Matt Taylor knew he was looking at a buck, but what he saw just didn't make sense. A life-long deer hunter, the 39-year-old Ephraim, Utah resident has seen plenty of bucks in his day. The one just 60 yards away in a creek bed, however, just didn't look right. Taylor dug out his binoculars for a better look.
"It was a buck locked up with another buck," he recalled, "but something was odd about it."
Taylor and three friends were just one day into a guided Kansas bow hunt with outfitter Dan Bell. He saw just one small buck that morning, so he and Bell agreed to try a new spot. It turns out that was a good move. Just an hour-and-a-half into the afternoon, Taylor caught movement behind his stand. Oddly, though, he hadn't seen the buck approach.
"I guess he was there the whole time," he says.
One of the bucks wasn't just dead, it was a rotting, stinking mess of head, hide and bones. Outfitter Dan Bell figured the coyotes picked the carcass clean to the bone as they waited for the other buck to perish.
"I've seen bucks locked up before," said Bell. "I cut the horns off a dead deer a few years ago so the live one could survive, but I've never seen anything like this."
Neither has Taylor, who instantly knew the tangle of antlers contained the racks of two very large bucks. Realizing it was too far of a shot, he lowered his bow and gently climbed out of his stand. The buck was across a ditch, so Taylor eased up to the edge with an arrow nocked in his Hoyt Katera.
"I wasn't sure what shape he was in or how much life he had in him, but I could tell he was tired," he says.
When he got to within 35 yards, Taylor realized he couldn't get any closer. Thick brush blocked his path. Worse, the buck was quartering away. It would be a tough shot, but it was now or never. A veteran bow hunter confident in his ability, Taylor envisioned the path of the arrow as he drew and then looked through his sight. The shot was perfect, traveling through the paunch and up into the lungs and heart. The buck collapsed and died.
"I called Dan and told him he needed to come see something," says Taylor. "I didn't tell them what it was, so they thought something was wrong."
The living buck ended up scoring just a fraction under 170 inches. The antlers of the dead buck scored an impressive 157 inches. Both were larger than Taylor's biggest whitetail to date, a 140-incher he killed in Texas.
Bell, a taxidermist as well as an outfitter, contacted a game warden who issued a second tag for the other buck. He then went to work processing the whole deer and cleaning the head of the other buck, despite the putrid smell. Bell even managed to cut the skull plates off both deer without untangling the antlers. Taylor plans on getting them mounted as he found them.