April 23, 2003
To call the story of the Randy Simonitch Buck and the Pope & Young's all-time No. 2 buck "unusual" would be putting it mildly!
Tell me if the following deer story sounds familiar:
You've just returned home from an uneventful morning bowhunt. The phone rings. It's your neighbor, who's calling to tell you a giant buck is bedded just outside her back yard, in a spot where he might well be stalked. And then, in an act of charity perhaps unmatched since the days of Mother Teresa, the woman asks if you'd like to come over and try to shoot this giant - free of charge, of course.
Now, I don't know about you, but this kind of thing happens to me all the time. Problem is, every time it does, I bolt upright in bed and realize it's all been a cruel dream. Let's face facts here: Such fantasies never come true in real life.
But Missouri bowhunter Randy Simonitch would disagree with that. When his phone rang on the morning of Oct. 3, 2000, it was no dream, and the caller wasn't joking. Mary Dempsey really had just seen a giant buck bedded on her family's Pike County farm - and she was happy to let Randy try to shoot him.
What occurred in the hours immediately following that phone call will go down as one of the most amazing bowhunts in whitetail history. For when the day was done, Randy had his tag on the world's biggest Pope and Young buck in 39 years - thanks to a midday stalk in a soybean field!
How could anyone possibly sneak into bow range of such an animal - at midday in a 20-acre field? To find out, only eight days after the kill I traveled from Atlanta to northeast Missouri to visit with Randy and reconstruct details of his unique hunt. Prepare yourself for a bowhunting story like no other!
THE BUCK IN THE BEANS
First off, this deer had been seen several times before he was shot. Mary, Randy and a few other local folks had been catching glimpses of him since July. And while this buck and some smaller buddies were seen in various spots, as summer wore on, most sightings of the big deer were in that ordinary-looking field right behind the Dempsey home.
Earlier in the year, the field had been in wheat. After cutting that crop, Mary's husband, Bobby, had decided to plant some late soybeans. With good rains over the summer, they soon had grown tall enough to hide every part of a bedded deer.
Every part, that is, except the top few inches of a tall, 9-pound rack.
Because nobody had had a good look at the buck's headgear earlier in the summer, there was some debate over how many points it carried. Randy figured there were 16 to 18, and as far as he could tell, the rack was quite typical. But then again, Randy's only chances to glass the rack came while the deer was bedded in the beans, and at most, all that could be seen were the tallest points.
"A lot of the time, the rack would disappear while you were glassing the field," the bowhunter notes. "I guess the buck was putting his head down to sleep or eat. When that happened, there was no sign of a deer even being in that field."
The odds of tagging this trophy definitely weren't in Randy's favor. Pike County is heavily hunted, especially during the mid-November rifle season. This falls during peak rut, and the buck could be anywhere then. If he strayed far in search of a doe, he just might find another hunter's bullet instead.
Bow season thus seemed to offer Randy's best chance of getting the buck. But would he still be in the field then? It was one thing to see a big buck in the open during the summer, quite another to find him there during hunting season.
And potentially complicating the matter were the events of Sept. 21, just 10 days before bow season.
As Mary was mowing her lawn that day, she looked out into the field and once again saw the top of the buck's white rack floating above the beans. What followed was a close encounter of the non-typical kind.
"I decided to get the video camera and try to see if I could get that deer on tape," Mary says. "I went out into the field and just started walking straight toward him with the camera, really not even trying to be quiet."
The resulting video footage is as thrilling as it is unique. It shows the rack growing in the viewfinder as Mary closes the gap - and still the hidden buck holds his ground. Finally, when Mary gets to within only a few bean rows of the deer, his rack almost fills the screen - and then, resigned to the fact he's been discovered, he leaps up and bounds from the field!
I think I'd have passed out, but Mary stayed calm; in fact, she just turned off the camera, walked home and finished mowing! Only after that chore was done did she phone Randy to tell him what had happened.
Even after the tape had been played a number of times, the rack's true size wasn't as obvious to Randy or Mary as you might assume. "We could tell he had a lot of points," Randy says, "but there were still strips of velvet hanging off the rack, and it was hard to tell exactly what was antler and what was velvet."
Of course, such details could wait. For now, Randy had two questions far more pressing: (1) would the buck still be bedding in the field once bow season opened?; and (2) if so, would Mary kindly call to let Randy know about it?
Only 12 days later, on the third day of bow season, both questions were answered in the affirmative.
It was midmorning, and Randy had just returned home from hunting on his land. The phone rang; it was Mary, calling to let her neighbor know she'd just seen the white rack out in the beans again.
"When I saw the deer out in the field that morning, I wasn't sure what I should do," Mary admits. "I thought about walking out there with the camera and trying to get some more video. Then I thought maybe I should just go on with what I was doing and not say anything about the deer to anybody. Then I thought about Randy asking me to call him if I saw the deer out there again."
Uncertain of what her next move should be, Mary asked her husband for advice.
"Oh, why don't you just call Randy?" Bobby said.
And with no more thought than that, one of the biggest decisions in deer-hunting history was made. Mary picked up the phone to call Randy, and a few minutes later, his pickup pulled into the Dempseys' driveway.
STALKING INTO HISTORY
It now was around 10 a.m., and a bright sun was pushing the temperature toward an eventual afternoon high in the mid-80s. Mary and Randy walked to the back yard to verify the buck's position. He once again was bedded in his usual spot in the field, no more than a football field from the back fence of the yard. Mary wished her guest luck in his effort to sneak up on the monster, but then went back to what she'd been doing inside the house.
You'd think Randy's stalk would have been planned out in greater detail than the Allied invasion of Normandy. But you'd be wrong. His plan was so simple he didn't even check the wind direction!
"I couldn't tell you which way it was blowing from," Randy admits. "All I was thinking about was trying to pick a route that would let me get into shooting range without being seen. I ended up deciding to go around to the right (northeast) of the deer before starting toward him."
And so, a step at a time, Randy began easing toward the huge rack in the sea of green. The buck, for his part, apparently had no clue he was in trouble; his rack never turned to indicate he'd heard or smelled the stalker, even as Randy was drawing nearer with each quiet step through the 4-foot-high beans.
It took the bowhunter perhaps an hour to close to within 25 yards of his quarry. As Randy knelt there in the beans, he felt he now was close enough to kill the deer - but to this point, he still couldn't see anything but the top of the rack.
Should Randy wait for the buck to stand up to relieve himself, as almost certainly would happen before dark? Or should he try to coax the animal onto his feet without spooking him? The latter idea held more appeal, Randy decided, so he put his call to his mouth, drew his left-handed bow and gave a few grunts.
Within seconds, the buck was on his feet and just standing there, his body quartering sharply away from the hunter. Randy wasn't sure if the deer heard him or coincidentally picked that moment to stand up on his own, but it didn't matter. When the sight pin settled on the animal's last rib, the archer released the string.
As the arrow entered behind the diaphragm and angled forward, the deer bolted southward through the beans, across a small cattle pasture, over the county road and into another bean field. Randy watched the monster run for some distance before losing sight of him.
Several slow hours of trailing took the bowhunter more than a quarter-mile, finally onto his own land. The sign suggested the deer had headed for a corn field.
"There wasn't all that much of a blood trail to follow," Randy recalls. "By this point, I was just looking for the deer as much as for blood. I was walking along a tree line that leads toward the corn field when I looked up ahead and saw him lying dead."
As the bowhunter began to admire the wild-looking rack, he knew he'd greatly underestimated its size, even after having had the advantage of studying it on Mary's video. Forget the question of whether the buck had 16 or 18 points - there were maybe that many on each antler!
But even after Randy had his prize into the pickup, he had no real idea that he'd just made whitetail history. Nor, it seems, did anyone at the check station. But when the bowhunter got to Jamie Graham's Wild Creations taxidermy studio in nearby Frankford, the mighty buck's significance was recognized. As soon as Jamie looked into the truck, he knew he was staring at a world-class buck. Later that day Missouri Show Me Big Bucks Club measurer Jay Hurd rough-scored the "green" rack as a likely state record, and news of the tremendous trophy began spreading across Missouri at warp speed.
After the mandatory 60-day drying period, official Pope and Young measurer John Detjen gave the 33-point monster a net non-typical entry score of 269 7/8. If upheld by a P&Y panel, that score would make the Simonitch buck the No. 2 whitetail in the bowhunting record book.
A few months later, at P&Y's biennial convention in Salt Lake City, the massive rack's entry score was indeed confirmed by the panel. As a result, Randy's deer is now officially the all-time No. 2 P&Y non-typical. He trails only Del Austin's 1962 Nebraska buck, which nets 279 7/8. Ken Fowler's 257 0/8-inch Kansas trophy from 1988 was previously in second place.
In addition, the Simonitch buck is the highest-scoring Missouri whitetail ever taken by a hunter, regardless of weapon type. Duane Linscott's 259 5/8-point Boone and Crockett trophy, taken by rifle in Chariton County in 1985, previously held that title. And Randy's trophy blew away the state bow record, which had been held by Glen Young's 220 7/8-point Scotland County buck from 1996.
(The state's overall record in the non-typical category, the 333 7/8-point "Missouri Monarch" from St. Louis, is also the world's top-scoring whitetail ever. But that 44-point giant apparently died of natural causes a day or so before being found by hunter Dave Beckman in 1981.)