It was the second week of September, 2016. My uncle and I had just finished shelling corn in Sumner County, Tennessee.
While I was headed to the truck, my uncle called me and said, “Stephen look at this deer, he’s on your right. He is going to come out from behind the bushes right in front of you.”
I stopped, and the deer walked out, looking at me. I stared at him and could not believe what I was seeing. About 20 seconds went by and then he ran back into the thicket.
Over the next couple months, I got some trail cam pictures of him. I had actually seen him twice while hunting.
Then, on November 7, after hunting him off and on, he walked out for the third and final time. But, before I tell you about the day I shot him, let me tell you a little bit about what happened leading up to that special day…
The Months Before The World Record Buck
The first time I had the opportunity to shoot this buck, things did not go the way I had planned. I had everything ready and had been mentally preparing myself for my chance at this buck.
I saw him coming at about thirty yards away. He stopped, and I decided this was it!
I called some of my family members to share the news, that it had in fact happened… I had shot “him”.
I went to fire my muzzle loader and… it misfired. I could not believe what had just happened. I thought, “Is this it? Did I just lose my chance? Would he ever show himself again?”
I decided I could not let that setback stop me. All I could think about was having another chance at him. I couldn’t sleep or focus on too much after my misfire, but I knew I had to keep tabs on him and wait for another chance.
I had not told many people about this buck, but my family and close friends knew. They kept telling me not to give up, and that he would show himself again. I just needed to be patient and wait. I continued to pray that I would get another chance.
So, then came the morning of November 7, and things started to change. That morning everything went in my favor. He came out at forty yards after working a scrape. I told myself “you cannot mess this up!” All the while, I was shaking with nervous excitement. My adrenaline was pumping like never before.
A Magical Morning
I saw my chance and I took it. I shot him with my muzzle loader from my ground blind. All I could see was smoke, and when it cleared, I saw him running back into the thicket. I could not believe I had been given the opportunity again. I sat there for what seemed like an eternity, with excitement and a little bit of anxiety.
I knew I was about to engage on my big search and I had to figure where he went. Then I called some of my family members to share the news, that it had in fact happened… I had shot “him”.
Within a few minutes some of my family and a few close friends came to the field to help me begin the search for him. Within thirty minutes, we had found him. A sense of relief and joy came over me, once I was able to lay eyes on him and touch him.
Although I was overjoyed, I still did not fully realize what I had killed. I just knew he was a giant and a special deer… at least special to me.
A Boone And Crockett Buck… And More
That night a TWRA officer that was a certified Boone and Crockett scorer, came and green scored him. We all waited with anticipation to see what this monster would score. I thought I would be the new Tennessee record holder, but I had no idea what else was in store for me.
When the officer finished scoring, he told me that it would give the world record non-typical whitetail a run for its money.
Finally, they told me they had their final score. It was 312 inches. I was ecstatic!
During the following weeks, I became overwhelmed from all the phone calls, messages and companies that were contacting me. Everyone had an opinion about what I should do or not do.
I received a lot of backlash from animal rights advocates and others. I decided to take a break from social media and let things die down before I re-entered the social media playground. In the meantime, I gave many interviews and traveled a few places while waiting on the drying period to come to an end.
In January, the sixty-day drying period was over. I then traveled to the Tennessee TWRA office to have him scored.
I just remember waiting with my brother-in-law and nephew wondering what the score was going to be. Finally, they told me they had their final score. It was 312 inches. I could not believe it. I was ecstatic!
The Year After The World Record
The next year I went to nearly twenty shows. Now, I am just a farmer from Tennessee. I was not used to traveling that much, nor was I accustomed to all the attention. However, my appreciation for the outdoor industry grew after every event I went to.
I began to develop many wonderful relationships and grow friendships. Killing this buck also grew my relationship with the Lord. It even prompted me to make the greatest decision of becoming baptized. I also began travelling to speak at churches and wild game dinners. These opportunities would have never been awarded to me had I not had the chance to take this deer.
Many told me that I might as well stop hunting, because I would never be able to top it. They were wrong… it made me hunt even harder the next fall.
I was so nervous, that when I walked off stage, I knocked over Jimmy Houston’s fishing pole!
You see, to me it is not about the size of the buck. Now, don’t get me wrong I love big deer, but what I love more is figuring them out.
Being able to take a world record whitetail made me look at deer hunting in a different way; not just how I look at hunting for myself, but for others as well. No matter what size a deer is, if it makes you excited or happy, I’m going to be just as happy and excited as you are about him.
Another Year, More Opportunities
The 2017-2018 season came and went with no buck being shot that was close to mine. In 2018, I went to many more shows and speaking engagements.
At one of the appearances, I had to speak in front of 3,000 people at a church’s wild game dinner. I was so nervous, that when I walked off the stage, I knocked over Jimmy Houston’s fishing pole!
During the summer of 2018, I scouted harder than ever before. By November, I had already tagged out in my home state with a bow.
A Challenger Rises Up
On November 1, 2018, I was scrolling on my Instagram and saw a giant buck on a page that I follow. I thought, yeah maybe it could be bigger, but I wasn’t sure. I hadn’t heard many conversations about it.
Then in January 2019, I was on the way to the ATA show in Louisville, Kentucky. I knew that deer would be there and had heard the score would be released. To be honest, I was worried about it, because I wanted my deer’s score to remain number one.
I won’t lie, I was upset. But hey, records are made to be broken. So, I decided to make the best of it.
A New World Record?
I was about an hour from the show and a buddy called me and said North American Whitetail just went live on Facebook. While I was on the phone with him, they announced that the Illinois buck’s net score was 320″.
I won’t lie, I was upset. But hey, records are made to be broken. So, I decided to make the best of it.
I met the guy that shot the new pending record and he seemed like a great guy. He was also a Veteran, so I couldn’t think of someone more deserving.
We will both take our record bucks to be scored this summer at the Boone and Crockett Big Game Awards. That is when we will both find out what our final scores are and will be given our ranking.
The two years following my world record buck were a whirlwind. So many great things have happened in my life as a result of harvesting this once-in-a-lifetime buck. Whether or not I remain the number one record-holder, I will always have a buck over 300 inches… from Tennessee.
I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to kill the “Tucker Buck”.
We are all wounded. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. The wounds remain. In time, the mind covers these wounds with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But, it never disappears; it is never gone. Sometimes, you’ll have good days, and in the midst of silent moments, it hits you: everything. It hurts to talk, to love, to remain above water.
Simply existing is difficult. No one cares; no one wants to hear about the days you spend lying in your bed, hoping to never wake up. You wish you could be anywhere or even in a time other than now.
“I love that which is invariably beautiful. Everything is beautiful where trout lie.”
We all have our ways of coping with these wounds. We have
our own acts of survival; our own ways of staying alive, even when life isn’t
life anymore. Your soul knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to
silence the mind.
Silence. The disappearance of white noise and chatter; the disappearance of people. Bubbling water, flowing from the snow melt, down the river and over stream beds of smoothed pebbles. Nothing but you and the reverie of what lies ahead.
I love that which is invariably beautiful. Everything is beautiful where trout lie. I hate that which is invariably ugly: people, television, iPads, and assorted social stigmas that come with living in a modern society. Doctors prescribing you a new prescription to dull your senses; to numb what you hope to one day feel.
In a world where most people spend their lives doing things they hate, my escape is the endless source of solitude. On the water, wading in a stream, or strolling through woods, I find solitude without loneliness. I fish because I love to; because fish do not lie; they cannot be bribed or impressed by power, but respond to humility. They respond to a patience only true fishermen know.
Patience. It is something I know. Mastering the art of fishing takes time. Taking that experience and portraying it on canvas takes even more time. But why? Anyone can paint a fish but where there is no emotion, it is just that: a picture of a fish. Channeling that feeling of excitement, the sweet fragrance of evergreen trees, or the repetitive song of a marsh wren into a visual work of art requires total immersion into the moment.
When I paint a fish, I’m painting the moment; I’m reminding myself that this is my refuge. A refuge where my lesions of life can heal; where my mind can drift like the dry fly on the Gros Ventre River. You watch your line or the reflection dancing and nothing more; somehow, you unconsciously grasp the sweet scent of summer, the memory of mountain bluebirds singing, and the wind gently sweeping the tinge of hair on your face. This is the calm; this is the silence your soul mediates with your mind.
“Trout… what fly fishermen are after. But are they really? Maybe it is the attainable sensation of hope that the next trout will be bigger, prettier, a challenge.”
Calm. At ease. I sit down and close my eyes, taking myself
back to a western seclusion. It’s like I’m sitting there on an exposed rock,
watching the sunset dance on cottonwood leaves. The towering Teton Mountains
are behind me. I’m watching time stroll by, sweeping in the last of the snowmelt.
Little did I know that this is where trout lie.
Trout… what fly fishermen are after. But are they really? Maybe it is the attainable sensation of hope that the next trout will be bigger, prettier, a challenge.
Me? I borrowed my husband’s rod, practicing the dance between rod, line, and water. Gently coaxing the fly back and forth then sorting the landing among the ripples, rocks, and current. I pick it up as it makes it way down river, ready to try again. Same movements, easing the line like I’m painting in plein aire.
I’m aiming at this swirl in the river, lessening the chance of a bite. I don’t care. I’m not fishing, or at least I didn’t think so.
I was immersed into the meditation of fly fishing; the flouncing elegance of casting and presenting my fly.
I start to bring in my line as it sweeps down river, but something happened. Something is different. My line is weighted. Then it moves upriver, unnaturally against the current.
My hands stay steady but my mind is still processing the thought that I have a trout on the end of the line.
How? Why? I wasn’t ready for a fish.
This uncontrollable feeling of pure excitement swept over me, and I couldn’t help but yell, “Holy Moly! I caught a trout!”
I still wasn’t sure if what I said was true. I reeled and hand-lined the trout in. Oh, indeed, it was a trout. It was a fine-spotted Snake River cutthroat.
I somehow caught a trout that fishermen go years trying to obtain but yet, always eluded.
“Pain is a part of life. Sometimes, it’s a big part. And sometimes, it’s as small as a nymph. But either way, it’s a part of the big puzzle, the deep waters, the great catch.”
In my excitement, I felt this peace overcome me. Contradictory, I know. I wasn’t after the trout. My soul knew the existence of what was there; a sense of healing and a chance to release.
All of this happened so fast, but my consciousness took in every millisecond, hyper-vigilant on my surroundings and emotions. I honestly could not process the disbelief and how an incredible moment was presented on my road to healing.
I’ve learned to control my outward emotions, but inside, I was weeping. I needed this. I looked down at this trout. It’s beautiful colors and spots matching the golden light that backlit my excitement.
Oh, how this trout unknowingly helped me; how the simple act of fishing helped me. I was releasing what pain and confusion my mind had warped into suffering. I gently supported the trout for it’s release.
For the release wasn’t just putting the fish back in the water. It was free; but was I? I had to let go. In doing so, I started to release the hurt. I released the fear. I started to heal. I have refused to entertain the old pain.
Pain is a part of life. Sometimes, it’s a big part. And sometimes, it’s as small as a nymph. But either way, it’s a part of the big puzzle, the deep waters, the great catch.
Pain does two things: it teaches you; it tells you that you’re alive. Then the reality of it drifts away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser. Sometimes, it leaves you stronger. That strength is hidden in the depths of weakness and despair. Either way, pain leaves its mark and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another.
So take that rod, find water, and cast. You just might let something go.
This hunting season has been nothing but hard work, patience, dedication… rain!
On the morning of New Jersey bow season opener, it was pouring rain, and of course I went out in it… but saw nothing moving in the area. Later, I went back out for an evening hunt and I had three bucks come out to me at the same time, following one another. However, I was unable to harvest one of those bucks, because for early bow season, it’s “earn a buck,” which means you must harvest a doe first. Nonetheless, opening day was exciting with all the buck action I was seeing, and it gave me even more confidence for the rest of the season.
Wanted: Solo Doe
I sat just about every evening after work, waiting for that solo doe to walk in, and I just was having no luck. I was seeing deer, but they were either too far away, with fawns, or were bucks.
Finally, on September 19th, I kicked off my 2018 hunting season when I harvested a mature solo doe with my bow. I couldn’t have been more thankful!
I continued to check the trail cameras and scout new areas, looking to punch my buck tag. There were numerous young bucks coming to the bait or checking out the area I was hunting, but not any buck I wanted to fill my tag with. All the bucks I was seeing still needed a few years to reach maturity.
Wanted: Punched Buck Tag
October was about the same as September, as I saw young bucks and does coming in. I was able to harvest another doe that came in with a broken leg and could barely walk.
As I continued checking trail cams, a couple of our shooters were hitting our bait piles or scrapes, but just at night. They became nocturnal and only does were coming during shooting light. November was coming, and that meant rut season for bucks. And, muzzle loader season was right around the corner.
I took the time on the weekends to shoot my muzzle loader to make sure it was dialed in for the first days of the season. I sat both days at the end of November and I was able to lock in on a mature doe, 80 yards out in the field. She only ran about 30 yards until we found her.
The following week for us was 6-day firearm, and I knew that any deer we’ve had on camera will soon be moving all over, so we would likely have a chance to see new bucks come in the area. However, 6-day firearm came and went and I still had my muzzle loader buck tag waiting to be punched. I continued to sit the days that were open for muzzle loader season, hoping to punch my buck tag before the year was up.
Muzzle Loader Season Magic
That day finally came, December 26, 2018 at 3:38 pm! That is when the wait finally ended and I was able to fill my last tag for muzzle loader, and fill it with an incredible buck. I had to work the morning of the 26th at 5 am until 1:30 pm. I got home, changed, and my dad and I went out to both sit in an evening stand with the muzzle loader.
I got in the stand around 2 pm. The wind was blowing in my favor, the weather was perfect, and it was quiet. Around 2:20 pm, I kept hearing something to my left but saw it was just some squirrels chasing each other. I turned to look to my right… and that’s when I caught a glimpse of his antlers.
Love At First Crab Claw
The only thing I could see at first was the crab claw on the left side. When he walked a little farther out of the laurels he turned to look next to him and that’s when I knew he was a shooter. My heart started to race, my breathing got heavy, and my hands started to shake. I reached to grab my gun, although very slowly, since he kept looking around curious about something. His tail was going up and down and he acted calm as he walked the area.
I finally got the gun half way onto the shooting rail when he turned to look in my direction. I thought he could hear my breathing, because in my head, I thought I was so loud. So, I hid my mouth in my scarf and took a deep breath.
Please Mr. Buck, Turn Broadside
moved the gun up to look at him through the scope. I still couldn’t believe this buck just walked out in front of me. And, it was a buck we had never seen before. He went 10 yards behind the pile and made a half circle and then looked straight toward me. I had the cross hairs directly on his chest and was debating about shooting him right there. I thought to myself “he’s going to take two steps left or right to be broad side and that’s when I’ll shoot.”
Sure thing, he took two steps to his left looking to my right, stood completely broadside, and I knew that was my shot.
Breathe… Trigger… Smoke… Buck Down!
I took one last deep breath and squeezed the trigger. Through the black powder smoke, I saw him jump in the air and do the famous kick, and took off. I watched him run directly away from me and then I heard the crashing and saw the white of his tail and that was it.
Now, my nerves kicked in again and my heart was racing. I took a deep breath and couldn’t believe what had just happened. My dad heard my shot from across the field and texted me to ask if that was me who shot.
I was in total shock. We waited a good 45 minutes until we went to go look. My dad stayed in his stand hoping something would come out since it was still early.
My boyfriend came to help me track. We bean following the blood trail, and not 50 yards away, we saw his white belly sticking out in all the green laurels. I couldn’t believe that I harvested this amazing, mature whitetail buck! Especially since it was my first buck with my CVA Muzzle loader!! This was definitely an N1 Moment that I will never forget!