Oklahoma hunter Larry Wheeler tags two big bucks with a crossbow from the same stand only days apart.
A few weeks before Oklahoma and Oklahoma State stage their annual Bedlam battle for Sooner State football supremacy, Larry Wheeler has his own competition brewing.
And that's which buck goes where in a fall hunting season that has seen the 55-year-old Francis, Okla., hunter take not one, but two huge bucks only days apart from the same 14-foot-tall ladder stand.
With Oklahoma hunters able to take multiple deer spread across the state's archery, muzzleloader, and modern firearm hunting campaigns, Wheeler came into his dilemma after a quick switch to Plan B in the South Canadian River bottoms he hunts near his home.
"I'm hunting another place with a local guy, Willie White, the pastor of the Freewill Baptist Church in Francis," said Wheeler, who began chasing Oklahoma whitetails during his teenage years. "We were putting up food plots, corn feeders [which are legal in Oklahoma], etc., but we weren't seeing much of anything."
That all changed when Wheeler went to check some wild hog traps on another piece of property he had access to.
"On one of my trips in there, I noticed some pecan trees — about 25 of them — just literally torn up, some almost in half," he said. "The landowner had noticed that, too, and he wanted me to see what I could do."
When trail camera photos showed a group of bucks, Wheeler's curiosity was piqued. When a couple of bucks in that group proved to be huge bruisers, he quickly began hunting this farm in Pontotoc County not far from the county seat of Ada.
After two days of cat-and-mouse hunting as the deer came up out of the thick river bottom, Wheeler watched on the third evening as a few whitetails fed in front of him on native vegetation and clover that had sprouted after very heavy rains late this past summer.
When a large buck suddenly appeared only yards away, the longtime hunter's instincts were triggered as he readied for a shot at the 25-point whitetail.
"He was focused on two other bucks out in the field when he popped up almost underneath my stand," said Wheeler. "I was trying not to move and stay focused as he came right under me. Thankfully, he was going right towards those two other bucks with his ears laid back and his head down a little. I don't think he was happy they were there."
With the buck less than 20-yards away, Wheeler lifted his Parker crossbow, took aim when the buck paused, and let the carbon bolt and Spitfire broadhead combo fly.
A short while later, Wheeler got down from his stand, expecting an easy tracking job. What he found was no bolt pass through and no discernible blood trail.
That led to an extensive tracking job in thick grass, one where Wheeler combed the area in an ever widening grid-search. When Wheeler finally recovered his coyote-ravaged buck approximately 48 hours after he had shot it, the buck had traveled approximately 500 yards.
"I still feel sick about it," he said. "That's the first one I've ever lost in my life - I've never had that happen before. I've helped a lot of people find their deer, but I've never lost one until this one."
While Wheeler's tag was burned on another set of good antlers for his wall — he's got several other fine Oklahoma bucks to his credit in recent years — he still had another buck tag and some doe tags left.
As a hunter who enjoys taking management bucks and does to fill his freezer with venison — not to mention making a donation or two to a "Hunters for the Hungry" style program — Wheeler had plans to quickly hunt again.
'Oh my gosh! This is unreal!'
Those plans changed the next day however when the grandfather of his wife Minisa passed away in a neighboring town. That led to several days of family gatherings and a funeral service, with any thoughts of deer hunting being quickly relegated to the back burner.
"When I went back to hunting again on Oct. 16, I got to thinking about the one that I had taken a few days earlier, how he had reacted to those two bucks out in the field," said Wheeler. "So I decided that even though it was still October (and well before the rut), that I would take my Flambeau decoy with me and see what might happen."
After positioning the buck decoy facing him some 20-yards away, Wheeler settled in for the evening. Not long afterwards, a group of does and three bucks came into the pasture, including one large-bodied deer that stayed relatively hidden behind some trees and saplings just more than 50-yards away.
"Two of the bucks were the 13- and 14-pointers that I had previously seen," said Wheeler. "But this other one, I never could get a really good look at him (behind the screening limbs).
"But when one of those other bucks decided to come my way, he came out from behind the cover and walked up about 40 yards away, stopping broadside and just staring at that decoy."
Wheeler raised his crossbow, steadied the scope's crosshairs, and loosed his second shot at a big Oklahoma buck in barely a week's time. This time, there would be no arduous search as the buck fell virtually in its tracks.
"When I went to recover him, the closer I got to him, the larger and larger he kept getting," said Wheeler of a buck with upwards of 40-points. "When I finally got in front of the deer, I thought 'Oh my gosh! This is unreal!'"
After summoning help from his wife and some other hunting friends, Wheeler's buck quickly had an admiring army of onlookers.
"It took three of us to load him up into the back of the pickup," said Wheeler. "When I got him to the processor, they figured he was at least 6 1/2 years old because he didn't have too much left in the way of teeth."
With an official Boone and Crockett Club measurer set to green score both bucks, Wheeler has become something of a local celebrity, thanks in part to a blow-up on social media after he posted photos of the two giant whitetails.
"Some people have mentioned that these deer must have come from behind a high-fence because they've never heard of one guy getting two great bucks from the same stand only a week apart," said Wheeler.
"I understand their point, but these deer came from a low-fence piece of property in the middle of a South Canadian River pecan bottom. There's nothing out here but five wire barbed wire fence and a bunch of cattle."
According to Oklahoma Department of Wildlife records, the largest overall buck in state history was an 18-pointer killed by Michael Crossland in 2004 that scored 248 6/8.
The largest whitetail take with archery gear was a 38-pointer last year by Jeff Parker that scored 245 5/8.
And for a few days at least, a couple of Sooner State bruiser bucks, both of which now wear Larry Wheeler's tag as a bedlam battle continues to see which one gets top billing on the wall.