Back in mid October, one month and one day before a treasured gun hunting opportunity at Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Dave Harrell underwent highly invasive neck surgery to repair a disc issue.

“In a follow-up visit, the surgeon told me it was probably not a good idea to shoot a gun for a while,” said Harrell, of Utica. “My wife was sitting there, and we looked at each other, and she kind of laughed. I remember her looking at the doctor and saying, ‘huh, that ain’t gonna happen.’

“She knew as well as I did that there was no way I was not going to deer hunt, especially not the gun hunt at Panther Swamp. That is such a hard ticket to get, and I got drawn. No way was I going to miss it.”

Harrell was willing to risk his health on the opportunity because, as he said and proved with a massive 11-point, “there is always the possibility at Panther Swamp that a buck of a lifetime will walk out.”

That is exactly what happened on Nov. 24.

On a very windy, blustery Delta afternoon, Harrell was sitting in a tree stand on the west levee in Panther Swamp’s Lower Twist area. He had seen no deer all day, only a lone bobcat.

“Then I saw some movement and then I saw antlers, a lot of antlers,” Harrell said. “I knew right away it was a big one, you know, a shooter. He was just walking through the timber about 50 yards away, coming at me.

“I immediately got my .30-06 up and got him in my scope. Man, he was a good one. He walked out of the timber and stepped in this small clearing and was broadside with his head turned toward this old slough that really was grown over and that’s where he was going. If he ever got in that thicket, I knew I’d never see (him) again.”

Without a thought about his neck, Harrell slipped the safety off, took aim and started easing on the trigger.

BAM! Five seconds after he first saw the deer, Harrell shot.

“I shot and he busted into that thicket and I heard him crashing through it,” he said. “I thought maybe I’d missed.”

That’s when he started thinking about his last visit to Panther Swamp, when he was drawn for a muzzle-loader hunt in 2012.

“I was hunting in the same area and I shot a big buck and knocked him down,” Harrell said. “Then he got up before I could reload and he ran off. We blood trailed that buck for over two hours and never could find him. It haunts me that I lost that buck. I hate to think that he went off and died somewhere, cause I know that’s what happened.”

Harrell couldn’t stand the thought of a repeat so he quickly climbed down and went to look for blood.

“I found blood and I found lots of it,” he said. “I followed into the thicket and there he was, 20 yards away, dead. What a big buck; he was huge.”

Fortunately for Harrell, he had lots of friends nearby, including two he didn’t even know were there.

“Two of my best friends, Eric Pennington of Dentville, who I work with at Mississippi Roofing Supply in Pearl, and Buster Smith of Crystal Springs were with me, and after it got dark and they were through hunting they came to help me,” Harrell said. “I sure needed them, and more.”

The buck, which field dressed at 195 pounds (probably 250 live weight), was a brute. Panther Swamp rules forbid ATVs off main trails, and the buck was over 400 yards away.

“Two years ago I built a homemade game cart using 22-inch dirt bike wheels to use at Panther Swamp and at Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge, and we went and got that,” Harrell said. “We didn’t make it 25 yards and that deer was so heavy, it broke it. I mean it broke the wheels. It couldn’t handle his weight.”

One of the men made it to the 4-wheelers and went back to the Lower Twist parking area to look for help. What happened was unbelievable.

“It was amazing but turns out, there was a guy there who is an outside salesman for Mississippi Roofing, a guy I work with but don’t see very often because he’s on the road, and he was there with his Dad,” Harrell said. “They had a game cart and they brought it down and helped us get that deer. I don’t know what I’d have done without them because there was not much I could do with my neck and all.

“It was past 9:30 that night before we got that buck out of the woods and out of the refuge.”

The 11-point buck, a main-frame 10 with a split brow tine, green scored 154 7/8 inches. It had excellent mass, 5½- and 6-inch bases and it held that mass out through the 24-inch main beams. Its greatest inside spread was 18 inches and its longest tines were the G3s, each measuring close to 9 ¾ inches.

“It is very symmetrical,” Harrell said. “The taxidermist that scored him said there wasn’t an inch difference on any (corresponding) measurements.” 

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Read other stories about big bucks killed this season by clicking here.