Ryan Sullivan Buck: 212-Inch Arkansas Bruiser
March 03, 2015
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. Many mallards were saved during his absence from the flooded timber.
When you see a photo of a young hunter with a world-class deer, it's tempting to wonder if he or she "lucked" into it, or if perhaps an older hunter did most of the scouting and strategizing. Well, not so in this situation. Ryan hunted this buck for four years on family property. He found the matching sheds of the buck from the year before, and he played his cards just right during the multi-year pursuit.
Eastern Arkansas farm country is home to a growing number of record-book deer. Mississippi County is in the far-northeast corner and borders both Tennessee and Missouri. The terrain is relatively flat, with large sections of agricultural land, swamps, muddy rivers and blocks of hardwood timber. The eastern boundary of the county is the Mississippi River.
The region is unique to Arkansas in that it doesn't have a traditional rifle season. Rather, there's a short muzzleloader/shotgun season. The firearms seasons are only five days collectively. The limited gun hunting and rich Delta soil combine to make this a hotspot for big deer. Bowhunting is the primary management tool in this region.
Ryan says, "I could have killed this deer with a rifle if it had been legal. At just about any time I could have gone and seen him a mile away in a bean field. Bowhunting gives the deer a chance to grow. It was a long 4-year process, but it paid off."
Growing Up a Hunter
Ryan is a native of the region and the son of a farmer. He grew up around hunting and intuitively knew how to put the pieces together on this home-turf trophy. Of course, a multi-year quest for any buck is emotionally taxing. When the buck is adding 20-30 inches of antler per year, the stakes just keep getting higher. However, dreams are fueled by high-stakes whitetails, and the passion helped Ryan put his tag on the state's largest non-typical ever arrowed.
"I've always loved deer hunting," the young sportsman says. "My dad started taking me as soon as I could climb a deer stand. I killed a lot of deer with a gun before I started bowhunting about six years ago. Since then, I've only killed deer with my bow."
His first knowledge of this deer came in 2010, when Ryan was just 15 and the buck is believed to have been 3 1/2. "I keep cameras up nine months of year on the 300-acre block of woods I'm now in charge of managing," he says. "Every year I have an inventory of every deer on the place. In 2010 the buck was just an 8-point. He was probably in the 140s."
Nearly any hunter would be thrilled with a buck that size. But Ryan isn't just any hunter.
"I wasn't going to kill him," he says. "I knew he had potential." Ryan's foresight and patience were mature beyond his years.
In 2011 the buck blossomed into a true shooter. By now the deer was a huge 9-pointer that grossed over 160 inches.
"At this point I started trying to kill him," Ryan notes. "But he evaded me. I only saw him one time on stand while bowhunting in 2011, and he skirted around me at about 60 yards."
Ryan did have one other encounter with the buck that season, but it was while he was taking his 7-year-old cousin out for his first-ever deer hunt. Ryan didn't bother taking his bow that day, as he'd been hunting for seven straight days and hadn't seen the big deer once. And wouldn't you know it — not long after the cousins had sat down, the 9-pointer appeared, walking directly behind a good 7-pointer.
The latter was a perfect candidate for the first-time hunter, so Ryan directed his cousin to shoot the smaller deer. Fortunately, the boy was able to take him, resulting in a great first whitetail — and sparing the big one's life.
In hindsight, Ryan is glad no one killed the big buck in 2011. The stage now was set for him to truly blossom into a world-class trophy.
In regions without great habitat, many deer seem to plateau out after age 4 1/2 and don't make the huge leaps in antler development. However, some just keep growing. In the Midwest, with ample nutrition and healthy deer numbers, bucks seem more likely to continue to make the big jumps in antler development after 5 1/2. Ryan's buck had the genetics and nutrition to continue to skyrocket. Unbeknownst to Ryan, the buck would live three more years and make huge jumps each year.
In 2012, Ryan hunted this deer exclusively. He was getting photos of the giant, which he would later discover carried a rack scoring over 190. In another huge jump, the buck had grown from a 160-inch 9-pointer to a monster 15-pointer with matching split G-2 tines.
Ryan hunted the buck all season but saw him just one time from the tree stand. Again, the deer skirted his stand near the middle of the 300-acre block in the same place as the year before. It wouldn't be until spring 2013 that the bowhunter would find the matching sheds and see how big the rack really was. With the estimated spread credit, it grossed a whooping 193 inches!
"I thought he was going to go downhill after 2012," Ryan admits. "There was no way he could get any bigger. I was just hoping he would survive in 2013 and not lose too much . . . but he got way bigger. I saw him on camera in 2013, and he had grown a tremendous amount. He'd lost a split G-2, but he'd grown a drop tine and matching split brow tines."
Ryan estimated the deer now was 7 1/2 years old. Although leery of making any predictions on the buck's score, the bowhunter knew the rack was considerably larger than the 193-inch sheds. The buck had morphed into a world-class bruiser right on Ryan's home turf. Does it get any better than that?
It All Comes Together
By the fall of 2013, Ryan was enrolled at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. The campus is only about an hour away from where he hunts. Despite his pursuit to further his education, his desire to pursue the buck hadn't diminished.
"I hunted every weekend in 2013," Ryan recalls. "I had class on Tuesday and Thursday, so I hunted Friday through Monday. I would leave late Thursday night, and all my friends ragged me about it. They didn't want me to leave. I remember telling them, 'It's going to be a perfect morning in the morning. I've got to be in the stand.'"
With the deer on food sources, Ryan was able to pattern the buck before Oct. 15. However, every year the buck would become much more random as the Delta rut came closer. Typically, in regions influenced by the flood stages of the Mississippi River, the rut is later than the traditional Midwestern rut of mid-November. Late November through December is usually the prime time for breeding, as that results in higher fawn survival.
However, this 4-year quest came to fruition on the most stereotypical whitetail rut day on the calendar for most of North America: Nov. 15.
On Friday evening, Nov. 8, Ryan saw the monster for the first time all season. "The buck was right in the middle of the block of timber. He came to 40 yards and stood by a brush pile. He knew something wasn't right and turned around and went straight back. I was sick as he pranced off with his nose in the air. I called my dad and said, 'It's over. I couldn't get a shot.'
But the bowhunter was wrong. A week later, he'd make up for that lost opportunity.
Ryan went back to school for the next week of class heartbroken over the buck having busted him. After a few days of class, he again left on Thursday night and headed home to hunt. The next morning, he greeted sunrise from his tree stand.
"The buck chased in a doe at 7:05 a.m.," he says. "I remember the exact time because I got a text from a friend saying that he had killed a buck." After a quick congratulatory text, Ryan looked up to see a trotting doe.
"About 50 yards behind the doe, there he was. He was coming right towards me. The doe came by, and I knew he was fixing to come right past me."
Everything seemed to be right until the buck slammed on the brakes. "He stopped at 40 yards, standing behind some trees. He was directly downwind of me and lifted his head and sniffed," Ryan recalls.
Amazingly, the doe blew past and hurriedly got on the upwind side of Ryan and stopped. She milled around the stand within 20 yards while the buck stood at 40 yards, antsy. He knew something was wrong.
"I was standing there holding my Mathews Helium bow, and my knees were knocking," Ryan remembers. "I could feel myself starting to sway. I was trying not to pass out. I was locked down by the doe that was really close."
After a wait that seemed like an eternity, the doe finally started walking . . . and the buck followed. "He got to about 25 yards, and I drew when he went behind the tree," Ryan says. "The doe saw me and started blowing.
The buck took three steps and bounced back. He was 28 yards, quartering away, when he stopped. He threw up his head and was looking around. I shot and put the arrow at the back of the ribs, and it went through everything important."
"I didn't see him fall or hear him crash, but I could see the blood trail from the stand. I called my dad at 7:45 a.m. and told him what had happened." Ryan was shooting a 2-blade Rage broadhead.
"I got down after 15 minutes and went to the truck and went and brushed in the duck pit," the bowhunter recalls. "I've pushed a few deer (trailing too soon), and I knew I needed to get my mind off things, so I decided to do something constructive. And I knew I would get to do some duck hunting, now that the buck was dead.
"I waited until about 2 p.m. to trail the buck with my cousin and some good friends," Ryan says. "When we recovered the deer, his head was leaned on a sapling, propped up. I was speechless. I thought he was bigger than 190. I didn't know he was 214.
"All my buddies were expecting me to be jumping up and down when I found the buck," Ryan says, "but I didn't. I had this weird feeling. I was just speechless. All I had been doing for the last four years was hunt this deer, and there he was, lying dead. It was an overwhelming feeling. It was bittersweet.
"Then I duck hunted about everyday after that."
Setting a Record
In addition to being the top non-typical bow buck in Arkansas history, this giant was the state's biggest killed by any hunter, gun or bow, in 2013. The rack gross scores 214 1/8 and nets 212 1/8. It's a mirror-image 180-inch mainframe 4x4 with 34 inches of non-typical points. The colossal deer has a 25 2/8-inch inside spread, two tines over 13 inches and superb mass.
These are world-class numbers, and there's no doubt the animal fell to a most deserving bowhunter.