Rack Magazine

Switch-hitter

Switch-hitter

By Lisa Price

Sliding a shotgun stock over to your off-shoulder can mean the difference in shooting or not shooting.

For more than two decades, the only people who saw Roy Smith’s deer mount were those who happened by his office inside the Perry County, Ill., highway department. It hadn’t been measured by anyone, never appeared in a record book and, until now, had never merited a headline.

That he was fortunate enough to shoot the thing was enough for the former county engineer. Fortunately for readers of this magazine and for the state that grew and yielded such a fine whitetail, his grandson disagreed.

“My grandson, Brogan, and I went to the Hunting and Fishing Days (show) at John A. Logan College, which had a big buck contest,” Roy said. “We were looking at the bucks, and he said, ‘Grandpa, your deer is bigger than any of these.’”

The first seed was planted.

When Roy first saw the deer back in 1986, the year before he shot it, he had no doubt it was the biggest he’d ever seen. It was much larger than his first buck, a huge 8-pointer he harvested within 220 yards of there in 1978.

“It was late afternoon when I saw the humongous buck,” he remembered. “I couldn’t believe it had a rack so big. But just as quickly as it showed up, it vanished.

“I made up my mind that before the next season came around, I was going to scout that area,” he added. “I found a place where two trails became one, and I built a stand near the intersection.”

During the first two days of the ’87 firearms season, Roy watched doe after doe walk past his stand. Then, at about 8:00 on the Sunday morning before Thanksgiving, he got his second look at the buck he’d glimpsed the previous year.

“It was walking up the trail, only about 70 yards away, tossing its head like that rack weighed only 5 ounces, and I remember thinking, Wow, what a deer!” Roy said. “I’m a right-handed shooter, and I realized I was going to have to shoot it left-handed.

“The buck stopped about 20 yards from the stand, and it knew something was wrong. It just stood there for forever,” he added. “It was so close, I could see the steam coming out of its nostrils.

“It was trying to find out what was wrong, and put its chin to the ground, and then it turned to get downwind,” he continued. “I took that moment to move the shotgun, to get it onto my left shoulder. The deer had already taken about four steps, but then it stopped, and I froze. That’s how it stayed for a few seconds.

“The deer’s body quivered, like it was contemplating running, but then it relaxed,” Roy continued. “I got the gun on my left shoulder, fired, and the deer dropped on the spot.”

His gun was a 12 gauge, a Remington 11-87 with open sights, stoked with 2 3/4-inch Federal slugs.

Roy took the buck to a state park check-in station in Perry County, where the ranger estimated the deer’s age at between 5 and 7 years old. The deer attracted lots of attention when Roy arrived. Onlookers could see the antlers rising above the truck bed.

“I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime deer, so I took it to a taxidermist,” he said, adding that the mount was the best thing to come from that experience. “The meat was awful — gamey and tough as shoe leather.”

Once he got the mount, the buck remained in relative obscurity, gracing the wall of Roy’s office at the highway department. The occasional sales rep gawked, of course. One guy even insisted the deer was a muley, at least until Roy assured him the buck was taken in Perry County, just a few miles away.

Roy never gave much thought to having the rack measured until his grandson asked and he retired, which meant the mount came home with him. That’s when a family friend heard about it and called.

“He’s an avid sportsman, and he called me one day and asked if he could take a look at the rack,” Roy said. “His eyes looked like silver dollars. He asked if he could borrow it and score it, unofficially.”

Switch-hitterThe friend knew the buck was something special and encouraged Roy to take it to an official scorer he knew.

“My wife, Carolyn, and I both graduated from Southern Illinois University (they met in grade school), and the friend said he knew a professor there who was an official scorer for deer racks,” Roy said. “When we carried the mount across campus, it drew a crowd.”

When Hunting & Fishing Days rolled around again in Sept. 2011, Roy and his wife returned to get the mount scored on the Buckmasters system.

“I started out hunting and fishing with my brothers and cousins when I was 11 years old,” Roy said. “But taking the buck has been my claim to fame.

“I won’t say it wasn’t a great experience getting that buck, but I’m just as proud to have grandkids who enjoy hunting and eat jerky like it’s candy,” he laughed. “Brogan got his first deer, a doe, with me when he was 12 years old. I was tremendously proud that day.

“He took his second doe in November 2013 at 55 yards with my 11-87,” he added. “We also doubled on two beautiful longbeards in the spring of 2012.”

And there’s a side note to the story of Brogan’s second doe. Brogan’s father, Roy (Smitty), and grandfather had hung a two-person ladder stand about a week before the 2013 season opened. Roy senior had come up with “an ingenious idea.”

“Two legs of the ladder sunk about a foot into the soft earth,” he said. “In 2013, I drilled holes about 3/4 inch into a 2x6x2-foot board and set the legs into the holes.”

Roy went to the stand by himself on opening morning, arriving before daylight. When he grabbed the haul rope to pull up his gun and bag, the upper part of the stand swung about 90 degrees, leaving an astonished Roy at a precarious angle.

He was able to call home, and his wife and son rescued him using an extension ladder. They then moved the stand to a larger tree nearby. The next morning, Brogan got his second doe there.

Roy knows how lucky he was, and wanted to share some advice.

“Make sure the tree diameter is large enough to allow both serrated edges of the stand to dig into it, and do not set the legs on a board,” he said. “It is no big deal if the ladder side rails sink into the ground. That’s a small price to pay for security.”

Hunter: Roy Smith
BTR Score: 228 4/8”
Shotgun
Semi-irregular

– Photos Courtesy Roy Smith

This article was published in the October 2014 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.

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