By Lisa L. Price
The Rockett Buck is one of the finest whitetails ever taken south of the Mason-Dixon line. It's a mainframe 10-pointer with six irregular points on each side, making it an 11x11. Photo by: McKenzie Taxidermy
Ever notice how certain trees seem nearly able to communicate with us?
"Here," they might whisper to a hunter. "This is the place for your treestand."
But since they are just trees, they are sometimes wrong.
Conover, N.C., hunter Don Rockett met one such tree back in 1998.
"My son, Jody, and I, along with four other people, belong to a hunting club in Person County," Don said. "In one area, there is an oak tree in the center of a 300-acre cutover. That's where I set up a permanent stand."
It practically begged for someone to erect a stand there.
Don returned from hunting in Alberta, Canada, on a Sunday night, the literal eve of North Carolina's season opener. While in Canada, he'd taken a 268-pound 9-pointer, but all he could think about that night was the perfect tree he was going to be in come daybreak.
Don Rockett holds the heavy rack of the whitetail he never thought he'd shoot in his home state.
It was indeed a great vantage point, but the deer didn't cooperate.
"They were coming into the cutover from about 400 yards away, moving through in a half circle through the far corner, and going back into the woods," Don said. "I saw does and a few bucks, and they all did the same thing."
Don gave it another shot the next morning, and he witnessed the same pattern.
At midday, he talked with his son, who suggested he move closer to the hot spot. Jody even offered him the use of his climbing stand. Don eagerly accepted and was settled into a new location by 2 p.m.
He saw turkeys, but not the deer he wanted. Still, he was optimistic for his return to the new site on Wednesday morning. That time of day was when he'd seen the majority of deer.
But it wasn't to be.
On Tuesday night, back at camp, club member Henry Smith treated the gang to a belt-busting specialty of his: a pot of pinto beans and onions. They were delicious, and everyone had a couple of helpings.
Wednesday morning, as Don was riding in a truck on the way to the spot where he'd left the climbing stand, he asked the driver to stop.
"I had to be let out before I got to the stand," he said. "I realized I wasn't going to make it until daylight."
Instead of using the climber in the hotspot corner, Don found himself close to that spot and on the ground. As dawn broke, his grumbling stomach began to feel better, so he stood to take a careful look around the place.
"Right away, I saw a little doe, and I went right back down to one knee," he said. "Soon afterward, I saw a buck. At first, I didn't understand what I was seeing.
"I remember thinking that it must have cardboard stuck on its antlers or something," Don said. "Maybe I wasn't seeing its rack. Maybe I was looking at more of the mess from (Hurricane) Hugo, which had torn through there a decade earlier. It looked like the buck had some sort of tangle on its head."
But Don knew he didn't have long to scrutinize the deer's strange antlers. He could see the big buck in an opening of the cutover, but from his vantage point on the ground, if the deer made one hop in either direction, the opportunity would be lost.
"I came up shooting," he said. "I was using my 7mm Remington, and it dropped him."
Don's jaw dropped just as quickly when he walked up to his prize and realized that the tangle on its head was ALL antler.
"The wind had really come up that morning and, as it turned out, everybody was back at the cabin," Don said. "My son was inside having a baloney and cheese sandwich, when someone told him they thought they'd heard me shoot."
Don started dragging the deer around 10 a.m., and Jody soon arrived to help.
"He went crazy when he saw it," Don said. "He was doing a war dance all around it."
News of the big buck spread fast, and about 30 people had gathered at the check station to see it. Although Don has lived part-time in Alberta since 1970 and has seen his share of big bucks while hunting there, his North Carolina trophy is his best.
"A lot of it was luck, but I'd seen where the deer were moving and reacted," he said. "I saw all that activity and said to myself, I want to be there."
Now Don knows what many deer hunters have learned: Sometimes all the planning in the world doesn't amount to a hill of beans.
Hunter: Don Rockett
Official Score: 210 6/8"
Composite Score: 230"
-- Reprinted from the December 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine