It is a day that Matthew Barr will never forget, and the 11-point trophy buck he killed on Dec. 3 was just a bonus.
Earlier that day, Barr had taken his final exam of his final semester at Mississippi State, completing requirements for his degree in mechanical engineering. He is scheduled to walk, in cap and gown, on Dec. 14.
“As a matter of fact, I was able to finish the exam earlier than I thought I would, about 1:45 that afternoon, and that gave me and my brother Andrew (a junior at MSU) time to get my stuff and get to our deer lease in Choctaw County,” said Barr, of Henleyville, a small community in Pearl River County in South Mississippi. “I figured I had time to get in an afternoon hunt. I guess it worked out good. It couldn’t have been any better.”
Just before legal shooting hours ended, Barr had an encounter of the trophy kind with a buck his family has been chasing all season. With one shot from his 35 Whelen, the hunter had a 145-inch main-frame 10 that has one sticker point off the left base.
“It’s a fine buck, my best ever,” he said. “I’ve hunted most of my life but down there around Henleyville, on our 40-acre place, we don’t have bucks like this, and we were lucky to see a buck a year. It was so small a place that we weren’t home to bucks, they were just passing through.”
That changed this year when his family secured a lease in deer-rich Choctaw County.
“We decided, my Dad and my brother, that we would find us a place to lease, but we were real late getting it,” Barr said. “We had hunted public land a lot, including some up here around Starkville, but I kind of like having a place where we can plant something green and have a place to attract deer. We heard about this place that a timber company had up for lease and my brother Andrew went over and looked at it, saw a lot of good signs and we decided to get it.
“We signed the lease on this 300 acres late in August, and got the tractors up here and planted it and everything in September. We put cameras out in November and we were floored. We couldn’t believe it. We had some good bucks and then this one showed up. Our minds were blown; we were so lucky.”
The luck didn’t continue immediately. When the gun season opened in November, the Barrs never had a chance at the big bucks.
“Last year, for Christmas, I got this 35 Whelen rifle and that’s what I was using the day I shot this buck,” Barr said. “This is the first deer I have shot with it.”
The interesting part of the story was that Barr knew with the pre-rut underway, a grunt tube could be effective.
“But I never had time to get to a store and get one,” he said. “So I borrowed my roommate’s rattle bag (resembles the sound of buck antlers clashing in a battle for dominance). I had never rattled much and wasn’t all that confident but I decided to give it a try.
“I rattled the first time at about 3:45 and nothing happened. Then I tried again at 4:45 and this time I was more aggressive. I didn’t see anything at all, but at 5:10 this buck showed up in the field. I don’t know if he heard the rattling or not or if he was coming to see what was going on.”
The buck just showed up, and he did so in a most peculiar fashion.
“He came walking in with the wind,” Barr said. “The wind was hitting me in the face and he walked right out of the timber and came right to me. It was getting dark but as soon as I saw him and those antlers I knew it was the big buck.”
Deer hunting wisdom, including books and magazine articles, tells us that when rattling, big bucks coming to investigate will always make their way around to put the wind in its favor.
This buck apparently had never read any such thing.
“He walked out in the middle of the field and was looking around and I could tell he was getting fidgety, acting nervous,” Barr said. “It was getting close to legal hours so I got ready. I could see him in the scope and I thought he was more broadside than he actually was. He was kind of quartering at me more than broadside.
“I put the crosshairs behind his shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The bullet hit right where I aimed, but it went through its midsection and came out pretty far back.”
That path created a problem. There was very little blood.
“I found three spots of blood, each about the size of a 50 cent piece, where he was standing,” Barr said. “When my brother came over from his stand after dark, we found three more drops about 20 yards away and that was it. We were worried so we decided to back out and get back to school so he could do some homework and then come back later that night.
“At 10, my brother and I and three friends came back and returned to the place where we found the last three drops and we spread out and walked down into the timber in the direction he had run. We hadn’t get too far when one of my friends hollered out, ‘Matt, you better come look at this.’”
The friend was standing over the trophy buck, no more than 20 yards from the edge of the timber and no more than 40 yards from where the deer had been shot.
“What happened was that the path of the bullet through the midsection kind of plugged the exit hole with fat,” Barr said. “There was no way for the blood to get out. It didn’t leave a blood trail.”
The buck, which weighed 200 pounds, appeared much smaller than on the photos from November.
“Oh yeah, he was somewhat smaller, like he had been busy and lost some weight,” Barr said. “Still, he was a big buck with a lot of fat.”
And, it had a lot of hard boney material above its hairline.
“We used a computer app (program) to score it,” Barr said, “and we came up with 144½ inches. I don’t remember much of anything about the measurements other than it had an 18-inch inside spread. It’s in a big cooler at a friend’s house and we’re going to take him to a taxidermist Monday and have it scored again.”
Regardless of the score, Barr is ecstatic.
“It is definitely a memory I will cherish and never forget,” he said.
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