"I say a prayer every time I get in a stand," the 17-year-old Shannon High School junior said.
Those prayers paid off in spades on Jan. 4 when he killed a 170-inch deer dubbed the Stoner Hill buck by the members of Aesland Sportsman Club in Prairie.
Smart was hunting at the club by special invitation of Aesland Sportsman owner Al Smith, and climbed into a box stand overlooking a food plot about 2:15 p.m. that afternoon.
"I did not see a single deer the whole time," he said.
Until 5:15 p.m., that is.
"I just happened to look to my right, and he walked out," Smart said.
The buck was at about 250 yards, but the hunter knew instantly the deer was a shooter.
"I could see his antlers hanging over his head," Smart explained. "At 250 yards, and all you can see is antlers? There was no doubt in my mind he was a monster."
As adrenaline spiked through his bloodstream, cranking up his heart rate, Smart worked hard to ignore the massive calcium growth sprouting from the buck's head.
"I've been taught, 'Do not stare at his antlers,'" he said.
He eased his .308 Marlin into position, shouldered it and stared through the scope at the deer's body.
"When I look through the scope, I just kept saying, 'He's a shooter; take your time,'" Smart said.
The buck then made a final, fatal mistake.
"He came out and did that buck pose," Smart said. "He stopped broadside."
The crosshairs settled on the vitals, and Smart's trigger finger tightened.
"I took about four deep breaths and pulled the trigger," he said. "I shot him right behind the shoulder."
Smart said he watched as the buck jumped, and he knew he had hit the animal.
But that was the deer's only reaction.
"He stayed in the field and was walking around a little bit," Smart said.
The young hunter couldn't believe it: He was confident the shot had been solid, but the deer was acting like nothing was wrong.
"I was thinking, 'Did I miss? Did I miss? Please tell me I didn't miss.'" Smart said.
Shaking like a leaf, he worked to get the crosshairs to settle again. He took another shot, and then a third.
"With a buck like that, I was absolutely not going to let him get away," Smart said.
The buck limped into the woods.
"I heard him crash, but I didn't know if he whether he was dead or not," he said.
Now certain he should soon be collecting the trophy, he made two calls: One to Smith and one to his father. The message he delivered was the same.
"I told them, 'I just killed the buck of my life,'" Smart said.
Now, many hunters would break a leg getting out of the stand to see the deer. But Smart fell back on more of the lessons he has learned listening to more-experience hunters.
"You just don't walk in there with a big buck," he said.
So he sat in the stand for about 15 minutes before easing down the ladder. He then went to meet a nearby hunter who had a side-by-side.
Only then did he head to the check on the buck.
"He had gone about 15 yards in the woods and laid down," Smart said.
In the light of the single flashlight the two hunters had, it was obvious the buck he had downed was massive.
"I look over and see his antlers sticking up about 3 ½ feet above the ground," Smart said.
Indeed, the rack was just huge, featuring 12 mainframe points and three extra stickers. The inside spread was 19 ½ inches, and the sweeping main beams sprouted from 5 ¼-inch bases.
It's been green scored at 176.6 inches Boone and Crockett.
"I was jumping up in the air and hollering and everything," Smart said.
The 210-pound deer was one club members knew well, having been captured several times on trail cams.
"I had no idea he was even in the woods," Smart said. "Everybody knew he was there, but they could never catch him during the daytime."
Smart had connected twice: The first shot slammed the deer behind the shoulder and the second shot punched a hole in one of its legs.
"I missed the third time," Smart laughed.
After celebrating the kill for a few minutes, Smart took a few breaths to calm down and ended the hunt as he began it.
"I just had to take a little time to say a prayer, thanking God for letting me kill this buck," Smart said. "I guess that's what happens when you pray."
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