the buck was still around, in early June Mark set out some trail cameras in the area. But while he got photos of several nice bucks, there was no sign of the elusive giant. Neither did Mark see him, either with a camera or his own eyes, in the early weeks of bow season. As October drew toward its close, Mark had nearly convinced himself the buck hadn't made it through the winter.
Then, on a rainy Halloween evening, Mark realized just how wrong he was. That evening, the bowhunter was in a newly hung tree stand perched above the flood plain of a creek, with some shooting lanes cleared through the dense brush. Sarah was in a tree stand only 70 yards away. Already disappointed that he'd made it into the woods late, and frustrated by the water running over his hat brim, Mark decided he'd had about as much fun as he could stand. However, as he began to lower his bow, something told him he really should stay in the tree a few more minutes. As hunters, many of us have learned (most often the hard way) that it's wise to listen to that small voice in the back of your head!
Fortunately, Mark decided to sit tight for a bit longer. And sure enough, a few minutes later he saw a doe and what looked like a big buck. The deer were headed toward Sarah. After losing sight of the buck in the thick underbrush, Mark soon spotted the heavy-antlered brute not far from his own tree. Sure enough, it was the big non-typical. Mark hastily grabbed the bow he'd only minutes earlier pulled back into the stand.
The buck vanished. But then, roughly five minutes later, Mark turned and spotted trees shaking only 20 yards behind his stand. The buck had somehow slipped past the stand and was now rubbing a tree and making a scrape. The cover was so thick Mark still couldn't get a shot, though, and he feared this encounter would be a bust. Luckily, two does emerged from the thicket and headed right toward Mark's stand. And at the sight of them, the buck roared.
"I'd never heard a buck make that sound or make such a loud call," Mark says. "It was more like a roar than a grunt."
The vocalization alerted the does, and they ran through an opening only 15 yards from Mark's position. And in perfect fashion, the buck was right behind them.
"Everything went on automatic," says Mark. "I was at full draw when the buck hit the opening. At the shot, he ran only 10-12 feet and then stopped with his tail flickering. He then took off running for maybe 30 yards, stopped again, staggered and went down."
Mark managed to wait 30 minutes before getting down and retrieving his arrow. He nocked another one and very slowly and quietly moved to where he'd seen the buck go down. Sure enough, the huge whitetail was dead right there.
(Unknown to Mark, as this was happening, Sarah also was shooting her first deer with a bow. It was indeed a special day for the Teague family.)
While standing over his giant buck, Mark realized the date was only two days past the anniversary of his "heart attack" encounter with the beast. Fortunately, this time the archer had remained relatively calm, and it was the buck that had ended up in serious trouble!
Finally able to lay his hands on the giant, Mark could tell he'd started to go downhill. In 2014, he'd been a 16-pointer with four drop tines. Now he had 14 points, with one intact drop and another broken off. But little did that matter to Mark. The buck is still outstanding, with each main beam measuring over 26 inches. One G-2 tine is 12 inches, and the other, along with both G-3s, is 10 inches. The inside spread measures a very strong 23 inches.
In addition to good mass, this Sangamon County whitetail also has 15 1/8 inches of abnormal points. That pushes the gross non-typical score to 184 1/8 inches, with a net of 177 5/8. Steve McCoy officially measured the buck for Pope & Young, while Kurt Hergenrother of Creative Whitetail Taxidermy in Pleasant Plains, Illinois, mounted the special trophy.
After the memorable events of the past two seasons, Mark's general attitude about bowhunting has both changed and remained the same. He's still a hardcore bowhunter, no doubt. However, after having had a heart attack in the tree stand, he has a new perspective. He realizes whitetail hunting is all about enjoyment. As easy as it can be to let a big buck stress you out, it's important to remain aware that it's still just a deer.
That's excellent advice, especially considering that the general hunting population is getting older. Enjoy every hunt, including that rush of adrenaline when a big buck shows up. Just make sure that when the hunt is over, what's lying on the ground is the buck — not you!