When this incredible deer appeared in the driving snow some 300 yards away like an apparition, Clint Barnes knew he was looking at the buck of a lifetime.
Every year in late winter and early spring, I spend a lot of time shed hunting and scouting. I've had great success doing this in the past, although prior to 2005 I'd never found a shed antler that was large enough to make me concentrate solely on one buck. In February 2005, however, I found a really nice piece of bone. It was a main-framed 5x5 with a few sticker points. The brow tine and G-4 were both 8 inches long, while the G-2 and G-3 were both longer than 10 inches.
Talk about shock value! Clint's amazing 22-point giant had a 31-inch outside spread and a 28'‚7/8-inch inside spread.
Photo courtesy of Clint Barnes.
I was elated -- my biggest shed ever! I searched long and hard the rest of the day for the other side, but to no avail. The next day, however, I was lucky enough to find the matching shed about 800 yards away from where the first antler had been found.
This shed was just as big, and just a little more gnarly. The buck would gross somewhere in the high 170s as a typical. I couldn't wait until the fall of 2005 to try to outsmart this awesome buck. I thought that I had found the sheds off the biggest buck in the area. But little did I know that there was another buck roaming the area carrying a rack that made my sheds look small!
LOOKING FOR MR. BIG
Sept. 15, 2005, opening day of bow season in Nebraska, couldn't come fast enough. Prior to that, I scouted every evening when I had time, glassing soybean fields until dark. I saw many nice bucks, but never "my" buck. Early in the antler-growing period, I did see a buck that intrigued me. The antlers were coming almost straight out of his head, with extreme mass and multiple brow tines. They were past the ears, but they hadn't branched off yet and they showed no sign of getting any narrower.
This was not the buck whose sheds I had found, but this buck was certainly going to be a wide load! I didn't realize it then, but I had just laid eyes on a buck that stood in a class by himself. We would meet again, and he would become my buck of a lifetime.
I am primarily a bowhunter. I love the adrenaline rush I feel every time a deer walks close to my stand. When a mature buck comes into bow range, the adrenaline makes my heart feel like it is going to explode. It is a feeling that is hard to describe. And even then, I think my passion for deer hunting is what intensifies the moment of truth. I spend countless hours in my tree stand every year waiting for that particular moment. When it all unfolds, the time spent is worth its weight in gold.
In Nebraska, gun season runs 10 days, starting on Nov. 12. This just happens to coincide with peak breeding dates in most of the Midwest. Although I love to bowhunt, I also realize that the odds of harvesting a mature buck increase when these animals have other things on their minds, like searching for special does.
Since I try to harvest only mature bucks (along with a few does for management purposes), this is a time of year that I can't afford to miss. Although the adrenaline doesn't pump quite as hard as it does when I'm drawing back my bowstring, having a big buck in my cross hairs still makes my blood boil.
When the 2005 archery season came, I was ready, or so I thought. I had my stands in place and I was confident that I could get a shot at the buck I had come to know so well. I think I looked at those sheds every night, just dreaming of the day that buck would be mine.
I hunted stands only when the wind was perfect, and sparingly enough to not burn out any particular location. The big buck I was after seemed to be completely nocturnal. I knew that the rut was coming, however. This might be the only time he would show himself during daylight hours. I was very excited about the days to come.
The seeking phase of the rut finally arrived. I had several encounters with smaller bucks and does, but never with the buck I spent every night dreaming about. One morning I passed up a 3'‚1/2-year-old long-tined 4x4 with double brow tines. He was a nice buck that surely would have made Pope & Young, but he just didn't have the mass that he would no doubt get in a year or two.
Later I started second-guessing myself, thinking that maybe I should have harvested that deer. The opening weekend of rifle season came and went with no success. My confidence and motivation were starting to diminish. The mature bucks of the area were definitely getting the best of me.
A WINNING STRATEGY
I woke up on Tuesday, Nov. 15, at 4:30 a.m., an hour before my alarm was scheduled to go off. I looked outside. The predicted snow had not arrived. It was raining. I fell asleep again, thinking that if it kept raining I would not go hunting that morning. The deer would already be bedded down by daylight, or so I thought. When my alarm went off at 5:30, I looked outside. There was already an inch of white on the ground, and more was coming, heavily. A big smile spread across my face. This could be good!
As I ate breakfast and got ready to "brave" the weather, I tried to come up with a strategy. Supposedly, I had hunted all the "right ways" up until this point, with no success. Maybe it was time to take a risk and do something different.
I finally came up with a plan. I knew about a particular field that the deer had been hitting pretty hard. However, the only way to get to my hunting spot was to go straight across the field. Thus far, it had always been an evening stand. If I hunted it in the mornings, I would scare anything left in the field.
Today, however, I knew the snow would camouflage my movements out to about 300 yards. I thought it was worth a try. I had nothing to lose. I planned to arrive at the spot right at daybreak so that if anything was close by, I might be able to get a shot.
WHERE'D HE COME FROM?
When I got to the area, I glassed the field of white. I could see brown spots about 500 to 600 yards out, but I couldn't make out any antlers. I belly-crawled up the fence line full of weeds toward the brown objects. After crawling about 100 yards, I glassed again. This time, I could definitely see a buck chasing a doe, but I could not tell how big the buck was. The snow was just too heavy.
Then, as if it were meant to be, the doe started heading my way. When the buck turned his head and started running toward me, I instantly started shaking. There, in my binoculars, at 300 yards and closing fast, was the biggest, widest, s
cariest buck I had ever laid eyes on!
There was no doubt that this deer was a shooter. His rack absolutely dwarfed the sheds of the buck I had hunted all year long.
From the moment I first realized how large the buck's rack actually was, I never looked at it again. To do so would probably have caused a bad case of buck fever. I watched the doe close to 200 yards, then 150 yards, and finally to 100 yards. I raised my rifle and focused the cross hairs on the buck's chest. I was hunting with a Browning A-Bolt 7mm Magnum. I grunted loudly with my mouth and stopped the buck and doe in their tracks at 70 yards. As the buck quartered to, I pulled the trigger.
DREAMS DO COME TRUE!
As I walked up to my downed buck, I couldn't believe my eyes. He kept getting bigger and bigger. Suddenly he was enormous! What a buck! The feeling inside of me at that moment was indescribable. All of the countless hours spent in the tree stand and not seeing anything now were more than worthwhile. Words just can't describe the feeling you get when you reach the pinnacle of the sport you love. I thanked God, and then I thanked my grandpa and cousin, who passed on when I was a young boy. Both were hunters, and I knew that both were looking down, smiling at me at that moment.
After getting my friend Logan McNew to help me load the buck, I drove to my parent's house to show them this magnificent animal. I talked to my dad before I got there, but it was hard to describe a buck with this kind of shock value over the phone.
When my parents walked up to the truck, both were at a loss for words. We celebrated and then took plenty of pictures. The next day, my dad Larry and my friend Brett Kazemba made the trip to Randolph, Nebraska, to see Brian Lewon of Lewon Taxidermy. I did not want to take any chances on ruining the cape, so I let Brian cape the deer for me.
After everything settled down a bit, I took the rack to a friend's house to get it green-scored. Marcus Dryak scored the antlers at 221'‚1/8 non-typical inches. Later in March 2006, I took the antlers to the Iowa Deer Classic in Des Moines to be scored officially.
The final score ended up being 221'‚3/8 points.
The massive rack carries 10 points on one side and 12 on the other. The thing that sets it apart, however, is its incredible width -- 31 inches outside and 28'‚7/8 inches inside. Another special feature involves the G-4s. These points actually run perpendicular to other tines, giving the rack a "crab claw" appearance.
SOME HIGH-IMPACT HORNS
Several people who are very familiar with big-buck scores have told me that the score of my buck just doesn't do it justice. If points could be added on "shock" value alone, I'm sure this buck would score much higher. Some people have told me that I will never top this deer and that I might as well quit hunting. While the first statement might be true, there is no chance that I'll quit hunting anytime soon. I simply enjoy the "chess" game I play with the mature bucks every year way too much. I also enjoy eating deer steaks, sharing stories, and spending time with friends and family.
To me, hunting is a huge part of my life. I don't think I could be happy without it. And besides, the buck that once carried the sheds I found might still be out there!