By Mike Lambeth
Photos by Cindy Stewart
Remember the photos that were flying across the Internet last year of the freckled kid sitting beside a monstrous buck and holding its gnarly rack? You might recall that the antlers were wrapped with enough wire to resemble a UHF antenna.
A lot of big whitetail photos floating around in cyberspace have been doctored. Even if the images are legit, chances are the stories associated with them have been fabricated.
This one, however, was true. The happy hunter was 9-year-old Baler Stewart, son and one of five kids of Patrick and Cindy Stewart of Ringling, Okla.
Life and hunting had been pretty normal for Baler, who took his first deer at age 6, until July 2006. That's when he spotted an enormous buck while riding around his family's farm with his grandfather, who owns the adjoining land.
"I told Papa, 'That deer has got big horns,'" Baler said. "Papa told me those weren't antlers; that was brush I was seeing. So I looked through the scope on my air rifle, and I said, 'Yes, those are antlers, and that buck has my name written on it.'"
From that day forward, Baler became obsessed with taking the huge and unusual buck. According to his mother, he became very protective of it, not wanting anyone else in the family to consider hunting it.
"I really had to talk to him about his attitude," Cindy said.
Patrick hunted the big buck during archery season, much to Baler's chagrin.
He was afforded with one glance at the massive whitetail while moving his deer stand one day.
"I actually came nearly face to face with the buck," said Patrick. "The deer was unbelievable. I was amazed!"
About that same time, Papa Harley Stewart noticed that a big buck had gained an affinity for his pea patch. To keep it out, he put up a hot wire. But a week before Oklahoma's blackpowder season opened, the entire wire mysteriously vanished.
Baler's first crack at his buck came in late October during the state's special youth gun season. He and his mother sat in a ground blind on opening day, while his dad hunted elsewhere on their property with his sister, Cari. (Youngsters must be accompanied by a parent or guardian during that time.)
An hour into their hunt, Baler and his mother heard Cari's gun roar in the distance as his 11-year-old sister shot an 11-pointer. Baler's luck wasn't as good. After hunting for four or five hours, he got bored and he and his mother started playing around. Cindy eventually glanced out the window and saw the huge buck looking directly at her.
"The buck just turned and walked away before Baler could get a shot," she said. "Baler was so upset."
Baler returned that evening and the next day, but he never saw the buck again during the three-day youth season.
The following weekend marked the season opener for blackpowder season, so Patrick took Baler to a hunting blind near a pond the big buck frequented. The duo settled into the blind before sunrise and endured the cold until 8:30.
Nothing was afoot.
At that point, father and son got out of their blind. As soon as they were outside, the buck stood up in some tall grass a mere 40 yards from them.
"That's him!" Patrick almost yelled.
Baler leaned against the blind, took careful aim at the buck's shoulder and fired. Through the cloud of smoke, Baler thought he saw the buck fall, but his dad saw the buck run off. The pair walked over to where Baler thought the buck fell, and then returned to sit in the blind after not finding anything.
Ten minutes later, the pair walked over to where the buck had been standing and saw blood. Turns out, the buck had collapsed 15 yards into the woodlot.
When Baler saw the huge buck, he was ecstatic.
"I was really shocked ... I could not move," he remembers. "Dad was excited, too. We were giving each other high-fives."
The gnarly rack was completely entangled with wire. Then it dawned on them: The wire was the missing barrier from Papa's pea patch.
Patrick and Baler loaded the buck and then drove over to show Papa the buck. Baler walked in the house with a big grin and announced, "Papa, I found your pea patch thief. He's out there in the back of the truck!"
The huge buck field-dressed at 180 pounds and drew a crowd of nearly 200 onlookers at the check station. The rack was awesome, spanning nearly 23 inches and sporting 32 points.
Baler believes the reason he was rewarded with the big buck is obvious.
"The night before I shot that deer, I was frustrated since Cari had shot a buck and I hadn't," said Baler. "So my mother and I prayed that I would get the big buck and have a good attitude at the same time. God answered my prayer."
Cindy Stewart agreed with Baler, adding, "When I heard he got the buck, I had tears in my eyes. I really feel that God wanted him to get it."
Hunter: Baler Stewart
Official Score: 211 1/8"
Composite Score: 228 7/8"
-- Reprinted from the Winter 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.