But even he was stunned at the antler dimensions of a Giles Island Buck killed Thursday (Dec. 20)by client Joshua Bruce of Alexandria, La.
"I measured him at 242 6/8 inches gross," said Riley.
"Yep, 242 6/8 inches," he repeated.
One more time?
"242 and 6/8," Riley said, laughing this time. "Granted, that's not a professional score. It is a gross green score done by me with an official scorer giving me help over the phone. He had a picture and was helping me.
"I'm sure when an official scorer gets his hands on it, the score will be different, maybe higher and maybe lower. I got 242 6/8 inches gross, and it's my opinion that when the net score is figured it may lose 17 or 18 inches, but I'm betting it will go 225 net, non-typical."
That would put Bruce's 20-point buck in the top 3 of Mississippi's all-time list of non-typicals taken by hunters, behind Tony Fulton's massive 295 6/8 inch deer (1994, Winston County, gun) and Tracy Laird's 236 ⅛-incher (2003, Adams County, archery). Richard Herring sits third at 225 inches (1988, Lowndes County, gun).
There's a pick-up in the mix. Don Rogers found a 30-point in Winston County in 1987 that scored 251 6/8 inches.
If the gross of 242 6/8 inches holds up, it would rank behind only Fulton (311 4/8 inches gross - Roger's find grossed 264 inches).
"It is one heck of a deer, and it was the No. 1 buck on the Giles Island hit list," Riley said. "At least that's what we were hoping. There's a long story behind the buck, and we weren't sure just how good it would be this year."
Riley was the first to see the buck on Giles Island on Thanksgiving Day in 2011 while in a stand on a food plot called Boogooloo.
"I was like, 'Oh my God!' when I saw it, but he only had the left side of his antlers," Riley said. "It was big, huge, massive, probably 100 inches on its own. But the right side was messed up bad. It was just a piece of main beam with a secondary beam and a sprig.
"I wasn't sure if it had been broken off or just messed up, but I knew one thing for sure, if it ever grew a right side to match its left, we would be looking at a 200-inch buck."
The buck quickly became legend.
"We named him The Rock after the guy I was hunting with that day, Roc Dickey, when I first saw the buck," Riley said. "After Thanksgiving, The Rock kept showing up pretty regular all last year. We were seeing him at least twice of three times a week. He was a big breeder."
Bruce, who double-booked hunts both last year and this year, had seen The Rock and dreamed of hunting him.
"I saw him several times last year, including five times in one day," said Bruce. "He was a tease. He kept teasing hunters, and he was something to see. We all said that if he ever grew that right side to equal the left he'd go 200 inches.
"Well, let me tell you, he did grow it and he grew the left side a lot over a year. A whole lot."
Riley proved his reputation for knowing deer. He took immediate steps to give The Rock the opportunity to reach his potential
"We video every hunt, and we had a lot of him on camera," Riley said. "I had guessed his age at 5 years last year, so I figured there was a very good chance that he would grow. I showed Rock to all our guides, and we put him on the no-hit list all of last year. And I contacted all our neighbors and told them that we were not going to shoot this buck and asked them if they would do the same. They all honored our request."
All through the spring, summer and early fall of 2012, everyone involved wondered about The Rock.
Was he still around?
Had his right side matched the left?
Had he grown overall?
"Funny thing was, we didn't know until Thursday (Dec. 20)," Riley said. "Nobody had seen him. We didn't have any video of him. We didn't have any pictures of him from this year. We just hadn't see him, and we've been hunting hard since the start of archery season on Oct. 1, but in the last few weeks I started telling everyone 'The Rock is coming. The Rock is coming. Be on the lookout. He's coming.'"
On Thursday, Bruce was down to the final hour of his final day of a four-day gun hunt at Giles Island. It was a drizzly, windy and cold morning, and his confidence was not high. He was paired with guide Tony "T-Bird" Klingler, and was in a shooting house overlooking Boogooloo.
"I told Jimmy last night that I wasn't very confident about deer moving," Bruce said. "The weather was bad and they hadn't been moving much. I just didn't feel that good about it."
Riley knew otherwise, with the rut hitting its peak.
"I actually felt good about Thursday morning, and was looking forward to it after it had been so hot all week," Riley said. "Things had slowed down due to the heat, but I knew it was going to be wet and windy after that front, and after it had been warm for so long - well, you know what that does to deer. I knew they'd move.
"We base our draws on picking the stands that will be right for the wind and based on what we'd been seeing. Then I put the names of the stand on pieces of paper, and the hunters draw."
Bruce, to his good fortune, drew Boogooloo.
"We'd been in there since daylight, and at 8 a.m. I saw this doe run across the food plot," Bruce said. "I looked back in the direction from where it had come and I saw antlers. Then I saw a lot of antlers, and I knew what I was looking at.
"I told T-Bird, 'It's The Rock. It's The Rock. It's a shooter.'"
Klingler was in a bad position, but quickly moved to confirm the buck.
"He was telling me it was The Rock, and I knew he was excited and I needed to calm him down," said Klingler, in his fifth year as a guide at Giles Island. "I grabbed my binoculars and, yeah, it was The Rock alright. He was massive. He was about 150 yards when Joshua first saw him and was about 170 when I saw him. I told him to get ready because we were going to take him if we got a shot.
"But I had to get the camera ready. We video every hunt and shot, and I was getting it into position but I was having a hard time finding it in the viewfinder."
Bruce was already on the buck, nervously sitting on ready.
"I knew T-Bird was having a hard time with the camera," he said. "He kept asking me where he was, and I kept telling him he was right where my rifle was pointing."
Klingler rectified the camera situation just in time.
"I finally found him, and had just zoomed in when I heard the shot," he said. "The Rock dropped immediately."
Buck fever hit Bruce, big time.
"'He's down! He's down!' I started hollering and I got another round bolted in my Remington 700 .30-06," he said.
At a distance, the shot appeared to be fatal, and the pair climbed out of the box stand and started walking toward the deer.
"When we got closer, we could see him kicking," Klingler said. "I told him to shoot him again."
The first shot, Klingler found, had been a little high and back on the deer, breaking its spine and taking the two back legs out of action. As it struggled to get up with the hunters approaching, Bruce took another shot.
"He was thrashing around a bit, and when I shot him at 50 yards - and shaking like I was - I hit him in the jaw," Bruce said. "You have to understand, I was so excited. I had called my dad from the box stand and was telling him I had shot The Rock, and he had to tell me to calm down because he thought I was going to have a heart attack.
"After that shot, we started moving toward him, and we were in some thick brush and vines and I tripped a couple of times. My mind wasn't working. My fingers weren't working. My feet weren't working. I was so excited to get to him."
Making things even more intense, Bruce's gun had jammed.
"He had fallen down, and I looked up and saw the buck down but still kicking and trying to get up," Klingler said. "I didn't want to take any chances of it getting up and getting away, so he gave me the gun and I unjammed it (the gun was bolting two shells from the magazine), and I stepped around the trees and got a clear shot and put a finishing shot in The Rock's chest. I think he was done but I wanted to make sure."
This time, the pair made it to the buck and got their hands on The Rock's rack.
"I started telling him, 'I hope you understand what you're holding'" Klingler said. "I told him, 'You just killed the biggest buck on Giles Island. You just killed a Boone & Crockett buck.' Man, I knew he was excited because I sure was."
The two shared high fives and the celebration was on.
"First, I thanked the Lord for making it possible, and then I thanked my family, then Jimmy Riley and then T-Bird, and then Mr. Speed (Giles Island owner Speed Bancroft)," Bruce said. "Hadn't a been for all of them, this would never have been possible.
"I was shaking all over, and I knew I needed to calm down. I called Dad again and told him to get in his truck and get over to the island; I had just killed The Rock. He knew who The Rock was. I had shown him the video so many times from the year before."
Bruce said that he and Klingler had shared a lot of "holy smokes" and "a lot of other grammar you shouldn't use around children and can't print in a magazine."
Riley heard the shots and began to wonder.
"Didn't take long," the island's manager said. "T-Bird, he's the king of texting around here. He's a professional texter, and he claimed it pretty quick.
"We all carry cell phones on the stands and he started texting, 'We got The Rock. The Rock is down.'
Back at the lodge, the ooh-ing and ah-ing began in earnest, and photos were taken.
Riley couldn't wait to get a measuring tape on the massive antlers.
"I sent a picture to a biologist in Mississippi who is an official scorer, and I had him on the phone while I was taking the measurements," he said. "I got him at 20 scorable points, with an 11-point main frame and nine non-typical points. That may change altogether when an official scorer gets here and gets his hands on it, but I feel pretty good about it."
Some of the other measurements include one main beam topping 27 inches.
"That was the right side," Riley said, "the one that had been broken off and missing the year before. I think we called it right, letting him walk."
The buck measured 23 1/8 inches inside spread.
"The one thing it lacks, if you want to say it lacks anything, is tine length," Riley said. "It really doesn't have long times. The longest I measured was 10 inches.
"But, buddy, what it does have is mass. This is one thick rack. I had one circumference of 10 inches and another of 12. It is heavy, extremely heavy."
Bruce said he couldn't ask for anything more.
"It has everything you could want," he said. "It has drop tines, sticker points, palmation, wide, black tips, holes - you name it and you get it in this one set of antlers," he said. "Everybody keeps telling me that this is a buck of a lifetime, and it may be but I certainly hope not because I plan on hunting every day that I can the rest of my life - and I will always hope to get a bigger one."
An avid hunter, Bruce, 32, has been hunting ever since he can remember, but started going on his own when he was 12.
"The biggest before this was actually earlier this year, a 151-inch buck I got one this year with my bow on a friend's place in Louisiana," he said. "I also killed a 120-inch 8-point management buck at Giles Island on my first hunt this year.
"And last year, I took a 125-inch 8-point management buck at Giles. You know, they call those management bucks but to me they are trophy bucks. That place is unreal."
Accessible from a boat launch on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River, all of Giles Island's hunting property is located in Mississippi.
It is a fair-chase operation, with no fences - contrary to what some obviously jealous Internet posters would tell you. The Rock's history can actually be traced back to a neighbor's property, seven miles away, a couple of year's ago, before the big flood of 2011.
"He was first spotted on this lady's property down the road," Klingler said. "She's pretty smart, and she let him walk because she knew he had the potential. Then he eventually came on down to us."
At Giles Island, as well as most of the neighboring clubs, The Rock had the benefit of outstanding quality management practices.
Riley's philosophy is to base his hit list on age.
"We don't shoot bucks based on size or score," he said. "Everything is based on age. We only shoot mature bucks."
Those that mature with true-trophy potential are protected until they make the hit list.
Those that mature without trophy potential, though the average hunter might consider them a nice buck, are put on the cull list as management bucks.
The Rock's age will never be verified, since Bruce's second shot destroyed the jawbone.
"Unfortunately, that is the case," Riley said. "But I was able to see enough of the teeth and jawbone to know that he is at least 6."
At Giles, bucks are videoed as often as possible, and Riley makes sure all the guides study them. Most are given names. It is that kind of quality control that made both Giles Island and Riley famous.
"I know Jimmy has the reputation of being one of the best deer hunters in the country, and the best in Mississippi," Bruce said. "But I told him yesterday that that's only because I live in Louisiana.
"I was kidding of course. Jimmy is the best there is."
As Bruce told his story Thursday night, he was still excited. His voice was, well, it was shaking. A lot.
"It's been 12 hours and I still have buck fever," he said. "My heart is racing. My hands are shaking.
"And you know what? I hope it never goes away."
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