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Bay state heartbreaker: after three unsuccessful seasons and plenty of heartbreak, Massachusetts bowhunter Mark Thomas found himself face to face one last time with the potential state-record archery non-typical.

the fact that the 2011 season produced a new archery record for the state of Massachusetts is not exactly surprising news, given that in 2010 Massachusetts hunters set new records for both typical and non-typical bow bucks. All indications are that the trophy bowhunting in this state is getting better every year, and we can expect records to be broken (or at least challenged) every season for the foreseeable future.

However, when Mark Thomas finally put his hands on the antlers of the buck he named "Heartbreaker" last season, he did more than set a new state record. He had done something over the previous eight seasons that most Bay State Archers (or archers from any state for that matter) would not even dare dream about--he arrowed his third buck that would rein No. 1 in the Northeast Big Buck Club records!

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In 2004, he set the state record for archery typicals--a record that held until 2006. In 2007 he set the state record for archery non-typicals--a record that held until 2010. And then 2011, he set the new No. 1 in that category.

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BACKGROUND

At just 444 square miles, Norfolk County in eastern Massachusetts is one of the smaller counties in the state. From just south of Boston, Norfolk County runs down to the corners of Rhode Island and Connecticut. It is a suburban area with a population of just under 700,000 people, or more than 1,600 people per square mile.

This is not exactly what you might consider ideal trophy whitetail habitat, but experienced New England bowhunters know that deer densities are higher in suburban counties and hunting pressure is often very light, translating into great trophy opportunities for bowhunters who can gain access to small pockets of unpressured cover.

In fact, this small county has produced more than 75 bucks that make the NBBC record book, including the state's highest gross scoring buck! In 2005, Jeff Draper found a giant 210-inch non-typical dead off Route 128 (the state's busiest highway). That buck currently ranks as the state's No. 1 non-typical of all time.

Thomas is an amazing hunter who has arrowed more than his share of big bucks from many states. He is the very definition of a "trophy hunter," focusing all of his time and attention on locating, patterning and ultimately hunting big bucks. He is well known in New England for his almost unfathomable success.

Thomas has been hunting this suburban area for many years. He is primarily a bowhunter and has killed many great bucks in this county over the years. The land he was hunting in 2011 was very familiar to him, as he had been hunting it for several years.

That is where the story begins--their first encounter with the buck that would become appropriately known as "Heartbreaker."

HEARTBREAKER

Thomas' relationship with the buck started in 2008 when he and a hunting friend named Armando had their first encounter with the deer. Thomas was filming as Armando came to full draw on a great 150-class 10-pointer, only to have his nock disconnect from the string and rattle off the treestand to the ground. The spooked buck ran off, and Armando was heart-broken. He could not have known that this buck would keep breaking his heart for three more years.

During the 2009 season, Armando and Thomas would encounter the buck on multiple occasions, with Thomas doing the filming, only to come up empty-handed. In one case, Heartbreaker was rescued by a branch that deflected Armando's arrow. In another, he was saved by a small buck that caused him to change direction right before a shot was launched. In total, Thomas and his hunting companion encountered Heartbreaker three times that season, but it was as if the buck was just toying with them, daring them to try to kill him. Thomas compiled video, trail camera photos and shed antlers from the buck. In 2010, Armando .saw the buck two more times during hunting season but never got a shot.

Leading into 2011, a brutal winter gave the hunters cause for concern that the buck might not make it. Thomas was able to locate sign of a big buck in the snow in January, and sure enough, he had pictures of the Heartbreaker before and after he shed his rack. Ultimately, he found one shed from the buck in mid-February, then another in April.

When the season rolled around in October, Thomas had cameras out everywhere in hopes of seeing the buck. But news of a huge buck that had been hit by a car was circulating. The buck had not been recovered at the scene, and Thomas and Armando feared it was Heartbreaker. Thomas got no trail camera photos of him throughout October. Then, on the last day of the month, he checked a camera and there he was--15 photos of the Heartbreaker. He lived!

On November 3, Thomas encountered Heartbreaker at last light, but it was too dark to film the shot, so he let him walk! On November 4, Thomas got to his stand a bit late in the afternoon, and as he was climbing into the stand, Heartbreaker walked right past him at 20 yards! Two days, two encounters, no shots!

Determined to get this buck, Thomas was back on stand on the morning of November 5, and this time everything was perfect. Heartbreaker showed himself at 10 a.m., presenting Thomas with a 45-yard shot. With the camera rolling, Thomas let the arrow fly, but it only grazed the front leg and brisket.

Thomas could not believe it! The Heartbreaker had done it again!

Five days of trail camera photos produced no sign of the giant. Thomas feared the buck had finally broken his heart too, and that it was dead somewhere, the result of his poor shot on November 5. But despite his best efforts, he could not find the buck.

On the morning of November 9, he assembled a small group of friends to take one. last look for the buck. But before they began to scour the woods, Thomas decided to check trail camera photos one more time, just in case. That was a great decision.

To Thomas' utter amazement and relief, the Heartbreaker made an appearance on film. He was not dead after all ...

MENDING BROKEN HEARTS

The next morning Armando and Thomas took up stands they each hoped would give them a glimpse of the Heartbreaker. Thomas proved to have chosen well. The giant buck made an appearance at about 300 yards, but true to form, the buck's senses told him something was not right and he headed off in Armando's general direction. Thomas hoped the buck would give Armando one more chance. But amazingly it would be Thomas, not Armando, who encountered the buck later in the morning again, and he filmed the entircounter himself!

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At 36 yards, Thomas came to full draw and was able to touch off a shot just before the buck got his wind. The arrow whacked the buck but did not pass through. All elation quickly turned to fear. Had it happened again? Had he blown his opportunity to kill this buck, this time by hitting it in the shoulder? This would be a fitting end to the story, given their history with this buck. But fortunately for Thomas, after giving the buck a long while to lie down, a 300-yard tracking job led him to his buck.

His arrow had lodged in the opposite shoulder, hitting vitals on the way through and producing a lethal hit. The Heartbreaker would break no more hearts. Armando was so happy for Thomas that he cried! Thomas' only regret was that Armando was not the one who finally put the Heartbreaker on the ground. But after nearly a dozen encounters with this monster over four seasons, the two hunters were happy--almost relieved--that their quest had ended.

After the measurers from the Northeast Big Buck Club panel scored the rack, the buck amassed a whopping gross Boone & Crockett score of 190 0/8, and 183 0/8 net, establishing the state's new record for archery non-typicals!
MARK THOMAS BUCK

Norfolk Co, Massachusetts

Total points         13 (5R,8L)

Greatest spread          21 0/8

Inside spread            17 5/8

Main beams       26 6/8, 25 3/8

Longest tine             11 7/8

Antler bases       4 3/8, 4 5/8

Abnormal points          17 1/8

Gross typical           172 7/8

Deductions               -7 0/8

Net NT score            183 0/8


(Editor's Note: For more information about the Northeast Big Buck Club, visit their Web site at www.big-buckclub.com or email Jeff Brown at jbhunts@aol.com.)
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Author:Brown, Jeff
Publication:North American Whitetail
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 19, 2012
Words:1451
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