By Mike Handley
Bart Van Hook of Lafayette, Ind., thought he was shooting at an 8- or 9-pointer. He had no idea the narrow rack sported more irregular than typical points, or that the left side alone carried almost 33 inches in circumference measurements. Bart was probably bleeding internally as this photograph was taken. Exhaustion and elation combined to dull the pain, however.
As Bart Van Hook struggled to follow the buck's diminishing blood trail across the corn stubble, he had no idea that he, too, was bleeding. The 45-year-old hunter from Lafayette, Ind., was ecstatic.
He'd just shot a decent 8-pointer, a bonus for a man who would have taken a crack at any old (or young) buck. So few deer inhabit his father's Fountain County farm that Bart never passes up an opportunity to put venison in the freezer.
Turns out, the buck was far bigger than he'd thought. The rack, though narrow, carried 17 points and unbelievable mass. Before he ever got it out of the woods, he knew it was going to cost him a shoulder mount.
Later that night, Bart hung the big whitetail in his garage. His legs began cramping afterward, but he dismissed the pain as simply the result of overexertion. Besides, he was too exhausted to dwell on it.
After taking the deer to the processor the next day, Bart returned home to clean the garage. When that chore was finished, he almost collapsed.
"It hit me like a ton of bricks," he said. "I lost my breath, and I got all sweaty ... I went inside, and my wife was on the phone. I told her to please cut it short because I needed to go to the doctor's office.
"Turns out, I had a bleeding ulcer," he explained. "I wound up going to the emergency room, and they put me in the hospital for three days and gave me five units of blood ... I had no idea that I even had an ulcer. I just figured it for adrenaline poisoning, because I was so pumped.
Otherwise, I don't smoke; don't drink. My only vice is Diet Mountain Dew!"
Make that two vices, if deer hunting counts.
Twelve deer seasons had come and gone since Bart shot his last really good buck - a (gross) 172-incher. His '05 trophy, which he's nicknamed "Clubhead," beats that one by more than 20 inches.
He says the 12-year slump and a bleeding ulcer were a small price to pay for a buck of this caliber. He's fully prepared to wait another 12 years for the next wallhanger, though he'll try to avoid the fire in the gut.
The hunt for Clubhead occurred on Thursday, Nov. 17. After working the last midnight shift before his vacation, Bart got off at 7 a.m. and went home to bed. He awoke three hours later and was on his way to the woods shortly after 1 p.m.
He lives about 25 minutes from his parents' farm.
When Bart started for his hunting spot, a 27-acre woodlot surrounded by corn stubble, he was carrying his 12-gauge pump and a bucket with a swivel seat on top (loaded with other gear).
"It makes me versatile," he explains. "I can move and hunt from the ground if I'm not seeing anything while in a treestand. I've probably taken nine or 10 deer while sitting on that bucket, compared to maybe only three while in a tree."
His dad, Bill, refers to the woodlot as "wasted land," since it cannot grow a crop. Bart's glad it's there.
Whenever he approaches the "wasteland," Bart always stops to peer into the adjacent 120-acre cornfield - though he rarely sees deer in it during daylight hours. This time, however, he saw a couple of does and a buck, and they couldn't have been 75 yards from the tree against which his ladder stand was attached.
Bart slowly backed away and set his bucket on the ground to wait and watch. About 5 minutes later, just after he realized that the wind was at his back, the lead doe winded him and wheeled around to flee.
He figured the buck was an 8- or 9-pointer, plenty big enough for him. Besides, the buck was absolutely huge in body - the biggest he'd ever seen (and the biggest ever weighed at the check-in station). He took the shot at the fleeing buck, but missed. The second slug, however, slowed the big-bodied whitetail considerably. It stopped at a distance of about 210 yards, looking back and forth between Bart and the path the does had taken to exit the field.
For almost 20 minutes, it seemed to debate its next move before finally choosing the quickest path to a nearby creek.
Although he'd seen the buck enter the woods, Bart lost all track of it once he stepped into the trees. Just when he was about to give up and retrace his path, he glanced across the creek into some foxtails and saw a "limb" move in response to his stepping on some corn husks.
The buck rose out of the reeds at less than 40 yards, and Bart quickly fired the coup de grace.
"I knew it was over then," he said. "I heard the whoosh as the wind went out of him."
Not attempting to cross the creek, Bart almost jogged back to his truck to call his wife, Tracy, and brother, David. He had to drive three miles around the property to access the other side of the creek.
As soon as he got his first up-close look at the rack, he spoke out loud: "This is going to be expensive!"
Bart has shared his story with friends and coworkers numerous times since that day, but not nearly as often as his father tells it.
Bill has memorized the tale and can tell it much better than his son can. In fact, he routinely regales the clientele at the local coffee shop, speaking as if he'd been right there beside Bart. He reminds listeners that he grew that buck.
"That wasted ground isn't so wasted after all," he admits.
Hunter Bart Van Hook
Official Score: 179 1/8"
Composite Score: 192 7/8"
Photos Courtesy of: Bart Van Hook
-- Reprinted from the December 2006 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine