No one can say Bo Russell didn’t put in the work for his monster deer.
He sweated, fretted, worked, worried and grieved over the buck for more than three years. Elation and relief finally arrived on Nov. 8, 2012, when he dropped the deer on his hunting plot less than 10 miles from his home in Sperry, Iowa, in the southeast corner of the state.
For his efforts, Russell’s deer earned the nation’s highest score (239.36) in the Adult Bow Nontypical Division of the Outdoor Channel National Deer Contest powered by BuckScore, the nation’s first whitetail deer scoring and photography competition.
The contest ended Jan. 31, but hundreds of examples of the finest deer in the nation can still be seen at nationaldeercontest.com.
Click image for top deer in the National Deer Contest
Russell’s buck, a 6-year-old 19-pointer, eluded him and others in the region for its entire life. For Russell, the pursuit of it nearly became an obsession.
“It was such a relief to finally get him,” said Russell, 36, who works as a tool and die manufacturer. “I was getting so stressed. I mean, I was dreaming about him at night. Seriously.”
Russell first saw the deer when a trail cam caught images of him in 2009.
“He was maybe a 150-incher as a 3-year-old,” Russell said. “Then the next year, he still had the 4-by-5 frame and was up in the 180s, with no drop tines. But all of the pictures of him were at night.”
For the 2012 season, Russell first put his cameras out in July. But the big buck never appeared until Oct. 8, shortly after the start of the local bow season.
“I knew right away it was him, and he was 50 inches bigger than the year before,” Russell said. “From that day on, that was the only deer I was after. Between Oct. 8 and Nov. 8, I only missed one day in those woods.”
Russell’s hunting area was a tree farm of 60-70 acres with rows of pines and oaks that were about 20 years old. Adjacent to the plot on one side was a farm where corn had been harvested prior to the 2012 season.
Russell said he saw the buck on cameras in the area, but his appearances were erratic – at least once a week, but not every day. He had his first real chance to bag the big buck on Halloween weekend.
“I grunted him in, but he hung up about 40 yards out,” Russell said. “I was upwind of him, but somehow he smelled me anyway. He stuck his nose in the air and smelled me. Then he snorted and blowed at me, and then was gone.
“I was pretty devastated. I was pretty sure I had missed my one good chance.”
A few days later, Russell saw the buck again. This time he came out of a stand of pines into a field, where he spent about 45 minutes pushing around several does. Russell watched from about 80 yards away.
The frivolity continued until dark, and then the group moved back into the woods, not far from Russell’s stand.
“It was well past shooting hours, but there was a full moon and they moved through right under me,” he said. “There was no way I could have shot.
“I must have stayed there an hour-and-a-half after dark. I was happy to see him again, but the last thing I wanted to do at that point was to spook him.”
Russell continued to hunt the area hard each day after work for the next week- and-a-half, but he never saw the buck.
A few days later, on the adjacent farm land about 100 yards from Russell’s stand, some heavy equipment was brought in to do some excavation work. So on the afternoon of Nov. 8, Russell elected to park his truck in a different place and enter his stand from a different route.
“At about 4 p.m., I look up and there he is,” Russell said. “I knew it was him instantly.”
The buck was headed toward a shooting lane that Russell had measured to be 49 yards from his stand. But there was a fork at which he could continue toward the 49-yard shooting mark or head into another area. He continued toward the shooting area.
“It was probably 10 seconds from the time I saw him until I had to make a decision on the shot,” Russell said.
Russell shot and watched the buck go down in a pine thicket, 30 yards from the spot where he was hit.
“Definitely my biggest deer,” Russell said. “I’ve been hunting seriously for about 10 or 12 years. I put more work and effort into this deer than any other.”
Russell wasn’t the only hunter that the big buck evaded. A few days earlier, a gentleman missed him on a parcel of land to the south of Russell’s. Also, a woman shot him in the shoulder during the 2011 season.
“The wound was still there,” Russell said. “This guy was a real warrior, I tell you what.”