By Russell Latimer
-- I've hunted every year for 33 years and have never taken what most people would call a trophy buck. And because deer hunting has become big business, I have never been able to afford to hunt on a trophy-type lease. Nonetheless, I have had rare opportunities to take “nice” deer. Each of these opportunities proved fruitless, though, either from my own mistakes or from other hunters messing things up.
This year was different. John, an old friend and hunting companion, called and invited me on to hunt on a lease in northern Missouri. I have many times admired the trophies on his walls, all taken from this area. The price was affordable and my wife and I agreed it was a good opportunity.
Since the day I mailed in my lease check, I went to bed and woke up each day thinking about the upcoming hunt. I had several months to think about it and prepare. I went to Google Earth every day to look at the land, make plans and develop a strategy. John reassured me that all I had to do was be patient.
Then, about a week before the Missouri season opened, I got a cold. It got worse and worse as the trip got closer. I tried everything from steroid shots to inhalers, to Z-Packs, and everything else the pharmacy had to offer. As time grew closer to the hunt, my sickness got worse, and I was feeling terrible when we arrived in Missouri.
The weather was cold and wet the first four days we hunted. My cold turned into one of the worst sicknesses of my life. My cough was uncontrollable, and I was sure I had pneumonia. I thought about checking myself into the nearest hospital several times, but was able to persevere with Jim’s encouragement and support.
The area didn’t have blinds, feeders or any other type of luxury, which is how I prefer to hunt. But with that cough, I knew my chances of getting a good deer within bow range were small. I got to the point where I just hoped to see a big buck and that Jim might take another one for his wall. As much as I was suffering, it felt wonderful just to be in an area where trophy bucks abound.
On the last morning, I decided to take my gun instead of the bow. I rode in with my partner and walked a mile or so from where he parked the ATV each morning. I wanted to hunt a more open area that had not been pressured. I chose a wooded draw on the far northeast end of the lease. The wind was out of the Northwest and just right for this location.
After about an hour of fighting off coughs and trying to stay quiet, a doe bounded across the draw below me. She was moving fast, and I thought she heard me coughing. Then I realized her tail was down and it occurred to me that she might have been pushed by a buck. I got ready and brought my gun to my shoulder.
After about a four minutes, I still had the gun up and ready; past mistakes would not be repeated this day. Next, the biggest buck I have ever seen appeared. Just like the doe, he was on the move.
I had my gun propped up with one hand and the cough silencer in the other. I only had about 5 seconds to get a good shot, because the buck was moving quickly across the only clearing. I was able to get him quickly, but I wasn’t going to take a poor shot. I prayed, "Please stop. Please stop. Please stop!"
As the buck was about to disappear into the brush, I got ready to whistle -- all I needed was one second. Just as I drew in a deep breath, the deer stopped on its own. The good Lord intervened and stopped him for me.
I knew I made a good shot. The buck hunkered up and took off into the wooded draw below me. It sounded like a heard of elephants crashing through the trees as it disappeared. I heard one last crash, then silence.
It didn't take long after the shot for the shakes to begin. "What have I just done?” I thought. Thirty-three years of hunting and experience in the woods started to flash through my mind. I thought of all the reading and studying I had done to prepare for that moment, as well as all the instruction from my father. I thought of all the young deer I have had in my sights over the years that I let go for another season.
Then I thought of all the talks I’ve had with my maker while in the woods, and I felt him there as I tried to gather my composure. My heart told me the deer was down, but my mind was beginning to play tricks on me.
I called Jim on the radio and told him to bring the ATV. He had heard the shot and was sitting in his stand with his fingers crossed, waiting for me to call. It didn't take him long to get there. He was almost as excited as I was, and he helped me endure the 30 minutes we agreed we should wait.
We ventured down the hill to the place I had last seen the buck, and Jim stopped just before we entered the brush. I turned to ask him what he was doing, and he just pointed as if to say, "This is your time. Go get your buck."
I only got about three steps in when I saw a pile of brown lying on the ground at the bottom of the draw. The buck had gone just 50 yards. I raised my hands toward the sky, thanked the Lord and ran to my trophy. I picked up the antlers and kissed him on the forehead. Then reality set in as I started to count points and size him up. I knew it was big, and there was no ground shrinkage. The buck was bigger and more impressive than the visions in my mind from the previous 30 minutes.
I can't put into words the rush I was feeling as all the memories of my 33 years of hunting flashed through my mind. It was an emotional moment, but I did a good job of hiding it from Jim. I admit I felt like crying like a baby, and Jim probably wouldn’t have held it against me.
I can only imagine the feeling explorers get when they finally make it to the crest of Mount Everest. Most don't make it on the first attempt. They prepare tirelessly, and some fail multiple times before they finally make it. Many don't make it at all. That’s how I felt as I admired my buck.
I have decided to name my buck Big John. Ever since I can remember, my dad, my brother and I always called the big buck we were after Big John. If any of us ever caught a glimpse of him, saw his tracks or found his sign, we always came back to camp telling the others about Big John.
My dad was tickled at the name, which only he and my brother understood. He sure is proud of me and is amazed at the deer. Hopefully I can take Dad with me to Missouri one day.
I can't finish this story without expressing my gratitude to David, Jim, and John. David provides us with this awesome place to hunt. He and his family are fine people. Jim, my hunting buddy and close friend, got me up each morning and kept reminding me it was my year. He kept me motivated and didn't let me give up.
Big John is a 15-point typical that scored 182 5/8 inches on the Boone and Crockett scale. Big John will be on my wall soon, and I will always have him there to remind me of the day I crested my Mount Everest.
Not A Buckmasters member? Join Now!
Buckmasters | GunHuntermag.com | Rackmag.com | BADF.org | YoungBucksOutdoors.com