June 16, 2022
By Josh Honeycutt
Most deer hunters never see a 200-inch whitetail. Those who do generally only get one shot, if any at all. Even more, they wait a long time to get that opportunity. This was true for North Carolina deer hunter Chris Harden, who most would deem a lifelong hunter. He’s been chasing whitetails since he was 16 years old, and he tagged his first deer at the age of 17. Since then, he’s kept the tradition alive.
For the past 14 years, he’s hunted a pretty special piece of land in Moore County. During the 2020 pre-season, on a nearby property, a friend captured a trail camera photo of a suspected 200-inch buck. It excited the local hunters, and for good reason. Soon, the giant buck earned the nickname “Brush Pile” in recognition of his large non-typical rack.
Brushing with Brush Pile
Finding a North Carolina net Booner is about as rare as seeing an Armani suit at a hunting convention. It just doesn’t happen. But that summer a truly giant whitetail showed up in the Tarheel State. Shortly after, the massive buck appeared on Chris’ trail cameras, too.
And on October 9, the stars aligned. That day, a little while after lunch, Chris walked to a stand location he loved. He arrived a little earlier than normal, just to see what was going on. As usual, there wasn’t much early-afternoon action.
Chris sat in his tree stand for a while, but without any deer movement, he decided to get down around 4:30 p.m. Hoping a good buck or two might’ve moved in to establish their fall ranges, he swapped SD cards in one of his trail cameras. Then, he started back toward the truck.
“I walked around the edge of a pasture and jumped three big-bodied deer,” says Chris. “I couldn’t tell what they were.”
Slightly discouraged, he continued onward toward the vehicle. Upon climbing in the cab, he decided to pop the SD card in his card reader. The second deer on it was the giant his friend previously had on camera.
“I’d never had the giant on camera, and at first I did not realize that it was the same buck from my buddy’s camera,” Chris explains. “But soon I realized it was Brush Pile.”
Looking at the date and time, he realized the buck hit that very camera earlier that day at about 5:30 a.m. After getting over the initial shock, Chris checked the current time. His phone read 5:05 p.m.
“I threw my gear in the truck, grabbed nothing but my crossbow, and literally ran back to the stand,” Chris recounts. “I climbed up as quietly as possible.”
On the Hunt
The weather was very mild, so he cooled down rather quickly from his quick jog back to the tree stand. With renewed hope and vigor, the crossbow hunter patiently waited for the giant whitetail. Since the buck hit the camera so close to daylight, Chris was confident the buck bedded down fairly close by.
The minutes ticked by, and Chris slowly scanned his surroundings for movement. While it was nice to know a giant buck was somewhere nearby, the place was already one of the hunter’s favorite spots. It had a storied history.
“I was sitting beside a creek in a stand my cousin, Tony White, and I put up a year before he died of cancer,” Chris remembers. “He was my first cousin and hunting partner.”
The creek trickled downstream to the left of Chris’ stand, and a pasture field sprawled out to the right. Some horses grazed in the distance. Everything else was quiet, and the woods stood still.
While Chris stared off into the timber, a mosquito landed on his face and started snacking. But he was too afraid to move and swat it, fearing deer might be within sight.
“I was in stealth mode, and I had my hunting face on,” says Chris.
At about 6:30 p.m., two does walked into view. They fed around for about 15 minutes. Then, all of a sudden, they started acting nervous.
“They were standing right in front of the camera I had just checked two hours before,” Chris explains. “But it wasn’t me that spooked them. Two nice bucks headed their way, and they wanted no part of those guys.”
Not wanting to confront the bucks, the does ran off about 50 yards, and the two bucks continued easing along the trail. They took their time and spent almost 15 minutes within 25 yards of Chris’ tree stand.
“It was all I could do to pass on the bigger of the two, because I considered him a wall hanger,” says Chris. “But knowing the brute was in there that morning, I had to pass on the shooter, along with the smaller of the two.”
Just as his finger started to get really itchy, the bigger deer started acting exactly like the does previously did. Harden thought perhaps the wind swirled, but that wasn’t it. Seconds later, the does looked toward the cover — away from Chris’ stand location — and began blowing.
“I looked toward them, and for the very first time, Brush Pile was heading in my direction,” Chris explains. “I’ve seen nice bucks before, but never have I seen so much rack on a deer. I didn’t see any air space between tines and points. It almost looked solid.”
The giant buck stepped behind some trees, disappearing from view. Less than a minute later, the smaller shooter buck jumped and ran off. He knew the monster buck must be close.
Seconds later, Brush Pile stepped back into view just 7 yards away. A big tree obscured the buck’s rack, but the vitals were clear. Chris peered through the scope, settled the crosshairs on his front shoulder, and let it rip.
The lighted nock disappeared as the bolt blew through both of the buck’s ribs. The giant bounded off, ran about 60 yards, and then stopped. Chris knew he needed to take another shot. So, he quietly descended the tree, re-cocked his crossbow, slid another bolt into place, and crept 10 yards closer to the buck.
“The buck was still standing in range, and I made another shot,” Chris recounts. “I heard it hit, and I knew I put a good one in him. The arrow connected right above his left shoulder.”
The buck took off again and jumped a small fence, but he wasn’t going far. Chris was even more pumped when he recovered his first arrow, which was covered in red blood. The first shot was obviously good, too. Still, it’s usually best to take the follow-up shot when the opportunity presents itself.
After recovering the first arrow, Chris decided to back out and give the deer additional time to expire. He called a few friends for help, and it took about an hour before they arrived. Once they did, the tracking party returned to where he’d marked first blood.
When the tracking began, Chris started at the fence, and his buddies went down another 10 yards further. A few minutes in, one of them shouted, “Hey, I’ve got something!”
“A blood trail?” asked Chris.
“No, the buck!” he responded. “Just look what a buck this is!”
“So, I crawled out of the thicket to see them shining the light on one of the greatest blessings that God has ever given me within the field of hunting,” says Chris. “I could not help but feel my late cousin Tony celebrating with me from above.”
Estimated to age 7 1/2 years old, the Brush Pile buck sports 18 scoreable points. Early green scoring of the extremely impressive southern giant indicates the deer could be the largest ever by crossbow in the Tarheel state. Preliminary scoring after the 60-day drying period produced a gross non-typical score of 201 1/8 and a net of 196 1/8.
Regardless of final score, there’s no dispute Chris’ outstanding North Carolina non-typical is rare and unique. What’s better is that the sentimental hunt is one he’ll never forget.