My story of a very special whitetail buck begins in the fall of 2013. I didn't have much of an opportunity to go bowhunting that fall due to a project of tearing rocks out of 100 acres of sod. What I thought was going to take about one week to complete ended up taking me five weeks. It was tough knowing the rut was in full swing, and I couldn't even find time to get my trail cameras out. By the time the rifle season opened, the ground had finally frozen, and I was able to get out and do some hunting.
Surprisingly, I wasn't seeing a whole lot of movement. About halfway through the season, I was driving down a gravel road, when a guy waved me down and asked, "Are you after the big buck?"
Not knowing anything about any big buck, I replied, "I guess I am always after big bucks."
That's when the guy showed me several trail camera photos of the buck he was referring to. Evidently this deer had been coming into one of my cornfields, and I knew nothing about it. From that moment on I was hunting only for that one buck, and dedicated the remainder of the season to looking for him. Throughout the rest of the season I saw him only once, and he was on our neighbor's property where I didn't have permission to hunt.
After the season, I searched for the buck every now and then just to determine if he had survived the gun season. One blizzard-like day in early January, I spotted him with a group of 75 deer. This time he was on our property, so I was very relieved to know I would be able to focus on hunting him in the fall.
I didn't see the buck throughout the summer, but in early September I put out my trail cameras and was very surprised to get photos of the buck the very first time I pulled my cards. The buck had really blown up and was huge. Instead of just calling him "that big buck," I named him "Kong."
My trail cameras eventually revealed the huge deer was coming into one of my food plots at least every other night. This was a bit surprising to me, considering he was leaving some very nice, well-managed property just northeast of me. On opening day of pheasant season, I sat on stand the whole day thinking that all the bird-hunting pressure would bump Kong out of his bed and push him past my food plot and waterhole. It seemed like a good plan, but I did not see a single deer that day.
Winter decided to set in early, bringing snow along with some brutally cold temps. I saw Kong a handful of times. Once was on a foggy morning, and he was with a small buck and two does. I tried to stalk him, but 150 yards was as close as I could get. He continued to show up on my cameras, normally walking by them between midnight and 4 a.m. Except, that is, for October 29, the day my daughter, Sadie, was born.
On that day, my camera caught the buck walking right by my stand during the last 15 minutes of legal shooting light. Seeing the photo, I thought that might have been my only chance at the buck and I had missed it — for an extremely good reason, of course.
The day my wife, Liza, and I brought Sadie home from the hospital, we got to the house at 1 p.m., and an hour later I was sitting in a treestand. I knew I was pushing it a little, but my wife was gracious enough to say, "Go get him."
For the next five or six days, I saw no sign of Kong in the field or on camera. At that point I was becoming concerned he may have moved out of the area. It was now the last week before rifle season, so I decided to stick with it and hunt hard for the buck. If unsuccessful, I would go after him with the rifle. I knew that it would be a whole different ballgame then, as rifle season always intensifies the pressure.
On November 17, I went to help my father and brother-in-law move their cattle home. We got done early in the afternoon, and at first I wasn't sure whether or not I would go out that night. But by this time in the season it was almost automatic for me to get in a tree, so off I went.
I walked to my stand, and as I climbed the tree, I noticed my waterhole was now frozen over. I needed another plan. Since it was breezy enough that the wind would cover any noise I would make, I decided I would stalk through my food plot of standing corn. Stalking through cornrows is one of my favorite things to do.
It wasn't long before I spotted a doe standing up and eating corn in the rows, so I had to be careful not to get busted. I managed to slip past the doe, and made it another four rows over from her. That's when I spotted the top of a rack between the rows. This cornfield had a lot of volunteer corn from the previous year and was thick, almost like cattails, so the buck was mostly hidden.
I wanted to get a little closer, but I had to be careful of the doe. Every now and then she would glance over in my direction, so I decided to hold tight and hope the buck would eventually stand up.
It seemed like an eternity, and all sorts of thoughts were racing through my mind. After about 40 minutes, the doe started to gradually walk away. At that point the buck stood up, and that was when buck fever kicked into high gear. It was Kong!
Anyone who has hunted in standing corn has had an arrow deflect off a cornstalk at some point. It's always tricky to get a clean shot off. Somehow I managed to get my release hooked onto my D-loop, but only after one missed attempt. Kong was now quartering away, so I carefully drew my bow, released the arrow, and immediately heard that wonderful sound of broadhead meeting hide.
I tried to look through my binoculars, but to be honest, I was shaking so bad it just wasn't possible. I waited for what felt like forever to begin looking for the buck. Kong wasn't bleeding that much, only spots here and there, so following his line of travel was difficult. I looked and looked in the food plot, and could not find the buck. So I hiked back to my pickup and drove around the section, which was either corn or barley that I'd already harvested, to see if I could spot him.
As I drove south, I noticed a bunch of does with a buck that was standing hunched over a little. My stomach instantly turned over as I thought I'd hit him too far back. I decided to just sit back and watch to see if the buck stayed there, and then come back in the morning to look for him. However, as I got him centered in my spotting scope, I realized that it wasn't Kong.
This buck must have just been rutted-up, so I went back to the food plot and continued to look. After about 40 minutes, I saw a little blood on the outer rows of the food plot. I worked my way east, which led me to one of my cut cornfields, and as I came over a little rise I spotted Kong dead in the field.
I quickly discovered why I wasn't finding much blood sign. My arrow had gone through both lungs but hit the opposite shoulder blade, preventing a complete pass-through.
At that point, I don't know if I was more excited or relieved. The buck that had absolutely consumed me for two years was lying dead at my feet. It wasn't until I got Kong back home to show my family that I realized just how big he truly was.
I really had no clue the buck would be breaking any state records, and at that time I couldn't have told you what our state-record buck even scored. I initially scored Kong by myself using an app on my phone, and came up with 203 inches! That didn't seem possible to me, until I took him to Lone Wolf Taxidermy. Lance Burns, the taxidermist, was excited about the buck, and I wasn't even home yet when my phone rang. Lance had measured the buck and checked on the current South Dakota state record, which was 1827„8, and my buck had beaten it.
On January 20, after the required 60-day drying period, long-time Pope and Young Club measurers Stan Rauch and Craig Oberle officially scored Kong. His gross score was 209 7„8, and his net score was 194 1„8. Not only did my buck break the state record for a typical whitetail bowkill, but it also broke the Boone and Crockett state record of 193 2„8, which had stood since 1948. Kong's rack features standout G-2s, the longest of which is 15 3„8 inches.
To sum it all up, this has been a very humbling experience I will never forget. Bowhunting has always been a passion of mine, and to take a huge buck like this with my bow is beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I don't know if I will ever top this deer, but I sure will have fun trying.
I want to give a special thanks to my wife, Liza, and daughters, Maycee and Sadie, for being patient with me while I spent a total of nearly 180 hours in pursuit of Kong.