Indiana's new runner-up falls an inch short of toppling 19-year record.
Story and photos by Richard Gamber
My fourth year to hunt deer was 2009. The only buck to my credit, going into that season, wore a little 8-point basket rack.
The first three years, I didn't have a good place to hunt, just my back yard and a small lot down the road. In 2008, my father-in-law took me to some land by a river he'd hunted for 25 years. I went with him twice, and saw between six and 10 deer each time.
After the '08 season ended, he moved to Kentucky. My wife and I asked the landowner if we could hunt his place. He said sure, since her dad had hunted there for so long.
My father-in-law has taken a lot of trophy bucks from there. He's always said there were many more, too, if a hunter could bide his time without shooting young deer. He told us there was one whitetail down there that was huge. He'd shot at it, even drawn blood, but he never found it.
During the summer of 2009, my wife and I put a lot of time into scouting the area. We even set out trail cameras, which we checked two or three times a week, morning and night. The only decent bucks photographed were a couple of large-bodied 140-inchers with tall racks. We set our sights on them.
A couple of weeks prior to opening day, we were still getting pictures of our big bucks. Confident we'd patterned them, we pulled the cameras to let the property sit idle until show time.
On opening day, my father-in-law came up from Kentucky to help us kick off the archery season. All three of us hunted.
I passed up a small 3-pointer and a tall 6-pointer right under my stand, hoping a bigger one would show. My father-in-law saw a couple of does and a huge buck, but it was 300 yards distant. And my wife almost got a shot at a nice 8-pointer.
Two days later, my father-in-law went back to Kentucky.
My wife and I continued to hunt there every chance we could.
Sometimes she would go in the morning by herself while I watched the kids, and then I would go out in the evening while she watched them.
One way or another, we were going to find out when the deer were moving, and one of us was going to get a trophy buck. We spent a week doing this with no sign of any deer, and then we started to worry. We thought with all the corn not being picked, the deer would just stay out in it.
About a week later, we started seeing more buck sign: large tracks in the mud, scrapes and even rubs. They were popping up everywhere!
After this, I focused on a certain area along the edge of the woods.
While sitting there one day, I saw a couple of small bucks. The next day, I saw six does. This went on for about four days with different bucks and does. Then, on the fifth night, I was sitting in my stand when I saw something to my left.
I just kept watching and, finally, a huge buck appeared. It was at least a 10-pointer from what I could tell. I watched that buck for at least 45 minutes. It even bedded down at 73 yards. I tried everything to get it to stand up, but it wouldn't budge.
About 30 minutes later, the buck stood and walked away from me. It never came back.
After that, my wife and I kept going out every morning and evening, but all I saw was a little spike buck on three different occasions; never the big one. On Oct. 17, my wife and I decided we were going out to hunt. It was kind of a last-minute thing, so we didn't get into our stands until around 4:15 p.m.
I was standing, looking around to see if I could see anything, when I spotted movement at 150 yards. At first, I couldn't tell what it was because its back half was all I could see. Eventually, I made out at least two deer.
I continued to watch for 15 minutes, and that's when I realized one of the deer was a big buck, and both were coming right at me! Over the next 30 minutes, they kept moving closer, very slowly. The other deer was a small spike.
I was shaking so badly, I thought I was going to fall out of my stand. All I could think was the spike was going to spot me and scare off the bigger one.
The closer they got, the more nervous I became. The spike walked right by and didn't even know I was there! Then I focused all my attention on the big one, watching its every move. Over the next 15 minutes, it came closer and closer.
It stopped behind a tree and started rubbing on it, but I still didn't have a clear shot. Its next move was a fatal one. It stepped out into a small clearing and stopped again. Knowing that might be my only chance at getting off a shot, I took a deep breath, drew, placed my 40-yard pin on the upper vital area and let 'er rip!
I heard the arrow hit, and the buck jumped straight up with a violent kick. It ran about 50 yards and stopped. Then it slowly walked out of sight.
I got on the radio and told my wife I thought I'd just shot a big buck. She said to make sure I'd hit it, and only then would she get down from her stand. When I found my broken and blood-soaked arrow, I called her back.
We met at the truck. I told her to go to the store and get some batteries for the flashlights, just in case it got dark before we found it. I said I was going to see if I could find any blood while she went to the store.
She said if I found blood, to make sure I stopped so I didn't push the deer if it was still alive. I went back to the spot where I shot it and started looking. I couldn't find any blood. I thought maybe I didn't get a good shot. Then I went to the next means of tracking, following hoofprints.
I found the tracks easily. They were so big, it looked like someone had thrown rocks in the mud. I followed them for about 50 yards, and then I looked up and saw it lying 20 yards in front of me.
The buck was huge - the biggest I'd ever seen. I called my wife and told her I'd found it. It weighed about 300 pounds, and I couldn't move it.
After making many phone calls to solicit help, we finally reached two of our friends, Lance and Benji. I sat back there waiting on them to show. It still hadn't clicked in my head just how big the buck was.
When my wife, Lance and Benji arrived, Lance took off running toward me, saying it was a monster! He said he could see the rack from 100 yards. Right away, he could not believe the size of it and started taking pictures with his phone.
It took all three of us to drag it to a point where I could field-dress it.
Even afterward, it was very heavy. Lance kept saying we should hurry up and get this thing to town while it's still daylight so we could show some friends. We loaded the deer up on the back of my SUV and drove into town.
I stopped first to show it to another friend, Travis, who rushed back inside to retrieve his camera.
We left Travis' house and went to check-in my buck at Miller's Gun Shop, but he wasn't there. So we made a few more stops at more friends' houses so they could ogle it until Miller returned to his shop.
The deer weighed in at 222 pounds, field-dressed. We didn't end up getting home until midnight from everyone wanting to see my buck! By the time we got to the house, the news and photos were already on the Internet, which helped me finally realize what I'd shot.
Travis called the next day and told me that someone he knew had caught my buck on a trail camera back in July 2009. So I found out who it was and contacted them because I wanted to get a little history on this deer. Come to find out, these guys had been watching the same buck for two years.
They not only had trail camera pictures, but also had the deer on video! They told me they saw it a lot, but it never came into shooting range during the season
• Hunter: RICHARD GAMBER
• Official Score: 174 1/8
• Composite: 195 7/8
• Compound Bow
-- Reprinted from the July 2010 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.