Ouachita Wonder: Arkansas Muzzleloader Monster

For the story of any whitetail hunt to be truly appreciated for what it is, it must be put into context and seen through the appropriate filter. The context here is first unveiled by stating that this was, in fact, a southern buck -- one that grossed 216 inches. This is impressive in itself. To further gain perspective, the filter narrows by stating that the buck did not come from the fertile regions of the South's crop lands or delta regions; rather, it came out of the thin-soiled, piney, rocky slopes of the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas -- even more impressive.

To hone our perspective even one more degree, this buck was killed on public land in the Ouachita National Forest of Scott County and is the new Arkansas state-record muzzleloader buck. To tag a net Boone and Crockett buck in mountain country, on public land, is truly an epic feat. Add to this that the beast was felled by a seasoned Arkansas hunting veteran and the story steps off the grid of normalcy.

However, don't let the geographic context distract you from the real heart of this tale. Behind every harvest stands a man or woman who pulled the trigger or released the string. In this story, that would be Stacy Fowler of Danville, Arkansas. And often, behind the scenes are other people that played a critical a role in the harvest. In this story, that would be Stacy's 17-year-old-son, Cole.


THE HUNT


The story begins on October 19, 2010, when Stacy and Cole decided to hunt together, which wasn't a new thing. Stacy has been taking Cole hunting in the mountains near their home since he was old enough to walk.

"I had worked all night, and I didn't want to go hunting that morning, but Cole had taken off school so we decided to go." Stacy recalled. "It was a Tuesday and it was misting rain."

Shortly after a gray, hidden sunrise, the duo parked the truck and began to walk the edge of a seed-tree unit (or young clear-cut), still-hunting. When they gained full view into the clearing, they immediately spotted a large antlered buck standing at 75 yards. When the hunters came into view, the buck turned to run.

With a muzzleloader in hand, Stacy knew that he had better make his one shot count. He shouldered the Remington, and like a veteran, patiently placed the crosshairs on the running buck's shoulder and squeezed off the shot. Stacy called it luck, but maybe it was a lifetime of handling a rifle that guided his dexterity and mental resolve as he squeezed the trigger. Regardless, the sabot connected with the monstrous whitetail. How well, they didn't know.


Cole, who was standing beside his father, had a clear shot too but didn't fire. "I don't know why I didn't shoot and I didn't know if Dad was ever going to." Cole said. Stacy's patience on the running shot was noted.


After the smoke cleared, Stacy asked Cole, "Did that buck look like he had some vines or brush in his horns?" Cole replied, "Dad, I don't know, but he looked like a bull elk running through the clear-cut!" With the tine length, spread and kickers that the buck had, it would be easy to describe the whitetail in such terms. The buck was huge. Stacy knew the deer was probably one of the bigger bucks that he had ever shot at, but he had no idea just how big it was. Little did the father and son team know that the Arkansas records book would change if they found the buck.

Shortly after the shot, the pair began tracking the buck. They quickly found blood and began to make their way through the timber on a decent blood trail. "I'm colorblind, so Cole did all the tracking," Stacy recalled. "I was 'bird dogging.' Cole would point me in the right direction and I would go looking." The pair trailed the buck for an hour and a half and were on blood until the deer crossed a road. The trail then mysteriously dried up.

Convinced that they weren't going to find the buck, Stacy decided that he would fill his doe tag when a mature doe emerged from the timber at 75 yards. After he squeezed the trigger, the mortally hit doe didn't go far.

"Dad, why did you shoot that doe?" Cole asked. "You've already let some does walk this year."

The blood was drying up and for all his efforts that morning, Stacy simply wanted to put some meat in the freezer and use his doe tag. He was going to bring something home from the woods that day, and he didn't think it would be the buck. In this region of Arkansas, deer numbers are fairly low, and a passed opportunity at legal table meat could be your last.

After shooting the doe, they continued to look for the buck until all hope was lost. "I've been on a lot of blood trails, and when they start to dry up, that is usually a bad thing," Stacy said.

Stacy wasn't hopeful, but Cole's persistence pushed the pair to call a family member with a good trailing dog. After a phone call and couple hours, Stacy and Cole were back on the trail with a leashed blood dog. In Arkansas it is legal to use a dog to trail wounded game, as long as the dog is leashed.

The dog stayed on the track for a while, then took a turn and led Stacy through a brushy tangle. He was confident the dog was trailing a rabbit. Slightly frustrated, when he came out on the other side, Stacy told Cole that he was done. He was ready to leave.

At this point, any hunter who has been in a similar situation can identify with the feeling. The father-son pair had been looking for hours, and the track had only gotten dimmer. Stacy had shot a doe that needed to be tended to and he hadn't slept in almost 24 hours! And, he had to go back to work that night! Stacy was ready to call it quits.

It was at this critical stage in the story that Cole's determination to find his father's buck kicked into overdrive. He insisted that they look for the buck just a little bit longer. Maybe it was the persistence in Cole's voice or Stacy's intuitive respect for the wishes of his lifelong hunting partner, but Stacy agreed to continue. When you've hunted with someone for years and they have a strong feeling that is different than yours, it often pays to listen. In this case it did.

Within five minutes of this discussion, the dog began to bay excitedly as it peered across a creek and up the bank. As Stacy followed the gaze of the hound, he saw a white belly and a huge rack of horns 40 yards away! The giant buck was dead and he had been found! After a quarter mile or longer of tracking, Stacy and Cole approached the buck and were astonished! High fives and hollering marked the celebration as they held the huge antlers for the first time. They were amazed! The team had found their buck! Amazingly, the buck lay on a creek bank, feet from where they had already walked before the dog arrived.

Perhaps the best way to describe Stacy Fowler's feat is in terms of inches of antler. This buck truly has a world-class frame. You don't truly appreciate this buck until you hold his antlers in hand. The buck's longest tine is over 15 inches and it has a total of four tines that soar over the 13-inch mark. Both G4s top 9 inches!    Throw in main beams that are each over two feet long and you have an absolute giant. The buck has an official net non-typical score of 210 4/8 inches. The buck smashed the previous non-typical muzzleloader record of 196 inches by 14 4/8 inches!

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