Does this photo of a joyful hunter look familiar? If you've spent much time browsing social media sites in the past few months, there's a good chance you've seen it.
There's also a good chance you've heard the buck was shot in one of at least five different states, by at least four different guys and that the score was one of at least three different numbers. It's funny how the Internet spreads information — and misinformation — about big deer.
Truth is, I shot this great buck in eastern Ohio's Wayne County on the third day of the 2013 bow season. And while as of this writing I haven't had him officially measured for the Pope & Young Club's records, one measurer for another scoring system has given the 22-pointer a gross score of 256 inches.
Everything about this Ohio buck is out of the ordinary, and so is the story of the quest to take him. You see, while I was involved in his pursuit for many months, I wasn't even the guy who was going to hunt him.
The Story Begins
An anonymous friend had the honor of getting a glimpse of this giant months earlier, as he was bedded in his woods with four other deer. This was on land I didn't even hunt. Once my friend and I knew of the mass the beast carried, we began to plan for bow season.
Through use of trail cameras and other scouting, we began to study the buck. We ultimately figured out his bedding and feeding areas and most of his daily travel tendencies. He never traveled far from home during the time we scouted him. In retrospect, we think that helps explain how he lived long enough to become such a phenomenal buck.
It was important that we never invaded his sanctuary. He truly was a creature of habit. Once we learned those habits, we did whatever we could to avoid spooking him. That included never pulling a camera card when he might be disturbed.
Midway through September, as the soybean fields began to turn yellow, the buck spent more time in the woods and less in the fields. For us, that was positive — it meant more time on camera. In fact, as he began to show up on camera more often, in just a few days we were able to capture the process of him shedding his velvet. Those pictures were amazing.
A week before season, with the buck's pattern nailed down, my friend and I went out to hang stands. It was a rainy Sept. 21.
The 21st of each month now is of tremendous meaning for me . . . and an unfortunate one, at that. You see, my dad, Jim, passed away suddenly last April 21. That date now marks each month's passing for me.
As my friend and I hung stands on Sept. 21, I told him I'd really like to video him hunting the monster whitetail. It would be great to capture footage of him claiming the buck we'd spent so much time on. My friend looked at me with nothing but sincerity and said, "I'd rather you not."
For a moment, I didn't understand. But what he said next made it all clear.
"You're going to be the one hunting this deer first," he told me.
I never expected that. This was his deer, in my book. All along we'd worked together in preparation for him to make the harvest. So I was in awe that he was giving me the opportunity to be the hunter.
"If you get this deer, it was meant to be," my friend said.
I can't explain how I felt that entire final week before the season. But I was excited. In anticipation, I practiced shooting with all of my gear on. I shot standing, and I shot sitting. With my stand directly in line with the buck's most likely approach to the feeding spot, I felt it likely I'd have to shoot while sitting in order to avoid spooking him.
Finally, it was Sept. 28: opening day of bow season. I barely slept the night before but found I was in no way tired when I headed out in the predawn. I made my way to the stand well before 6 a.m. My paces were counted, and no flashlight was used.
Early on, the owls kept me company. I began to listen to their hooting well before dawn and ended my day with their hooting welcoming the dusk. In between, I spent all day in that tree, seeing only a 9-pointer I wasn't there to take.
I can't help admitting my disappointment in that day. We felt we had the giant's pattern down pat, but he was nowhere to be seen. Out of respect for my friend's wishes I didn't hunt Sunday. I then worked on Monday, with plans to get in a good afternoon hunt.
But when I finally got into the stand I was flustered, because I was off schedule. I had to rush to kill my scent where I parked, again at the base of the tree and then yet again when I climbed into the stand. But the wind was in my favor.
Once I was able to relax, I looked over the hardwoods. To me, there's nothing better than looking across the land from 25 feet in the air. I find my time in the woods a comforting chance to think about my dad. That's when I feel closest to him.
As dusk began to set in, I heard a rustle to my northwest. I chuckled to myself and said under my breath, "OK, Dad. Now bring him my way." I chuckled because for some reason I really didn't expect the rustle to have been caused by the big buck.
A few minutes later, my eyes darted to movement on one of this deer's frequented paths. There he was...coming right toward me! It was about to happen just as we'd planned!
The Moment of Truth
As the buck crossed behind a large tree, he gave me enough time to check my equipment and draw without being seen. With me waiting at full draw he lingered, carefully coming through the cover.
As the deer was coming in so slowly, my arms finally began to fade. I desperately needed the right shot. I knew that if I missed this deer, we'd most likely never see him again. This was the moment my friend and I had worked so hard for.
Finally I had the shot I wanted, at 33 yards. I aimed and released. But just as I touched off the arrow, something unexpected happened: The buck began to take a step backward.
Rarely does a flawed shot result in a happy ending. It typically turns into a story of the one that got away. But this time was different. As the deer stepped back, my arrow entered just in front of his shoulder, severing a major artery. The giant ran not over 45 yards before hitting the ground.
I sat motionless, in shock over what just had taken place. My dream was no dream any more; it was reality.
After about five minutes I finally regained my composure enough to lower my gear from the stand. I was shaking so badly I had to focus on making my legs work. It was a chore not to fall.
As I walked to the dead deer and picked up his massive rack, you can't fathom how I felt. All of the pictures we'd collected of him couldn't have prepared me for what I had in my hands. I of course had to share this moment with my friend and called him. We now laugh about that conversation, because I was nearly incoherent. All he could make out was, "He's on the ground."
The next call was to my wife. We laugh about that one, too, because the only thing she really could understand my saying was, "I got him."
I was happy when my friend finally got to my side. It was an honor to share something so spectacular with him. His pure selflessness gave me the opportunity to tell this story.
And I have no doubt my late dad played a part in this, as well. When I was a boy, he instilled in me a deep respect for nature. He taught me it's really something to be proud of to harvest from the land God graciously provides. He's the man who taught me the woods, and I can never thank him enough for it.
In fact, the arrow that killed this giant was dedicated to him. Before the season, on one vane I'd written "Jim" and "DAD'S Shot." I'll treasure this special arrow, along with the memory of this amazing hunt, for the rest of my life.
1. Missouri Department of Conservation
This monster was found in St. Louis County, Mo., in 1981, and scored 333 7/8 B&C. And no, that's not a typo. Before the days of trail cameras and the popularization of deer management practices, there were good ol' boys, flannel shirts and Granddaddy's war rifle. In those days, a hunter actually found this deer after it had died and reported it to the local game warden. After confirming no foul play was involved, the buck was finally scored and easily holds the number one spot in the B&C world record book. The state of Missouri still displays the deer, proud to sit atop this list of eye-popping trophies.
2. Portage County, Ohio
This buck, which holds the No. 2 spot all time, was hit by a train in Ohio in 1940 and hung in a local sportsman's club for years. The buck was finally scored by fabled outdoor writer and antler collector Dick Idol after he acquired the rack, and it scored 328 2/8 B&C. Not too shabby. It was recovered in Portage County, Ohio, and now lives with other trophies at Bass Pro Shops.
3. Tony Lovstuen
Call it a case of beginner's luck or simply being at the right place at the right time, but either way, 15-year-old Tony Lovstuen isn't complaining. Lovstuen headed out with his dad for a youth season hunt in Monroe County, Iowa, in 2003 and downed the No. 3 non-typical whitetail of all time. Not bad. The buck had an official score of 307 5/8 B&C. Lovstuen and his dad were hunting from a ground blind when the bruiser walked out, and after an ill-placed shot and a good night's sleep, they tracked the buck the next day and celebrated their success.
4. Timothy Beck
Ever since deer management efforts have been ramped up, Indiana has produced a strong number of trophy deer. Timothy Beck's 2012 trophy is a case in point — the No. 4 all time non-typical scored 305 7/8 B&C. Beck shot the buck with his slug gun in peak rut season. And while it may still be considered a sleeper state by some, Indiana ranks 7th in B&C non-typical entries over the last decade.
5. Jerry Bryant
While states like Indiana may be considered sleeper states, Illinois is definitely the heavyweight favorite in the ring, and for good reason. A good example is Jerry Bryant's 304 3/8 B&C trophy, which was killed in Fulton County, Ill., in 2001. The massive buck holds the No. 5 spot for non-typicals and was taken with a crossbow. Bryant, who had a prior injury from a work accident, shot the buck as it trailed a doe in front of his treestand.
6. Tony Fulton
Tony Fulton's No. 6 all time non-typical is a sight to behold, with 45 scoreable points and a total score of 295 6/8 B&C. Fulton killed the monster buck in Winston County, Miss., in 1995. After his wife told him to get his butt in a treestand and out of the house, Fulton headed to a small family property and a stand that hadn't produced a deer sighting all season. Fulton was happy to see a doe walk out, but shocked when the No. 6 non-typical of all time gave chase. A fairly poor shot meant a difficult tracking job, but Fulton finally located the buck and claimed his spot on this list.
7. Scott Dexter
In a state like Illinois, it's no surprise when a trophy is bagged, but that doesn't make it any less special. Scott Dexter found that out firsthand in 2004 when he killed the No. 7 non-typical of all time, scoring 295 3/8 B&C. Dexter was hunting with a muzzleloader on the last day of that season and until then had never seen the buck. After a slow archery season, Dexter was elated when the No. 7 non-typical of all time walked out in front of him, and he didn't miss his opportunity. The buck was killed in McDonough County.
8. Jonathan Schmucker
Jonathan Schmucker and his fellow community of Amish farmers knew about this buck but tried their best to keep it a secret from outsiders. Trying to ensure that one of the locals killed it, Schmucker was finally able to pattern the buck in 2006 and would watch it pass through the fields from his barn roof. Finally, during Ohio's archery opening season, he used his climbing treestand to get in a prime location. Schmucker fired his crossbow and dropped the buck, which scored 295 3/8 B&C and was killed in Adams County, Ohio. The buck holds the No. 8 all time spot for non-typical whitetails.
9. Michael Beatty
As any bowhunter can attest, it's a difficult thing to leave a wounded buck overnight before tracking. That's the decision Michael Beatty faced in 2000 when he downed the No. 9 trophy on our list, a 294 B&C buck killed in Greene County, Ohio. With drizzling rain coming down, Beatty decided to pick up the trail in the morning, and it paid off big for him. He suffered through a sleepless night, but found the buck just 30 yards from where he stopped tracking the day before.
10. Buckhorn Museum & Saloon
In Wild West fashion, Albert Fredrich, owner of the Buckhorn Saloon, used to give hunters drinks in exchange for the giant antlers they'd bring in. God bless Texas. That was way back in 1892, so by the middle of the 20th century the saloon had amassed quite the collection of rare antlers. In 1955 someone followed a lead to the saloon, where two sets of giant antlers were x-rayed and scored. As it turned out, the bigger set was a pair of sheds, but the smaller set was legit and scored 284 3/8 B&C — good enough for the No. 10 spot on our biggest non-typical whitetails list. We can't say much for the taxidermy job on this one, but the rack itself is a dandy.
11. Wesley O'Brien
Maybe it's the luck of the Irish, but whatever it is, Wesley O'Brien won't complain. As a native Texan on a Nebraska whitetail hunt in 2009, O'Brien spotted what was obviously a massive buck about 250 yards away. He put on his best stalk, got within 100 yards, and let fly with his .270. The buck ran about 30 yards and then dropped, and when it was all over, O'Brien said he'd take luck over skill any day of the week. We'll have to agree with him on this one. The buck, which now holds the No. 11 spot all time for non-typical whitetails, scored 284 B&C and was killed in Richardson County, Neb.
12. Larry Raveling
There are some stories that truly are stranger than fiction. That's certainly the case for Larry Raveling, who was on an old fashioned Iowa deer drive in 1972 when he saw a giant deer with a cloth entangled in its antlers. The legend of Old Rag Horn was born, and it lived on with a bit of infamy after Raveling shot and missed over its back that same day. A year later Old Rag Horn had been shot in the leg but lived, which is when Raveling caught up with the deer again. This time he didn't miss, killing the No. 12 non-typical of all time — which scored 282 B&C — in Clay County, Iowa.
13. James McMurray
Thanks to a strong effort by the state of Louisiana to promote deer management, areas like Big Lake started producing trophy deer in the 1990s. That was good news for public land hunter James McMurray, who killed the No. 13 non-typical of all time in Tensas Parish, La., in 1994. The buck scored 281 6/8 B&C and also captured the Louisiana state record.
14. Joseph Waters
Patience is a virtue, we're told, but it's not always easy advice to follow. Joe Waters knew all about it, especially after a slow deer season in 1987. He'd almost given up on killing a buck, and had even thought about tagging out on a doe and calling it a day. But his dad's encouragement to stay patient stuck with him and he held off. A few hours later, the No. 14 non-typical whitetail of all time was dead at his feet. The buck scored 280 4/8 B&C and was killed in Shawnee County, Kan., in 1987.
15. Neil Morin
Alberta farmer Neil Morin had been studying the giant buck around his property for some time, and he'd gotten it into his head he'd be the one to kill it. He was driving home one afternoon when he spotted the buck, and he quickly went back to get his rifle. Morin was able to stalk the buck to about 30 yards, at which point he shot his .300 Win. Mag. and took down the No. 15 non-typical on our list. The buck scored 279 6/8 B&C and was killed in Whitemud Creek, Alberta, in 1991.
16. Harold Smith
Harold Smith's No. 16 non-typical of all time scored an official 279 3/8 B&C and was killed in Ta Ta Creek, British Columbia, in 1951. With a massive 33-inch outside spread, the deer looks like some kind of mule deer/whitetail hybrid. Its origins may be a mystery, but the status of this record is not — it is firmly placed in the No. 16 spot.
17. Doug Klinger
Doug Klinger killed this 277 5/8 B&C trophy in 1976 in Hardisty, Alberta. In case you haven't noticed, our Canadian friends from the North have a propensity for producing some of the biggest whitetails around, including the No. 1 typical of all time, killed by Milo Hansen in Biggar, Saskatchewan.
18. Del Austin
Del Austin is something of a modern day archery hero in Nebraska because of his No. 18 all time non-typical trophy, which scored 277 3/8 B&C and was killed in 1962. The buck was killed in Hall County, Neb., and was nicknamed 'Old Mossy Horns. ' Austin's friend had been hunting the infamous deer for five years, but it was Austin that finally dropped it. In the hunting world that's just the way it goes.
19. Kyle Simmons
Kyle Simmons rarely asked for time off, but when he did, chances are it was related to deer season. Simmons kept regular trail cameras on the trail of a monster buck he'd been chasing in Jackson County, Iowa, and finally connected in 2008. He killed the No. 19 non-typical of all time, scoring 275 5/8 B&C, on October 16 out of a climbing treestand.
20. Helgie Eymundson
In November 2006, Helgie Eymundson and his wife both took shots at the No. 20 biggest non-typical of all time, but neither were able to connect. Blame it on the cold if you want, but Eymundson couldn't rest until he'd tracked down the monster buck. His persistence paid off, and in 2007 he killed the No. 20 buck on our list, scoring 274 B&C and killed in Cross Lake, Alberta.