Ryan Smith Buck: 202-Inch Missouri Non-Typical
July 16, 2013
Midway through my third hour in the stand, I decided I had had enough swaying back and forth for one day. It was October 19 in northwest Missouri, and though the conditions weren't favorable for deer movement — or hunting for that matter — blustery winds and an incoming fall thunderstorm were sure to help mask some mid-season scouting.
It was my first full season hunting this farm, and I was far from knowing all the travel habits of the local deer. I descended from my stand, and I decided to walk up toward the property line to check signs around the neighboring cornfield. As I approached the fence, I caught a whiff of a familiar smell. Although I thought it was a bit early for bucks to be in that phase, there was no mistaking the smell of a rutting buck.
I couldn't help but wonder where the odor was originating. There wasn't much cover on the fence line, and I was much too far from the wooded ditch in the middle of the cornfield to be able to smell a buck bedded there. Then I noticed the bare ground under a pin oak tree along the edge of the cornfield. I didn't have permission on the property to approach the scrapes, but the dark dirt in the middle of them signified they were fresh, as did the odor they sent downwind. I decided I would hang a trail camera facing them in hopes of catching future visits from the buck or bucks responsible.
I started walking east with the fence to locate entry and exit points to the field. As I neared the end of the cornfield, something caught my eye to my left. I looked up to see a huge buck that I bumped running away from me and heading for the wooded draw. He was bedded in one of two narrow grass ditches that began at the end of the timbered draw and made a "Y" shape in the eastern half of the cornfield.
His antlers blended in with the brown grass behind him, but I saw enough to know he was a good deer. I later described him to friends and family as having tremendous tine length, chocolate coloration, and plenty of mass, albeit with a spread that couldn't have been 15 inches. Thus, he was given the name "Hightower."
As the storm approached, I hurried back to my truck for the trail camera, set it facing the scrapes and left for the day, my hopes high for getting a better look at that buck via pictures.
The morning of October 26 found me in what I predicted would be the best stand on the property. Based on observations of deer movement from another stand location the previous year, I had moved a set approximately 150 yards north of its previous position. It was in a narrow strip of timber stemming out from a now dried-up pond. Deer seemed to utilize this area as a travel corridor going to and from several bedding areas. With great visibility in short CRP grass on both sides of the stand, I felt it would be a great place to at least see trolling bucks and perhaps be able to call them in.
I wasn't disappointed during the first day in that stand. I laid eyes on eight different bucks that morning, including a close encounter with a triple-beamed buck my son later named "Gravedigger." Had the cards played out right, I would have gladly arrowed that buck. But as it happens so many times when people attempt to film themselves bowhunting, I just couldn't put it all together.
Throughout the morning, I watched all eight bucks and several does work a scrape under an oak tree approximately 150 yards from my stand. I decided that tree needed a camera as well. The next day, I went in and hung a trail camera overlooking that scrape as well.
That evening, I hunted a stand on the other end of the farm, and my father hunted a stand near that cornfield. I asked him to switch the cards out in that camera on the fence line when he exited that evening. Later that night, we sat on his couch and pulled up the pictures from the card. We started scrolling through them, and there he was — Hightower! I did a very poor job containing my excitement and eventually I drove my mother to the other room, frustrated because she couldn't hear her television show.
There was no mistaking Hightower because of his dimensions, but I had no clue that he carried so much "trash" on his frame. I remember my dad asking me, "How in the world couldn't you see all that?" I told him the buck was running away from me and his rack blended in with the grass he was running beside.
I estimated the buck had around 30 points based on what I could see in the photos. It's safe to say that those trail camera pictures began a four-day obsession with this extraordinary buck. I couldn't get that deer out of my head. His pictures clogged my mind continuously in the days to follow. One picture became my screensaver on my phone and computer.
Despite having gotten photos of him, I couldn't help but realize the reality of the situation. To stay grounded, I kept telling myself that deer like this don't exist everywhere and all the pictures were between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. I wasn't even sure he was actually living on this particular farm or if this was just an overnight travel pattern for him.
I felt if he was living on the farm I hunted, my best chance to lay eyes on him would be out of the aforementioned stand. It was centrally located in a section of the farm that had several bedding areas nearby, and I thought perhaps I could catch him once the rut revved up a bit. However, I looked ahead at the forecast and it called for southerly winds for the next three days, so hunting that particular stand was out. My next day in the stand was the morning of October 30.
I hunted less than a mile away at the other end of the property, where a southeast wind was perfect. I had an encounter right after daylight with a 165-inch 10-pointer that was chasing a doe. Though Hightower was still stuck in my head, I wasn't even sure he lived on the ground I was hunting.
Therefore, I hadn't narrowed my sights on him alone, yet. But as luck would have it, I didn't have my release on, so I had to watch the giant 10-pointer trot out of my life. Now there were two consecutive times in the tree when I had made mistakes that had cost me exceptional deer, and I couldn't give you a reason why on either of them. Still, I wasn't as upset as I typically would be, most likely because visions of Hightower were still running through my head.
I climbed out of my tree that morning excited, rather than deflated, knowing I was going to go check my trail cameras again. I got to the first camera on the fence line and it read zero pictures, and my disappointment set in. The camera was activating but not saving pictures. After a long phone conversation with the manufacturer, I realized I was to blame, so I reset the camera and headed over to check the other camera. I could hardly get home fast enough to see the pictures. I silently prayed that I would have just one picture of him in hopes of figuring out his pattern.
My prayers were answered. The previous day, the camera had captured Hightower tending to his scrape. In all, there were eight more pictures of him on the previous day. Even though they were all taken at night, the photos had been taken much later than the others I had received, leading me to believe the buck was traveling much of the farm and, perhaps, using it as his core area. I immediately checked the forecast for the next day and smiled ear to ear when I saw the northwest wind prediction.
The stage was set. I called my friend Josh and told him about the pictures, and he didn't hesitate to volunteer to film the hunt. I told him that something felt right about the next morning's hunt.
What followed was essentially a sleepless night. But Halloween morning dawned special for me. I had lost a good friend and hunting buddy a few weeks before in a motorcycle accident and had previously dedicated the hunting season to him. I woke up feeling like Brandin was sitting next to me, telling me it was going to be a great hunt. I posted on my Facebook page that morning how I was feeling and couldn't help but sense that Brandin was going to be in that tree with Josh and me.
Filming the pre-hunt footage on the drive to the property, I felt Brandin's presence more than ever and mentioned on video that it was going to be a special morning. I was after one particular deer, and I simply knew I was going to lay eyes on him that morning. As we were driving up the gravel road next to the property to park, I looked ahead and spotted a buck in the neighbor's field headed for the road in front of us.
It was none other than Hightower, and he crossed the road in front of my truck at 60 yards. It was only 6:03 a.m., and he was approximately 600 yards from the stand set we were about to climb into. It was as though Brandin had nudged my shoulder and said, "I told you so!"
We got settled in the stand about 45 minutes later. I intended on using a buck and doe decoy setup, but I had forgotten the stake for the buck at home so I used a doe only. I typically don't like doing that because of resident does reactions to a single doe, but I didn't have a choice that morning.
Does started filtering through about 8:45 a.m. and, as I suspected, did not like the presence of the strange doe. We had five does in front of us for a while, then another doe and her fawn come trotting with the tails up. I told Josh that they were probably chased out of there by a buck. With seven does now showing their disapproval of my decoy, we heard a couple of grunts from the patch of timber north of us. Shortly after, the does trotted off after finally having enough of the new girl in town.
A big 8-pointer walked out just north of us, but he was acting nervous. He kept staring from my decoy to a coyote that had come in and to the north where the does came from. I was unsure why he was acting that way, as I knew he couldn't smell us. He started walking away, staring into the patch of timber. Finally, he trotted off to the east. I looked up to see Hightower walking out of that very patch. He seemed to be scent-checking where the does had come through but started walking in our direction.
The field sloped towards us a bit, so I knew he would have to hit the high spot to see my decoy. Once he did, he angled right towards her. I had ranged a particular shadow in the field at 40 yards and told my cameraman I would take him at that distance if need be. He stopped momentarily to look at her, and as he started to walk again, he put his head down slightly and I came to full draw.
He stopped again at 31 yards. Fearing that he would come any closer and the trees would hinder a shot opportunity, I elected to take the shot. The arrow flew true and as he turned to run off, blood began pouring out of him. I knew my quest for Hightower was over.
All I could do was put my arms up and thank the good Lord and my buddy Brandin for the opportunity to harvest such an animal. He ran about 150 yards before tipping over just 12 yards behind the trail camera that had taken his picture two days before. After the mandatory 60-day drying period, he was officially scored at 214 gross inches and 202 6/8 net. He is one of a short list of free-range whitetails scoring over 200 inches to be killed on film.