By Keith Henke (as told by Mike Henke)
A week before Missouri's 2006 gun season, I was returning home from town and saw a brute of a buck standing near our mailbox. It was a 10-pointer, one that I wouldn't hesitate to take to a taxidermist and hang on my wall.
I never saw it again that season. I settled for another good 5x5 at the closing bell.
I had high hopes going into the 2007 season. My son, Keith, had taken his first buck, and my daughter, Kimberly, had shot her first deer during the youth season. With both of their tags filled, I felt it was time for me to continue the trend.
But I shouldn't have written the ending to a story before reading the book. I never even touched the trigger.
On Thanksgiving Day (right after the firearms season had ended), I saw the 5x5 running across our cut soybean field. I was upset that I hadn't seen it a week earlier, but I was glad to know it had survived the '06 and '07 seasons.
We next encountered the elusive buck in early July 2008. My son was riding his four-wheeler next to our cornfield when a big buck jumped out and nearly sent Keith flying over the handlebars. We began seeing more deer sign around our place, too. Buck tracks 3 or more inches long weren't uncommon around the recently built pond. In early August, we put out a mineral lick and had deer activity on it almost immediately.
Feeling confident about the deer sign, my son put up a ladder stand. He bowhunted from it a few times, but he never saw a deer. During the October youth hunt, we started to see some daylight deer movement. We saw a small 6- and a nice 10-pointer pushing a doe through our draw.
The night before the '08 firearms season, I went over to a friend's house for our annual fish fry, when about eight or 10 guys gather to discuss deer and deer hunting. One of the guys told me that if I shot a buck that grossed 180 or more, he would gut it for me. I accepted his offer.
I own 45 acres in Johnson County, but I often hunt another farm about five miles from my house. The landowner, Tommy Haun, is a friend.
I had intended to hunt there on opening morning, but then I realized some errands were going to keep me out of the woods until later that day.
When I got out of bed that morning, it was sleeting and the wind was gusting at 30 mph. I wasn't too upset that I'd chosen not to be in the woods.
While at the stove cooking breakfast, I happened to look out the window and saw five deer in our hay field. I ran and got my trusty .30-06, and then slipped out onto the deck. As luck would have it, the buck I saw in my scope went behind some cedars. I waited for five minutes, which felt more like hours, waiting for it to step clear of the trees.
I was worried my breakfast would burn.
Finally, the buck stepped out at 320 yards, quartering away. I shot through a "V" in a pecan tree and dropped it. I knew it was nice deer, probably a 10-pointer, but I had no idea how big it really was.
After the buck fell, I went inside to rescue my burning breakfast.
Thankfully, my wife, Janice, had finished cooking it.
Janice had to drive Keith into town, so I had to wake up my daughter, Kimberly, and take her with me to retrieve the deer.
As I drove my truck up to the deer, I realized just how big it was. That is the first time I've shot one that was actually bigger than I thought it was. What I thought was a nice 5x5 was actually a mainframe 12 with five stickers.
I called my wife and told her to tell my friend, Tommy, that I needed his help.
When I told her how big it was, she didn't believe me, so she didn't have Tommy come help me. When Janice got home and went back to look at it, she couldn't believe her eyes. We took some pictures and loaded the deer.
I took the deer to show some of my neighbors. One of them, Mark Deich, green scored it at almost 200. This is when reality struck as to how big my buck really was. Later that day, we took the deer to Mark Mistler of Cutting Edge Taxidermy in Centerview, Mo. He measured the buck at 198 inches.
Hunter: Michael Henke
Official Score: 178 2/8"
Composite Score: 197 5/8"
-- Reprinted from the October 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.