Since 1998, when the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission implemented the statewide “3-point rule” for legal bucks, Arkansas has quietly become a sleeper state for trophy whitetails.
The 3-point rule requires a buck to have at least three points on at least one antler. This modest antler point restriction shifted the majority of the annual buck harvest from 1 1/2-year-old and younger bucks to 2 1/2 years or older. By extension, a greater number survive through successive seasons to reach ages where antlers begin to fulfill potential.
Some areas have stricter requirements, such as requiring one antler to be at least 18 inches or a 15-inch inside spread. This provides a better chance than ever of killing a mature buck.
You also have a greater chance than ever of killing a buck worthy of recognition by the Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young organizations. In recent years, the Boone and Crockett Club typically adds three to five Arkansas bucks to its all-time awards book.
An exceptional score for an Arkansas buck is 140 Boone and Crockett, but we grow them a lot bigger. Here’s a look at three of our best from the 2017-18 seasons.
Three bucks scored at the Arkansas Big Buck Classic in January qualified for the Boone and Crockett all-time awards program, including the top rack killed by Hunter Davis, which was featured in the September issue.
Our No. 2 buck was a typical that scored 170 2/8. Jeremy Hutchens of Waldron killed it in Scott County during muzzleloader season, so of course it was our state’s biggest muzzleloader buck.
Scott County is in the western Ouachita Mountains, an area not known for producing giant whitetails. However, Hutchens killed the buck in the Fourche River bottoms, which is one of the largest drainages in that part of the state.
Hutchens’ buck sported a 20 5/8-inch inside spread and was taken with a Thompson/Center Omega.
“I’ve been hunting since I was a young boy, and I’ve never seen a deer like that,” Hutchens said. “A big deer around here is 120 to 130 inches.”
We have noted over the years how many hunters luck into killing giant bucks. Hutchens unapologetically fits into that category. He said he actually shot at the same buck in 2016. The encounter so haunted him that he began the 2017 season obsessed with getting a second chance.
On opening day of muzzleloader season, Hutchens hunted with several family members in an area where they have about five stands. The woods were quiet until Hutchens heard his nephew fire. He killed a good buck.
“My brother-in-law texted me and asked if I’d seen anything,” Hutchens said. “He said he called up three or four bucks and suggested that we switch stands.”
They made the switch, and at 1:30 p.m., Hutchens saw his buck of a lifetime.
“I was fixin’ to leave,” Hutchens said. “It was windy and hot. I’d grunt every 30 minutes or so. I made a series of grunts, and I waited and waited. I looked down the point I was on, and here he came. He was 25 steps away when I shot him.”
Mid October is early for rutting activity in most of Arkansas, but Hutchens said bucks commonly exhibit rutting activity during muzzleloader season. He said the buck acted as if it had been chasing does or fighting.
“We do pretty good calling them up that time of year,” Hutchens said.
Hutchens didn’t weigh the buck, but he said the rack was disproportionately large compared to its body.
“He wasn’t a very big-bodied deer, but he was a big-racked deer,” Hutchens said.
Of course, no great hunt is complete without a little drama. Weird things happen with muzzleloaders, but fortunately the mishap that Hutchens experienced was mild.
“When I first shot, the ramrod fell out of muzzleloader,” Hutchens said. “That happens to a lot of people, but it made me anxious. The deer ran down the point and stopped, like it didn’t know what happened. It turned and fell down the draw. Then I climbed down out of the tree and reloaded.”
It turned out to be an extraordinary day for big bucks. Hutchens said the buck his nephew shot scored about 140.
The brother-in-law, on the other hand, lamented what might have been.
“He didn’t take it well,” Hutchens said. “He was hunting that stand that morning, and the only reason he came down was because his boy killed that big one.”
As with most hunters that kill monster bucks, this one was a blessing and a curse for Hutchens. His expectations for the future have soared.
“I think it’s going to make me pickier about killing bucks,” Hutchens said. “You’re always hoping to get something bigger.”
BOLT FROM THE BLUE
With a name like Bolt, the hunter that killed the largest archery non-typical last year should have been using a crossbow, but Jake Bolt, 27, of Fayetteville did his deed with a compound bow.
The rack scored 188 5/8 — 12th overall — and it’s a classic case of patience and timing. That’s because Bolt had been hunting this particular buck in Benton County since 2015, when Bolt estimated the rack in the 160s to low 170s.
“In 2016, I guessed him to be in the low 180s,” Bolt said. “This year, he grossed in the mid 190s.”
The main beams were about 28 inches long and measured within 1/4-inch of each other. They sported 18 eligible points, including G2 tines that were almost 14 inches long. The inside spread was 17 inches, and the rack had 36 inches of mass.
Bolt, a medical student at the University of Arkansas, doesn’t have much time to hunt, but he maximizes his opportunities by liberally using remote cameras.
“I’ve got a ton of pictures,” Bolt said. “I hunted this buck quite a bit, but the day I killed him was the first time I laid eyes on him since 2015.”
Knowing that such a deer was in the vicinity was highly motivational, Bolt said, but not seeing the buck alive for nearly three years was highly frustrating, especially since he didn’t have any fresh photos of it for several weeks.
“It’s exciting to have the opportunity to hunt a deer like that, but when it takes as long as it took for me to get him, it’s emotionally draining,” Bolt said. “It’s a very small property. I expected my neighbors to kill him. It kind of wears on you year after year, but on the other hand, it’s a huge privilege to get to chase a deer like that.”
Finally, after all that effort and preparation, came the climax moment. Bolt had long ago identified a route at the top of a ridge that the buck habitually traveled, so on the morning of Nov. 6 — the week before modern gun season — he set up there as he’d done so many times before. It was cloudy, and the temperature was in the mid 50s.
At 7:45 a.m., the buck strolled under Bolt’s stand following does. Bolt arrowed the buck at 15 yards, and it ran 40 yards.
“It happened very fast,” Bolt said. “He was cruising looking for does, moving very quick. From the time I saw him and shot him was less than 30 seconds. There were some does in front of me, and when he was walking down the road, he stopped and looked at does right in my lane. I got lucky there. I didn’t have to stop him.”
Sometimes, when a long quest finally ends, a hunter feels a twinge of disappointment. Not so with Bolt.
“It was a huge rush, a massive release, after chasing that deer for three years, to see him go down and finally get to put hands on him,” Bolt said. “It was disbelief almost. It had gotten to the point where I almost didn’t feel like he was real.”
He kept the faith to maintain his discipline, though. Weeks before, Bolt passed on shooting a 130-class buck, which most people would gladly claim in this corner of the Ozarks.
“This is the first deer I’ve killed in a while,” Bolt said. “I did kill a decent little 8-point two years ago, but with school, I hadn’t been able to hunt much in years prior.”
Arkansas County — in the southeast — is in the heart of the Natural State’s big-buck zone, and that’s where Joe Schimmel of Stuttgart killed our largest typical with archery equipment last year. It scored 164 6/8 and ranked 9th overall.
Schimmel, 30, is a truck broker who, like Bolt, has to economize his hunting time due to a busy schedule. Hunting on Bayou La Grue, he killed his buck in late October because he said big deer in his area generally start becoming active around Halloween. Temperatures are cooling, and the days are shortening, and it’s a very pleasant time to hunt.
However, Schimmel said he did not expect to encounter a monster buck when he climbed his stand on Oct. 29, 2017.
“I was expecting to kill a doe for meat,” Schimmel said.
Schimmel had checked a camera when he reached his stand, and his buck had been photographed the day before. Even so, Schimmel was dismissive.
“You get deer on camera like that quite a bit,” Schimmel said. “They show up at night, and you never see them again.”
Schimmel was just about to complete his day’s objective when a doe perked up and peered into the distance. Schimmel’s priorities changed in a hurry.
“I looked up, and all I could see was horns coming 150 yards away,” Schimmel said. “Immediately, I knew it was him. My mission to kill a doe was obviously over.”
The buck never sensed Schimmel’s presence. It came in grunting and wheezing before harassing the does.
“He was chasing and bumping them around, and he gave me a 30-yard shot,” Schimmel said.
Having to wait so long for a giant buck to get within shooting range can tatter a hunter’s nerves. Schimmel said he avoided that by keeping his eyes off the prize and his mind on the objective.
“From the second I saw his horns, I knew which deer it was,” Schimmel said. “I did not look at his horns again, or I would have been a nervous wreck. It gave me time to compose myself.”
The rack was a typical 12-point with 25- and 26-inch main beams. The inside spread was about 16 inches.
“It was very symmetrical,” Schimmel said. “It grossed 167 and change, so it barely had any deductions.”
Schimmel shot the buck with a Mathews Z7 XTreme with a 70-pound draw. He used an NAP Bloodrunner expanding broadhead and a Gold Tip arrow.
Schimmel said he often sees 150-class bucks on camera, but almost always at night. “You see a lot of big deer in our woods, but not that big,” Schimmel said.
Since age 18, Schimmel has hunted almost exclusively with a bow. He’s had a lot of success, so his expectations are always high. His goal, he said, is to shoot mature bucks, and he said this latest buck will ratchet up his standards.
“My first deer with a bow was a nice 10-point, so I’ve been lucky on that end,” Schimmel said. “Not much will change in the way I hunt, but it will definitely change my desires. “I’m all about shooting mature deer. It doesn’t have to be a giant deer, but this will definitely keep me away from shooting any smaller, younger deer from now on.”
Big racks are merely the reward. The satisfaction comes from success with a bow. “It never gets old,” Schimmel said. “It’s never easy. It’s always challenging. I’ve definitely learned a lot of things about shot placement, making sure I’m standing right, and making sure the exit is going be where it needs to be.”
Top 3 Typicals in State History
1. Jacob Ayecock; Drew County; 2016; 195 2/8; Boone & Crockett Club
2. Thomas Sparks; Crawford County; 1975; 189 0/8; Boone & Crockett Club
3. Andy Anderson; St. Francis County; 1998; 187 3/8; Boone & Crockett Club
Top 3 Non-Typicals in State History
1. Bill Dooley; Prairie County; 1999; 238 3/8; Boone & Crockett Club
2. Kevin Ward; Cross County; 1994; 237 5/8; Boone & Crockett Club*
3. Kirk Brann; Monroe County; 2000; 232 0/8; Boone & Crockett Club*
*Buck was not hunter harvested and is listed by Boone and Crockett as a “pickup.”