By Brenda Potts
By making some of the toughest decisions a hunter will ever face, Sean Barry arrowed what looks to be the world’s biggest free-ranging buck of 2017, a massive 35-point, 6 1/2-year-old non-typical. Would you have done what this hunter and his brother did to make it happen? Let’s examine their multi-year quest for one of the greatest bucks in bowhunting history, and the largest wild whitetail ever taken on professional video.
The Barry family acquired the 3,000-acre property in far-northern Missouri’s Putnam County in 2010. They liked it because the farm had everything for growing trophy whitetails: CRP acreage, tillable ground, pastureland and ample woods, with little to moderate hunting pressure on and around it. A large lake on one side makes the property unique.
Because the family members live and work in Chicago, nearly 400 miles away, a manager was hired to take care of the farm. Isaac Snow runs the property when the brothers are away. He’s not just a caretaker but also a part of the whitetail management team. In fact, “Isaac knows deer as well as anyone I’ve ever met,” Don notes.
“Isaac plants all the food plots, along with some help from Ethan Porter,” Sean adds. “They work on the tree stands, CRP program and everything else it takes to run the farm when we are not there.”
Sean and Don are themselves accomplished hunters, having been introduced to the lifestyle by their father.
“My dad took me pheasant hunting in third or fourth grade,” Sean says, “and I started deer hunting in about sixth grade. We went to southern Illinois bowhunting and turkey hunting.”
Each brother has taken not just deer but also elk and turkeys with gun and bow. Their passion for bowhunting trophy bucks has only grown over the years.
Sean has a B.S. in Architecture from the University of Illinois and works with Don, who is CFO of the real estate development management company they own together with other family members. They specialize in buying, improving and managing properties in Chicago. Their success in business has enabled them to purchase hunting properties and initiate sound management practices on land they own.
From the beginning of the family’s ownership, the deer herd on this Missouri property featured a good sex ratio. The brothers work to keep it that way through their harvest strategy.
“We take 25 to 50 does off the property each year,” Don says. “Members of our family also hunt, along with a few friends. We targeted 8-pointers in the beginning. We can have two tags each year and can use one for a management buck, then hold out for an older trophy buck. Plus, during gun season the family members come down to hunt. Each year we also brought in several friends throughout the season to shoot the management deer. It is lots of fun.”
As all other deer managers can attest, it’s rewarding to begin to see the fruits of a management plan take shape. And one buck in particular embodied that success. The non-typical showed tremendous potential even at a young age, and he began showing up in trail camera photos.
“At first we noticed a lot of 8-pointers on the property, but as the years went by we saw more top-end deer,” Sean explains. “Other landowners knew about this particular buck and had trail cam pictures of it.”
Despite their acreage, low fencing around the property means the Barrys face one dilemma that plagues many other land managers trying to practice quality management. As Sean explains, “Every year we would see big deer on our property, but they would get harvested on a neighbor’s property. But it is what it is. We started to work together to try to save the up-and-comers,” he notes.
“We hunt very limitedly,” Don points out. “But the neighbors are hunting nearly every day during the deer season. That’s just the way it is. The big non-typical was a homebody but would leave the property every once in a while. The neighbor right next door had trail cam pics of him.”
Although they began to notice good non-typical genetics in general throughout the farm, one buck was quickly becoming a local legend. By the time he was 4 1/2 years old, the deer was estimated to score in the 180s. Sean had a chance to kill him that year but made the tough decision to pass him up. Then, in ’16, when the deer was 5 1/2, Don had a close call of his own.
“The buck came in just after shooting light,” he remembers. “It was early in the season. He made a scrape 25 yards from my stand.” Don would have tried to kill the buck then — it was estimated he’d score 215-220 — but with no clear shot, he had to pass.
That season, Sean also had a chance at him. Isaac was running the video camera when the deer came into view.
“Isaac spotted him,” Sean remembers, “but I didn’t get a chance at him. It was heartbreaking to see him walking in the opposite direction.”
Documentation of the buck was growing. The family had sheds, plus a video clip of him in velvet feeding in a soybean field in summer ’16. Trail cam photos also helped them keep track of him.
By November, though, the buck’s antlers were broken up, with major tines gone. Probably 20-plus inches was missing. Even though a skilled taxidermist could have replaced what was gone, that wasn’t what the brothers wanted. After much deliberation, they made another tough decision: to not hunt the buck for the remainder of the season.
“It wouldn’t have done justice to the animal, knowing how special it was. So we rolled the dice and held our breath,” Sean says.
The Hunt Continues
The first trail camera picture came Memorial Day weekend. There was no question about whether it was the buck the Barrys were hunting, because of its distinctive brow tines.
“We were excited,” Sean says. “Isaac sent us a picture and told us, ‘Our buddy is alive. He made it through.’” During spring break, team member Chad John found one shed. Everyone was glad to know the deer had made it through the winter.
The buck became more regular in the area and was caught on trail camera several times, allowing the hunters to track his progress and begin to figure out a pattern of behavior and travel.
The brothers discussed their strategy in great detail. Although Missouri’s bow season would open Sept. 15, they agreed to wait until later to go after the buck. They went elk hunting and had some family commitments that prevented them from hunting him in early season. Then cameras showed the buck went nocturnal. Sean and Don made the tough decision to wait longer yet.
For a while, the buck stayed out of sight. “The last picture we got of him showed him walking off the property,” Don says. This was difficult news for the hunters. Anything could happen. They worried that the buck might get killed by a car or another hunter.
Tough Decisions Pay Off
“When the buck came back, he was totally nocturnal for a couple of weeks,” Sean says. “We waited and waited. Then he became just a little active during daylight, but we didn’t want to pressure him.”
In previous years, the brothers had been very careful not to pressure the buck. They hunted perimeters of the areas where they knew he mainly lived. The brothers enjoy inviting friends and family to hunt with them. But since they hadn’t been able to go to the farm as expected, this also meant almost no hunting pressure from anyone had been put on the farm early in bow season.
Sean and Don were focused on bowhunting the buck. They knew the general area where he’d been seen, and they knew his basic habits. Finally, in late October, they were able to get free to head for Missouri. Little did they know what was about to happen.
“It was super windy that day — maybe 20- to 30-mph winds, and cool,” Don remembers. “We knew the general area where the buck was living in this 200-acre patch of woods. In the mornings, we can take a boat to the stand and slip in quietly. In the afternoons, we like to hunt field edges. We saw several deer moving in the morning, but not the non-typical.”
Sometimes as bucks age, their participation in the rut begins to decrease. So it appeared to be with this giant.
“One thing we noticed was that if several bucks were moving, we probably wouldn’t see this deer,” Sean observes. “He just wasn’t much of a fighter for as big as he was, which is why we didn’t rattle or call at him. If you did, he would do the exact opposite and go the other way. So you really had to position yourself where you thought he was going to be.”
The buck’s shyness was apparent in the presence of other bucks, too.
“He would scrape,” Sean notes. “He would rub trees. He was aggressive doing that. But if a 130-inch 8-pointer would come up to him, he would back down from it. He wouldn’t fight. So come December, when the other bucks were run-down, he was fat and happy. He wasn’t stressed out.”
The brothers’ chosen stands for Oct. 26 were in the same general area.
“We picked two spots,” Don says. “It was kind of a coin flip. The buck could show up at either spot. I chose a spot on higher ground near where the buck had spent much of his time that year. It was an area between tree lines. Sean went into the area where we knew the buck was living, but down low out of the wind.”
And the wind was a real consideration. “There was a creek bed on one side and a game trail coming down the other,” Sean explains. “It was so windy; we got in there out of the breeze.”
Sean and Don each had a cameraman, as they were shooting video for Whitetail Explorer TV on Sportsman Channel.
“My cameraman, Ethan Porter, and I were back in the stand by around 3:00,” Sean says. “It was about 3:15 or 3:30 by the time we got situated in the stand. We saw some decent deer movement, with a few young bucks cruising. There was enough action that you weren’t jumping every time you heard a leaf cracking.
“But I could hear something coming up the creek bed,” he continues. “I looked over and could see a big-bodied deer. I grabbed the binoculars and could see the non-typicalness of the rack. Without screaming at Ethan, I said, ‘It’s him. It’s him coming up.’
“The deer was on Ethan’s side of the tree, about 30 yards away,” Sean notes. “There was a bank in the way, so I couldn’t get a shot. Then he continued very nonchalantly making his way up the creek.
“Ethan leaned over and said, ‘Look to the south. There’s a big 10 coming up.’ I looked over and saw the other buck about 45 yards away about to cross our scent line. Now I couldn’t see the big guy any more. Ethan had a clear shot at 35 yards, but I had nothing.
“I was looking at this other deer, and he was getting nervous,” Sean says. “He didn’t run off but made his way out of there to the west. The big guy turned and headed straight away. I couldn’t even see him, but Ethan was telling me he was going the other way. He did not run off like he was scared, but he disappeared.”
Knowing the buck’s non-combative character, Sean then made another tough decision: not to rattle or call. That wasn’t easy.
“I was so bummed out. I couldn’t call to him. I couldn’t rattle him in. I was thinking to myself, There was my one shot at him. It was 4:30, and we still had another hour and a half of sitting in this tree,” Sean says. “I was just sitting there, pouting.”
Don, in his stand about 300 yards away, found out about what had just happened via text messages.
“Sean texted me about the encounter, and there were some sad emojis,” Don laughs. “I was thinking, Great. We know where he’s at. If he got spooked and decided to go back to his home range, we were right there. He could travel right down this corridor. He could come flying down through there any second. So now I was on edge. This could happen, and it could happen really fast!”
Meanwhile back at Sean’s tree stand, there was less enthusiasm.
“So I was sitting down,” he notes. “There were a couple young bucks walking through the area. About an hour went by, and we had around 10 to 15 minutes until sunset. We heard crunching coming from the same direction as those other young bucks. Ethan said, ‘There he is!’”
Shockingly, the non-typical had looped around and was now coming in from the south.
“I could see the body of the deer coming,” Sean remembers. “I had to reach for my bow and get it off the hook, because I had been sitting down, feeling sorry for myself. Of course, the bow was on the wrong side of the tree, so I reached and grabbed it as he was moving between trees. I told myself, Don’t look at the deer; get your release on the bow. I knew the opening he was coming to. I said to myself, Just get ready.
“Sure enough, he stopped behind a tree, which gave me a chance to draw,” Sean continues. “He started walking, and I grunted a couple times to get him to stop. But he wouldn’t, so I shot him as he was walking.”
The buck ran toward the creek along which he’d originally appeared.
“He ran about 85 yards to the edge of the creek from where we had heard him the first time and piled up,” Sean says. “We heard him go down.
“We played back the video, because in my mind I was thinking, Did I hit him? Did I not hit him? You start thinking of every bad shot you’ve ever made; it goes so fast. The shot looked solid on the video, so I felt pretty good about it. We decided to go get Don and Isaac and get this deer together,” Sean says.
Hunter and cameraman gathered their gear and climbed down. “I was just glad I was able to get out of the tree without falling 20 feet, I was so shaken,” Sean remembers. “We texted Don, this time with a lot of happy faces.”
“Yes,” Don confirms. “It was a very excited text.”
Sean’s hours on the range paid off when the moment of truth was at hand. “I spent a lot of time breaking in that new bow,” he says. “The shot I took at that buck was not a difficult one. But it adds to the pressure when you need to make it. If you can do it with your heart going 240 beats per minute, then you’re fine.
“We found the arrow and tracked the blood trail to where he was piled up. This is the first time I didn’t experience antler shrinkage — I actually had antler growth as we walked up to this thing! Walking up on that deer together was amazing, from when I first saw him to all the high-fives and hugs. We had a lot of adrenaline going to drag him out. And as word got out, we had lots of visitors that night,” Sean concludes.
As Big As He Looks
A Boone and Crockett measurer from Missouri green-scored the buck at 261 2/8 net inches. And following the 60-day drying period, that initial score proved remarkably close to the entry score: 260 1/8.
As the photos and score sheet indicate, the buck has just about everything a deer hunter could ever want in a set of antlers. Although the rack is narrow, it’s so massive and unique and has so many points that it fully meets the definition of a world-class non-typical. The typical frame grosses 182 6/8 inches and nets 176 7/8. Adding the 83 2/8 inches of abnormal growth to that net frame number results in the final score.
While the rack will need to be confirmed by a panel to get its final score and ranking in either B&C or Pope & Young, it appears the Barry buck is the world’s highest-scoring wild whitetail from last season. It was a special year for big bucks in many states and provinces, but there’s never more than a handful of bucks grossing 260 inches, much less netting it. At his entry score, this monster ranks second among all bow kills in Missouri, trailing only the 269 7/8-inch giant Randy Simonitch arrowed in Pike County (north of St. Louis) in October 2000.
Fortunately, the Barry brothers have a great relationship. And that only added to their shared experience in hunting a world-class whitetail.
“We used to beat each other up when younger, but at a certain point we learned it was better to be on the same side of the table,” Don explains. “People ask me, ‘Are you sad that you didn’t get the deer?’ And I say, ‘I’m 95 percent happy and 5 percent sad. I’m so happy to have been there and to have been part of it. It was one of the highlights of my whole hunting career, being there for it.
“There are so many things that could have gone wrong. The buck could have been shot by a neighbor, died of EHD or been hit by a car. But Sean got him. I was so excited for him, and it was so awesome to be a part of it,” Don notes.
“It’s most likely I will never shoot another deer as big as this one,” Sean says, stating what whitetail history would suggest is obvious. “But I love hunting deer. I love the thrill of the hunt. This deer was totally unique and special because of the antler size, but I get so excited no matter what deer I’m hunting.
“When you’re at full draw, you don’t want to miss and all your practice comes to fruition,” he continues. “Shooting a trophy animal adds icing to the cake. But you either love hunting and every aspect of it or you don’t. We both have a lot of respect and appreciation for each other.
“I’ve always been so excited in the past for Don and the big bucks he has shot,” Sean says in wrapping up the hunt. “So any time we can share the experience with each other, that makes it more special. Now with our kids getting into hunting, it means more opportunities to be able to celebrate and hunt these great animals.”