I doubted the rumors of a super-wide buck living six miles from my home. Luckily, I was wrong.
It began as heavy footsteps on the thick, frost-covered layer of late-October leaves. The steps were steady and purposeful, unlike those of a prancy lady. Could it possibly be him?
It was the third day I had hunted this particular stand. The past two mornings, a couple of immature bucks had visited me. Maybe the footsteps were from one of these youngsters. I somewhat hoped so, because it was still too early in the morning to loose an arrow.
As the footsteps approached, I began to make out a large, dark body moving toward the thick cover just north of my tree stand. His course would put him entering this thicket 40 yards from me. With nothing to compare the deer’s size to, I still did not know for certain how large the form was in the dim light. It was too early to see a rack at this distance, if there was one to be seen. Everything thus far indicated it was a buck, but I could not be sure.
Then came the confirmation I was looking for: I heard what I believed to be antlers hitting the limbs of a tree or sapling. However, that was kind of confusing to me. The woods were fairly open, and I wondered how a buck could not pass through without catching his headgear on vegetation. Maybe his rack was too tall or wide – or both – to clear.
That thought turned out to be the understatement of the year!
I decided to wait until the deer entered his bedding cover. Then, after I had gained the few minutes of light I desperately needed, I would attempt to call him into bow range. While the plan was not foolproof, I was confident in my calling ability. And, at the time, it seemed like the only game in town.
There was something else taking place. From about the time I first heard the heavy footsteps, I also heard a second deer coming in from farther out. This one was more on a course that would put it under my stand. However, from about the time I had first spotted the large, dark image, I had heard nothing of this second deer. My attention was focused totally on the first one, which was moving toward the cover in front of me.
Just as this whitetail was reaching the thick cover, the footsteps from the second deer once again began to approach. I thought, Maybe this will help the situation. The deer in front of me also heard the second one and stopped to wait on the approaching steps.
When the second deer was within 30 yards, the first one turned toward it and did a snort-wheeze. I knew at that moment that I was dealing with two bucks. I also felt strongly that the dark image in front of me was the more dominant buck, and possibly the one I was hunting. After completing his warning, he began to make his way toward the second deer, which was moving past me at 30 yards.
While it was by now legal shooting light, it was still somewhat dark in the cover the first deer was passing through. There were two reasons I did not take the shot. First, I had a fear that in the low light my broadhead might touch an unseen limb. Second, while I could now make out a rack that appeared to be towering high over his head, I still did not know for sure that he was the buck I was after. So, I held up on the shot. Besides, the entire situation was beginning to get interesting. I believed I would have a better opportunity as things unfolded.
The bucks met about 30 yards west of my stand. Even though there was quite a bit of cover between them and me, I now could make out the two bodies fairly well. This was all the confirmation I needed. The large, darker buck was every bit as big as I had thought! As the second buck shied away, he looked as small as a fawn running around the big fellow’s feet.
After a few minutes of standing still, the big buck started moving off in the opposite direction from his secure bedding thicket. He was paralleling my stand about 30 yards out in the fairly thick cover. I did not really know why he decided it was now not important to be in his sanctuary before good light. Maybe the young buck’s actions got him worked up. Whatever the reason, he was heading out to look for does.
The situation was perfect. The big deer had traveled in a half-circle around my stand without spooking, and there was another buck in the immediate area. I knew I could call him in. But I did not call right away, for fear that at 30 yards he could tell the sound had come from above ground level. And, if he looked up, I might be caught; the tree I was in did not have as much cover as I would have liked.
I waited until the monster was about 40 yards away and walking. I then gave a doe bleat on a mouth call. He stopped at once. I waited. After 10 to 15 seconds, he started to move off again. As soon as he did, I baited him again with the doe bleat. He stopped once more. This time he remained still for 25 or 30 seconds. As soon as he started to move again, I repeated the doe bleat, then followed quickly with two buck grunts.
That did it. The buck came running straight toward me! He approached to within 21 yards before stopping. He was now facing head on to my location, looking all around the area of the tree I was in.
This was the first time I had had a good look at his rack, and it was hard for me to believe my eyes. His beams swept upward high over his head and then outward, making his spread incredibly wide for a Virginia whitetail – or one of any other subspecies, for that matter. I would have been amazed to see this class of buck even in the Midwest, so you can imagine how unbelievable it was for me to be face to face with him just a few miles from my Tennessee home!
I now was sure that this was the buck I had been hunting. I felt as if I knew the huge old monarch, even though this was the first time I had laid eyes on him.
A Rumor No More:
For the past few years, I had heard rumors from local hunters and other residents that such a buck lived in the ridges and gulfs (huge hollows) around my work place. However, I doubted the rumors. Even considering the remoteness of some of these gulfs, for any buck to live for seven or eight years in this area was unlikely. This entire region receives heavy hunting pressure during the four long months of deer season. To make matters even worse, a few thieves work it over hard. Day and night, these poachers are out looking for deer to steal from sportsmen. So, I dismissed the rumors as involving similar but different middle-aged bucks that had been seen over the past few years.
That all changed in the spring of 2001, when I held in my hands a massive shed antler a coworker had found. It was difficult to judge the buck’s spread from the single shed. Also, a “whistler” (a hole out on the main beam) that had developed during the velvet stage had interfered with the beam’s growth. However, one thing was obvious: The buck that had dropped this huge shed was something special.
I decided that I would bowhunt the buck the next season. Without being too inquisitive, I listened to every comment made concerning the big fellow. Tales were really floating around. Finding the shed had started the stories going in earnest.
A few weeks later, I dug out some maps of the area. As I studied them and walked the woods, it became apparent where I should begin my hunt. A long, narrow, flattop ridge ran through the area. One side dropped off to a blacktop road, the other steeply into a large gulf. There was big buck sign scattered about this ridge. The shed had been found on a wide spot on this same ridge, in a green field. Around the green field were several large, productive white oaks.
About 300 yards from the green field was the spot I decided on for a stand. At this point the ridge narrowed down because of a drainage cutting into the ridge backbone, funneling deer movement on the ridge closer together.
After several trips from the green field to the spot where the drainage ran off, I decided I was losing little or no deer movement off in the gulf. The first trail that dropped off the ridge worked down the side of the drainage at my stand. Everything looked good for this stand location. I added some cover to the tree I picked to hunt from and trimmed a few shooting lanes. I then left the area, not to return until the second week of October.
When I revisited the area in mid-October, I made a large scrape that could be seen from anywhere on the ridge or the trail that dropped off. The next day I returned to check the scrape, and in it were large prints. There were 3 inches long, exceptionally wide, flat and rounded, by all indications the tracks of an old buck. I assumed they belonged to the one that had dropped the impressive shed.
I again tore up the ground in the scrape, and the same big tracks were present the next day as well. That was all I needed to see to confirm I was set up right. I would not return again until it was time to hunt.
I decided not to hunt the buck before the fourth week of October, and only then if we had a cold snap. It came on the 24th, and on that evening I began hunting. I saw only does and a young buck the first and second days I hunted the stand. However, the big footprints were still showing up in my scrape. It was obviously in the dark that he was making his way to it. Thus, I felt that I was hunting the deer outside the borders of his core area. If that was the case, it probably would be another week or more before I would have a chance to arrow him where I now sat.
Three of the awesome buck’s rubs were as large as the author’s calf, and they showed signs of having been worked for a number of years. Bobby ultimately got the deer not far from this spot.
Around noon on Oct. 26, through a friend I learned of some large rubs about a mile and a half from where I was hunting. From what I heard about the rubs, and considering the orientation of the gulf that bordered the ridge I was hunting, I felt this could be sign from the same buck.
That evening, I entered the new area to look around. There was an overgrown strip pit in this location, with open hardwoods surrounding it. The area was indeed torn up with large rubs. Three of them were as large as my calf and showed signs of having been rubbed for several years. As I studied the rubs, it became apparent that they had not all been made at the same time. I came to this conclusion from the age of the rub marks on the trees and from the number of rubs in the area. That was encouraging news.
Two other things were also obvious. First, from looking at which side the trees had been rubbed on, I could see that the buck was coming through this area in the morning, as he headed to the thick cover to bed. Secondly, from the way the rubs were scattered out, I concluded that I was very close to his bedding location. Judging from everything I saw, I knew I should hang a stand before I left the area. After a few minutes of looking the area over to locate terrain features that would funnel the buck’s movement, I decided on a tree from which to hunt, hung a stand in it and left.
The next morning, at the break of day I was sitting in the stand. The big boy did not show, but two 1 1/2-year-old bucks did. The next morning I again saw the two young bucks, plus a doe with her fawn. I was not discouraged, however; I knew I was set up right, and I would continue to pay my dues. I would hunt this stand one more morning, which was predicted to be very cold for this time of year. After that I would give both stands a 5-day break before I started alternating between them again.
As it turned out, planning beyond Oct. 29 would be unnecessary.
And so, there I was, face to face with the old monarch. I did not dare blink an eye as the giant buck stood just 21 yards away, scanning the woods for the deer he had heard. He stood there for about 40 or 50 seconds, then turned his head to the left to check out a mock scrape I had made when hanging my stand. As soon as he started to move, I drew my bow. He was moving from my left to my right. By the time he had taken two steps I was drawn and had settled in on his chest, just behind his shoulder. As he paused for one last glance at the scrape, my arrow was on its way.
At the shot, the buck bolted. I did not see my arrow in flight, but from all indications, the shot had been true. I knew I had been on him when I had released. Secondly, when the arrow struck, the sound I heard was that familiar thump signifying a chest-hit deer. Also, immediately after the buck left my sight, I heard him stop . . . and then I heard a crash.
All of these were indications of a fatally hit deer. However, without having seen the arrow hit, I decided to sit in my stand for one hour. After all, it was a clear, frosty morning, and another six hours remained before I had to be at work. I sat back and enjoyed the excitement.
After a full hour’s wait, I descended from my tree stand and walked over to where the buck had been standing when I had shot. After a few minutes of looking around, I began to become concerned. I could find no blood sign at all.
I started working back and forth in the direction the buck had fled. When I had walked about 25 yards from where the buck had stood, I found about one-half of the fletched end of my shaft. There was blood and brown hair at the break. That somewhat increased my confidence, but I still could not find a blood trail. I followed kicked-up leaves to a dim road; then, that sign stopped. I searched the road for blood, but again without success.
I stood there in the road and thought over the situation. Many of my bow-killed deer that had been chest shot very close to the shoulder or just in back of it had left no blood sign for the first 100 yards or so. This was especially true if there was no exit wound. In the case of a hit of this type, the working back and forth of the shoulder will keep the entry hole closed, not allowing blood to escape. As I thought over the situation, I concluded that this must be what had happened in this case. Because there was no tree at the location of the broken shaft, I concluded that the working of the shoulder had snapped the arrow.
The more I thought it over, the more confident I became. I finally said to myself, I know the shot was true; I know I heard him go down; and I am going to find my buck.
After having trouble finding a blood trail to follow, the author walked right up on the fallen giant. It was hard for him to believe just how far off the ground the right main beam reached.
I walked right up on the fallen deer. As I approached him, it was hard to believe how far off the ground the right beam extended. It reminded me of a fallow deer’s high, wide rack.
As I grabbed the beam and lifted the deer’s head, I was somewhat disappointed to see that approximately six inches of his left beam had broken off. Even so, his headgear was spectacular. The rack was a 4×5 with two matching sticker points on each base. Assuming his left beam had originally matched the right, he was a basic 5×5 before the break.
The height and spread of the old monarch’s rack are overwhelming. I do not believe I have ever seen another whitetail with beams that sit so high over his head. The spread, however, is what is most impressive. He had an inside spread of 26 2/8 inches and an outside spread just short of 28. It is obvious from the way his beams continually widen that his spread would have been even wider if not for the broken left beam.
With an amazing outside spread of nearly 30 inches, the author’s 2001 trophy is certainly one of the widest-racked whitetails ever taken by a hunter in Tennessee, either with bow or gun.
After quite a bit of pondering, I decided to rebuild the missing section of the left beam. Because it was impossible to know for sure what the end of that beam looked like, I rebuilt it to match his right side. After the repair, the inside spread measured 28 inches and the outside spread 29 6/8. Because there was only about six inches of antler to replace, I feel this is very close to the spread the deer carried before he broke his beam.
When I pried the buck’s mouth open, I found his jaw teeth were worn to the bone. The old monarch had run these ridges and gulfs for many years.
The author shows the mount of the wide buck after the end of the broken left beam had been repaired. As shown, the outside spread is just short of 30 inches. The shed antler in the foreground was found in the spring of 2001, months before Bobby started hunting the monarch.
Several factors make this deer one of my most cherished trophies. First, very few whitetails grow racks this impressive. The spread, height and mass are a rare combination that makes him one in a million.
Also, the fact that I was hunting this particular buck means a lot to me. It only takes a glance at the shed to know that it was from the same buck. The shed has the same two sticker points on the base that my buck has on each base.
Racks nearly always look wider from the rear, but in the case of this trophy, the impression of a tremendous spread is accurate. The buck was so old that his teeth were worn to the gumline.
The deer is also special because he was able to reach old age despite being constantly pursued by a large number of hunters and thieves. Few bucks in the wild live to be over 5 1/2 years, especially where there is a long firearms season. If a buck does make it to old age he will nearly always die from natural causes, not at the hands of a hunter.
Last, but not least, I harvested him here in Tennessee. It means a lot to me to shoot any mature buck in my home state. Very few bucks this impressive have ever been taken in Tennessee – or anywhere else in the Southeast, for that matter. His inside spread is one of the widest, if not the widest, of any whitetail ever harvested in the Volunteer State. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to hunt him.