By Jill J. Easton
Not every good deed goes punished.
Being neighborly has its advantages.
Tom Ross helps “Mr. Lee” Simms, an older across-the-road neighbor, with his hay, cows and fences, and he even takes him to the doctor. In return for his kindness, he gets to hunt the 40-acre pasture a mere 560 yards from his front door.
The pasture, ringed by trees, offers no cover for deer, but they flock to it.
“I found 11 sheds in that little field the previous spring,” Tom said. “Several were pretty impressive, but one antler was really outstanding. It’s just one of those great places where deer concentrate.”
The country there is justifiably famous for growing big deer. It’s delta land, fertilized eons ago by the White and Mississippi rivers, and home to CRP lands as well as soybeans and rice farms. The three-day hunts at the nearby White River Refuge routinely yield some of the biggest bucks taken in Arkansas.
The rivers both flooded in 2010, pushing refuge and flood-plain (inside the levee) deer onto higher ground like Mr. Lee’s place. Tom knew his chances at a decent buck would never be better, so he became a ladder stand-climbing machine, always hoping to see the former wearer of the big antler he’d found.
“I hunted hard during bow season, when the floodwaters were at their peak,” he said. “I went 16 days straight and saw plenty of deer, including this buck, but the wind was wrong for it to get close enough for me to try a shot.”
When the gun season opened, Tom kept hunting from his bow setup, at least whenever the wind allowed. But he was beginning to think the buck that once wore the enormous shed had left for greener pastures. It didn’t show up on trail cameras, and no one had seen it for a while. Yet the possibility of seeing it kept Tom crossing the road and sitting in that familiar tree.
A week into gun season, there was still no sign of the buck.
“I’d burnt my entire season waiting on the buck that left its shed in the field,” Tom said. “I was ready to sell my guns and quit. I had nothing to show for a whole lot of work.”
It rained on Nov. 23. Tom was already in a bad mood over deer hunting in general, and the weather was the last straw. He decided not to go hunting for the first time in more than two weeks.
But he couldn’t stay home.
“I was in the stand at daylight, despite the rain,” he said. “It finally quit about 9:00, and I decided to give it another hour; to give the buck one last chance. If it didn’t show, the guns were up for sale.”
Tom was on his cell phone, talking and laughing with his buddy, Rusty Burfield, when a doe came onto the field. Tom looked down, and THE buck was standing there at about 75 yards.
“Gotta go,” he whispered into the phone.
He aimed and made a near-perfect shot at the buck’s vitals, but the bullet hit a sourweed bush and fragmented.
“The buck ran at me, looking as if not a hair had been cut,” Tom said. “When I stood up in the stand, it stopped and looked up. When I fired again, the deer ran out of sight.”
The hunter had a few seconds of near panic, and then he got down and called Rusty.
“I went to the spot where the buck stopped, and there was blood,” Tom said. “The deer went only about 75 yards and died within seconds.”
Lead fragments from the first shot tore through the arteries in the top of the animal’s heart. The followup shot had missed.
When he got to the buck, Tom couldn’t believe what he saw. Up close, it was even bigger than it had seemed at a distance.
“I ran toward it, and my knees were still knocking,” Tom said. “I couldn’t believe I’d actually shot the deer. When I saw it, I threw up. It was THAT big.”
As soon as Tom got over his case of buck fever, he sent photographs to Rusty and to another buddy, Shane Fisher, via cell phone. These guys are his best “burn-out buddies,” men who keep each other’s spirits high when the hunting gets tough.
“I shot a giant,” Tom told Rusty later.
“Rusty kept yelling, ‘What does it score?’ But I had no idea. All I knew was that the deer was big.
“Pictures hit most of my friends’ computers before we got the buck to the house,” Tom continued. “Everybody kept asking what it scored, so I decided to find out.”
He took the buck to the Arkansas Big Buck Classic, where it placed sixth overall, and then to Simmons Sporting Goods’ Big Buck Contest in Bastrop, La. There, the buck placed first as the largest Arkansas buck and third overall. As a bonus, his name was drawn for a $10,000 shopping spree. He has a lot of new hunting equipment to show for it.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime deer, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be out there this fall,” Tom said. “That little patch of pasture is pure gold, and somewhere out there is an even bigger buck. I just hope I can find it and stay in good with Mr. Lee.”
Hunter: Tom Ross
Official Score: 173 4/8
Composite Score: 194 6/8
– Photos Courtesy of Tom Ross
This article was published in the Winter 2011 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.