February 12, 2024
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Matt Heppleston was after his first Massachusetts bowkill in 2023. He had been trying to take a whitetail by bow for the previous four years, but he had nothing to show for his efforts. That was until a unique shed antler put him on the path to success.
His long-time hunting partner, Ryan Ruef, discovered a massive, palmated shed in mid-February 2022, and the pair began running cameras in July to see if the buck might still be around. The cameras produced photos of a buck far better than either of them had ever encountered, and the hunt was on!
That fall, during the archery season, Ryan spotted the huge buck chasing does on two separate occasions. Unfortunately, each time the deer stayed out of range and moved too quickly to chance a shot. Later, word another hunter had shot at the deer in the shotgun season fueled more anxiety. Then there were no more photos from their cameras and the season ended. Neither Matt nor Ryan found the buck’s sheds in early 2023, and the question remained: Was the big buck dead, or just out of the area? They would not have the answer until June 2023; that’s when the hunting buddies put out 25 trail cameras.
Three days later, they received pictures of the buck, showing him not only alive but also with a bigger rack! He was even using the same area as he did the year before. By September the pair had learned their No. 1 target ran with a 140-class 8-point. Matt and Ryan decided to schedule rutcations for early November, when they thought they had better odds to kill the giant.
The first of those hunts were duds, so Matt decided to try slipping into the giant’s summer range. He worked into a spot on the edge of a bog, and there were no new tracks on that trail. So, he began sneaking into the thicker brush, coordinating his movement with strong wind gusts. After going roughly 500 yards in an hour-and-a-half, he got a sudden nose full of rutting buck. After backing out gently, Matt set up in a spot where he could see and let out a series of grunts.
Matt waited about 10 minutes, and when nothing showed he tried a snort-wheeze. That was all it took! The big bruiser stepped out posturing and headed right toward him. Matt drew his bow when the buck was at 50 yards, but the deer kept coming. At 35 yards, Matt settled his pin and let the arrow fly, causing the buck to stagger at impact and tip over just 15 yards away.
Matt’s first bowkill, which he named “Hercules,” is going to be hard to top. The mainframe 10-point has incredible mass that totals 51 4/8 inches, making up almost 1/3 of the total score of 177 4/8.