Tony Mills is a true deer hunter, the kind who finds a big buck with a lot of time and effort, and then hunts that buck and that buck only until he has success.
It means getting into the animal’s head, patterning it and thinking of very little else until the task is done.
That is probably why on Oct. 6, in his deer stand in Warren County, Mills, 50, of Brandon, had such a strong reaction after putting an arrow through the vitals of a buck he’d been following for four years.
“Man, I mean, I really got sick,” he said. “I got the dry heaves so bad I had to sit down. They lasted like 10 or 15 minutes.”
The reaction was caused by the excitement of having finally beaten the buck, two years after the buck made his “hit list.”
It was a main-frame 9-point with 15 total points that Mills has roughly green scored at about 170 inches, which puts it into record range for archery in Warren County. The current county bow records are 160 ⅞ inches typical and 167 1/8 non-typical.
The buck still must be certified by Magnolia Record officials after the mandatory drying period, and deductions will be applied.
“It is an amazing rack,” he said. “There is no angle you can hold it to take photos and get one photo that shows everything that rack includes. It has so many stickers and so much character.
“It is my best buck ever, but it is really so much more than that. You have to understand how seriously my family and I take deer hunting. It is what we do together, my wife and son. We work hard on buck management and on making our club in Warren County, which is 80 percent lease and 20 percent privately owned, a trophy buck area.”
Mills had been watching the buck for four years, with trail cams tracking its maturing process into becoming a trophy buck. It is a story that could have ended last year, when the buck was 5 ½ years old and on Mills’ hit list.
“Last year, I finally thought he was big enough and old enough to take, so I put him on my hit list in July, and then started watching him and patterning him,” Mills said, adding that his plan quickly fell apart. “Sometime between dusk on July 19 and sunrise July 20 last year, he broke off his right side main beam, about an inch past the brow tine. That’s when we named him ‘Half-Rack.’”
While Mills was working to find a new target last winter, he decided to help his good friend Kevin Sumrall take a trophy buck on Sumrall’s birthday. It was a good deed that would pay big benefits a year later.
“I had a spot that I was confident in, so we set up for an afternoon hunt, me as a spectator and Kevin behind his bow,” Mills said. “Sure enough a nice 8-point stepped out of the woods and worked his way to Kevin.
“Even though the buck would score 125 or so, Kevin wasn’t sure if he was old enough, so he passed on him. Half-Rack was in the same bachelor group as the one Kevin passed on.”
Mills said Sumrall’s buck was likely a 4 ½-year-old and a shooter at the time, but Sumrall still passed.
“Shows the commitment we have,” Mills said. “It was a great buck and it was his birthday, but he still felt strong enough about it to pass it up.”
That decision would play a key role a year later, just as Mills’ good deed of helping his friend.
Half-Rack was in Mills’ head as soon as the hunter began his annual July scouting and trail cam work this summer. The big buck was back in the same area, in the same bachelor group with Sumrall’s 8-point.
“I was surprised to see how much both of them had blown up,” Mills said, referring to the size of the antlers. “They were noticeably bigger, a lot bigger.
“Half-Rack was full-rack and had added at least 20 inches of antler from the year before.”
Mills immediately made him his buck for the year, which meant he would hunt him and forsake all other bucks until he got him, not matter what.
He didn’t have to wait long for his first chance. On Mills’ third day in a stand, Half-Rack stepped out and onto a trail that would take him within 25 yards of Mills.
“Then, out of nowhere, Sumrall’s buck from last year comes in and runs Half-Rack out of the area,” he said. “It was so strange to see the smaller-racked and younger buck chase him off. I couldn’t believe it, but on the next evening, the exact same thing happened. Sumrall’s buck came out and chased Half-Rack off.
“Panic began to set in.”
Mills began thinking about what was happening, and how to beat it.
“I never thought about just shooting Kevin’s buck, even though it is now a 140-inch buck we call ‘Fish Hook,’ because it has a 6-inch drop tine that is shaped like a fish hook,” Mills said. “Two things came into play. One, I wanted Kevin to be able to reap his reward of letting his buck walk last year. Two, I wanted Half-Rack, which would be my best buck ever.”
As he mulled it over, Mills came up with a brilliant plan: Help Sumrall kill his buck, which would, he figured, finally remove the recurring obstacle preventing him from getting Half-Rack.
“So, I called Kevin and we put a plan together, that he would try to kill Fish Hook and hopefully I would get a shot at the beast I was hunting,” Mills said. “We set up Sunday at about 3:30 p.m.
“Sure enough, Fish Hook pops out, but not from where he was supposed to and where he had been popping out. I started thinking it was that buck’s mission in life to keep me from getting my shot at my buck.”
Half-Rack didn’t appear, and Sumrall — who was just 60 yards away from Mills — took over.
“Kevin was able to get Fish Hook’s attention with a grunt call, and lured him toward his stand,” Mills said. “It could not have been better scripted for me. Kevin’s buck had not been gone five minutes when Half-Rack stepped out 37 yards from me and in a shooting lane. I immediately drew.”
Oh, but it wouldn’t be that easy.
Three times, as Mills was ready to trigger his release, a doe walked into the shooting lane. The hunter had to maintain full draw, adding physical stress to the mental mess he with which he was dealing. The third doe moved, and Mills didn’t give another doe a chance.
“As soon as I let the arrow fly, I heard that beautiful ‘whack,’ so I knew I had made a good hit,” he said. “I came completely unglued, and for the first time in my hunting career I started dry heaving.
“It was 10 minutes before I could get up, and Kevin and I started searching for the buck.”
They found the buck 80 yards away.
According to Mills’ tape, the buck had what the hunter called modest 23-inch main beams and 19-inch inside spread.
But nothing else about it was modest at all.
“Both G2s are huge and split, with the left side sporting a 6-inch kick-stand-type kicker you normally see more on mule deer,” Mills said. “The longest point is one of the G3s at 11 inches. It’s got three sticker points on the back of the right main beam.
“It has solid mass, with 5 ¾-inch bases on both sides, and it carries that mass all the way out. There is only one circumference smaller than 4 ¾ inches. I can’t wait to have it green scored by an official measurer. I’ve just been so busy and in such a whirlwind since this happened to do it.”
His plan now is to help Sumrall get his buck.
“Unfortunately for Kevin, Fish Hook had not gotten into his bow range before I shot, so we were not able to complete the double,” Mills said. “But I know that had it not been for Kevin calling his buck off me, I would not have gotten my shot.
“My plan is to go back with Kevin and hopefully video him shooting Fish Hook.”
Click here to keep up with big bucks killed this season.