One Mississippi, two Mississippi … and so on, is one of the traditional methods of counting in a game of hide-and-seek. Whoever’s “IT” must rattle off the countdown before seeking those in hiding.
Ricky Sullivan grew weary of being IT last season. Try as he might, the deer hunter from Meridian, Miss., could never find the one buck he coveted.
This game started in 2010, when Ricky first saw the buck in his camera’s viewfinder.
“My friends and I had just leased about 400 acres and planted peas as a summer food plot for the deer,” he said. “When the peas had grown about shoulder high on a deer, we set out a trail camera.
“One day when I was going by the area, I pulled the card and later put it in a computer. For some reason, it wouldn’t work,” he continued. “So I put it in a camera. It worked, but the viewfinder was really small.”
Ricky and a hunting buddy, Duke Wilson, peered at the little window and squinted.
“I think neither of us wanted to say anything at first, because it was like we were both wondering, ‘Is that the rack or pea vines?’” Ricky said. “When we figured out it was all rack, both of our jaws dropped.”
The unforgettable image was the first deer the trail camera had captured, and Ricky nicknamed the buck Pea Vine.
“We built stands,” Ricky said. “We were determined to be careful and not to pressure him; just hunt the fringes.”
On the last Friday of the 2010 season, Ricky got a chance at Pea Vine.
“I was walking in to my stand when I saw him. I’d just crested a hill, and he was one of five deer standing in the bottom,” Ricky said. “I held over him about 12 inches. I misjudged, though. I thought he was farther than he was.”
The shot passed harmlessly over the buck’s back.
“I had a long spring and summer after that,” Ricky said.
Waiting for the 2011 season was hard enough, but it got worse when Pea Vine began showing up in trail cam photos.
“From bloody spots, to nubs, to velvet sprouts, we watched him grow,” Ricky said. “We got numerous pictures of him in velvet; in fact, it took him two weeks to shed all his velvet.”
As he studied and admired the pictures, Ricky noticed that Pea Vine’s rack had changed from the previous year. For starters, the buck had 15 points instead of the 17 he’d had in 2010, yet his rack had improved.
“He had more points on one side than the other, and the previous year he’d also had more points on one side than the other, but it had been the opposite way,” Ricky explained. “The rack was better, more uniform, and I think it’s because he had better forage.”
The point balance may have changed due to injury.
“I noticed on the pictures that Pea Vine had an injury of some kind to his right eye,” he said. “The whole eye was hazed over, and there seemed to be a hole right in the middle of it.”
On the lease, the hunters had created three fields of forage, and they knew from the trail cameras that, at night, Pea Vine stayed in the fields for hours at a time.
“I know there had to be other deer around, but we only got pictures of Pea Vine and one other buck,” Ricky said.
When the season opened, Ricky stuck to stands along the edges of what he’d determined to be Pea Vine’s core range. His hunting buddy, Duke, was first to see the buck from a stand, after Christmas, right at daybreak, but he didn’t have a clear shot at him.
On that same day, on the evening hunt, Ricky got what would be his first of four chances at Pea Vine. The buck passed within range of his stand at dusk, and Ricky squeezed off a shot with his .308.
“I missed, though,” he said. “I didn’t know why until I went back and looked the next morning and saw where my shot had deflected off a tree.
“A week later, we got a picture of him again and knew he was okay,” he added. “I hunted the stand in that area (where they got the picture) hard, and finally moved to another one.”
Then came chance No. 2.
“It was morning, I was in a shooting house, and I saw him at about 100 steps at 8:30,” Ricky said. “He stopped, but the only shot I had was a neck shot, and I didn’t take it because it was just too iffy.”
When Ricky returned to hunt from his original stand, he got a third chance.
“I saw him right at dark, and it was too late to shoot,” he said.
Ricky was desperate at that point.
“There were only five days left in the season, and I wanted to take off work and hunt five days straight, daylight to dark,” he said. “I couldn’t have done that without the support of my wife, Becky.
“We’ve been married 25 years, and I can’t say enough good things about her. She’s put up with a lot,” Ricky added. “She knew all about Pea Vine and knew how excited and determined I was to get him.
“Where I live and hunt, we just don’t get many opportunities on big deer like him.”
With Becky’s blessing, Ricky took off work and, true to his plan, hunted from daylight ‘til dark for four days with no luck.
“On Jan. 18, the last day of gun season, I got in my stand before daylight and, at 6:48, while I was scanning with my binoculars, there stood a big deer about 200 yards away. I knew it was Pea Vine,” he said. “He was moving, and I got my rifle on him.
“I didn’t have much time before he’d get behind trees,” Ricky said. “When my crosshairs hit his shoulder, I squeezed the trigger.”
It was a long walk to Pea Vine’s side, and Ricky took his time. After he finally put his hands on the buck, he called Becky and Duke.
“I’d been hunting all my life, starting with going dog hunting with my dad,” he said. “It (going after Pea Vine) was a fantastic ride.
“My phone was ringing before I even got back to my truck. I’ve never seen news travel like that; it was unreal,” he added. “I’ve never been involved with anything like it, and I won’t ever forget it.”
And what was the best thing about the adventure?
“Becky got caught up in the excitement,” Ricky said. “She’s started hunting now, too. I have Pea Vine to thank for that.”
Hunter: Ricky Sullivan
BTR Official Score: 172 2/8
BTR Composite Score: 194 6/8
— Photos Courtesy of Ricky Sullivan This article was published in the November 2012 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.
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