Jeff Toy considers himself not only an avid whitetail deer hunter, but a well-prepared one. When he hits the woods, it’s normally to a well-scouted area, and he typically carries all of the correct equipment.However, none of that was the case on the windy, snowy afternoon of Nov. 25.
But Toy killed the biggest deer of his life on the hunt, one that could be a Michigan state record as well.“Never would have thought it,” said Toy, 33, of Dowagiac, Mich. “I had put all my normal stuff down and went with no seriousness whatsoever in the hunt for myself, just take (his father and cousin) with me and just go have fun.”
Toy is a self-described “meat hunter.” To him, trophy racks have never been as important or fulfilling as a freezer full of meat.
“It’s never really been a big thing for me,” he said. “We eat 90 percent venison, ducks, geese and turkey. My family owns a butcher shop, so we’ve either been raising or harvesting our own meat all my life.”
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And on this particular hunt, Toy’s chief goals were putting others on deer, not killing one himself. His father, Ed Toy, had completed work early and had indicated a desire for a quick hunt. Jeff also picked up Bailey Adams, his 14-year-old cousin who had started hunting this year, early from school.
They headed to Cass County near Decatur in the southwest corner of Michigan, just east of the southern tip of Lake Michigan.
It was not Toy’s primary hunting spot, where he had scouted several large deer, only to see them taken by other hunters early in the season. But now, 10 days into the season, he was taking his hunting party to some private land where he had permission to hunt, an area he was confident they would see deer.“It’s a little piece of property that I rarely hunt,” Toy said. “I take all of the kids to it for their first deer. It’s never been a producer of any big animals. But it’s always a good doe spot or a consistent place to go a few times in the season.”
Toy dropped his father and cousin off at spots he figured they would have good opportunities and drove back across the farm where he could watch them. He had not planned to hunt himself, but he opted to prepare himself in case a doe walked nearby or if one of the others missed a deer and he had to do some clean-up shooting.
So he grabbed a bucket to use as a seat and his tactical-style Benelli 12-gauge shotgun.
“Smooth bore, nothing on it,” Toy said. “I didn’t have a range finder or anything. I had a Gatorade and that gun with me, that’s it.”
With 25-mph winds and heavy snow blowing in his face, Toy watched with excitement as his father and cousin shot a couple does across the field. He stood to return to his truck and pick up his companions. Then he sat back down, deciding to wait a little while longer until dark.
A few moments later, a large deer stepped into the field. Through the snow, Toy could not tell if it was a buck or doe, but he had tags for both.“I was facing the south and the wind was blowing out the south to the north, blowing real hard. Snowing and stuff in your face, watering eyes,” he said. “I knew that it was a mature deer, but I had no idea it was a buck. I just said, ‘Well, I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m going to take a shot,’ when I figured it was close as it was going to be.
“When I shot, I saw it do the mule-kick kind of thing when you shoot an animal. It turned around, headed back south and just tumped over. I was surprised I made the shot.”
Toy figured the shot to be 100-150 yards. When he began his search, he immediately found blood and followed the deer’s tracks for about 40 yards. He was not prepared for what he found – a massive 12-pointer.
“I went looking and basically stumbled over that buck,” he said. “I was shocked at what it was.”At the family butcher shop, Toy discovered the full magnitude of his kill. Pre-dressed, the buck weighed 235 pounds. Later, he had the massive, long-tined antlers green-scored – once in the 195 range and again at 200.
The Michigan state record is 198-0 for a deer shot by Troy Stephens in 1996, and there are only four deer over 190 in the state record book.
After the mandatory 60-day drying period, the rack will receive an official panel judging later this month.
“I’ve been hunting since I was a little kid, and I’ve got a handful of your common 8-pointers that I’ve got on the wall,” Toy said. “I’ve never shot anything to really brag about – just stuff that I was happy with. Definitely nothing like this one.”
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