December 01, 2020
Note: Game & Fish reader Bobby Ross, an Alabama deer hunter, shares this story of the big 16-pointer his brother took this season during a memorable November hunt in Missouri.
In today's world, to me, hunting has lost its way and this November trip with my brother brought me back to when I grew up going to hunting camp and celebrating the stories and memories made together.
Every deer was a trophy and a success for the group, but most importantly, it was the adventure and the stories that were made.
My brother, Justin, said to me when I asked to take his photo, "Heck, yeah, I want my photo, I am usually the one taking them. Feels really good to have someone taking mine." Between my niece and nephew, who are now in their 20's , or my dad, or myself or others, he usually was the photo guy.
There was good reason for Justin to be the subject this time — the behemoth 16-point whitetail he took on Nov. 16 on leased farmland, adjacent to the Mark Twain National Forest on 50 percent of its boundary in Dent County, Missouri.
The deer was estimated to be 4.5 to 5.5 years old with a live weight of 235 pounds, and an unofficial green score of 171 2/8ths. The main beams were over 20 inches long; the longest G2 was 11 2/8th and had an inside spread of 17 6/8, and an outside spread of 19 4/8. He had over 16 inches of mass on both sides, combined with all H circumferences.
Justin had a tough time hunting this year with two previous trips where deer were just not moving with the warmer weather we saw in October. The night before the big buck, after sitting in 20 mph wind and rain on Saturday and higher winds the following day, he was actually contemplating why he was 50 years old, stuck in a stand freezing his butt off when he could be doing so many other things. He told me the next day he really was going to give up, but despite his thoughts he made it to the stand we set up bright and early and it paid off big time.
When he took this deer all those thoughts went away.
Not because of the size but because it gave him the ability to look at the bigger picture. Why we do what we do in the first place. The adventure, the stories, the chase, the time spent in the woods exploring and the bonding that happens between friends and family along the way.
This is the first year for us to lease the farm and I knew from previous conversations with the landowner and leasing agent there would be a chance to harvest a mature whitetail. The farm has only been hunted a few times in the last 30 years.
This was our first year hunting in Missouri, and also the first time we've gotten to hunt together in a few years. He lives in Pennsylvania and I live in Alabama and our previous lease in West Virginia wasn't available this year. Also, the last couple of years our schedules didn't line up. And, needless to say, we were excited to go after a few of the deer we had been seeing on camera images since summer.
We first got photos of this deer in September and we held off placing stands until it got closer to rifle season, but the deer stayed on or near the farm all season. The week before he was taken, we had him on camera crossing the same trail where the farmer found his sheds earlier in the year. With an 18-inch estimated spread he scored 140 last year. He stayed in about a 200-acre area of the farm from September to November 16th, when he was harvested.
The One We're After
Justin saw one fork-horn buck in the morning, after not seeing much the last few days of archery season and the start of rifle. He thought to himself in that moment, "Really? This is the buck I am supposed to take [and laughing to himself]?" As much as he would have liked to have taken the smaller buck and put an end to a brutally slow season, he held off, and an hour later it paid off big.
At 8:30 a.m., the same time we had this deer on camera during the day a few weeks ago, the buck showed up in the same spot where I saw another large buck the morning before. I decided to hunt another area Monday morning and told my brother to take that stand, knowing his chances were high at seeing a good buck.
Justin was standing up when he heard a very quiet crunch in the leaves and just happened to look over his shoulder to catch a huge body and antlers.
The wind was 4-6 mph coming out of the southwest that day so it was a perfect spot that morning to sit. From the time he heard the small crunch in the leaves until the time he shot was only about 20 seconds.
Justin said he saw a huge body and antlers, but the deer went behind a cedar tree. He readied his gun and was waiting for this deer to come out and was watching through the scope for what seemed like eternity. ;Finally, as the deer emerges from behind the cedar, he gets a glimpse of the antlers and notices, 1) that's a huge rack, and 2) the G2 on the right side goes backwards a little. In this moment, Justin knew it was the one we have been after all season.
The deer stepped into a small shooting lane and when he saw his shot, he squeezed the trigger and the deer dropped in its tracks. He said he was shocked; he thought to himself, "This doesn't happen to me. I never get a shot at the big one and I can't remember the last time one just dropped like that." He just froze for 10 minutes, waiting for it to move, and when he finally realized it was dead, he picked up the walkie-talkie to let me know. Earlier, I had been on the ridge over from him so I did hear a shot come from his direction, but it didn't seem close enough to be him. When that walkie-talkie went off, I knew he might have killed one, but not "the big one."
The Deer of a Lifetime
I said, "Did you get one?" He said, "Yep, I sure did. I said, "Is it nice?"
He said, and I could feel his face beaming through the walkie talkie, "I got the big 16-point!" I almost fell over where I stood. I was more excited in that moment than any other deer I've harvested in 25 years. Here is my brother, who's spent hours and hours in the woods with both of his children, myself and my dad and our relatives taking photos of our trophies and helping us drag and field-dress our deer, and on Monday at 8:30 a.m., he finally got a deer of a lifetime that will be talked about for generations. And I got to help him drag it out.
We called our dad, who couldn't make it out to hunt with us this year and we told him the story. Everyone was so proud of him and so was I. It's hard not to tear up when I write about it. Here is a guy who took me out on my first squirrel hunt when I was 12 years old, who took me with him scouting when I was a kid, and who sacrificed his own time teaching his own kids this wonderful thing we call hunting. After passing up many shots and opportunities, he finally got one of the biggest deer any of us have ever taken in the wild.
It wasn't until he came down to visit me in Alabama in July that he decided to come hunt this year, previously we weren't able to get together for the last two or three seasons because of distance and schedules. I had told him I decided not to fill the lease in case family wanted to hunt and it would be just me by myself this year and a guy I knew locally in Alabama. He said if you want someone to hunt with I will drive out from Pennsylvania (14 hours one way) to hunt with you and that was the start of what turned out to be a dream season.
Thankful for Family Hunting Tradition
To this day, hunting has shaped my life in so many ways. To spend time with my brother one on one and to put him on this trophy deer will be a story we talk about for the rest of our lives:.
Leasing the farm and all the time I spent scouting and placing cameras, dealing with outside hunting pressure, pressure and chaos from one of our other hunters on the lease, and to place a stand in a new area a few days before harvesting the deer, where it re-located without being seen on camera; it was scouting and being in the right place at the right time.
The odds of this happening are just off the charts. The funny thing is, the deer had so much scent coming off of him that I knew the next day I would probably see a buck in the same spot. Sure enough, 7:30 am I was able to take a smaller eight-point in the exact same stand, and standing in the exact same spot where we drug out the 16-pointer.
It was our first time having our own lease, as well as hunting Missouri. I took a Jake and a coyote earlier in the season and now a buck, and put my brother on the deer of a lifetime.
Needless to say, we will be back next year, not because of the end result but because we enjoyed just being out in the wild, expecting the unknown and just being comfortable with everything that was going on.
Enjoying the solitude, the excitement, sharing stories from years of hunting trips, and anticipating what you might see the next time you crawl up in that stand for hours and hours, fighting the elements and left to your own thoughts and observations without distraction.
What Else Could Compare?
Hunting is like nothing else, and this year it reminded me not to get so caught up on the latest and greatest trends, to remind myself why I push myself to the limit for a deer. Not because I have the newest gear, or hottest caliber, or spent tons of money on the newest scent or treestands.
It was about making memories this year, enjoying time with each other, not getting upset if you don't get lucky or whatever else may happen while you are out there. That is my wish for future hunters, to experience the bonding that takes place during this time spent outdoors. We need to protect it, to respect the tradition and each other, regardless of how we hunt, and to do our part as outdoorsmen and women to ensure our generation will be able to continue this right to do what we do .
And we need to keep sharing stories. Everyone loves a good story and an opportunity to experience the same.