December 23, 2021
This story began in the summer of 2019. I was running multiple trail cameras like I do every year, when I came across pictures of a decent 3½-year-old buck. He was a nice buck, probably in the low 140s, and one I figured would be well worth chasing in a couple of years. I saw this buck several times that fall, and it was apparent he was a homebody on the farm I was hunting. For just 30 acres of timber, he stuck around a lot.
The fall came and went, and we entered the 2020 shed season. I happened to pick up one of this buck’s antlers roughly 100 yards from where I had summer pics of him, but for the life of me, I couldn’t manage to find his other half.
Come early July of 2020, I was out scouting the farm and checking cards from the cameras I’d put up earlier and hoping to catch back up with that 140-class buck, or any other mature buck that was in the area. As I crested a hill, I looked out into a beanfield and laid my eyes on what appeared to be a really big buck. I could see this deer was a big typical with some junk on his left side, but I couldn’t really make out much more given the distance. Regardless, I was anxious to check out a nearby trail camera to see if his picture was on it.
I pulled the card, and sure enough the giant buck was on it! I finally put two and two together and realized it was that same deer I’d collected plenty of trail-cam pics of and a single shed antler. But I couldn’t believe how much his antlers had grown in just a year! He was easily the biggest buck I’d ever seen, and I immediately decided there was no better name for him than simply, “That Deer.”
After reviewing his pictures, I spent countless hours in the evenings watching him and learning his feeding patterns. That Deer was very routine. Every time I saw him, he would come out of a half-acre patch of CRP where he liked to bed, and then he would head out into the beans to feed. I had That Deer figured down to a T! Still, I was a little nervous that he might break from his daily routine once he shed his velvet. My concerns were allayed on September 25, when I saw That Deer in a hayfield roughly 200 yards from his small CRP bedding area.
It seemed like an eternity till October 1 finally arrived. Unfortunately, the wind wasn’t right for the stand that I wanted to be in that evening, so I just sat in another stand next to the hayfield. I had only seen That Deer in the field once, but it was a week prior to this, so I figured he may do it again. Indeed, I saw him that night, and he showed up only 20 yards from the stand I would have been in had the wind been right!
On October 4, I got the south wind that I needed for the stand I’d hung just 60 yards from his bedding area. It felt like a night to kill. In fact, I remember telling my mom, “I’m going to get That Deer tonight.”
As the evening progressed, I’d watched a few does work their way into the beans and then meander off. At 6:20 p.m., there was a doe 40 yards in front of me. My cameras had captured zero pictures of any other bucks since early September, and it was my belief that the reason was That Deer had staked his claim to the area as the dominant buck, and had run every other potential rival out of there.
I scanned the area for other deer, and then I let out a snort-wheeze in the direction of That Deer’s bedding area, figuring if I mimicked another buck near his bed, then maybe he’d come check it out. Less than a minute later, I spotted a second doe headed right toward me. She made it all the way to the base of my tree, and I could tell she was nervous.
That’s when I heard the sounds of another deer approaching from the east. I had a gut feeling it was That Deer…and it was! He was working his way through the thick cover, and he was starting to angle downwind of me.
I knew I had to stand up and get turned around for a shot should he step out into the clearing, but the nervous doe was still standing five yards from the base of my tree. Knowing it was now or never, I took a chance and slowly stood up, at which point the antsy doe snorted and took off. That Deer was now in the clearing, but I didn’t have a shot from my standing position. This is where things got crazy!
I started to crouch down in order to shoot through a basketball-sized hole, and the buck picked me out in the tree. That Deer was now locked on me, but I decided to throw caution to the wind anyway and drew back as fast as I could. Miraculously, he didn’t even flinch! How lucky could I have been?
I let the arrow fly, and it hit him tight to the shoulder. That Deer ran 60 yards to my southeast and then stopped. I could see almost all of my arrow sticking out of him — it didn’t look like I got more than five inches of penetration. Then he slowly started walking toward a nearby creek and disappeared from sight. At this point, I really didn’t know what to think, other than I may have just messed up on a true buck of a lifetime.
I called some friends and family members from my stand and quietly explained my situation. My voice was shaky, my hands were shaky; in fact, my entire body was shaky.
Thirty minutes later, I quietly left my stand, headed for my truck, and went to meet my stepfather, JD, who had been hunting nearby. I told my stepdad what had happened and explained my concern over the lack of penetration and how the buck's reaction after the shot had my stomach in knots.
We decided to wait several hours before looking for blood. In the meantime, I called my buddy Brock and asked him to come help us recover the buck. Brock is a good friend, and he was more than willing to drive 30 miles on a Sunday night to help us out.
We went back to the spot where I’d shot That Deer, and initially we came up empty-handed in our search for blood at the impact site. So, I followed the path the buck had taken when he ran off, and I eventually stumbled upon some blood.
The blood trail wasn’t great at first, but it wasn’t long before the sign really picked up — and my hopes skyrocketed! At this point, we were able to follow the blood at a pretty fast pace through the timber. About 250 yards later, I spotted my Nockturnal lighted nock glowing through some knee-high grass.
As we slowly approached the tiny beacon, we were shocked to see That Deer jump up out of the grass just 10 yards from us. He ran off about 70 yards before stopping to look back. I was sick!
As the three of us stood there quietly, in the beams of our flashlights we watched the big buck move off and then bed again quickly in some standing beans. Our next move was a no-brainer — we slowly backed out with the intention of giving him several more hours to expire before we returned.
So, at 12:30 a.m., Brock and I headed back out. My stepdad didn’t come with us because he was tired and had to work in the morning. Brock and I slowly approached the spot where the buck had been bedded and immediately found a big pool of blood. But That Deer was gone. Scanning the nearby area, I was surprised he was nowhere to be seen. Luckily, there was blood to follow. Although minimal, at least we had something to trail.
We were now 100 yards from where the buck had bedded in the beans, literally following droplets of blood on our hands and knees. Suddenly I heard a crash, and looking back at Brock, I said, “That had to be him falling down.”
Slowly, Brock and I headed in the direction of the crashing sound, and we soon spotted something white up ahead of us. Sure enough, it was the white belly of That Deer, and he was down for good!
After a celebratory hug, I ran toward the buck, still somewhat in disbelief at what had transpired and super anxious to get my hands on the antlers of That Deer. I couldn’t believe how big he truly was!
Initially, my mind had told me that I’d shot the buck in the heart, but upon closer examination it was clear that my arrow had deflected off a rib and struck the paunch. That explained why it took so long for the buck to expire and emphasized how fortunate I was on the recovery. My earlier near tears from heartache over the possibility of having screwed up were now replaced by true tears, brought about by the joyful realization that I’d taken a bona fide monster whitetail buck.
The author is a self-described small-town guy from Southwest Iowa. He works for a company in Lenox, IA, and has plans of becoming a taxidermist in the near future.
Author’s Note: My equipment on this hunt included a Mathews Z7 Magnum bow and Rage Trypan-tipped Easton Axis 340s. I use Lone Wolf treestands, and clothing in Realtree camo.