December 04, 2023
Georgia’s Blake Rice affectionately says that he “works to hunt.” What exactly does that mean? Well, he tackles most work projects — he’s in construction and runs a tungsten shotshell company with a few partners — during the summer and early fall, so that he can focus on hunting all fall and winter. As long as he has cell service and can connect to Wi-Fi regularly, he can keep the lights on and the wheels turning from wherever he happens to be.
“It’s very important to me that I hunt a lot,” he said. “They say you’ll lose your ability to hunt before you’ll lose your love for hunting. A few years ago, I decided that I’d better hunt as much as I can while I can. I don’t want to waste opportunities.”
That brings us to Rice’s 20-plus-day Illinois hunt from last fall, during which he was chasing a specific nine-pointer. Taking that buck would’ve been a dream come true for him, but a 200-class whitetail appeared and blew away his wildest dreams. Here’s how it all went down.
During Rice’s three-week hunt at Land of Lincoln Outfitters — he had purchased a membership with year-round access — he’d been moving around on a big farm with a river on the property’s northern reaches. Deer weren’t crossing the river because the banks are so steep. There is CRP to the west, and to the east is a woodlot. So he focused most of his hunting efforts in a long treeline bordering a cut beanfield.
“I’d been bouncing around in that treeline,” Rice told me. “In the southeast corner, there’s a gap in the trees. No matter where I hunted, I observed deer cutting through that gap. Often, I was 700–800 yards from it, but I saw some good bucks over that way. Finally, on November 8, I got a south wind and was able to hunt there.”
Rice said that temperatures were in the 60s that day, so he had low expectations for deer movement. Nonetheless, he selected a tree to hunt from and then did some cutting with a chainsaw so that he’d be able to shoot from his tree saddle out into the bean field.
“I’d never used a decoy in my life,” Rice explained. “But I decided to give it a whirl because the deer had been somewhat sporadic with where they’d enter the field. The guy who put me out pulled away at about 3:45 p.m. A half-hour later, I looked up and saw the big nine-pointer I was chasing 800 yards away on the opposite end of the field. He was moving around and doing his thing. He saw the decoy, and he didn’t exactly beeline toward it, but he did slowly start working toward my end of the field.”
When the 160-class bruiser broke within a couple hundred yards, Rice grunted and snort-wheezed. The buck bristled up and started walking toward the decoy. Rice remembers thinking, This is it! This is the deer I’ve been chasing for three weeks straight. He ranged the buck as it came, and the last time he did, the buck was at 125 yards and closing.
A Dream Come True… Almost
“I dropped my rangefinder and clipped my release onto my string because I knew that my decoy was 17 yards away,” he remembered. “When the buck was about 80 yards out, he froze in his tracks. He was staring straight at the road that enters the field. I couldn’t tell what he was looking at, so I leaned forward and noticed that the neighboring landowner had pulled up and got out of this truck to glass the buck. The big deer bolted right back to where he’d come from.”
Obviously frustrated, Rice called the farmer and asked to be picked up. The farmer explained that it would be an hour before he could arrive. With about one hour of daylight remaining, Rice said that he’d hunt until dark as originally planned. Good thing he did.
Back At It
“A little bit later, I looked up into the neighboring field to the south and saw a big eight-pointer that I hadn’t seen previously,” Rice said. “He was a couple hundred yards away. Immediately, he started responding, but he circled and got downwind. He was about 100 yards behind me. He grunted and snort-wheezed, and he was walking back and forth but wasn’t coming to the decoy. Legal light was fading fast. I was really set on shooting the eight-pointer. He was a great deer.”
With about 10 minutes of shooting light remaining, Rice glanced back in the direction where the eight-pointer had first appeared. Unexpectedly, a massive deer was standing there in the neighboring field. Unsure of just how big the buck was, he couldn’t identify it as any of the bucks he knew were roaming the farm.
“All I knew was that he was much bigger than the 150-inch eight-pointer I’d been watching,” Rice explained. “I grunted twice and looked back his way. I thought he’d disappeared, so I snort-wheezed. I was anxious and thought maybe he’d gone into the treeline, so I repositioned in my saddle.
“I looked back out into the field and noticed some does darting left and right,” Rice continued. “Then, I saw the buck, and he came running right at me before stopping at the base of my tree. I could see bits and pieces of his antlers between my legs. He snort-wheezed and then growled, and I barely held myself together.”
Rice was hunting right on the property line and was facing toward the beanfield. The buck had come in from behind Rice and wasn’t where he could legally shoot him.
“He turned and took about four steps away from my tree into the neighbor’s field,” he said. “I turned and was looking over my shoulder at him. Then, he saw the decoy and jumped the fence. He landed right at the base of my tree and got tangled up in the limbs I’d cut earlier. He whipped his head back and forth and was stomping around.”
As the buck shook his head, a branch came out of his antlers. Rice used the commotion as cover to draw his bow. Then, the buck walked straight at the decoy.
“When he was about eight yards from the decoy,” Rice said, “he turned broadside, and I put my pin right behind his shoulder and shot. He whirled and ran toward some timber. I had heard deer walking through the leaves in that timber all afternoon, but I didn’t hear him hit that timber, which made me think he was down. It all happened so fast that I wasn’t sure, so I quietly sat there for an hour. I knew it was the biggest buck I’d ever seen in my life, and I didn’t want to mess anything up.”
Time was Rice’s worst enemy. The longer he waited, the more the doubts and questions loomed in his mind. Finally, he climbed down, didn’t even look for his arrow, and then walked the long way out where outfitter Levi Wilson was waiting. As Rice explained what the buck looked like, Wilson was surprised that Rice didn’t recognize the buck, since he’d been hunting there for the better part of a month and knew practically every buck on the farm.
“Back at the lodge, Levi asked me to tell the farmer, Robert, what the buck looked like,” Rice recalled. “Robert was scrolling through his phone, and I honestly thought he was ignoring me. Suddenly, he turned his phone toward me to show me pics of the buck his trail camera had taken on another property, almost a mile away.”
“Is this the deer you shot?” Robert asked.
“That’s him!” I replied.
“He’s a 200-inch deer,” Robert said.
Rice admits that he got really nervous at that point. Robert queried Rice, asking if he’d made a good shot. Rice said that he believed he had, but the doubts were still dancing between his ears. Interestingly, a neighbor had found the buck’s sheds the previous spring, and they scored 197 inches.
“Before I knew it, the neighbor stopped in with the sheds,” Rice said. “There were 12 other people standing around watching, and some of them shouted, ‘Let’s go look for him!’ Given the circumstances, I was either going back alone, or with one other person.”
“At about 10 p.m., Robert and I returned to look for the buck,” Rice explained. “I had a small light with me, and we looked all around the decoy. We found my arrow, and it was covered in bubbly blood. I felt a thousand times better. It confirmed that I’d made a good shot. However, we couldn’t find the blood trail. I anxiously kept scanning back and forth.”
“Robert had a big spotlight and was shining it everywhere,” Rice shared. “There were deer jumping up and running away. I told him to quit shining that thing around, and he said, ‘Those aren’t your deer.’ I was sick to my stomach; we were looking for the deer of a lifetime, and I felt like he wasn’t treating the situation as seriously as I was. He was walking all over the field and shining the light everywhere. I whistled and told him to come back to me. When he did, I told him that I wanted to back out. Temps were down in the 40s, so I wasn’t worried about the meat spoiling.”
Meanwhile, Robert had already found the buck, but he was holding out on Rice because he wanted him to find it. So Robert walked toward a hump in the field, and Rice reluctantly followed.
Words Cannot Explain
“I was looking around with my little light, and Robert was shining the spotlight pretty much in my face,” Rice said. “That’s when I noticed that his light was fixed on my buck. He’d found it 20 minutes earlier but hadn’t told me. It was unreal to see my deer lying in the grass along the cut beanfield. I ran over to the deer, dropped everything, and fell to my knees. Robert and I were hugging and celebrating.”
They called back to the lodge, and soon everyone else arrived. A photographer shot photos, and then the buck was hauled back to the lodge.
“Levi is an official measurer, so he green-scored the buck,” Rice said. “Still in shock, I was just sitting on the truck tailgate when Levi came out and said that the buck grossed right around 208 inches. I was floored!”
As I wrap this story up, I want to highlight one aspect of Rice’s hunt that could’ve yielded the opposite outcome. Because the nine-pointer had spooked, he called for a pick-up. Fortunately, his ride was unable to come until nearly the end of legal shooting light. That one thing kept Rice in his stand for the remainder of the evening. To that end, I say, don’t give up. You never know what might happen, even on a warm November evening.
Blake Rice killed his world-class buck with a Mathews Triax rigged with an HHA 3-pin sight and Mathews Ultra-Rest. He wore Mossy Oak Bottomland turkey apparel because the temps were so warm. He hunted from a Tethrd saddle and used a Vortex Razor rangefinder and Razor binoculars. A 125-grain Iron Will broadhead on the front end of his Black Eagle Rampage arrow yielded fast results.