A 'Catch-And-Release' Trophy Buck?

A 'Catch-And-Release' Trophy Buck?

This Magnolia State hunter had one of the stranger experiences to transpire in the woods last season. Come along as she recounts the unusual tale.

By Robert H. Cleveland Jr.

Over the past few months, regular readers of this publication have been treated to stories of the biggest bucks taken in Mississippi last season. You've read about the new archery record for non-typicals from Natchez, a few other record-book bucks, a 13-point piebald buck, and the massive 8-pointer that created such a stir in the Canton and Jackson area.

Great bucks all, and certainly worthy headliners for 2003's deer season. But there were many others that are also notable - maybe not so much for their stupendous antler measurements as for their stories.

The best of these is from a lucky lady named Brady, whose unusual story about how she got her first trophy rack may be just about the funniest hunting story ever.

"Our whole family was at deer camp the weekend after Christmas, and surprisingly, we had the place all to ourselves," said Tracy Brady, 42, a blonde mother of four young hunters with her husband, Joe. "We got there on Thursday night expecting the camp to be full. Christmas had been on Wednesday and we figured everyone would be there all weekend.

"We got up Friday morning and hunted, and still nobody showed up. My youngest child, Judy - she's 10 - hunted with my husband and killed a doe. It was her first deer, and we planned a celebration that night with a bonfire. That afternoon, my son Bill, 12, killed a 7-point, which was huge." (In fact, Bill's buck would have been an 8-pointer, but one of the tines had been broken off.) "At 202 pounds, it was one of the heaviest bucks ever killed at our camp, so we really had a reason to celebrate."

The Brady bunch hunts at a 3,000-acre camp in southern Rankin County, about 25 miles from their home in Brandon. Most of the camp's other 20 members are also from the metro Jackson area, so the Bradys still figured they would have a crowd to help celebrate Judy's and Bill's successes. But not so, it turned out.

"Would you believe it? The only Friday night of the season when nobody came to camp was that one," Joe Brady said. "Turns out they all had holiday parties in town. We've got 15 trailers in the camp compound, and we were the only ones there. Tracy and I decided we'd do it up right: We threw the kids a heck of a party - and then we had one of our own."

After cooking some hot dogs in the bonfire and shooting some fireworks, the kids went to bed in anticipation of the next morning's hunt. But not Tracy and Joe.

"We decided to let our hair down a little bit," said Tracy. "We had some wine - actually, we had a lot of wine, and a bottle of champagne. We had the key to a neighbor's posh trailer, and after the kids went to bed we went next door and put on some CDs, lit some candles and filled up their hot tub. That's about as far as I can go about that. Let's just say we celebrated more than the deer the kids had taken. We did enough for New Year's Eve, too. It must have been after 2 when we finally got in bed for good.

Friend and frequent hunting companion Leigh Partridge shows off the antlers that the buck left behind when Tracy Brady and her 4-wheeler spooked it. Photo by Robert H. Cleveland Jr.

"Needless to say, I paid for it Saturday morning," she continued. "When the alarm went off at 5 a.m., I turned to Joe and said, 'Hit the snooze.' We went back to sleep - and eight minutes later the darn thing went off again."

"The second time the alarm went off," Joe recounted, "Tracy didn't saying a thing about the snooze. She rolled over, looked at me and said 'Honey, go get your gun and either shoot the damn clock or shoot me and put me out of my misery.'"

Joe said he was deciding which to do when the decision became moot. They had company.

"Our two youngest kids were up and running around ready to go hunting," Tracy said. "Bill and Judy jumped in our bed and were hollering at us to get up. I had the wine head, and it was killing me. Joe (God love him) told me not to get up - that he'd see to breakfast and would take the kids hunting. I told him we ought to all go back to sleep, and he said something about the rut peaking and hating to miss it.

"I wish he hadn't said that, because when I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, I kept thinking about the rut and how I should get up and go and be with one of the kids. I felt guilty when I heard them leave - you know: the door shutting, the four-wheelers cranking up. After they drove off, I tried but couldn't go back to sleep."

"She'd like you to think that it was the rut that kept her from going back to sleep, but it was how bad her head hurt," Joe quipped. "She sure drank a lot of wine."

Whatever the reason, Tracy got up out of the bed, went to the coffee pot and turned it back on before it had a chance to cool.

"I poured a cup and sat down," she said. "We got this mirror next to our table and I looked at myself and shook my head. I don't know if I've ever hurt that bad, or ever looked that bad. I hurt all over. My hair even hurt."

About that time, she heard a distant rifle shot.

"I walked over to the base radio and called to Joe," she said. "We all carry radios so we can communicate. Joe called back and said that Jill - she's our oldest, at 15 - had killed a decent 8-point that had been running does. They were hunting together.

"He said that I was really missing out because bucks were running all over the place. He said that it was indeed the peak of the rut and everyone was seeing bucks."

At that point, despite the roots of her long blonde hair hurting, Tracy Brady summoned up all her courage, put on her camo coveralls and grabbed her rifle.

"With the five of them out there, that meant one of the kids was hunting alone, so I decided I'd go get in the stand with Bill, who was the odd man out," she said. "I called him on the radio and told him I'd be coming. He radioed back and said OK, but to be real quiet, because there were deer running around all over him. He said he had seen this really big buck cross a fire lane - the biggest thing he'd ever seen, but that he couldn't get a shot.

"I ran out, hopped on a four-wheeler and took off. I would have to go a long way around to avoid the area where Bill said the big buck was running around. Let me tell you - every time one of those spark plugs hit gas, it felt like somebody was banging my head with a ball-peen hammer."

That wouldn't be a problem for long - as it happened, only for the time it took to go about 100 yards.

"Just as I made the big curve leaving the compound, a big doe jumped across the road about 25 yards ahead of me," she said. "I was going slow and slowed down even more. I looked behind her in case a couple of yearlings were following. I saw some tall grass moving, so I eased off the throttle - and sure enough, there was a deer following her.

"When it came out across the road, it wasn't 5 yards from me. And it was huge: It was the biggest buck I'd ever seen. And it scared me so much I hollered out something; I don't remember what - but you probably couldn't print it anyway.

"Well, when I did that, he just stopped dead in his tracks in the road and looked at me. I stared at him, and he stared at me for what had to be five or six seconds. I hadn't even loaded my rifle, so there wasn't much I could do, but try to stare him to death. I figured that if I could will some of my hangover on to him, he might just fall down and die right there. It didn't work - but you won't believe what happened next."

The buck was still looking at Tracy when, she said, he came to his senses. "He never looked around before he sprung off across the road. His first step was about a 15-foot bound into the woods. He turned his head just in time to take his second step, but not in time to see this big pine tree, which he slammed into headfirst. It sounded like a gun going off. The impact was incredible."

The buck went down like he'd been spined by a rifle bullet. "He kicked his legs a couple of times and then just went still," she said. "I was in shock, and I just sat there on the four-wheeler staring and shaking. I finally cut it off and decided I'd go see if he was dead. I reached in my pocket for my bullets to load the rifle - and I didn't have any: I'd forgot them. I didn't know what to do then. I mean - what if he wasn't dead? I decided to walk over to him. He wasn't 15 yards from me."

Approaching from the buck's rear and Tracy saw no movement. She eased up a few yards, keeping her distance from the animal. "I was kind of circling it," she recalled. "When I could see his head, I looked, and his eyes were closed. Then I tried to remember what Joe had always told me about open eyes and closed eyes. I couldn't remember which one meant it was dead. I guess my head was still too foggy and I was still in shock. But I did think that its eyes being closed was not a good sign. I ran back to the four-wheeler, left my orange hat to mark the spot and drove the 100 yards back to camp for bullets."

When she got back to her cap, she got off the four-wheeler, walked over to where the buck had been lying. "An antler - all that was there was this one antler," Tracy recalled. "It was big, with 5 long points, and my hand wouldn't go all the way around its base. I looked around and didn't see anything except some big tracks leading away from the road into the woods. I tried to call Joe on the radio, but he didn't answer. I didn't know what to do. I was still pretty weak in the knees, but I sucked it up and went for it.

"I loaded my rifle and headed off in that direction. I guess I'd gone about 50 yards when I heard something ahead of me. I stopped and put my rifle up and looked. All of a sudden, the big deer jumps up and starts trying to run off. It staggered a few steps and fell face-first in the ground before I could aim. I figured it had to be the same buck, but it didn't have any antlers - none. I didn't know what to think. Then he got up again, staggered forward again and fell over sideways. It was then that I started laughing."

Tracy Brady wasn't amused so much by the buck's erratic actions as by the realization that she no longer had the worst headache in the woods. She was laughing out loud and - for the first time that morning, she recalls - felt no pain.

"I was laughing so loud that I kept scaring that buck," she said. "He'd get up and take a few steps and fall down. Every time he'd get up and go a little ways, I'd walk about the same distance. Eventually I stepped on something, and looked down - and there was the other antler, still intact, with 4 big points. That took me to my knees I was laughing so hard.

"That's when I finally decided what had to be done: I had to finish him. I started walking real fast toward the buck and I got to about 10 yards before he jumped up. This time I yelled at him, and instead of trying to run, he just turned his head toward me. I swear he was cross-eyed.

"I lowered the gun and I was trying hard not to laugh myself to death. He kept moving his head and looking at me; I guess he was trying to focus on me, or figure out which of the five of me was the real one.

"I looked him over real good and saw that both antlers had broken off cleanly at the bases, like he had shed them, and there was a trickle of blood running down over both eyes. He looked exactly how I had felt earlier that morning: horrible. I remember thinking how I had wished somebody would have just come in there and shot me in the bed and put me out of misery, but that after all that had happened I sure was glad they hadn't.

"So I decided not to shoot the buck. Instead, I started talking to him, and I swear he just stood there listening. 'Mr. Buck,' I said, 'you saved my life this morning - got rid of my hangover. I'm going to pay you back and let you go. While living might not appeal to you right now, I'm sure you will appreciate it later. Now you go on.' With that, I walked back to the four-wheeler and I heard something behind me. I looked around, and it was him, just staggering off slowly. I watched, and he never fell down. He made it to a thicket, and, I think, I heard him lay down."

Tracy Brady gathered up her two antlers and returned to camp. She made herself at home and waited for the rest of her bunch to return.

The three four-wheelers arrived together, loaded down with two bucks: Jill's 8-pointer - her biggest buck ever - and Bill's 10-pointer, the same one that he'd seen earlier that morning. "'Those are two mighty fine bucks,'" Tracy recalled telling them proudly. "We hugged and all, and then we took them to the cleaning shed and Joe and Bill dressed them out.

"That's when I told them to come back to the trailer - I had something to show them. By then a few other hunters had shown up, and they came over. When we walked in, I had the two antlers sitting on the table. I had cleaned off the bases and removed the blood. They came in and sat down, and I told them the story. They didn't believe me, of course, so I made them follow me to the spot, and I showed them the tree that the buck had hit; there was bark missing. Then we walked along, and I showed them all the places he'd fallen, and where I found the other antler. We walked over to the thicket where I had last seen him."

Well - you just know what had to happen then.

"Sure enough," Joe explained, "this deer jumps up in that thicket, and he wasn't 20 yards from us. He was huge; at least 240 or 250 pounds and he didn't have an antler on his head. He to

ok off running and was out of sight in a matter of seconds."

That one moment, Tracy says, was the highlight of her deer-hunting career.

"When he stood up where they could see him, and then ran off, showing me that he was going to be OK - that was perfect," she said. "It was almost as if he had waited there so I could prove my story - like he was paying me back for letting him go."

And she was in possession of her trophy antlers, which she has since fixed up, drilling a small hole in the bases and running a leather lanyard through them.

"I gave them to Joe for his birthday to use as rattling horns, and made him promise to rattle me up a big buck next season," Tracy Brady said, wrapping up her crazy-but-true tale. "I made him promise, though, that he wouldn't use them any morning after we've been in the wine!"

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