A near-fatal accident at work curtailed most of Preston Brandt's hunting activities for almost two years. Then, last season, Preston rediscovered his old passion, and the hunting gods rewarded him with a buck for the ages!
"You can't truly hunt a buck like this," Preston says. "You simply put yourself in the best possible place and hope a buck like this comes along." Preston's buck did come along! The massive 7x6 bruiser grossed 199 1/8 typical points.
Often, it seems, life's most important rewards come in the most unexpected of ways. Preston Brandt knows that firsthand.
The Boonville, Missouri, hunter killed the buck of a lifetime on the opening afternoon of the Show-Me State's 2006 firearms season. The huge buck grossed 199 1/8 typical, although considerable deductions and a broken left G-3 left the massive 7x6 trophy with a net score of 174 1/8.
"I wouldn't have this buck any other way," he said proudly.
Although Preston may not agree, to an outside observer his story certainly seems to be a just reward for his hard work, perseverance and passion.
"You can't hunt . . . truly hunt . . . a buck like this," he said. "You simply put yourself in the best possible place and hope he comes by."
And that's what happened last November. In many ways, Preston's walk into the public-land woods on that fateful Saturday afternoon represented the culmination of a long, hard journey that began some two years earlier while Preston worked at a marine terminal on the Missouri River.
"I was standing on a barge with my back to a crane and a cable broke," he explained. "A 26-pound shackle hit me in the back of the head. I hit the water unconscious, and a fellow worker pulled me up and helped me out of the river as I was coming to."
The accident left Preston with multiple skull fractures and an injury to the frontal lobe of his brain.
"I honestly don't remember much of the entire next year," he said. "Friends and family helped me reconstruct the accident and much of what followed."
After months of recuperation, Preston found himself with a 5-pound lifting restriction. Later his doctor increased it to 10 pounds. "It took all of my energy just to get back to work," he explained. "Then, it took all my energy just to do my work."
The response to serious brain injuries among humans is as different as the people who suffer them. In Preston's case, during the recovery process he temporarily lost the passion for the outdoors that he'd enjoyed since his childhood.
"I've always been a serious fisherman and an avid turkey hunter," he said. "But after the accident I just wasn't interested. I also had been a competitive shooter in NRA high-power competition. I finally bought a nice air rifle to try to start getting back into things, but it was tough. I shot nothing and hunted nothing in 2004. And I just didn't get motivated in 2005. I ended up tagging a couple of does, but it wasn't the same."
As the 2006 hunting season approached, Preston felt some of that old passion for deer hunting coming back. He and his hunting buddies decided to open the season in a place they had hunted in Moniteau County where pressure had always been light. However, the first light of the new deer season revealed something that he never expected to see.
"At daylight there were four other hunters around me," he said. "It turned out that my son was the only one in our group who didn't have other hunters close by. He decided to stay. The rest of us pulled out.
"One of my friends who was with us went to some private land close by that he had permission to hunt. My brother-in-law decided to hunt some nearby land that I own. I almost decided not to go back out, but then I thought, 'What the heck?' and I went to some public land just to the south."
Preston had hunted this area for more than a decade and he knew the terrain well. Two weeks before the season opened, he'd grunted in a 130-class 10-pointer there. Now he decided to see what an opening-afternoon gun hunt might bring.
"When I got there at about 2 o'clock, a man and his 12-year-old daughter were already sitting at the bottom of the draw where I wanted to hunt," he recalled. "I learned later that the young girl had never even taken a shot at a deer before."
The father and daughter were sitting near the public-land boundary, facing away from the private acreage it bordered. Preston walked past the pair and up to the top of the draw to hunt an inside edge he'd found while doing some "armchair scouting" with aerial photos.
"At about 4 p.m. I heard a shot at the bottom of the hill," Preston said. "I knew it had to be either the man or his daughter. I figured I'd better pay attention just in case, so I got ready."
Hunting on the ground, Preston was watching a well-used game trail.
"I heard a deer coming up that trail, so I dropped to one knee," he said. "The first thing I saw was a tall tine, and I knew it was a nice buck. He passed behind three white oaks before stepping out into the open. He was facing me at a distance of about 21 yards, and only a few steps away from the private land.
"I knew it wasn't the best shot, but I thought I'd better take him. Raising my Model 70 .300 Winchester Magnum, I aimed and fired. Thankfully, he dropped in his tracks after I squeezed the trigger."
The idea that Preston had taken a "really nice deer" was just beginning to sink in when the father and daughter duo came walking up the hill to see about the shot they'd heard.
"Apparently the buck had been using some cover on that private land as his sanctuary," Preston explained. "I believe the father and daughter had set up really close to where he was bedded. When he caught a whiff of them and decided to try to sneak out, he ended up walking right in front of the girl. She told me that it all happened so quickly she didn't even aim.
"She missed the buck clean," Preston continued. "And after the shot the buck just turned toward me and headed for another thicket that was at my back."
Preston encouraged the pair to go back and finish the afternoon hunt because he knew they were in a really good spot.
"I told them I didn't want to ruin their hunt and that I'd be happy to wait until the end of the day and th
en maybe they could come back and help me drag the big boy out. They were excited and they went back down the hill. But 15 minutes later they were back.
"The father told me that his daughter was just too fidgety and too excited about having seen my buck," Preston said. "So we went ahead and dragged him out to the parking lot. Eight other hunters were standing around when we got there and I remember thinking, 'That's the end of this place as a good hunting spot, because word travels fast around here.'
"On the way out of the woods, the girl's father showed me where his daughter had been sitting and where the buck walked out," Preston said. "It wasn't more than 15 to 20 feet from her. The young girl said she saw antlers, cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger."
Later on, Preston called a lifelong taxidermist friend to take a look at his trophy. Several of the hunters in the parking lot had commented that they thought the buck might score 160.
"He and his dad came out," Preston said. "As soon as he saw the rack, he gave me a funny look and said, 'This deer will go much higher than 160. He's got to be pushing 200 inches.' That really got me excited.
"A couple of days later, I took the rack to the Bass Pro Shops store in Columbia, Missouri, to get it scored. The moment I walked through the door, everything sort of shut down, and when the guy who scores deer saw the rack his eyes got large and he said he'd never scored a deer that big before. Everyone agreed it was probably a 200-inch rack."
About that time, another man in the Bass Pro showroom introduced himself to Preston. His name was Chip Zike, and he told Preston that he was a local outfitter and hunting guide.
"He said he knew someone who could accurately score the rack. I ended up having the antlers scored in Cairo, Missouri, and Chip later offered me a chance to come hunting with him and help make some videos. All in all, it was a great experience!"
Prior to the 2006 season, Preston's best buck ever was a 140-class trophy. He'd also taken a couple of 120-inchers. Having been a deer hunter for over 30 years -- albeit with one very unfortunate break that almost ended everything -- he turned 41 in January 2007.
"I used to eat, sleep and live hunting before my accident," he said. "Now I'm very tickled by all of this because that incredible buck really brought me back!"