MONSTERS ARE REAL! A WORLD-CLASS 8-POINTER FELLED IN THE FIRST STATE.
Stevens estimates he hunts 5060 times per year. He also does his homework, thoroughly scouting the 1,100-acre farm he is graciously permitted to hunt. However, not even this level of skill and experience could have prepared Stevens for the encounter he had with a buck he never considered himself worthy of pursuing.
"The biggest buck I ever shot was probably about a 100-inch 8-pointer," Stevens recalled of his hunting experience prior to the buck he first saw in a trail-camera photo on Oct. 16,2017."I've had a lot of encounters with bigger deer, but nothing like this." Initially, Stevens wasn't very impressed. "I could tell that he had good body size, and I figured he was probably a pretty good deer, but I didn't really think much about it."
As big bucks tend to do, the deer disappeared for the remainder of the 2017-2018 season, failing to turn up in a single photo despite several trail cameras being deployed on the farm. Assuming the deer may have been wandering through from the neighboring Redden State Forest, a 12,000-plus-acre area of public land frequented by hunters, Stevens didn't give the deer much thought heading into the 2018-2019 season.
By mid-October, Stevens began to get a little more serious about checking cameras and preparing for the rut. While reviewing photos from his most recent memory-card pull, he stopped on an image that reminded him of the promising buck he had photographed the previous fall. While it was difficult to confirm, because the deer was standing at the edge of the camera's range, it appeared that the buck was back in the area, even if it was only passing through again.
Eight days later, Stevens' camera took a picture that clarified the quality of the mysterious buck. The crystal-clear photo revealed a giant that seemed reserved for magazine covers, and it was hanging out on Stevens' property. What stood out most was the buck's unusually long brow tines, which appeared to stretch above the G2s of his massive rack. Not one to believe in monsters, the hard-to-impress hunter felt an adrenaline rush that sent a tingling sensation through his body. Stevens would later take to Instagram to post the photo with the caption, "Halloween is near, monsters are out!"
Stevens got more photos of the buck over the next three days, but just as his level of excitement was beginning to peak, the giant disappeared again. Stevens had chosen the first week of November for his "rut vacation," but after not seeing the deer or getting additional trailcamera photos, he worried that his window of opportunity had closed. Despite being discouraged, though, he didn't give up hope.
On a rainy morning, with his vacation time dwindling, Stevens got down from his stand after not seeing a deer all morning and began to leave the woods. As he was walking out, he noticed a buck standing in an opening about 60 yards from his truck. Within a few seconds, he realized that this deer was the giant 8-pointer he was after. (It was the first time Stevens had laid eyes on the buck.)
Stevens'first reaction was to video the deer, but after a few moments, it occurred to hi m that, given the favorable conditions, his time would be better spent by attempting a stalk.
The pursuit didn't last long, as the buck realized he was being followed and bounded away. "Even then, I wasn't sure it was a special buck or even the same deer, and I don't remember being nervous at all," Stevens said. "It wasn't until I showed the video to my buddies that we realized what we were seeing, and I thought maybe his massive body size was disguising the size of his rack."
A couple weeks passed without another sighting or photo of the buck. Not ready to give up, Stevens jumped on his golf cart and headed out to check his cameras, knowing that the rut--and his odds of harvesting the deer--were winding down. As Stevens rounded a turn, predator and prey found themselves face-to-face. Both motionless, the rivals were locked in a staredown just 20 yards apart. "That's when I knew he was a really, really, really good deer," Stevens said. "I called my buddy later that day and told him that this was the second time that I've seen this buck during daylight hours, and I think he's killable."
Man with a Plan
Even though Stevens was getting consistent photos of the giant buck using a small food plot, they were all at night, with the closest one to daylight being at 6:55 p.m. Still, this information helped Stevens predict that the deer was bedding nearby, and that it was comfortable there. The in-person encounters were nice, but maybe they were flukes; Stevens being in the area may have had the deer on its feet. Was the buck now starting to pattern him, even though he was careful to not put unneeded pressure on the area?
With his vacation over, Stevens faced another challenge. His time to hunt was now limited, which made the task of having a mature buck wander within bow range even more difficult.
A Nov. 25 hunt didn't produce any deer sightings, but a fresh batch of trail-camera photos revealed that the buck was still using the food plot nightly. Stevens could hunt again four days later, but he nearly didn't. "I almost talked myself out of going four times," he said. "I got up early and went out there, but I was exhausted from work, it was cold and the wind was gusting up to 20 mph. On top of that, I had forgotten my jacket. I remember sitting in my truck thinking that I should just go home."
It was only his undying desire to hunt that pushed Stevens out of his truck and toward his stand. "I just wanted to go hunting. It wasn't even a goal or a thought that the monster would show," he said.
Stevens soon realized he had made the right choice. Deer were already moving, with the action so hot that he didn't have time to pull his bow up. Stevens' rig lay on the ground for 45 minutes before he was finally able to pull it up. By then, the sting on his skin from not having his jacket was numbed by adrenaline pumping through his veins.
"There were so many deer that I had to be constantly paying attention," Stevens excitedly recounted. "I saw 29 does, three younger bucks and a couple spikes. I didn't even have time to daydream. It was the best day of deer hunting of my life!"
What was already an amazing hunt soon became one that will forever be etched in Stevens' memory. The unmistakable sound of a deer striding through the standing water of the swamp got his heart pounding to the point of almost being audible. When Stevens finally got a view of the deer, he confirmed what his instincts had been suggesting: it was him, the monster with skyscraping brow tines that had been dominating his mind.
The wind was out of the north-northwest; Stevens watched as the deer instinctively circled downwind of the food plot before entering. Meanwhile, Stevens considered the factors that might cause things to go awry. "I just remember looking down at myself and thinking about what is metal on my pants or stand that might make a noise as I get into position to shoot," he said.
Maybe it was the three does feeding nearby that was too much to ignore, but after standing at the edge of the plot for several minutes, the cautious old buck finally decided to enter, making his way into bow range. The buck stopped broadside at 29 yards, just a few paces short of Stevens' scent stream.
Stevens drew his bow and settled the sight pin on the buck's ribcage. The hunter felt a curious sense of calm as he released his arrow and watched his lighted nock indicate a solid hit to the deer's vitals. It was only after the mortally wounded buck disappeared into the swamp that the stunned hunter's adrenaline rush started. Stevens stood, shaking almost uncontrollably, as he tried to sort out the competing emotions of disbelief and euphoria.
After regaining his faculties, Stevens' still-unsteady fingers dialed his friend Jeff Minor to tell him the news. Minor, who was hunting nearby, jumped at the chance to help track the buck and began making his way to the farm. Meanwhile, Stevens found the first drops of blood and followed the sparse trail for about 20 yards to where the blood was more prevalent. When Minor arrived, the hunters immediately got to work.
A short distance later, the pair located Stevens' arrow, which was covered in blood for all but a couple inches of its length. This heightened their anticipation. The hunters eventually encountered an area of tangled trees and brush, which made the tracking job more difficult. Crouching down for a better look, Stevens saw the buck lying just ahead and still alive, but apparently close to expiring. They backed out quietly and waited five hours before returning.
"That was a long five hours," Stevens said. "I was nervous, but I was confident. My biggest concern was pushing the deer, so that's why we gave it plenty of time. It was a good blood trail, but I didn't want to take anything for granted."
Stevens' agony didn't last too long, though. When the men returned, they found the monster expired, signaling the end of a journey that had enough twists, turns and mystery to make John Grisham proud. The tension-filled scene immediately turned into a celebration when the friends realized the buck was down and even bigger than they had imagined.
"It wasn't until I put my hands on his rack that it hit me just how big this buck was," Stevens said. "The mass just doesn't show up in photos, but I guess it's not common to see deer with 13-inch brow tines, either," he joked, poking fun at his initial impression of the deer.
One Great Eight
Stevens is still surprised by the attention he has received since shooting his deer. While it took a few days for word to spread beyond rural Delaware, Stevens eventually began receiving congratulatory messages from hunters across the country. After the mandatory drying period, the giant Delaware 8-pointer was scored by a Pope and Young Club measurer at 162 1/8 inches net, 169 0/8 inches gross. The buck surpassed Delaware's previous top 8-pointer by more than 20 inches and ranks among the biggest 8-pointers ever shot with a bow in North America.
Beyond even having an exceptional buck like this around, as it likely spent a lot of its life on public land, Stevens credits his hunting experience and patience for his success. "It's hard to put into words," he said. "You just gain a certain level of knowledge over time, and there's really no substitute for hours spent in the woods."
Stevens used his trail cameras thoughtfully by not over-checking them and limited his hunting time to the best days based on wind direction. His strategy of not putting unnecessary pressure on the small food plot allowed deer in the area to comfortably use it, which eventually pulled his buck into range. Most of all, it was Stevens' newfound belief in monsters that kept him motivated and helped him make history.
Bow: Mathews TRIAX
Arrows: Easton FMJ
Caption: Ryan Stevens first captured this giant 8-pointer on a trail camera in 2017. More photos came in over the next year, each one reconfirming what a monster this buck was.
Caption: Stevens avoided putting too much pressure on this little food plot, allowing deer to use it without fear. The results were unbelievable!
Caption: This photo, Stevens' only daylight trail-camera image of the deer, was taken just before 9a.m. on the morning before Stevens arrowed the buck. Stevens didn't learn that he had the Photo until after he killed the buck.
Caption: The view from the stand Stevens eventually took his monster 8-pointer from. Stevens' fateful shot came via the shooting lane on the right.
Caption: Stevens took several great photos with the deer on his professional camera (he is an amateur photographer) but mistakenly deleted them when he reformatted the wrong memory card. The only surviving photos from that night, including this one, were taken with his cell phone.
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|Date:||Dec 25, 2019|
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