A few years ago my friend and I decided to get serious about patterning and hunting whitetails. We had hunted for years but never with patterning, so we acquired a few trail cameras and spread them out where we thought deer would call home. It was a long and hard process but we learned more in the last two years then we did all previous years combined. We figured out patterns like where they slept, lived, and ate. As the years progressed we began to understand longer patterns. We started getting pictures of some pretty good bucks and the addiction grew stronger. Every week new permission was acquired that required us to purchase more and more trail cameras with the intention of finding “the one.”
At this time, we got pictures of a very nice looking buck that had long skinny tines and a great foundation for growth. As the weeks went by we analyzed this deer and although he was a “shooter” we put him on the no-fly list hoping he would survive the season. We had trail camera pictures of him up until late August when he disappeared. Although he was big we didn’t concentrate too hard on him that fall, as there were bigger more mature target bucks in the area that needed a closer look. We didn’t catch another glimpse of him until late November, which was a huge relief. We monitored the area heavily but he was gone as fast as he had appeared. No sightings, no sheds, no trail camera pictures. Its always a stressful time of year but all you can do is sit and wait.
Similar to the year before we set out our cameras early in the summer. As luck would have it this deer was the first to appear in early July. We have always come up with names for the bucks we follow like 747, Riggins, and G3 but could never come up with one for him until we decided on Big Boy. I remember I was fly fishing when I felt my phone vibrate and the text read, “Man, I got pictures of Big Boy and he’s huge.” A confirming picture followed the text. Thoughts of trout quickly left my mind and hunt mode was turned on. We set up numerous cameras in the area trying to pattern him but with no luck. As he did the year before, he disappeared in late August with no explanation.
One evening while scouting I drove by an alfalfa field and noticed a few bucks eating. I turned around and headed back to where I could see scrambling for my spotting scope. I noticed one deer immediately ran into the bush without confirmation of size, and as usual, the other smaller bucks all kept grazing.
The one who disappeared was a smart, old buck. I mentioned this to my buddy, so a few nights later we returned to the spot. Sure enough, all the bucks were in the same place except one, the bigger one. We sat and watched for about 30 seconds when we noticed a body behind all the smaller bucks that had never lifted his head. When he did our jaws dropped. Out in front of us in the flesh stood Big Boy and his fellow bucks. The second he spotted us he took off. The next day I gained permission from the landowner to hunt that area!
The field that he now called home was approximately 6 miles away from where we originally located him. So, with the newly acquired permission, we set up three new trail cameras in a mad scramble, as the opener was a few days away. After confirming he was patterned we set up a ground blind on a funnel leading to the field. As hunting goes, the next few days provided no sightings. The trail cameras confirmed he had left the area. We assumed he returned to his original location, but we could not find him in that area either.
Did we hunt him too hard and too early? Are we pushing him somewhere else? Did another hunter take him? Weeks went by without a sighting and our hopes faded fast. Finally, he reappeared during one of our routine camera checks. No better feeling. We decided to wait until the rut hoping to catch him at his most vulnerable and so we would not spook him.
Several summers before this hunt we decided to build a box blind at an intersection between two fields. The blind overlooked a bush where deer bedded and a creek bottom they used for traveling. It felt like a good spot and indeed was when the Big Boy decided to call this place home. Every morning during the opening week of the rifle season I spent the first couple hours in that blind prior to work. On the fourth day, I anxiously waited until sunrise not expecting much since the temperatures were mild and the rut was premature. I still didn’t see any deer after sunrise. So I decided to call it a day and head to my truck.
As I was making my way back I walked around the last bend and out of habit glanced over my left shoulder. I immediately saw a good buck walking away. I put my binos up and right away recognized the split G3 on his right side as he faced away from me. Panic mode soon followed as he disappeared into the swamp adjacent to the bush where he lived. I loaded my gun and started working my way over to him. Slowly I crested the bottom of a small hill in hopes that this would get me closer to him and also out of site.
I guessed where he would be and assumed he had not seen me since he was walking at a leisurely pace. My legs were shaking with excitement and I kept telling myself calm down. I found my entry point and charged up the hill fully expecting him to be on the other side having just entered the cattails. However, a small buck and a few does greeted me with no sight of Big Boy. I scanned the horizon in a mad panic. The does had enough of me and one snorted. The noise caused one final whitetail to pick his head up and investigate the commotion. That one final whitetail was the one. The one we had been following for years. The one who had totally consumed our lives.
I quickly shouldered my 7mm and just like that, years of history, hours spent glassing and scouting, thousands of trail camera pictures, and a handful of sleepless nights came crashing down. One shot and Big Boy was down. I must’ve looked like an idiot standing on top of that hill. Looking around, gun in hand wondering what had just happened. Expecting fireworks to go off given the battle I had just won, the morning fell silent again.
I rushed over to him tripping on wet logs and completely submerging myself on my way over. Never realizing all the well-used game trails skirting the swamp as I went. I had my hands on a dream of mine. It’s a bittersweet moment catching up to what seemed like an impossible goal. I’m ecstatic that I was able to catch up to Big Boy but a small feeling of sadness is felt every time I drive by the field now. I am not sad that he is dead, I am sad that the chase is over.
On the day before the season ended my buddy, who had been pursuing the same deer, was able to close the final chapter on the buck that started it all for us; the buck we named 747, an old geriatric deer. And he happened to kill him in the exact same field about 7 miles away from where he called home.
Thanks to everyone who helped out along the way. Thanks to my boss who was nice enough to take off to Mexico the first week of November. My buddy for all the help from start to finish. My girlfriend, Claire, for making all those late night suppers while I was out scouting/hunting. And to God for providing us with these animals that consume our lives.