By Travis Faulkner
Anyone who has ever climbed into a treestand has envisioned the ultimate buck. You know the one I am talking about. It’s the buck responsible for all those sleepless nights before the opening day of season. This buck is also the driving force behind waking up early on Saturday morning and fighting cold temperatures and fatigue for a chance at an encounter. For some of us, it’s a big typical sporting a wide spread and long, even symmetrical tines. For others, it is a heavy-tined non-typical with kicker points and sloping drop tines.
Unfortunately, many hunters’ dream buck will remain nothing more than that — a dream. However, every once in a while, some fortunate hunter has everything fall into place at just the right time. As fate would have it, Phillip Vanderpool of Hunter’s Specialties was able to come face to face with a buck that had been haunting his dreams for years. On an October hunt in Iowa, Vanderpool was able to pull off two separate encounters with his buck of a lifetime during the same week. A little luck and switching stands enabled Vanderpool to connect with a phenomenal buck that he must have been destined to tag.
Summer Scouting and Prep Work
Well before the cool, frosty mornings of fall, Vanderpool began legwork to prepare for his long-anticipated trip to Iowa. He would be hunting with good friend and property owner Steve Snow and decided to drive up late in the summer to visit Steve and take a closer look at the area. It was an excellent time to glass the fields from a safe distance and get a sneak peek at what bucks were roaming the property.
The bucks were traveling in bachelor groups and hitting the fields hard during late evening. Vanderpool was able to video some unbelievable bucks on a 1,000-acre tract that Snow had recently purchased. The area had been hit pretty hard by both shotgunners and bowhunters during previous seasons, and both men were anxious to see if there were any quality bucks left. As their scouting soon revealed, the intense hunting pressure didn’t seem to have had much of an impact.
Vanderpool could hardly wait to make the return trip after watching and videoing a number of shooter bucks on the property. As fall arrived, he became even more anxious when he learned that Steve had dropped a massive 20-pointer on Oct. 11 that scored about 214. When Vanderpool arrived on Oct. 22, he decided to take a day to film Steve on a hunt the next morning. Shortly after climbing into the stand, Steve shot a 204-inch buck the two had nicknamed Mr. Nasty from the summer footage of the bucks in velvet.
Despite the heavy work of getting it to the truck, it’s impossible not to grin after tagging a 200-inch buck.
On the morning of Oct. 25, it was Vanderpool’s turn when his ideal buck stepped out of his dreams and into one of his shooting lanes. “I will never forget that hunt as long as I live,” he said. “My cameraman Josh Wright and I entered the edge of the property and set up inside of a hedge-apple thicket. The temperatures were beginning to drop and the deer were definitely on the move. Within seconds of my calling sequence, I told Josh there was an enormous buck headed our way.
“The buck stopped just shy of my shooting lane and stared at my decoy for what seemed like an eternity. Then he slowly turned and walked directly away from the stand, ripping my heart out with every step.”
All of us who have hunted deer understand the feelings of pure agony and torture that Vanderpool was experiencing at that moment. When a hunt like that takes a turn for the worst, it can be hard for a poor deer hunter to get over. You immediately start to play the “what if” game and second guess every move.
“At that point, I thought I would probably never see the deer again, and I felt sick at the lost opportunity,” Vanderpool said. “I knew I had let a deer of 10 lifetimes walk right past my stand without taking a shot. If the buck would have made only one or two more steps, the outcome would have been different. But my decision not to take a questionable shot was still haunting me, because the buck was right there! However, I am not going to risk a bad shot on a deer.”
Over the next few days, Vanderpool and his cameraman had several more encounters with impressive bucks. In fact, the two filmed some awesome footage of heavy-tined bucks cruising for does along with a couple of bad boys going head to head with the decoy. Despite the close encounters, Vanderpool simply couldn’t bring himself to draw his bow on any other buck.
Creating a Second Chance
“It was a tough decision, but I opted to let the area rest for about four days,” he said. “Then on Oct. 29, my mother’s birthday, I decided to take a second chance. We switched stand setups and moved about a mile away from where we had originally seen the buck. I figured the bucks were probably chasing does that were feeding in the bottoms at night and working their way back into the timber to bed. It was a risky move, but I needed to make something happen.”
This particular setup is what Vanderpool calls a pull-site, and hunting such areas can be deadly when bucks are concentrating on the does. He positioned the stand in the timber well above the soybean and cornfield bottoms. Many hunters make the mistake of hanging a stand right in the middle of the most obvious sign. Vanderpool prefers to set up away from the hot sign and use calling and rattling to draw a buck to his location.
“I had a good feeling about this setup, and it wasn’t long before a small buck worked its way past our stand,” he said. “After everything settled down, I began my first rattling sequence. Within seconds, I heard brush popping down the hill, and my heart began to race. I glassed the thicket below the stand and could not believe what I saw. It was my double-drop-tined buck, and it was rapidly closing the distance to our stand. I was on pins and needles as the buck stood perfectly still behind some brush, looking for the source of the rattling.
“The buck started to walk away, and I thought the hunt was going to wind up just like the first encounter. I was at full draw for what seemed to be forever, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with the shot. Then the buck quickly changed course and began walking toward the stand, causing a quick surge of adrenaline through my body. The buck went behind a tree and allowed me to come off full draw and rest before the shot. Then, with the deer’s head safely behind the tree, I quickly pulled my bow back again and let an arrow fly.”
It’s hard to imagine how Vanderpool felt after hearing his arrow smack the rib cage of such a phenomenal buck. The huge whitetail didn’t make it far from the stand before piling up and ending an unbelievable hunt. Vanderpool’s dream buck was a 15-pointer that scored 201 3/8, with 29-inch main beams and a 23 1/2-inch inside spread. Even more impressive, the buck carried double drop tines that measured more than 9 inches each.
This article was published in the July, 2008 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.