Neither nature’s call nor a need for fuel caused Ryan Cox to suddenly veer off the highway and pull into the nearest gas station on Oct. 16. The 18-year-old from Eagleville, Mo., was on his way back to Columbia from St. Louis, where he’d gone to look at a truck for sale, when his brother, Kris, sent him a photograph via cell phone.
The photo, which Kris swore had been taken by one of their trail cameras, was of an unbelievably huge buck. Ryan could barely keep his eyes on the road, and so he stopped as soon as possible to ogle the tiny screen in his palm.
“I stared at the picture for a good five minutes,” he said. “It was the biggest buck I’d ever seen outside of television or the Internet.”
That wasn’t the first buck photo to whet Ryan’s appetite for the 2010 season, but it certainly was the most exciting. Prior to bow season, Ryan drove the 200 miles from college to the family farm on weekends to scout, set out trail cameras with his dad, Kelvin, and to hang half a dozen stands with the help of his best friend, Quentin Hogan.
The first batch of photos sent by his father included several high-caliber bucks, which really primed the young hunter’s pump. Unable to spend as much time in the woods as he did before he left home for school, Ryan strategized from afar by talking with his cousin, Brandon Craig.
“Brandon was also my high school agriculture teacher,” Ryan said. “He and I used to spend a lot of time together. He knows the land I hunt very well, and I’ve always asked him for advice.
“He mentioned a particular piece of timber flanking a creek, a natural funnel that provided plenty of cover for the deer to travel between bedding areas and food sources. I kept that in the back of my mind,” he added.
After the huge buck was photographed in mid-October, it wandered in front of a lens twice more. But nobody who bowhunted the farm saw it in the flesh.
On Nov. 11, Ryan left his job in Columbia shortly after midnight and drove home. He pulled in the driveway at 3:35 a.m. His dad and Uncle David were already awake and preparing for their morning bowhunt.
“I quickly unpacked my car, dressed and joined them,” Ryan said. “It was fairly cold that day. I went to a stand overlooking a wheat field. Although it wasn’t the best bowhunting setup, it was a good place to see a lot of deer.
“I saw 16, in fact, including a nice 10-pointer that might’ve scored around 150,” he continued. “Most of the deer came out of the timber that ran along the creek, the woods my cousin had recommended.”
That afternoon, Ryan and Quentin hung a stand 40 yards from the creek, within bow range of some fresh scrapes.
“When I arrived back at the house, Dad told me he’d seen the big one,” Ryan said.
While sitting in the new creek stand the next morning, Ryan saw eight does and a couple of bucks, an 8- and a little 4-pointer. He wasn’t able to hunt that afternoon.
The following day, Nov. 13, was the rifle opener, and the weather was perfect. Ryan sat with his dad in a stand on the other side of the creek, about half a mile from where he’d bowhunted. His uncles, Joe, David and Jamie, and his brother were hunting the same farm.
Everyone saw deer, but nobody got one.
Sunday was Ryan’s last day to hunt. He and his father returned to the same stand. They never raised their guns, but they heard gunshots.
“When my uncles arrived at the house at lunchtime, a nice 10-pointer was strapped to the back of the ATV,” Ryan said. “Uncle Joe had shot it. He’d seen the big one chasing a doe afterward, which pretty much determined where we’d all hunt that afternoon.”
Ryan decided to go to the stand he’d hung near the creek. He was aloft, cradling his new Remington, by 2:00. After glassing potential shooting lanes, he began texting his buddies, wishing them good luck.
“As soon as I hit the send button for a text congratulating my Uncle Joe, I heard something to the north and glanced up to see a deer. I knew it was a buck when it grunted,” he said.
“It was in such a thick place, I couldn’t tell much about its rack. But I knew I’d have to make a snap decision once it reached the only opening between us.”
As best Ryan could tell, the buck was at least a 10-pointer with good mass, and he wanted it. He raised his rifle and waited, and when the buck stepped into the shooting lane, crosshairs found shoulder and Ryan squeezed the trigger.
The 130-grain bullet dropped the buck like Newton’s apple.
“When it raised its head for the last time, I noticed forked brow tines. That’s when it occurred to me that it might be the big one,” he said.
“Gathering my wits wasn’t easy. I tried to confirm my hope while peering at the downed whitetail through my scope, but I couldn’t hold the gun steady enough. I was shaking so badly, my gun was literally banging the rest on my treestand,” he added.
“I immediately sent text messages to my Uncle David and to my brother, who were only 300 yards from me. I told them I thought I’d shot the big one and that I wanted to wait until 3:15 to go to it, but I guess they didn’t bother reading the second part. I could see their orange vests sliding down trees through my binoculars,” Ryan said.
“After seeing them, I decided I couldn’t wait either. I got down and stepped-off the 187-yard shot. Instead of going straight to the deer, which I could tell was indeed the big one, I ran out to the field to greet my uncle and brother. ‘It’s him!’ I yelled.
“After we got a closer look at the giant, I went and picked up my dad. I also texted all my friends, many of whom were waiting at the house when we arrived.
“The circus lasted until 10 p.m.,” he added. “At one point, more than 40 people were there at the same time to see the deer.”
That Sunday might be the last for Ryan to devote a full day to deer hunting.
“The whole week before I came up to hunt, I prayed to God to give me a chance to just see this once-in-a-lifetime buck,” he said. “I told Him that I would even start going to church on a regular basis, like I used to as a kid.”
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Hunter: Ryan Cox
BTR Official Score: 212
BTR Composite Score: 232 7/8
Weapon: Modern Rifle
Location: Harrison County, Missouri
Date: November 14, 2010