The One That Got Away -- Almost!

The One That Got Away -- Almost!

Larry Reese shot one of the largest bucks ever taken in Mississippi, but came close to losing it. Here's his story.

By Kevin Tate

When the smoke cleared, Larry Reece knew he'd shot the deer of a lifetime. When he finally put his hands on the buck nine days later, the recovery had become one for the record book as well.

Larry Reece and his brother Randy live in Benton and have hunted together since childhood. At ages 56 and 40, respectively, they've spent a lot of time in the woods together.

Growing up in the rural Mississippi of the 1950s and '60s, Larry and Randy enjoyed the sport at a time when permission to hunt virtually any game-bearing land in the state could be gained with a simple knock on a door and a promise to close any gates opened. Rabbits and squirrels and other small game whetted the boys' appetite for more, and development of white-tailed deer hunting in the Magnolia State fit in nicely with their lifestyles.

Randy's hunting career began in childhood as a dove retriever for Larry. Today, they have several decades of combined whitetail hunting experience between them. In any hunting partnership, there are times when one partner does a favor for another that stands out. That time first came for Larry and Randy 17 years ago when Larry put his tracking skills and determination to work for Randy's benefit, locating a deer at the end of a long morning on the trail.

"We were hunting on the Hillside National Wildlife Refuge in an area we called the Leaning Tree," Randy said of that memorable day in 1985 in Holmes County. "Every tree in that bottom leans because of the quality of the soil and the amount of water in it. It was wet, cold and raining. Larry had scouted the area before, but I'd never been in there.

Larry Reece (r) downed one of the Magnolia State's biggest bucks, but he needed the help of his brother, Randy, to claim the whitetail. Photo by Kevin Tate

"He pointed me into the woods in the dark and told me to walk until I heard what would sound like a waterfall. I thought I might be going on a wild goose chase, but I went in on his directions in the dark. Sure enough, after a while I could hear water flowing, so in the dark I found a tree to climb, and that morning at 8:25, I shot the biggest deer I'd ever seen. We found him that afternoon at five minutes after 2.

"Larry and I trailed, then walked and looked, wading through mud and water until we thought we couldn't go another step," Randy recalled. "I had given up, and we were stopped, standing still while we caught our breath, when Larry pointed out into the slough and said, 'What's that in the water?'

"I didn't think it was a deer, but I could see it wasn't a stump," Randy said.

Out in a bog full of stumps, the deer was down, one hindquarter showing. It was indeed by far the largest deer Randy had ever seen, much less taken.

"I jumped into neck-deep water and pulled him out to the bank, and then we went and borrowed a 3-wheeler and got him and ourselves out of the woods at black dark."

The whitetail sported an exceptionally wide and massive rack and scored 158 on the Boone and Crockett (B&C) scale.

"If Larry hadn't been there, I'd never have found the deer," Randy said. "It was a favor I thought I'd never get to repay, but 16 years later I did."

Today, with years of experience under their belts, the brothers count themselves lucky to have access to some of the best deer land in the state. The rolling hills and fertile soil surrounding their Yazoo County home, combined with the area's limited human intrusion, create outstanding habitat for deer and other wildlife.

"On this particular place in Madison County, the land is in planted pines," Randy noted. "The landowner is a big cattle farmer and owns a lot of land. We were just fortunate enough for he and Larry to be friends. Larry met him through his surveying business.

"We expressed our interest in leasing a piece of land from him for hunting, and this one came available. It's marked with low rolling hills, mostly covered with 20-foot-tall planted pines. There's a hardwood-lined creek that runs through the middle. Overall, it's some really fertile ground. It's an area notorious for producing really big deer."

Whether at the season's humid open in October or the season's end in January chill, the brothers' body of knowledge about whitetails, and the central Mississippi herd in particular, is impressive indeed. Still, nothing had prepared them for the buck Larry encountered during the state's early muzzleloader season in 2001.

Early December of that year found Larry and Randy hunting over a stand of 4-year-old pines on the Madison County tract. The state's primitive weapon season had arrived seasonably wet and unseasonably warm. On Dec. 7, the brothers chose a pair of stands located nearly within sight of one another.

"I got on a stand overlooking a power line at 4 p.m.," Larry said. "Randy had gone in earlier. It was a warm afternoon, and I didn't see anything until just about the end of shooting time."

Near dark, Larry saw a deer flash through his peripheral vision, then out of sight into the woods. Two quick puffs on his grunt call brought a big buck running in, stopping 80 yards from his stand.

"At about 5:15, I was watching a small buck through my binoculars," Randy recounted. "It was getting dark, and I looked across the tree line toward my brother's stand just in time to see fire fly from his musket. The 'thoom' followed."

"The deer fell at the shot," Larry said, "but before I could reload, he regained his feet and disappeared into the woods. I climbed down and found blood. Then I waited for Randy."

"At dark I started down to help Larry retrieve his deer," Randy remembered. "I called him on the radio to see what he'd shot, and all he could say was, 'A big one.' "

"We got lights and blood-trailed for 75 to 100 yards until the blood ran out," Larry said. "We cast about for a while, then decided to wait until the morning.

"I came back the next day and looked for a long time, but I never found anything encouraging."

Sick at the thought of losing a wounded deer - any wounded deer - the brothers may have given up hope, but they never gave up the search.

"In the next several days we hunted the place several times," Randy said. "Each time, we'd walk the woods

in search of any sign of Larry's deer.

"On Dec. 16, we hunted the same area again. From my stand, I could see the stand from which Larry had shot his deer on the 7th about 200 yards away.

"At around 7 a.m. I started using my grunt call, imitating a buck chasing a doe, ending with two short grunts. Almost immediately, I heard the response of a single grunt in the brush. I was so sure of it, I stood up and got ready. Things got quiet for a few seconds, so I grunted two more times softly. I heard another grunt, then saw a nice 11-point walk out no more than 40 yards away, shaking his head. I shot immediately, and I could tell my bullet found its mark. I radioed Larry and told him what I'd done, and we planned to meet at the truck at 10:15.

"After an appropriate length of time, I climbed down and proceeded to track my deer. A short 70 yards later, the trail ended at a nice 130-class buck.

"While I was getting ready to start dragging my deer," Randy continued, "I caught a whiff of decay. Looking in the direction of the wind, I saw a small oval patch of trees, and Larry's lost deer came immediately to mind.

"As soon as I got through the brush to the edge of the pond, I saw his deer floating on top of the water. The head was totally immersed and was even pushed into the mud. When I pulled the head up and rinsed the mud off the rack, all I could think was 'Wow!' I knew we had something special."

Randy removed the head and took it out with him.

"We were both sick to think of how close we had come to locating him earlier," Randy said, "not to mention disappointed about losing all that meat, but we were happy we had him now."

Once the deer was recovered, the brothers knew they had something very special on their hands. Though they're not strangers to the art of measuring antlers, putting a steel tape to this particular rack was going to be no simple task. With its complex tangle of beams and points, it was impossible to even hazard a guess at where the rack might land on the state's list of record book bucks.

Precisely how high the buck does rank statewide is yet to be determined. To date, the Reece Buck has not been measured by a Boone and Crockett Club (B&C) official and, therefore, is not listed among its fellows on the Magnolia Records program, though Larry and Randy hope it will be there someday.

"We tried and tried to get somebody with Boone and Crockett to score it," Randy says. "We just never could get together with them, but we still are interested in it. We still do want to have it entered. Talking to the one scorer we've dealt with, he said there shouldn't be any problem about getting it entered."

Unofficially, the rack has been measured as having 237 inches of angler. With a likely inside spread of about 27 inches, the rack could end up netting something in the mid-250 range. There is no doubt the deer is a monster!

Topping the statewide whitetail list on the recently begun Magnolia Records, the official records program of the state of Mississippi, is a 295 6/8 B&C buck taken by Tony Fulton. The Magnolia Records use a scoring system identical to those employed by both B&C and the Pope and Young Club.

Apparently, when the first B&C measurement of Fulton's trophy was done, it scored only 255 6/8. A second, though unofficial, scoring of the rack using the same system delivered a mark of 328 6/8, a differential of 74 points. Such disparities arise from the fact that the B&C method requires deductions be made for antler formations that are subjectively identified by the scorer. With this level of disparity between the two numbers reached by certified B&C scorers, club officials set up a panel of judges and officially re-scored the antlers. The panel arrived at a final mark of 295 6/8 B&C, the currently recognized score for the Fulton Buck.

If and when a Boone and Crockett official scores the rack, the Reece buck could score higher or lower than the preliminary estimates. But it is sure to rank high on Mississippi's roll of record-book whitetails. With the adventure surrounding his recovery, it is already No. 1 on the Reece brothers' list of trophies and memories.

HOW TO HUNT NEARBY
Although the Reece brothers hunt private land, there are many hunting opportunities available to the public nearby in the vicinity of where the buck was harvested.

The Yazoo, Panther Swamp, Hillside, Morgan Brake and Matthews Brake national wildlife refuges, as well as the Delta National Forest, cover several thousand acres of nearby prime hunting land available to the public. The Delta National Forest alone covers some 60,000 acres. Thanks to restrictions on the use of off-road vehicles, each of the tracts of federal land offers prime hunting areas to those willing to put in a little legwork.

In addition to the standard hunting safety certification and applicable licenses and stamps, the national wildlife refuges require hunters and fishermen to carry a $12 Refuge Annual Public Use Permit, available by mail or at the refuge headquarters.

For more information on the permit, as well as refuge season dates, bag limits and maps, visit www.fws.gov on the Internet and follow the prompts. You can also call the Central Mississippi Refuges office in Hollandale at (662) 839-2638.

Permits for hunting the Delta National Forest are of the daily self-serve variety and free of charge. For more information about the Delta National Forest, contact the district office at (601) 873-6256 or write Delta National Forest, Sharkey Ag Building, 402 Highway 61 North, Rolling Fork, MS 39159.



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