By Lance Jacob
Searching Kansas' creek and river bottoms for sheds is one of my favorite springtime pursuits. There is nothing like discovering racks of seasons past to prime a deer hunter's pump. And big ones are fodder for dreams.
In the spring of 2007, just when I was convinced it was going to be a bad year for shed hunting, I stumbled across an amazing 5-point antler while walking a small drainage near an old homestead. The antler was perfect. It didn't have breaks or chew marks, and the mass was incredible. The third circumference (C-3) measurement was an astonishing 8 inches! Combined with good tine and beam lengths, it tallied 81 inches!
At last, I thought. Now here was a mature buck for me to hunt.
Days turned into weeks in my search for its mate, and then one morning as I walked in chest-high grass, I stumbled across the other side. It also had great mass, but it had a few abnormal points to add character. The set totaled 162 inches, meaning an average 18-inch inside spread would put it in the 180 class.
Without having seen it on the hoof, I nicknamed the buck "Bonehead" because of its mass. And I obsessed over him.
When archery season arrived on Oct. 1, I was pumped. I hunted from several stands and saw lots of great bucks, including a 12-pointer that would've pushed the 160-inch mark. But I had vowed that it would be Bonehead or nothing.
In late November, I was sitting in a treestand in a hedge row overlooking a cut cornfield when I actually spotted Bonehead out in the middle of the field with four other bucks and a hot doe. One by one, the lesser bucks approached the doe, only to be escorted away by Bonehead. None challenged him.
tried everything to pull him off that doe. Nothing, not even my decoy, merited a second glance. It simply would not leave that yearling doe.
Eventually, they left.
Archery season gave way to rifle season, and then I found myself having to hunt a little closer to home. On an unusually warm 50-degree Dec. 21, a gorgeous 10-point buck made the mistake of walking down my trail.
I've been filming my hunts for several years, and I had my camera. That 10-pointer gave me everything a cameraman could want: the approach footage, then walking exactly where I needed it to be, and the kill shot ... so the deal was done.
Its antlers grossed right at 160 inches, and that day was one of my most memorable hunts ever because I got the entire episode on video.
The following spring found me looking for Bonehead's sheds. One day, a friend of mine from work called to say he'd found one of Bonehead's antlers. He'd walked all morning and hadn't found anything. On his way home, he decided to drive by the area in which I hunted Bonehead. As he was examining the field, a car pulled up behind him, so he pulled over and stopped. When he stepped out of the truck, an antler lay right there in the ditch beside him. It was Bonehead's right side.
It had a split P-2 and scored a whopping 101 6/8 inches with only six points!
Knowing how large his right side was, I was more determined than ever to find the mate. After logging more than 80 hours of walking and looking, however, obligations called. The left antler would be rodent food.
When the '08 hunting season arrived, I was more prepared than ever. I had more stand sites, and they were all in better locations, or so I thought.
I hunted all of October with no sightings of Bonehead. However, I was getting several trail cam photos of the monster.
I took a break on Nov. 8 to drive to Iowa, for which I'd drawn a coveted tag. It was a wet five-day vacation, and I never saw a tag-worthy whitetail.
Back in Kansas, the first thing I did was to check my trail cameras. Lo and behold, while I was in Iowa, Bonehead had walked 20 yards in front of one of my stands at 7:30 in the morning. I was heartbroken! To think that if I had stayed home, he possibly could have been mine!
I couldn't wait to get into my treestand. So a couple days later, I had my friend, Mike, come along with me so that he could run the video camera. It was about 8:00 in the morning when Mike saw a doe and Bonehead.
It happened so fast, we couldn't get the camera on them, but they were heading our way through the brush. Bonehead and the doe got to within 75 yards and bedded behind a cedar tree. Mike and I sat all day, waiting for them to get up before dark, but it never happened.
I continued hunting until the rifle season opened. That's when I gave Bonehead a break and spent my off-days hunting with my wife and a friend.
While at work one day, I received an e-mail with pictures attached.
When I opened them, there was Bonehead. Dead. A rifle hunter had shot him.
The hunter, Wayne Hess, was the guy who had actually given me permission to look for sheds on his property. After a week had passed, I decided to contact Wayne to see if I could have a look at Bonehead's rack. He agreed.
When I saw those antlers up close, I was astonished at the mass. He was the heaviest buck I had ever had the chance to put my hands on.
When I asked Wayne to tell the story of his hunt, he explained there wasn't much of a tale.
It began when he drove onto his property and saw a 10-pointer. He decided to get out of his truck and inspect the tall grass area where the buck had jumped from. While doing this, a giant rack appeared!
Wayne mentioned that not much thought had gone into it. He put the crosshairs right on the giant buck's neck and pulled the trigger. Like Wayne explained, a short hunt and a short story.
He did mention that he felt bad, at first, since I had been the one hunting the buck for two years. After about five minutes of staring at the rack, however, he didn't feel so bad anymore.
Well, Wayne was interested in my two-year pursuit, so as we conversed, I came to the realization that Bonehead couldn't have been harvested by a nicer, more deserving or appreciative person. I congratulated him on his accomplishment.
Days have passed now as I write this story. I've had the chance to look back on the last two years of my pursuit of Bonehead. I put everything I had into trying to harvest that buck, only to come up short of achieving my goal.
It will take years, or maybe it will never happen again, to be able find a giant buck like Bonehead. But at least I was given the chance to chase a buck of that caliber. This experience has allowed me to wonder what I did or didn't do and has me thinking that no matter how hard one tries, some things aren't meant to happen.
This experience has also taught me more about mature whitetails and their travels than I thought I'd ever know. In the long run, I will be a much better and more appreciative hunter.
Wayne did make a funny comment as I was leaving his house that day.
"Hey, I got a bone to pick with you," he said. "You never told me that you were looking for sheds off a deer this big."
Without hesitation, my reply to him was, "Would you?"
Hunter: Wayne Hess
Official Score: 204 6/8"
Composite Score: 224"
-- Reprinted from the October 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.