When Cody Robbins dropped his massive mule deer in Saskatchewan during a bow hunt in September 2011, he knew it was the trophy of a lifetime.
Upon taking measurements, it appeared there would a new world record for a nontypical mule deer.
But in order for the enormous buck to be entered permanently into the Pope and Young Club record book, its gigantic antlers would have to be stripped of their velvet and re-measured.
No thanks, Robbins said.
“For a split-second I wavered, but that was it,” said Robbins, the host of the Live2Hunt series on Outdoor Channel. “I didn't shoot this magnificent animal to deface him and change him into something he wasn't when I shot him.”
Shortly after making the kill, Robbins and friends made initial measurements, coming up a score of 294-5/8. After the mandatory 60-day drying period, it was scored by a three-man panel of Pope and Young Club measurers at 292-5/8 (gross) and 288-0/8 (gross) – a full 13 1/8 inches larger than the existing Pope and Young world record.
Each of the measurers told Robbins the score would also increase once the velvet was removed. As a result of leaving the velvet, Pope and Young will recognize the buck for just one year in its book for velvet-antlered animals, but then it will vanish from the record books completely.
“When I drew my bow back and took careful aim at the king, his antlers were covered in full velvet,” Robbins said, “and they always will be.”
Had it not been for the gentle urging of his fiancé, Kelsy Claypool, Robbins may have never laid eyes on the monster mulie.
He was sitting at his computer, wearily editing the seventh episode of Live2Hunt, when Claypool entered and suggested they go scouting. While mid-July might not be optimum scouting time, they jumped in his truck.
Claypool was also the first to see the deer they later nicknamed “Tiny” and told Robbins to stop the truck. In a field of bright yellow canola flowers, Robbins spotted what he first thought was a whitetail and began to move on. But Claypool insisted he stop. He heckled her, saying they had better not be stopping for a doe.
But nothing prepared him for what he saw when the giant’s rack appeared above the flowers.
“A set of velvet-covered antlers emerged from the crop – a set of antlers unlike I had ever seen before in my life,” Robbins said. “With my naked eye, I couldn’t make out detail, but I knew this was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ buck.”
In the fading light of evening, Robbins grabbed a Vortex Razor spotting scope.
“As I cranked the focus ring, reality hit,” he said. “An animal with a set of antlers that only a healthy imagination could create; a typical frame that had 14-inch forks all around, stickers everywhere and drop-tines that extended out of sight into the crop.”
Robbins and Claypool spent the final two hours of daylight taking turns to watch the buck through the scope. Then Robbins began making plans to bag it.
Over 42 days of scouting throughout the rest of the summer, Robbins estimated he saw the buck on 35 of those days. But on the eve of the 2011 Saskatchewan archery season, he had only seen it once in the previous five days, resulting in a restless night before the season opener.
But he nearly took the big buck on the first day. He and cameraman Chaddy Laing moved within shooting distance in a massive flat of 6-foot tall clover. But a few steps before it moved into a shooting lane in the clover at 22 yards, the big mulie caught sight of Robbins as he aimed. He glared at Robbins for a bit, snorted and ran.
“I was now living one of my worst nightmares,” Robbins said. “I made myself a promise in the beginning that I would take no risks and wait for the perfect situation to capitalize. I knew that the weeds were too high, and the odds were low, and went for it anyway.
“I wanted to wake up in my bed and realize that it had all been a bad dream. That was the most important stalk of my life, and I blew it.”
Robbins did not see the deer the next day. But mid-morning on the third, he met with his brother, Brandon, who told him he had found it.
“I was hesitant to believe him,” Robbins said, “but he said, ‘Well, unless there's another buck around here that has matching 15-inch drop-tines and typical frame bigger than the average elk, yes, it's him.’ “
Robbins, Claypool and fellow Live2Hunt team member Shane Hunter moved to a poplar bluff about 100 yards from where Brandon had spotted the buck to get a visual on his location. After a couple hours of nothing, Robbins climbed a tree and at 16 feet, he instantly saw the antlers. The big buck had bedded down in thick brush.
It was determined that Claypool would climb the tree, then give Robbins and Hunter hand signals to direct them closer to the deer.
While trying to close the final few yards to a safe shooting distance, the mulie rose and snapped his head in their direction – with Hunter caught mid-stride in the middle of a cow trail. Luckily for the hunters, after staring for a few seconds, the giant turned away with a relaxed posture and started browsing.
“There was one catch,” Robbins said. “I hadn't even taken an arrow out of my quiver yet. As slowly and carefully as I possibly could, I knocked an arrow, clicked my release to my string and froze. I was so afraid of spooking him again that I could barely even look in his direction.”
Twenty-two yards from the buck, Robbins drew and rose to his feet, moving a few steps to his left for a better shooting angle. He held his breath and squeezed. The bowstring snapped forward and the buck exploded out of the brush. He dropped 80 yards away.
“I looked back at Shane in disbelief. ‘Did you get that?’ “Robbins said. "‘I got it all, Code, every second.’ “
For Robbins, the next five minutes are a blur.
“All I really remember is tackling Shane off his feet, and helping Kelsy out of the tree and the three of us hugging and celebrating like we had won the World Series.
“Walking up to him, the whole experience was bittersweet. He was more beautiful than I ever imagined. Admiring every detail, I thought back to the first day we spotted him and the joy that he brought me every time I saw him in the distance. Although I wouldn't have traded the outcome for anything, knowing he would never be standing proud in my spotting scope again was humbling.”