Rhett Butler Buck: 194-Inch Arkansas Non-Typical

Late last September, Rhett Butler ran into an old friend on his hunting club on the Mississippi River. And the friend, Don Baddhour, had a pointed question for him: "Rhett, are you hunting a specific buck?"

With a ting of reluctance, yet trusting his friend, Rhett replied, "Yes, I am."

"How big is he?" Don asked.

"A 180-inch deer," Rhett replied.


"I don't think you should shoot that deer."


"Why not?" Rhett asked.


"There is a bigger deer here," Don explained. "A 200-inch deer."

Astounded by the words of the trusted friend, Rhett asked the next logical question: "Well, where is he?"

"That I'm not going to tell you," Don replied. "You'll have to find him."


Because of a unique regulation in effect on this 6,000-acre hunting club, there was no way for Don to shoot the huge buck himself. Never mind that the deer was the biggest he had ever seen lay a hoofprint in the black mud of eastern Desha County.

In an effort to manage for trophy bucks, this club has strict antler regulations. Area genetics are such that a high percentage of mature bucks have eight or nine points. In an attempt to produce mature deer with 10-point frames, the rules state that a member can shoot only one deer with at least 10 typical points during any 3-year period. Don had killed one the year before, so he knew he couldn't hunt this main-frame 10.

As well, the club is enrolled in Arkansas' Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP). This allows for a customized management plan, including a heavy doe harvest and a "cull buck" program. Strict adherence to the long-term management plan is paying off and reforming the stereotypes of Southern hunting culture. "If it's brown it's down" is being replaced by, "Only if it's mature is it down."


Rhett is hardly a rookie at killing big deer. Going into last fall, he'd taken eight whitetails ranging from 160 to 180 inches, many of them Arkansas bow kills. As a whitetail hunter, he doesn't have a casual bone in his body or thought in his mind.

"When I hunt, I give 110 percent all the time," he says. "I think it is important to have goals," the hunter notes. "And I have always had a goal to kill a 200-inch deer." While that's a huge deer anywhere in North America, to him the goal was realistic.

Rhett has an intimate knowledge of his hunting ground, one acquired through years of hunting the same real estate. He also has the discipline to track the nuances of the land and understand how deer use it. Keeping tabs on feeding patterns is huge.

"If there is a feed tree, persimmon, bean (honeylocust) that consistently produces, I can tell you where it is," Rhett claims. He uses a GPS to mark what he calls 'feed trees.'

"My favorite place to hunt a big buck is in a staging area near a feed tree, back in the timber close to where he is bedding," Rhett says. "These big deer will use these feed trees in the evenings before heading out to bigger feeding areas."

Rhett also keeps good records of where he gets photos of bucks and a yearly journal recording buck sightings and deer movement patterns. Rhett is extremely mobile when he hunts. He uses tree spikes and hunts out of light lock-on treestands 99 percent of the time. "I can be 25 feet up in a tree and hunting in 5 minutes," he says. "I rarely leave a stand in a tree. I put it up when I get there and take it down when I leave."

The Hunt

Immediately after the conversation with Don, Rhett went to work trying to locate the buck somewhere on the club's 6,000 acres. Unfortunately, he had to leave camp that day, and he wouldn't be back for over a week. But he proceeded to strategically scatter cameras all over the property, trying to find the deer. Phase one of fulfilling his dream of taking a 200-inch buck was under way: find him.

When Rhett returned to Desha County, he was astounded by some photos one of his cameras had captured. It was Don's 200-incher!

On Oct. 10, the in middle of the night, the deer had been photographed in a cutover just south of a large alfalfa field. And to Rhett's surprise, he recognized the deer! The hunter was able to go back into his trail camera archives and find photos of the buck from 2010 and '11.

No one could have predicted the buck would leap into the 200-inch category, but he had. Two years prior, at the estimated age of 3 1/2, he would have scored in the high 140s. At 4 1/2, he'd moved into the 160-inch range.

Rhett comments, "When you look at this buck's history, you have to calculate the stress from the 2010 floods and the drought of 2011. He made a 40-inch leap in 2012, but he probably would have been a 170 or 180 in 2011, had it not been for the stress."

This deer did what all land managers hope theirs will do: he made a quantum leap! The buck was big bodied, heavy antlered and just outright impressive. Rhett and Don began to refer to him as "Hercules."

Having two years of history with the deer, Rhett was able to track where he had taken pictures of Hercules. The deer seemed to be ranging over 1-1.5 square miles revolving around a 100-acre alfalfa field.

"I got out my topo maps and started trying to figure out where this deer was bedding." Rhett recalls. On this property are areas of mature river-bottom timber, agriculture fields, thick clearcuts, buckbrush thickets and a lot of water. Historically, Rhett has had good success hunting bucks along the edges of the buckbrush.

"I like to hem up a buck along the edge of a thicket," he says. "They don't like to travel through the open woods, but they will move through the thick stuff in the daylight."

Rhett relocated all of his cameras to locations inside what he thought was the buck's main range, with the intent of getting a daytime photo. However, this proved extremely difficult.

"If I can get a picture of a buck before 7:00 in the morning in October, I know I am within 200 yards of his bedding area," Rhett points out. "That's what I was looking for. But this deer never gave me that."

Rhett was getting a lot of nighttime photos in a cutover on the south side of the alfalfa field and along a buckbrush ridge a half-mile north of the alfalfa. But the early-morning photos never came. It wasn't until Nov. 5 that he got his first daytime image of the buck along the ridge at 4:30 p.m.

From Oct. 10 until Nov. 10, Rhett bowhunted for Hercules and bounced back and forth between the cutover and the buckbrush ridge, trying not to pressure the deer too much. "I bowhunted this deer hard until rifle season opened up on Nov. 10, but never saw him," he says. "I had hoped to get him with my bow, but when gun season opened, I picked up my rifle."

The buck always seemed to be one step ahead of the hunter. Add in that Rhett had abandoned the hunt for a 180-inch buck he had patterned and you can understand his frustration. It is as this point in the hunt that a guy might question his decision to devote an entire season to a particular buck. However, Rhett stuck to the plan. It would be Hercules or nothing.

This frustration had him conversing with his dad about the buck just before Thanksgiving. "Dad said the buck would probably be locked down with a doe soon," Rhett notes. And that conversation triggered a thought. Rhett remembered that inside the buck's known range was a buckbrush thicket he hadn't monitored.

The hunter slipped in and put a camera on a persimmon tree near a trail leading to the alfalfa field. This was a spot he had hunted in years past and really liked. He just hadn't suspected Hercules was using it much.

"It had been a couple of days since I had hung the camera, and I needed a place to hunt with a north wind, so I decided to go check the camera," Rhett says. "It was near a buckbrush thicket, which was this buck's Achilles' heel."

When Rhett pulled the card, he was shocked to see a picture of Hercules working a mock scrape directly in front of the camera at 3:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving — the day before! The hunt was on.

The last few days the weather had been warm and balmy, and it rained on the morning of Nov. 23. "The rain cleared up mid-morning and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees," Rhett says. "It was the kind of day you just know that something is going to die."

This was the first time in over 20 days of the hunting the buck that Rhett had strong feeling that he was going to kill Hercules. He knew the buck was bedding in the buckbrush thicket, and he knew how he was leaving it. He felt like the buck was locked down on a doe.

Rhett climbed into his tree early that afternoon. At about 3:30 p.m. he saw six does come out the thicket and walk right past the stand. Roughly 20 minutes passed, and then a big, lone doe popped out the thicket. Hercules was right behind her! After 23 days of hunting, this was the first time Rhett had even seen the deer he was after.

"I hate to say I wasn't nervous when I saw the buck, but to be honest, I wasn't. The first thing that came to my mind was what a good friend said to me, 'When you get him in your sights, remember to breathe.' And I did."

(Ironically, Rhett hadn't been quite so steely on his earlier hunts for Hercules. "For the last 23 days, every deer I saw made my heart about pop out of my chest," he admits.)

When the buck stepped out, Rhett put the crosshairs onto the buck's left shoulder and squeezed the trigger of his Winchester .270 bolt action. At the crack of the rifle the buck dropped in his tracks and never even kicked. The hunt for Hercules was over.

"When I walked up to the deer, I was overwhelmed by his mass," Rhett recalls. And no wonder — the eight circumference measurements totaled more than 46 inches. Hercules also had a 22 3/8-inch inside spread, over 24-inch main beams and 16 scorable points.

The first person the Rhett texted was his wife. "I was fortunate that I killed this deer the day after Thanksgiving, when so many of my friends and family were in camp, including my wife and kids," he reflects.

Rhett worked extremely hard for this buck. A diligent, cunning hunter turned a generous tip from a good friend into the deer of a lifetime. It was a fitting ending for Hercules, one of the state's biggest bucks of 2012.

Kyle Heuerman

Any serious whitetail hunter knows that it's not often that we get a second chance on the buck of a lifetime, or even a first chance for that matter. But luck was on the side of Kyle Heuerman and his girlfriend Jennifer Weaver when they put an arrow through this 196-inch Illinois brute.

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Joe Franz

We estimate he was 7 1/2 years old. That's based on photos from 2010, when he clearly wasn't over 3 1/2. When I got him he weighed over 300 pounds on the hoof, as suspected. Official B&C measurer Glen Salow came up with a 'œgreen' gross score of 258 7/8 inches. After the 60-day drying period, he again taped the rack. This time he got a gross non-typical score of 261 3/8, with a net of 230 7/8. The gross score evidently makes this the highest-scoring wild whitetail ever harvested on professional video.

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Jon Massie

Jon's no stranger to free-ranging whitetails across the central plains, having guided a number of clients to trophies and harvesting many big ones himself. In fact, going into 2013 he'd shot two net Boone & Crocketts: one a non-typical scoring over 200, the other a typical from public land. With such success behind him, Jon felt all of his hunting dreams already had come true. At least, he did until a buck he'd never seen showed up on one of his trail cameras.

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Tom Boyer

Knowing I couldn't even come to my knees without breaking the little concealment we had, I decided to lie on my left side, using my left elbow for as solid a rest as could be achieved within the slight incline of the old fencerow. But when I shouldered the rifle, the sight of the crosshairs oriented at a 10-4 o'clock angle was definitely a different look from the normal 12-6 position we all practice from. Even so, I didn't figure that would matter if I aimed at the right spot and squeezed off a clean shot. I settled the crosshairs where I needed to place the bullet and steadied the rifle. Whispering 'œfire in the hole' while floating the crosshairs on the spot, I gently squeezed the trigger until the recoil removed the buck from my view.

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Teddy\'s Buck

With a whopping 40 inches of non-typical growth, he has a gross Boone & Crockett score of 215 3/8. The rack's 21 6/8-inch inside spread certainly helps to show off its unique character. He was just a special deer, and very much a result of patience in both management and hunting.

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Ryan Sullivan

Ryan Sullivan was only 19 when, during the 2013 season, he arrowed an Arkansas buck of gigantic proportions. Like many of his fellow Arkansans, Ryan is a deer and duck fanatic. For several years, however, he gave up most of his duck season to lock horns with the world-class buck.

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Junior Key

Junior's outstanding whitetail is the biggest ever recorded from Monroe County, and he ranks as one of the Bluegrass State's top bucks from the 2013-14 season. This great non-typical also is the latest member of Kentucky's all-time Top 30 list.

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Mikell Fries

At 16 yards, Mikell took aim at the giant and released his arrow. In an instant, the shaft had passed through him. The deer instantly whirled and ran out of sight . . . but then, within seconds the archer heard him crash to the ground. 'œI remained in the stand for several minutes to gather my thoughts and calm down,' Mikell says. 'œI'm sure the entire encounter only took a few minutes, but it seemed an eternity.'

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Bill Robinson

Three double-digit tines of 10 2/8 to 13 5/8 inches, plus 7 1/8- and 9 3/8-inch brows and a 21 3/8-inch inside spread, add plenty to this regal crown. Put everything together and you have a gross 9-point frame score of 193 6/8. That's as big as it sounds.

Typical asymmetry and 11 6/8 inches of abnormal points total 25 1/8 inches of deductions, so as a typical, the deer nets 'œonly' 168 5/8. But the 8×5 rack's total gross score of 205 4/8 is much more reflective of its stunning size. Regardless of score, the Robinson buck is clearly a marvel of nature.

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Nick Drake

The action was fast and furious right from the get-go. At daybreak a doe busted through the cedar thicket with an eight-point suitor following close behind. The doe, however, wanted nothing to do with her pursuer and jumped into a nearby pond in an attempt to flee the buck. This, however, wasn't the last of the action. Nick continued to watch several bucks harass does throughout the morning, but chose not to take a shot at them.

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