Rick and The Big 12

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In the summer of 2013, after having sold my farm in Missouri and moving to Iowa with my wife, I met two people that would change my life in more ways than one.  During this time I was working overseas in less than desirable places.  While on my break from work, I found myself a resident in what I consider to be one of the top trophy states — Iowa — but with no place to hunt.  Deciding to get a cup of coffee one fall morning at the local diner, I met a man by the name of Tom.  Over a cup of coffee we chatted about hunting, and the potential  within different counties in Iowa.  It was during that conversation that we got off the topic of hunting and onto the topic of life.  I explained to Tom that I was relatively new to the area and that my real goal was to stop working overseas and be home with my family.  Tom recommended that I meet his son Adam, who ran a networking company.

Over the course of the next few days, I managed to set up a meeting with Adam at the local coffee shop.  Adam and I met and immediately started discussing job opportunities, whereupon I relayed my true interest in trying to get into the outdoor industry.  As irony or fate would have it, Adam, with another partner, had just started a new outdoor venture.  After a few more meetings, Adam and his other partner Will asked me to become part of their company.

However, none of us could quit our day jobs just yet, so I had to deploy once again overseas.  While deployed, I quickly discovered that Will and I had much in common, first and foremost our passion for bowhunting.  Through several months of work and discussions we swapped stories and pictures of past deer taken.

Although we did not hunt that year together, Will and I stayed in touch, not only due to the business but also because in those rare instances when a hunter finds a kindred spirit a brotherhood is born.

When the path of life and fate intertwine there is always a story to be told.  In this case a history that needs to be shared to put in context the rest of this story:

Will’s long and storied history with this deer goes like this.  He has no name, other than the near perfect description of “The Big 12.” It all began in the 2012 youth season when Will’s hunting buddy took his nephew out. They were lucky enough to lay eyes on the buck, however the luck ended there, as no opportunities were ever given for a shot.
 November of that same year he started getting trail pics of the buck.  He only showed up 3 days and then disappeared like big ghost bucks often do. This was around the same time almost all of the other deer on the farm died from EHD. Scouting trips around the farm would find dead deer lying everywhere. In some places dead bucks were found every 50 yds up and down the creek. It took an enormous toll on the herd, and hit the bucks the hardest. So when The Big 12 went missing it was easy to believe that he also came to an early and unfortunate demise.
 The next encounter and piece of history was when his left shed was picked up in February no more than 75 yds from where I would eventually arrow the bruiser.  His shed was laying out in a grassy field on a trail I am sure he walked many times, as it would be the same trail I would first lay eyes on him working a scrape line the night I would get my shot.

This gave hope that he would be around to hunt in the 2013 season.  That spring, one velvet picture of him was taken in the same ditch he had been spotted in the year previous.  Will hunted very lightly that year due to the deer numbers being decimated. It would take four to five sits to see a single deer, when in years past it was common to see 15-20 deer every sit. In Will’s words, his ambition for chasing whitetails was very low that year. Late in the January muzzleloader season, he did have one more sighting when he jumped The Big 12 with a group of smaller bucks out of that same ditch while driving in one night. That would be the last sign of him that year.

 The summer of 2014 brought all sorts of trail pictures of The Big 12.  He had exploded, nearing what was thought to be one of the biggest, highest scoring typical deer ever hunted by Will.  This brought all kinds of excitement knowing he was still there, living in the same ditch, but much bigger and running with a non-typical nearly as big.
 On opening day of youth season 2014, it was raining from dark to sunrise. Will and his son decided to sit in the truck and wait it out.  Seeing no signs of the rain letting up, they decided to drive the truck further in to overlook the grassy slue they were to hunt that morning…the same grassy slue that bordered the thick timbered ditch The Big 12 had been living in.  As luck would have it, they rounded the corner of a cornfield that opened up to the grassy slue, and The Big 12 and the big non-typical were both standing merely 50 yds away. As they retreated to the tree line, Will could only smile as he then realized just how big The Big 12 really was, as well as the knowledge that this deer was a home body and very killable.  His 10 year old son was a bit disappointed but kept up good spirits knowing that it was just a part of hunting. They sat over that same ditch four more times only to see and pass up smaller bucks.  Now you have some history about The Big 12 and it’s time for the rest of my story.

Fast forward to the second week of the 2014 bow season in Iowa.  I had managed to get some time off from another contract that I was working overseas, so I could come home for a few days.  Although my in-laws have a farm that we hunt, it was over an hour drive each way. I felt I wasn’t going to have the time to really get away.  Lamenting my woes to Will, he offered that I go hunt one of his farms not 20 minutes away.  We made a plan to meet on the 8th of Oct to hang some stands.  I provided the stands since I hadn’t had the time to hang them at the in-laws.  While driving to the farm, Will told me that he had several 150 inch plus bucks running around and The Big 12 he now knew so very well. Not being my farm, I asked what he wanted me to harvest.  Will said, “ take any good buck you see.”  After getting two of the stands up, we left and I planned my hunt for the next morning.

The morning hunt of the 9th proved fruitless. At about 8 O’clock, the local farmer came rambling though in his truck not 150 yards away moving some cows.  “So much for this hunt,” I lamented.  Hope was not lost, as I knew I would go back to the second stand later that evening.

The second stand we hung was located on the inside corner of a woodlot and a CRP field bordered by standing corn–a set up that I only thought possible in the hunting videos that I grew up on.  That evening, only 3 deer came out, a young 125 inch buck and 2 does.  Eventful, but not what one looks for living in Iowa.  The next morning I decided not to hunt, but instead, sleep in with the family and run a few errands in town.  Around 3 o’clock my wife asked if I was going hunting.  Being conscious minded of my family time, I asked if she minded or did we still need to get more done in town.  Nothing else needed immediate attention so we went home where I promptly cleaned up, kissed my wife and son, grabbed my bow and headed to Will’s.    As I made my way to the inside corner stand, I thought how much I had missed this…the clean fall air, the change in the leaves, the anticipation of what might come.  After getting settled in the stand I texted Will, thanked him for letting me hunt, and told him I would keep him informed.  Afterwards I put my phone away and decided to enjoy the solitude.  “Tree stand therapy” I call it.  As time ticked and the sun lowered, the magic hour approached.  That last hour before all light fades and the monster bucks of the woods come out. Honestly, I didn’t think I would see anything.  As I checked my phone it was 6:13 pm.  Looking back over my right shoulder at the CRP field I caught movement coming down the fence line.  Slowly turning further, I caught sight of horns and a large bodied deer.  Immediately I knew this was a good buck, a shooter, but I didn’t look at the horns again.   The buck started working a scrape 25 yards at about the 2 O’Clock position.  All I could make out was horns raking branches and thrashing the small low hanging limbs.  Using his distraction against him I maneuvered myself into position.  There are few times in my life that I can remember going into an auto-pilot mode, or in this case auto-archer mode.  All my time in the military, and various training programs overseas cross-correlated to this very moment.  Without thinking, I had to stand and readjust my safety tether so that it would not interfere with my draw-cycle.  In position, at full draw, the buck was walking past the shooting lane at 22 yards. I aimed in on his front shoulder thinking of nothing and only focusing on the sight pin.  Not wanting to stop him, for fear of him either becoming too alert or ducking the arrow, I led him with my pin.  I can honestly say I don’t remember the trigger squeeze, just the light of my nock and a thwack.  The buck mule kicked, ran 10 yards straight away from me, stopped, and started to cut in on a trail 30 yards behind the stand.  Not knowing if I had a solid hit, self-doubt crept into my mind. I nocked another arrow, begging the hunting gods to give me another shot at this deer.  To my utter surprise, the buck bedded down.  Trying to see him through the brush with my binos, losing light and shaking, I managed to text Will. I told him, “I think I just smashed a monster.”  His reply, “U think?”  One thing I failed to mention, this was only my 4th buck I had ever shot. After a quick text discussion, Will gave me some directions on how to exit the stand and meet him on the road coming into the farm.  Attempting to be a ninja getting out of the stand, I made as little noise as possible for fear of pushing the buck.  I did manage to retrieve my arrow, which, much to my delight, was covered in bright red thick blood.  No stomach….thank you God.

After what seemed like a hike out that would never end, I got to the road where Will was waiting.  After a quick recap of the story and close inspection of the arrow, we decided to call in reinforcements.  Will called his other hunting partner, Hommer, to assist.  Together, the three of us made a plan on how we would recover the deer.  Hommer was to stay at the top of the ditch, should the buck still be alive and push out while Will and I would head to the stand. I would enter where the buck went in and Will would go in at the stand site.  Should the buck prove to be alive, we would know his direction of travel. As Will slowly crept from the stand to the last place I saw the buck, I watched the trail and the light of his flashlight.  The next words I heard can’t be fully published but they went something like this, “Holy **** Rick! You just shot a Booner!”  Crashing through the briars I raced toward the lights with Hommer not far behind me.

There lay the biggest deer of my life, in horn size and body.  Any hunter who has taken a trophy animal knows the elation and near indescribable joy that accompanies such a feat.

This was The Big 12 that Will had told me about, and I didn’t even know it until I saw him crashed in the brambles.  My muzzy and bloodsport arrow combination did the trick.  After staring in awe, some bro-hugs, high fives, and a few quick pictures, we started the arduous task of dragging this monster.  Our first thought when we tried to pull him was that he was stuck on something.  A quick inspection revealed the buck wasn’t hung up on anything.  We decided to put our backs into it and finally got him moving.  Thank God it was only 40 yards to the trail. However, we stopped no less than a half dozen times in the 40 yard drag.

After getting the buck in the truck, we drove to the corner of the cornfield to take quality pictures to capture the moment and the memory.  After unloading the deer and waiting on another friend to bring the camera, Will told me that he could only think of 5 people in the world that he would have liked to have seen shoot that deer and I was one of them.

That is what brotherhood is, the unselfish act of giving.  In the military we have a bond of brotherhood shared through common hardships.  In bowhunting we share a similar bond that is borne between hunters, through common experiences, and a respect for the game and our comrades.

This buck was and will be the buck of a lifetime for me.  Scoring a gross 182, and a net of 178 inches, I couldn’t  have done this if I hadn’t met Adam and Will, joined their company, and discovered a kindred spirit.  Now it’s my turn to repay the kindness with an archery Cape Buffalo hunt for Will next year, as Africa is a place I’ve been and love, and I want to share that with him.  It’s part of being in a brotherhood.

Last modified: November 30, 2016

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