The giant buck that haunted Dave Jones for a year -- and even walked across his birthday cake -- finally ran out of luck last Nov. 5. As a result, the bowhunting world has what looks to be a new Top 5 non-typical!
With an entry score of 266 4/8 inches, the Jones buck is the world's No. 2 overall non-typical of 2003. Only Tony Lovstuen's Iowa muzzleloader buck has a higher score. Taxidermy by Chuck Watson; photo by Terry Wunderle
By Terry Wunderle
The sun was coming up over the rolling pasture hills of central Illinois as Dave Jones perched in his portable tree stand. A hundred yards to his right was a finger of timber jutting out into an open pasture where deer frequently enter and leave the small oak wood lot.
As the bowhunter sat there, he heard the sounds of deer moving, followed by that of a buck thrashing trees with his heavy antlers. Dave's anticipation grew as he envisioned the trophy hidden in the cover.
Soon a doe came out of the brush, a big non-typical buck in close pursuit. The massive buck halted 25 yards from the tree stand. The opportunity of a lifetime was here.
As Dave carefully brought his bow into position, he realized he could not see his sight pins; the peep had not rolled correctly. Reluctantly, Dave let the bow down and drew again . . . but the same problem occurred.
Because Dave was not using a release, he tried rolling the string with his fingers. Doing so, he could see part of the pins but not their ends. He made the decision to allow for the difference and shoot anyway.
Instantly the bowhunter regretted it. The monster buck ran a distance and stopped, unharmed. Then Dave watched his dream deer simply walk away. His shot had gone awry because of an equipment malfunction.
About six weeks prior to this maddening encounter, Dave had placed a trail camera on a path near his portable stand where he had seen the buck in 2001. Between his part-time work helping a farmer and his regular job as a forklift operator, he had not been able to check the camera since then. Now, after retrieving his arrow, Dave removed the film from the camera. He went home and for nearly a year replayed in his mind the events surrounding the biggest disappointment in his bowhunting career.
Later, Dave's girlfriend, Lisa, took the roll of film to be developed. When she returned with the photos, she commented that the roll contained several prints of a deer that he would enjoy seeing. Sure enough, it was the enormous non-typical!
One of the better pictures was posted on the refrigerator. "I can't begin to guess the number of times that I paused to look at the photo or the number of times that I took it down and stared at it over a cup of coffee," Dave says.
When his birthday rolled around in March 2003, Dave was surprised with a unique cake he would never forget. Lisa had taken the picture of the non-typical to a local baker, who had duplicated the image in the icing.
Now Dave's enthusiasm over getting a second chance at the "Birthday Cake" buck was elevated to a new level. But he knew getting another shot at this wary quarry would be more than a piece of cake.
Hoping to improve his odds of getting the buck, Dave completely changed his equipment setup in the spring of 2003. He put a big peep sight on his bowstring and added fiber optic pins, carbon arrows and a release to his arsenal.
"After being a finger shooter for 20 years, I felt like a sinner when I put the release in my hand," the hunter says. "I practiced for months with my new setup, so by the end of summer I had worn out a couple of 3-D targets and had 'Robin Hooded' four arrows. This combination seemed like the answer."
With archery season still several months away, Dave thought hard about how to get another shot at the magnificent animal. The Birthday Cake buck was a very challenging trophy to hunt because he was mainly nocturnal. In 2001 and 2002, several people had encountered him, but nearly always at night, in the headlights of a car.
The huge deer usually left his bedding area late in the evening and returned just before daybreak. On numerous occasions, Dave had to remain in his stand after dark because the buck was nearby, hitting trees with his antlers. Dave recognized the distinctive sound and did not want to climb down and scare him.
During 2003 there was considerable growth of the deer's antlers. This buck was now the unquestioned monarch of the woods.
In many cases, when a buck becomes dominant over other deer in an area, he adopts more outgoing and careless ways, because nearly every other deer is afraid of him -- and he knows it. Dave now found himself in pursuit of just such a buck. In fact, the big non-typical was getting so careless that several times he was spotted in daylight a good distance from his core bedding area.
During the summer, Dave had moved his stand about 50 yards from its original position, enabling him to get a better view of the oak ridge. He planned his vacation to coincide with the onset of the rut. Part of his time off was to be spent doing farm work, but most of it would be devoted to pursuing his long-awaited dream.
The weather at the beginning of his vacation week was unseasonably warm, so the first few days Dave engaged in farming, as well as yard work at his home. On Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 5, his plan was to help the farmer as well. However, a cold front had moved in on Tuesday evening, and Wednesday was dark, gloomy and cold. On his 20-minute drive to the farmstead, Dave saw a buck chasing does. Suddenly overcome with hunting fever, Dave returned home to quickly gather his equipment.
Without hesitation, he knew just where he would begin his hunt. He hadn't touched his new stand since erecting it over the summer. Now that the bucks were more active, it was time to make his move.
After ascending into his portable, Dave had a choice view of the ridge the Birthday Cake buck was known to travel. Around 3:30, several does and fawns came into view, and shortly thereafter a flock of young tom turkeys joined them on the ridge.
"They really started irritating me with all the noise and carrying on," Dave says. "I was afraid they would scare everything away."
Finally the turkeys' fighting ceased, and they settled down. Moments later, the archer saw a small buck dart out of the timber and go straight into another small wood lot. Then another buck came running from the ridge. Although this deer was bigger, Da
ve knew he wasn't a "shooter" either. But the parade wasn't over. Halfway across the open pasture, 200 yards in the distance, the Birthday Cake buck appeared.
Dave moved into action, slamming together a set of 140-class rattling antlers. The buck stopped, glared his way and proceeded on toward the small wood lot. Dave again banged and rattled the antlers, hoping to entice his dream buck into range, but the animal vanished into the timber.
Dave finally hung up the rattlers and grabbed his bow. The next 10 minutes passed slowly as he scanned the area for signs of the monster buck. Nothing appeared, so he reluctantly placed his bow back on the hanger. Then, as he turned back around, there stood the deer, 100 yards away in the open pasture.
"I thought I was busted, because he just stood there," Dave says. "Then the buck moved in my direction. I couldn't believe he was from open pasture and the upwind side.
"When he was within 70 yards, those darn turkeys started fighting again, and he locked up." The buck just stood there, glaring at the turkeys and acting a little spooked. Finally he decided there was no danger and continued on in Dave's direction.
As the massive animal drew close to the timber, he stopped to size up the situation. There was some brush and downed limbs in front of the stand, forcing the deer to circle around Dave's tree. Now the buck was at 25 yards, but with a big limb between them. Dave seized the moment and drew his bow. The deer stopped, but not where the archer had an open shot.
Visually searching the area for the fighting bucks he thought he'd heard earlier, the buck moved forward a few paces. Again, there was no open shot. By now Dave's arms were beginning to burn from holding his bow at full draw.
The buck began walking again, moving toward a dirt mound on the trail just inside the woods, 18 yards away from the anxious hunter. Stepping up on the mound, the buck began scanning for his fighting competitors.
"It was almost as if he were saying, 'Here I am. Take me if you can!' " Dave says. "That's when I introduced him to Mr. Muzzy."
The deed was done. The buck spun around and headed for the next wood lot across the open pasture, in the direction of his bedding area.
"As he was angling up the ridge and getting out of sight, I thought I saw him stagger and his tail flutter," Dave says. "I felt confident he was down."
Dave stayed in his stand for another 20 minutes before descending to inspect the arrow. The shaft and blades were blood-soaked, but because of the angle of the shot, he wasn't sure if it had been a double-lung shot. The penetration appeared to have been through one lung and the liver. Being a veteran hunter, Dave made the right decision, going back to his truck and not taking the chance of jumping the buck.
As he waited in suspense, Dave called good friend Dan Lowman and requested his help in recovering the animal. Darkness had fallen by the time Dan arrived, so the pair cautiously moved toward where Dave had seen the buck enter the woods. Quickly, they found a good blood trail -- and they didn't have to follow it far.
"I'll never forget the sight of that buck lying there," Dave says of the moment of discovery. "The rack just looked huge with the light shining on it."
After receiving a handshake and congratulations from Dan, Dave attempted to inspect the antlers. That was easier said than done.
"I think it took me three or four tries to count the points, because I kept losing track of them," he says. "I finally came up with 36!"
Dave and Dan took the deer to a local check station, where they encountered a bowhunter from Florida. While they all stood in awe, looking at the buck, four hunters from Pennsylvania stepped up and wanted their turn. Before long, the Birthday Cake buck had drawn an admiring crowd.
The next morning, Dave took the head to be mounted by Chuck Watson of Nature's Window Taxidermy in Franklin. Chuck aged the magnificent animal at 7 1/2 years old.
After the required 60-day drying period, veteran measurer Tim Walmsley scored the rack at 266 4/8 net inches. That entry score beats the old state record of 251 6/8, held by Bill Brown, by 14 6/8 inches. This score, if approved by a P&Y panel in 2005, will make the Jones buck the world's fourth-biggest archery non-typical of all time.
Dave has hunted deer for nearly 20 years now, and as it has for many of the rest of us, each autumn the sport is a major part of his life. Over the years he has taken nine deer big enough to qualify for Pope & Young, with the biggest pushing 160. Several other deer heads hang on his walls, with two in the 150 range.
"I can't imagine my life without deer hunting," Dave says. "There have been lots of ups and downs, successes and failures, but it has always been a lot of fun."
Yes, Dave, you can have your cake and eat it, too!
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Dave's great deer was featured in an exclusive "Big Buck Profile" on the seventh episode of North American Whitetail Television.