September 22, 2010
By Steve Bartylla
A trail camera photo taken in 2005 informed Rob Brennan that he had a world-class buck living on the farm he was hunting. From that time on, all Rob could think about was getting the Illinois giant in his sights.
By Steve Bartylla
Not wanting to take a chance with a shotgun, because of the possibility of having to make a 200-yard shot, Rob purchased a .50 Thompson/Center muzzleloader before the 2005 Illinois firearms season opened. That decision turned out to be a wise one.
Rob Brennan and his dad, Tom, knew this was a special moment. The two men were standing over a massive buck in the darkness in central Illinois. Before long, father and son were joined by Rob's wife, Tina, Rob's son, Tyler, and daughters Chelsea and Jenna. Outside of Rob's long-time hunting buddy, Mark Grites, the entire gang was there to share in this unusual moment frozen in time.
For nearly two years, this group had kept the secret about the animal that Rob had just dropped in its tracks with his .50 Thompson/Center Encore. You see, "Big Nasty," aptly named by Rob's children, was not only a world-class buck, but he also had a very special feature. Even though the deer had been shot on the frigid afternoon of Dec. 1, 2006, the rack was still in full velvet. What's more, this wide-spreading megabuck would end up scoring just shy of 300 points, making it one of only a handful of bucks this size ever taken by a hunter.
A VERY SPECIAL WHITETAIL
I'm sure many who live and breathe huge whitetails see a major flaw here. With the velvet shedding process occurring anywhere from late August to mid-September, the date simply doesn't fit. Still, there this buck was on Dec. 1 with his huge rack shrink-wrapped in velvet!
Obviously, Big Nasty had suffered an injury that dramatically affected his antler development in more ways than one. Inspection of his scrotum revealed that a freak injury had robbed him of one testicle and had badly scarred the other. In essence, Big Nasty had only one testicle, which may have been functioning at about 50 percent capacity. The evidence suggests that it still produced some testosterone; at least it had in the past. However, because of the injury, it did so at a greatly decreased rate.
The velvet on the rack had indeed died, but most likely the normally speedy process had taken much longer than usual, probably several months. Because of this, the velvet was still attached to the rack in early December. Basically Big Nasty developed his 2006 antlers like any other buck during the yearly cycle, but his calendar was off. He had shed his 2005 rack in late winter or early spring and developed his new rack throughout the spring and summer of '06. Because of his injury, though, the velvet did not die and begin to separate from the rack during the normal time period. Also, it's likely that the rack itself continued to develop far past the normal growing period (which usually ends in late August).
AN INTERESTING OBSERVATION
Dr. Cliff Shipley is an associate clinical professor at the University of Illinois' College of Veterinary Medicine. He had a chance to examine the scrotum of Rob's buck shortly after the deer was killed.
"There was only one testicle left in the scrotum, and it had scar tissue around it, indicating severe damage from a previous injury," Dr. Shipley said. "I concluded that this single testicle probably had enough testicular function the previous year (2005) and enough of a rise and fall in the testosterone level to cause the antlers to be cast that year and to be regenerated in 2006. I'm just guessing, but because of the damage, I doubt if the buck would have shed his 2006 rack. Had he not been killed, I think he simply would have stayed in velvet from that time on."
The injury also provided another significant advantage in developing such impressive headgear. Dr. Shipley thinks that Big Nasty was incapable of impregnating does. The buck probably had engaged in little or no rutting activity since the injury (which probably had occurred one and a half to two years earlier). Therefore, most of the nutrients he consumed probably went directly into his antler growth instead of bodybuilding due to the stresses of the rut.
The rut takes a heavy toll on a buck's body. Between fighting, breeding, searching for does and sign-posting, a mature buck can lose 25 to 30 percent of his body weight during the rut. By the end of the year, most bucks are physically rundown. It may take months for them to recover. Once spring arrives the following year, much of the nutritional intake consumed by a buck is directed into rebuilding that worn-down body. Only after the body is "recharged" does antler development become a priority.
Because Big Nasty engaged in little or no rutting activities, he didn't suffer the normal consequences brought on by the rigors of the rut. By Dec. 1, when many bucks are lean and gaunt and are often reduced to mere shells of their prime pre-rut condition, Big Nasty had a thick layer of fat covering his back.
Another important factor that worked in the buck's favor involved supplemental nutrition. By putting in a network of food plots on the land he was hunting, Rob Brennan made sure Big Nasty had all the high-protein food he could eat.
"It helps that we have some of the richest soil in America," Rob pointed out. "That boosts the protein content of plants. From my trail camera pictures, I know Big Nasty was feeding in my Biologic plots almost every night. He really loved the Green Patch Plus plot that I had planted. Every picture I got of him was either feeding in that food plot or traveling back and forth from it. He ate plenty of high-protein food."
One look at his 290 6/8-gross-inch rack shows he also had some fair genetics on his side. All that was left in the equation was age. With a study of his teeth indicating that Big Nasty was either 4 1/2 or 5 1/2 years old in 2006, he'd had a chance to reach maturity. Collectively, all of these factors worked together to produce a giant buck that stood in a class by himself.
FIRST SIGHTING OF A GIANT
"I bought a Penn's Woods digital scouting camera in the spring of 2005," Rob recalled. "After putting it out and going back to check it, I started flipping through the images on the camera's screen, and I couldn't believe what I saw. I went home and put the pictures on my computer. The only words the kids could use to describe the huge buck in those photos were "big and nasty." That's where our name came from.
"I picked up a few more scouting cameras and used them to try to keep track of him," Rob continued. "We had blue tongue pretty bad that summer and I worried that he might get it. Later on, I started worrying that someone would find out about him and poach him. Of course, every time I heard a shot during the 2005 shotgun season I worried that someone
had shot him. Big Nasty caused me a lot of worries!
"The cameras helped keep me sane. I didn't want to scare him from the property, so I only put out the cameras in four places. I'd set them out for three days at a time and then yank them for three weeks or more. That worked well to keep me from pressuring him too much, but it also let me know he was still alive."
TOO GOOD TO PASS UP
The 2005 bow season would be Rob's first crack at the buck, which was then easily a 240-plus-inch non-typical. Armed with a PSE Durango, Rob hit the woods with a plan.
"I have two farms that I hunt," Rob revealed. "One is where Big Nasty lived, and on that particular farm I wanted to be very careful not to drive him off. I hunt a lot -- about three afternoons a week and almost every weekend. To play it safe, I planned to bowhunt for Big Nasty only three or four times a month when all the conditions were perfect for him to move. I spent all the other days hunting the other farm.
"I really wanted to shoot Big Nasty, but I also realized that I might never see him while actually out hunting," Rob said. "So one day while I was hunting the other farm, a beautiful 176 1/8 inch 10-pointer with a drop tine came through, and he was simply too good to pass up. I had to put an arrow in him and I did, but it used up my bow tag in the process."
No sane hunter could blame Rob for "lowering" his standards and taking the "lesser" buck. Firearms seasons passed without incident, and eventually the entire season passed without a single sighting of the monster whitetail.
In addition to purchasing more cameras, Rob also got inspired by Big Nasty to buy a new muzzleloader.
"Almost as soon as I saw the first picture of him, I knew I had to buy a new gun," Rob explained. "I wanted to kill this deer very badly, and I knew that a good muzzleloader would shoot much farther than my shotgun. I didn't want to risk seeing him at 200 yards with my shotgun and not be able to do anything about it. With a truly big buck, a hunter is lucky if he gets only one crack, and I wanted to make mine count. So I went out and bought a .50 Thompson/Center Encore with a laminated stock and thumbhole grip. I wanted to make sure I'd be able to make the shot if and when I saw Big Nasty."
A MEMORABLE SIGHTING
Rob's worries continued right on into the early part of 2006. Had Big Nasty survived the season? Once again, Rob's scouting cameras answered that question in early summer. The photos showed that the big buck had shed his 2005 rack and was beginning to grow a new one. Later that summer, several more photos were captured as the buck fed in his favorite food plot at night. The buck's 2006 rack was considerably larger than his 2005 rack. The new photos made Rob even more determined to shoot this deer. During archery season, Rob and his son, Tyler, got their first sighting of the buck.
"It was perfect," Rob recalled. "We were walking out after an evening bowhunt. Big Nasty ran past us at 60 yards with his rack silhouetted against the sky. There was no mistaking him. It was dark outside and his rack was also dark, so we couldn't tell if he still had his velvet or not. But it was really great to be able to share that sighting with Tyler! That was the only time we saw Big Nasty during archery season.
"Tyler shot his first deer with a bow during archery season. Then I shot a buck that had been wounded during the first shotgun season. When the second shotgun season came, all I had left was my muzzleloader tag."
Since it's legal to use a muzzleloader tag during the second Illinois shotgun season, Rob hoped that he might still have a chance.
FATEFUL DAY IN DECEMBER
Rob and his dad, Tom, own a family auto parts store. To keep the doors open, they usually try to take turns hunting during the second shotgun season. Last year, Tom hunted opening morning on Thursday (the first day of the four-day second season) and came back to the store so that Rob could have the afternoon hunt. Neither hunter saw Big Nasty that day. Tom struck out on Friday morning as well. Rob headed out around noontime for the afternoon hunt. The date was Dec. 1, 2006.
"It was really cold, about 10 degrees, with the wind blowing at 25 mph," Rob related. "I knew my insulted Scent-Lok bibs and coat would help, but I knew I had to get out of the wind or I'd freeze out after a couple hours. So instead of going to my regular stand, I went to a different stand that would give me more protection from the wind."
In addition to offering some protection from the brutal wind, Rob's stand offered two other promising aspects. It covered an area where deer often came out to feed late in the afternoon, and it also covered an area between several ravines and a dense thicket in which the deer often passed through.
At about 2 p.m., Rob saw a group of 11 does make their way toward the dense thicket. Knowing that a buck could be following this group of does made it easier to convince himself that he wasn't crazy for hunting on such a miserably cold afternoon.
"At 3:30 the does came back through the thicket and went into a picked cornfield to feed," Rob recalled. "The deer kept piling into the cornfield. At about 4 p.m., an 8-pointer started checking them out. After a few minutes the does suddenly got very jumpy. Then they all spooked and started running toward my stand. As they were running toward me, I raised my binoculars to see what had scared them. It was Big Nasty!"
THE SHOT OF A LIFETIME!
"I put down the binoculars and shouldered my T/C Encore right away," Rob continued. "When I found him in the scope, he was jumping the fence and running right for me. Then, just like it was meant to be, he stopped and turned perfectly broadside at about 80 yards, looking back in the direction from which he had come.
"When that happened I already had my finger on the trigger," Rob said. "That's when I stopped and forced myself to take a breath. I knew I was only going to have one shot and I wanted to be sure I did it right. So many times before this moment, I'd played killing him over and over in my mind. That helped me stay calm enough to pick my spot and smoothly pull the trigger."
After the shot, smoke filled the air. Rob had no idea what had happened to the buck. When Rob could finally see he scanned the 3-foot-tall alfalfa field, looking for Big Nasty. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he spotted the rack sticking up from the dead alfalfa.
"That's when I got excited," Rob admitted. "I got my stuff together and called my dad from the stand. He later told me that he couldn't understand a word I was saying, but he knew from my excitement that it must have had something to do with Big Nasty. He told me that he was on his way to dinner, and I told him to turn around and come over to the farm right away, that I needed his help.
"After I had called my wife and gotten all my stuff together, about 20 minutes had passed since I shot him. All the while, I kept checking on him to make sure
he didn't raise his head or try to get up. I wanted to make sure he was down. I knew that I had to get back to my truck, change clothes and meet Dad at the gate. While doing that, I passed within about 30 yards of where he was lying, and when I got that close I knew for sure that he was dead."
Rob's great buck had 39 points and over 110 inches in non-typical growth. As a main-frame 5x5, the massive rack sports a 180 2/8-inch typical frame with just under 6 inches in deductions. Because of the configuration of some of the non-typical points, the outside spread stretched the tape to 35 inches. With a gross non-typical score of 290 6/8 inches and a net non-typical score of 284 7/8, you'd think Rob's great buck would easily be the largest velvet buck ever taken -- a world record, if you will -- but that is not the case.
On Oct. 27, 2001, Troy Wilson shot a velvet buck in Gallatin County, Kentucky, that netted 293 1/8. This makes Rob's great buck No. 2. The Wilson buck had 44 points. Although much narrower than Rob's buck, it sported 114 7/8 inches in non-typical growth. Coincidentally, the Wilson buck was also taken with a muzzleloader. However, neither buck is eligible for entry in the record book. At present, neither the Boone and Crockett Club nor the Longhunter Society (keeper of the muzzleloader records) accepts velvet racks into their respective record books. But Rob is not complaining. He knows he has a very special whitetail.
As a writer and avid whitetail hunter myself, I was impressed by Rob as an extremely nice guy who eats, breathes and lives deer hunting -- certainly the kind of guy who deserves such an incredible trophy. It didn't take long for me to figure out that even though he's a very skilled hunter, his family is more important to him than any deer he might kill.
In fact, two days after Rob brought down Big Nasty, Tyler shot the same 8-pointer that Rob had seen with the 11 does. Rob seemed more excited about Tyler's buck than he was with his own! The 2006 season was good to the Brennan family. Not only did Rob shoot one of the top non-typicals of all time, but 12-year-old Tyler ended up shooting his first bow and his first shotgun buck. What a year!
(Editor's Note: An autographed copy of the author's popular book Advanced Stand-Hunting Strategies can be ordered for $22.50, including tax and shipping. An autographed copy of the author's brand-new hardback book, Bowhunting Tactics That Deliver Trophies, can be ordered for $30. Both books can be purchased for $50. Send a check or money order to: Steve Bartylla, 1406 St. Joseph Ave., Marshfield, WI 54449.)