Records are meant to be broken. But when it comes to deer hunting, most records are broken by happenstance rather than intent. That was the case with the latest addition to the top of Michigan’s typical bowhunting listings. Robert Sopsich, 24, from Milford, Mich., didn’t know what the current state record was, much less what a record buck looked like, when he arrowed a monster 12-pointer on Nov. 2, 2012. In fact, he had no interest in antler scores or records until he happened to put a tag on a buck with the largest antlers he’d ever seen.
Sopsich’s buck broke a record that was set three years before he was even born. The 12-pointer’s antlers scored just one-quarter inch more than the state’s previous record typical bow kill taken in 1985. Coincidentally, that buck was also a 12-pointer that scored 181 7/8.
Both record bucks were the same age, too (4½), but those two whitetails spent their lives in different parts of the state. The previous state record was arrowed in Grand Traverse County, Mich., which is in the northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula. Sopsich got the new record buck in Oakland County, not far from Detroit in the southeastern part of the Lower Peninsula.
Mitch Rompola, from Traverse City, is the bowhunter who bagged the state’s previous top-ranking typical bow buck on Nov. 8, 1985. If Rompola’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because of a much bigger 12-pointer he arrowed in 1998 that was surrounded by controversy due to endless speculation about the deer and the hunter who got it. Many people outside of Michigan are probably unfamiliar with his state-record buck that reigned for 37 years.
But this story is about Sopsich and his new record buck. He took it from an area that is ideal for producing mature bucks with big racks. Due to local ordinance, no deer hunting with firearms is permitted. That means deer hunting is limited to archery equipment, and there’s a large metropolitan park nearby (Kensington) where no hunting is allowed. So the park serves as a refuge for bucks, allowing them to live longer and grow bigger antlers than they otherwise would.
Sopsich’s family happens to own land bordering the park. Robert and his younger brother Donny spend as much time as possible bowhunting for whitetails once the season opens on Oct. 1. The brothers are experienced enough that they’ve become selective about the bucks they shoot, increasing their chances of connecting on the big ones.
Last fall was one of the best years the family has had in terms of collecting quality bucks. Besides the record buck Robert arrowed, Donny scored on a 130-class 10-point, and he also killed a smaller eight-point. Donny’s girlfriend shot a 10-pointer, too.
Robert Sopsich’s goal for the 2012 season was to get a “mounter,” a buck with antlers large enough to have the head mounted on the wall. He and Donny have a friendly family competition that fueled Robert’s desire.
“My brother usually gets the mounters,” said Robert, who obviously accomplished his goal but did much better than his wildest dreams.
“I was not out there trying to get a state record,” he said. “I was just out there doing what I like to do.”
The Sopsich brothers knew the huge 12-pointer was spending some time on their hunting grounds. They started getting trail camera photos of the buck in July when its velvet-covered antlers were still growing, and captured many more during the weeks and months that followed. They knew the buck’s antlers were large, and both brothers had their sights set on trying to kill that buck, but they didn’t have a clue what the antlers would score because neither had ever had a set of antlers scored.
Prior to last fall, Robert had taken three 8-pointers and two seven-points with bow and arrow. He guessed the 8-point with the largest antlers would score about 110. He started bowhunting when he was 12 years old and got three deer that year, all of which were antlerless. Two were does and one was a button buck.
Robert and Donny’s father, Robert Sr., is also a hunter, and he is responsible for their interest in hunting. The elder Sopsich has shot his share of big bucks, but he was never overly impressed with antlers. He said he discarded some racks from deer he shot that other hunters would have been happy to get their hands on.
“We usually pass up everything smaller than 8-points now,” the new state record holder commented. “We only shoot bucks we are going to mount. If we want meat, we shoot does instead of small bucks.”
The problem posed by the 12-pointer was that the buck seemed to be primarily nocturnal. All of the trail camera photos they had of that deer were taken during hours of darkness. Some neighbors knew about the buck, too, and were hunting for it. The Sopsich brothers also had trail cam photos of a big 10-pointer they were interested in taking.
The fact that they knew the biggest bucks were nocturnal is one reason why Donny didn’t hesitate to take an 8-pointer with his Bear bow on October 1. The annual bag limit for bucks in Michigan is two, so Donny still had another tag available that would allow him to continue hunting for one of the target bucks.
The next evening, during the last hour of daylight, Robert took a shot at a 10-pointer but hit low, just grazing the buck. Still, Robert looked for that buck for several days but found no sign of it and concluded it survived. That same evening, October 2, Donny’s girlfriend arrowed a different 10-point buck.
Another month went by without a sighting of the monster buck whose images had been captured on a regular basis by their trail cameras. Meanwhile, the brothers were passing up lots of smaller bucks.
On Nov., Robert wasn’t even planning on bowhunting because he and Donny got home late from work. The two are normally in their stands around 4 p.m., but they didn’t get home until well after that. However, Donny talked Robert into hunting anyway. As fate would have it, their late arrival would prove to be key in the taking of the new state-record buck. If Robert had been in his chosen stand at the normal time, he may not have even seen the Boone & Crockett-class buck.
Robert was walking toward the treestand he planned on hunting that evening at about 6:15 p.m. when he saw the big buck cutting across a field. The whitetail was coming from the direction of the stand, but there was no way of knowing if it had passed within view of the stand.
“The buck was 45 yards away when I saw him,” Robert said. “I don’t normally shoot that far, but I knew it was the big buck we were after, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I didn’t know if I would ever see him again.”
The 70-pound PSE bow Sopsich was hunting with has a flat trajectory, and he’d practiced shooting it at various yardages, so he was confident he could make the shot.
“I only have a 20-yard sight pin on my bow,” Robert explained. “I didn’t want to aim over his back because I was afraid my arrow would go too high and miss him. So I put my pin on the top of his back.”
“I was calm when I first I saw him and drew my bow. When I took a second look at him, I started getting buck fever. He was the biggest buck I had ever seen. What I did to try to calm down for the shot was hold my breath.”
Fortunately, the buck remained stationary during the seconds Robert’s mind was in overdrive. The deer was angling away when Sopsich released his arrow, and it seemed to take forever to reach the trophy whitetail. When he finally heard the hollow thud of the arrow connecting, the buck took off.
Not wanting to disrupt Donny’s hunt, Robert decided to wait until after dark when Donny could help him look for the buck. In the meantime, he sent Donny a text message about what happened. As it turned out, a neighbor arrowed an 8-point that evening, too, and he asked for help finding it. So the brothers helped their neighbor find his deer before looking for Robert’s buck.
There were some anxious moments due to rain and a sparse blood trail, but the pair eventually found the 12-pointer. The whitetail had gone all the way across a large field and ended up going down in a ditch. It took the brothers two hours to find the Booner 400 yards from where it had been hit. Robert’s arrow had collapsed just one lung.
“I called everyone I knew after we found the deer,” Robert said. “There was a lot of excitement.”
When their father saw the size of the buck’s antlers, he was confident they were of Boone and Crockett proportions, so he encouraged his son to get them measured. That wasn’t done until after the 60-day drying period had elapsed. That’s when they found out just how exceptional the rack was.
The Sopsich buck’s antlers have a gross score of 185 7/8 and netted 182 1/8. The buck had a dressed weight of 185 pounds.
If you have an area that is limited to archery only, you might want to check your state regulations and get started scouting. You never know what you might find.