By Jeff Murray
William “Spook” Spann got an inauspicious start in life. He was born on Halloween night, and upon the boy’s emergence from the womb, his doctor quipped, “Looks like we’ve got ourselves a little spook, a healthy boy.” The moniker stuck, and to this day Spann relishes his unique nickname. Perhaps it’s because it matches how he hunts whitetails — never risking spooking them, never cutting corners, always going the extra mile, always having backups for backups.
Spann’s life seems to defy odds, especially the law of averages. For example, twice he fell out of a treestand. The first time he landed on his back with his gun jamming into his side and cracked a rib. The other time he landed on his throat against a barbed wire fence. “At first I thought I was going to choke to death,” he recalled. “I could hardly breathe. Then I tasted blood in my mouth and thought I might have lacerated my [carotid] artery. But in a few minutes, I started feeling better and was able to shake it off.”
However, the time Spann really cheated death was during a hunt for world-class Marco Polo sheep in snow-capped Kyrgyzstan. Spann and his father got stranded about 60 miles from the China border in a severe blizzard. It took three days before a rescue helicopter could reach them. At liftoff, the helicopter crashed, killing the pilot and co-pilot, leaving Spann and his father with broken bones and lacerations. Another 24 hours lapsed before a second rescue effort could be made. On his brushes with death, Spann shrugs and says, “I guess God has some important plans for me.”
From 190 to 230
In 2006, Spann began thinking about acquiring his own land in the Midwest. “I needed a place where I could film and hunt and work the land during the off-season,” he said. Spann’s friend, Tom McMillan, told him about a 160-acre tract in Kansas that butted up against some property that wasn’t being hunted. “When I checked it out, I couldn’t believe the buck sign, especially how big the rubs were,” he said.
Few hunters would appreciate the parcel. Less than 15 acres was wooded, but Spann knew big buck habitat when he saw it. “It was classic,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “If I were to describe the kind of place older bucks really like, this would be it — thick switch grass, clumps of cedars, scattered plumb thickets, even an old homestead where deer can dawdle and never get disturbed.”
That fall, a neighbor got pictures of an impressive buck with unique split brow tines on a trail camera. Spann and his hunting buddy and cameraman L.J. Planer estimated the buck at about 190 inches, assuming an 18-inch spread. The following July, Jerry McMillan, Tom’s father, got a good, long look at the same buck, this time on video. “When the phone rang and my wife said it was Jerry, I just knew something was up,” Spann said. “Turns out, he saw a buck of a lifetime. Instantly I knew I had to take this hunt a lot more seriously!”
Spook Spann and cameraman L.J. Planer – whitetail hunting’s commando unit.
Spann and Planer spent the rest of the spring and summer of 2007 plotting. First, Spann designed a layout for a series of food plots that might attract and hold does throughout the year. Then, throughout the summer, he made trips to Kansas from his home in Nashville, Tenn., to inspect the progress of his food plots. He knew they would be pivotal for predicting the whereabouts of the huge buck.
“Each time I’d spray some Fat Factor at key intersections,” he said. “I believe in this product and I’ve seen the results. Deer crave and love fat, and this is the best way to give it to them. I believe it ended up [helping us] get so close to the buck.”
Next, Spann hung some tower stands. There were so few trees that self-contained units were a must. In addition, they had to be set out plenty early for the deer to get used to them. In early October, Spann got word from Tom McMillan that, according to some timely trail camera photos, the buck had really filled out. Its rack had more mass, more kickers, some new stickers and a noticeable drop tine.
A Plan Comes Together
November 14, 2007, found the duo changing into their hunting clothes at a nearby abandoned farmhouse. The plan was to inspect field edges for fresh rubs and scrapes on the way to a couple of setups that needed some last minute fine-tuning. Spook wondered aloud if he should bring his bow.
“Hey man, it’s the rut!” Planer exclaimed. Spann didn’t need much coaxing, even though his mind was preoccupied with having as many options as possible. Killing that buck on that day was the farthest thing from his mind.
“So we headed out in the Bad Boy [Buggy] with my bow in hand and our scouting gear in tow,” Spann said. “I happened to glance toward the middle of the field where there was a slight rise in elevation, and there was the buck! It was about 400 yards away, and I could easily make out the whole rack. When I got my binoculars in focus, it turned as if on cue to show off its signature drop tine and all of the mass it had grown. ‘That’s him,’ I remember whispering to L.J.”
The Sneak Attack
Cameraman L.J. Planer is a trained sniper. You already know Spook Spann is a deadly predator. Combine the two, and you have the makings of a Top Gun commando. Without saying a word, the bowhunter and his trusty cameraman sprinted straight for the buck as fast as their legs would carry them. “We used that little knoll to block the view,” Spann continued. “I could make out a cedar thicket down below, which happened to be the only cover between us and a little depression. That’s where I thought the buck might have gone.”
“The wind was stiff, about 25 miles an hour, and blowing right in our faces,” Planer added. “It was just us, a CRP field, a clump of cedars and scattered thick stuff. The buck could have been just about anywhere.”
Rubs like this led Spann to buy a sparsely-wooded 160-acre Kansas tract in 2006.
It soon became evident that the duo had to get to those cedars to have a fighting chance. The only option was belly-crawling, so Spann and Planer used a common sniper tactic. First, Spann slid his bow forward, careful not to disturb any vegetation, then he gripped a handful of grass to help pull himself toward his bow. Planer, meanwhile, carefully surveyed the landscape, alternating his binocular with sharp eyesight. To avoid getting separated and losing communication, Planer belly-crawled forward while Spann returned the favor of constantly keeping watch.
“Crawling in that field seemed to take an eternity,” Planer continued. “With only a couple of hours of daylight left, we knew that getting to those cedars would make or break this stalk. When we finally got there, we realized it was a natural ambush.”
“There was a large cedar behind a smaller one, with a little pocket inside where we could just tuck ourselves in,” Spann explained. “First I tried clearing some cedar boughs so I could see in front of me as well as off to both sides. But, thanks to the fact that we were going scouting and not hunting, I found a pair of garden clippers hidden in my pack. I was really in business then.”
Within minutes of Spann’s delicate window-dressing, he saw a doe about a football field away. A few seconds later, another doe joined her. “That buck has to be around here somewhere,” he whispered to Planer. “How can he ignore those does?”
The tension was building for the bowhunter and the cameraman. While Spann could easily see in front of him and could probably draw his bow without getting busted, Planer’s restricted view only gave him a few seconds to react. If the monster buck was going down, the pair would have to wait until the last instant to time their move. And it would have to be done with pinpoint accuracy. Anything short of perfection would result in either spooking the buck or not getting quality footage.
They were trying to figure out where the buck was most likely to be, and whether they should focus to the right or to the left. “That’s when Spook saw a basket 8-pointer chasing a doe about 85 yards away,” Planer recalled. “Now what should we do? Should we try grunting, or should we try a bleat? Should we try to get a little closer or just sit tight? Well, Spook decided we were in about the best spot we could be. Plus, time was still on our side. So we decided to let the hunt come to us rather than trying to force it.”
They didn’t have to wait long. Suddenly, another doe materialized, and then the big buck. Instead of dogging the doe, the buck angled in the opposite direction. “She passed within 6 yards of us and eventually got directly downwind,” Spann said. “I held my breath, praying she wouldn’t blow. Thankfully, she just bolted and disappeared behind us.”
Spann quickly switched gears and focused on where he’d last seen the big buck. “I saw it right away; he was working a scrape and nosing a licking branch. When he finished, he looked around and noticed his girlfriend was AWOL. He seemed to push the panic button and headed right for us. In spite of the stiff wind, we could hear him grunting every step of the way. L.J. still couldn’t see the buck, so I had to give him a blow-by-blow description of what was happening.
“He’s getting closer,” I whispered. “Thirty-five yards, 25 yards, 15. At that point, I had no clue if the buck would continue in or hang up, much less which side of the cedar tree he’d pass. In fact, as it drew nearer I felt like it would circle to my left, even though the doe circled to my right. So I had to wait until the last second to draw.”
The instant the buck’s chest turned, Spann committed to the shot and drew his bow. The buck passed at the exact distance of the doe, about six paces away. “I didn’t dare try stopping him,” Spann said. I held my pin in the opening and timed the shot as the buck passed through. It reacted by jumping and sort of looking around. I tried to nock another arrow, just in case, as the buck took a few steps toward us. It was as if he couldn’t believe his eyes and needed a better look to make us out. But before I could shoot again, the buck looped around and tipped over.”
If you ask Spook Spann what happened next, he’ll refer to L.J. Planer’s scintillating video footage. Spann, you see, was in a cosmic zone. A rush of adrenaline had been held in check for too long, and it was time for it to be released. Over and over, he shouted, “We did it, we did it, we did it!” Then he gave thanks and said the obvious: “Oh Lord, what a buck! What a hunt!”
Editor’s note: With so many cameras out in the woods today, it’s impossible to say for sure, but Spann’s buck is the biggest free-ranging buck harvest ever captured on film that we know of.
This article was published in the October, 2008 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.