August 09, 2016
Way back in 2012, Stuart Everett was relaxing in his pickup truck under an old cedar on his family's third-generation cattle ranch. While pleasantly overlooking the 1500 acres of land he's known forever, Stuart spotted a deer chewing on a maypop vine about 150 yards across the field. Little did Stuart know how much that buck would influence his life over the next three years.
"The deer was good-looking, and he had good-sized horns still in velvet," Stuart recalls. "His 7-point rack had me confused, though, because all the other bucks in the area had lost their horns long ago."
Stuart watched as the buck grazed a few minutes longer before disappearing into the woods. "I took a short nap in the late afternoon's warm sunshine, just pleased that I had seen such a nice buck.
The following week I put a trail camera close to the spot where I had seen the oddball and dumped a 50-pound bag of peanut rice bran out in hopes he was hungry. That night started a three-year-long game of cat and mouse."
Almost immediately, Stuart began getting trail camera pictures of the buck. But they were all taken at night; the buck recently spotted in broad daylight was totally nocturnal in his visits to the bait site.
Stuart studied the buck's pictures month by month and was perplexed to see that he never lost his antlers or their velvet. Instead, it seemed the buck's rack was still growing! Stuart was shocked by the phenomenon, as he'd never seen anything like it. (Research suggests the buck most likely had a testicular abnormality, causing irregularities in his testosterone levels. Although rare, this condition has been documented in various parts of the whitetail's range. Afflicted deer are often referred to as "cactus bucks," due to their unusually rough and bumpy velvet antlers.)
Despite his efforts, Stuart never had so much as an opportunity at the buck during the 2012 season. So as corn feeders emptied and deer season ended, Stuart went back to farming that spring and summer without thinking too much about the deer.
When September 2013 rolled around, it was again time to get back to thinking about deer. And Stuart didn't have much problem switching gears and hunting the buck that had eluded him.
"It was time to hang trail cameras and refill corn feeders," he recalls. "As always, I found myself buying new batteries and frantically looking for SD cards. Same story, new year."
Soon the freaky buck reappeared. In similar fashion, the first picture was taken in darkness. But this picture was different. Way different. Stuart was shocked when he saw the size of the rack the buck was now sporting.
"Honestly, he was the craziest-looking deer I'd ever seen," Stuart says. "I couldn't help but think the buck had 'Medusa horns.' I mean they twisted everywhere: up, down, in and out. The buck looked to have over 20 points, and all still in velvet. I was in awe."
After seeing the photo of the wild-racked monster, Stuart really got serious. In the past, he'd only gun hunted for deer, but this buck had him convinced his season needed to start a little earlier.
"Luckily, the Arkansas bow season was about to open, so crossbow shopping I went," Stuart explains. "Eager for an opportunity at the buck, I hunted heavily throughout the next few months. I looked for the buck everywhere but had no luck. Unfortunately, all the trail camera photos I was getting were still nocturnal. And not just after sunset — I'm talking midnight to 2:00 a.m."
Not surprisingly, Stuart tried to keep the buck's presence unknown, and he attempted to maintain a low profile when talking with his other hunting friends.
"This deer was a total freak of nature," says Stuart. "I didn't want to tell anyone what I was after. However, late one afternoon, I got a text message from my neighbor, showing me a trail camera picture of the buck on someone else's land. Directly after seeing the photo, I realized I had been very naive to assume I was the only hunter who knew that one of the greatest deer in Arkansas was on my farm."
Freak of Nature
After the realization that other local hunters had a crack at killing the buck, Stuart's already obsessive quest kicked up another notch. Over the course of the next two years, he hunted, planted food plots and continued to supplementally feed the giant buck in order to keep him on his property.
"Despite how badly I wanted to harvest the buck, it was hard to maintain my focus and confidence. I'd only seen him on the hoof once," Stuart explains. "In total, I would only get to see the buck in person three times before our final encounter."
The second of those sightings happened out of season, when Stuart was checking hay crops. He spotted the beast grazing in the late afternoon. The buck knew he was being watched and quickly disappeared.
The next encounter, however, was a little more exciting.
"Stuart Everett's three-year quest for a massive "cactus" buck finally came to fruition in September 2015. And Stuart's patience was tested more than once before the hunter put an arrow into the wild-looking whitetail."
"The third time I saw the buck, I only thought I was ready," the hunter says. "I was gun hunting on a cold day, right after a light snow had covered the ground. I had a pretty good idea the buck would make an appearance, as he had developed somewhat of a pattern for eating during daylight on snowy days. In my area of Arkansas, though, such days are few and far between — and hard to predict."
Regardless, a recent snowfall was reason for hope. So on that particular day, Stuart knew he had at least a fair chance of taking advantage of the giant buck's obscure habits.
"I had the right idea, that's for sure," the hunter says. "But I blew it. Looking back now, I think he probably circled around the feeder to check for scent, and he must have smelled me well before I knew he was there. I remember looking up suddenly and seeing the monster buck crashing away from me. I mean, he was flat-out running hard, like a family of panthers was chasing him."
Before Stuart could get the gun to his shoulder, the buck was gone.
"It was a heartbreaking thing to watch, especially after all the hours I had hunted the buck over the past two years," he notes. "After the time I'd invested, and thousands of dollars spent on deer food, this short encounter almost made me quit deer hunting forever."
Luckily for Stuart, he didn't quit. As the 2014 season came to an unfulfilling close, he could only watch as the velvet-racked buck continued to grow bigger and wilder. By the time September 2015 rolled around, Stuart had over 1,000 trail camera pictures of the buck, and he'd seen him grow from a main-frame 7-pointer into a giant non-typical with more than 40 visible points.
"I'd watched the deer grow into a 6-year-old beast, and I was excited to see that he was now keeping a more regular pattern on my trail cameras," Stuart recalls. "His movements were now fairly normal, and he was spending approximately every third afternoon with other bachelor bucks at my feeder. I decided to hunt the second week of bow season, and chose that Thursday, Friday and Saturday as my three-day window to get the job done."
The forecasted north wind proved useful during those three hunts, and Stuart was seeing deer. Thursday evening, he watched six mature bucks walk just feet from his box stand — but never saw the giant. The next day, Stuart returned for a long afternoon sit.
"I was passing time on my iPad, organizing apps and pictures from my game cameras," Stuart remembers. "As I sat patiently waiting and hoping for the buck to make an appearance, I looked out from the 15-foot-tall tower stand into the 10-acre food plot in front of me. The food plot spanned 141 yards across to the adjoining block of woods. One certainty of hunting the same stand day after day, year after year, is that you have plenty of time to use your rangefinder to mark the yardages of possible shot locations. Mostly out of boredom, I had ranged almost everything around me just to pass the time. That monotonous task would later turn out to have been a good use of my time."
After a few hours had passed, Stuart watched as the same bachelor group started to filter out of the woods, one at a time. After the sixth buck made his way into the field, Stuart caught a glimpse of something massive moving in the brush.
"The movement looked to be coming from about 20 yards behind the tree line, but the dense timber made it hard to make out," Stuart explains. "As I struggled to see what was lingering in the thick woods, all six deer moved to within 50 yards or so from me. Then, just a few seconds later, I suddenly realized the giant was coming out of the woods."
Almost unable to believe his eyes, Stuart picked up his binoculars to confirm the mass of antler headed his way wasn't a mirage.
"Sure enough, my looking confirmed that the velvet-racked buck was real," he says. "Then, and for no good reason other than sheer bewilderment, I said out loud, 'There he is!'
"There He Is!"
"Stunned by my outburst, I thought I had surely just blown what would probably be my last encounter with the buck of a lifetime. The closest deer picked up his head from grazing and looked right at me. Luckily for me, the alerted buck must have concluded that no hunter would ever have the audacity to start talking out loud when seven deer were in front of him. Reluctantly, he brushed me off, then went back to grazing."
Back in the game, Stuart slowly got his crossbow in place as he watched the monster buck pick grass and chew clover out in the food plot. Looking through his crossbow scope, Stuart felt his nerves starting to come unglued.
"I was scared to death that the entire box stand was pounding from my heart rate," Stuart claims. "My nerves were so unsettled that I expected at any moment for something to go wrong. I'd waited three years for what was about to occur. It was finally time to get ready to make the shot."
After waiting over 30 minutes for the buck to advance to within shooting range, Stuart had actually started to calm down a bit. "Looking back now, if he'd just walked directly to me, I probably would have had buck fever so bad that I would have blacked out. But I wasn't going to let that happen. I was ready to seal the deal on the buck I'd been after for so long."
Finally the buck stopped broadside at just over 40 yards. Steady and anchored down for the kill, Stuart let a breath out and pulled the trigger.
"I'll never forget the sound the arrow made when it hit the deer," Stuart recalls. "Pardon the image, but it was louder than a fat man landing a belly flop off the high dive! The deer spun around and made a quick half-turn, then fell dead in his tracks. And just like that, I had done it. My quest had come to a close, and it felt amazing."
A close analysis of the deer's anatomy proved he did in fact have a testicular mutation. So that's what caused him to grow antler year-round without shedding. This "cactus buck" was truly unique, as he possessed nearly 240 inches of velvet-covered antler. Although cactus bucks aren't recognized by Boone & Crockett, Stuart's trophy has to be one of the largest velvet bucks ever taken by crossbow.