Late Monday afternoon, Wil Moore was standing knee deep in the mud in a small pond with chilled water to his waist.
Proudly smiling, ear to ear.
“About the happiest I have ever been muddy and wet in the water,” said Moore, 26, a personal trainer from Madison. “It felt great.”
What made it sublime was that he finally had his hands on a 170-inch 13-point non-typical buck with double drop tines; the one he had shot 22 hours earlier after two years of watching it mature into a trophy.
“This buck and I had a history, and I felt very attached to it,” Moore said. “I was passionate about it.”
That passion turned into a rabid persistence that took the hunter from the edge of despair to the ultimate high of a 22-hour search that succeeded.
Moore’s story begins in 2012, when he first spotted the buck. It was a nice mainframe 8 point, with a single drop off the end of its left main beam.
“That’s when we first got pictures on the trail cams, and I could tell that even though he was nice he was a young buck, maybe 3½ years old, a young one with good potential,” Moore said. “Then last year, he had changed. He was a mainframe 7, having not grown his right G3, and the drop tine had moved back up on the left main beam. He was also starting to show the beginnings of growth of some stickers on his G2s.
“This year, in the last month, I had pictures of him again. He kind of popped into the picture late (in the summer) but when he did I could tell the waiting had paid off. He was back to main-frame 8, replacing the right G3, adding the right drop tine, with both drop tines moving to the ends of the main beams, and, those sticker points were now measureable.”
The history goes deeper than just witnessing the antler production. Its rooted in the land he was hunting in Yazoo County.
“Yeah, this little patch of land, 40 acres, is pretty special, too,” he said, adding that it has family history. The story ends with his father, Hal Moore and his friend Barry Biggers purchasing the small parcel a few years ago.
“It has a small patch of beans on it that the farmer just left for whatever reason this year, and the deer have been pouring into it,” Moore said. “They bed across the road and slip in here to feed. They either go into this little bean patch or travel its edge along the tree line heading back into the 40 acres to other food. There’s a lot of browse and persimmons.
“About a month ago, I got pictures of the double-drop buck on my trail cam and then two weeks ago, I got some more. He was around the bean field and usually right before sunset.”
Without a good mature tree to place a climber, Moore and a friend found a decent pine and put a lock-on ladder up.
“Best we could do,” he said.
On Friday, Oct. 3, Moore was in the stand and saw the buck, which appeared, and then disappeared, well out of bow range. But, that quick sighting was all Moore needed to see to know he was in the right area and that it was just a matter of time.
“I went to the Mississippi State (monumental win over Texas A&M) Saturday, and hunted again on Sunday,” he said. “In the morning I decided to hunt below this pond dam, and didn’t see him.”
Sunday afternoon, it all came together.
Moore was in the stand with darkness rapidly approaching, when something got his attention.
“I noticed some movement to my left, and I grabbed my binoculars for a close look,” he said. “The first thing I saw was the double drop tines. He was 28 yards away, and he was sticking his head out of the timber and brush to glance the field. I dropped the binoculars and reached for my bow. It was hanging on this limb that I had left up for cover.”
That limb quickly became a problem.
“It was between me and the buck,” Moore said. “The stand is set up for a sitting right-handed shot to the left, and I had to pull the bow sitting down. So I sat down, pulled the bow, and then I had to move the top cam of my bow under the limb and come up the other side. The limb was between me and the bow.”
The buck was moving by that time, and appeared to be on a mission.
“He was powering walking, angling away from he, and seemed like he was going to walk through the beans and go to some persimmons on the far side,” Moore said. “I got my pin on him, aimed through to the far shoulder, got anchored and took the shot.
“I heard this Whack! Whack! and I knew something was wrong.”
One Whack! was the lower limb of his bow striking the pine limb and the other was the strange sound the arrow made when it struck the buck.
Neither sound was good, Moore said.
“My heart sunk, because I figured the limb messed up my shot,” Moore said. “I saw the arrow hit the deer high and forward, and the sound it made was wrong.”
Moore said the buck went into a high prance, with his tail up. There was no mule kick, as with a lung or vital shot. The buck made a quick jolt and stopped about eight yards from Moore’s stand. In the fading light, the hunter could see the buck’s tail go down and then watched his dream buck simply ease into the tree line and disappear, like nothing was wrong.
“I was a wreck,” he said. “I thought ‘Did I just screw this up? Did I ruin this shot at this buck I’d been watching for three years?’
“Man, I was sick.”
He called his father.
“Yeah, he was upset,” Hal Moore said. “He said, 'Dad, I think I messed up on the double drop.’ He said that the bow had made the worst sound ever and described how the buck had reacted.”
Hal Moore tried to be encouraging and quickly headed to help search.
Before he could, however, Wil Moore had reconsidered.
“I went down, found blood and looking at it I could tell that we needed to let this buck go overnight and search in the morning,” Wil Moore said. “I could tell by the blood that I had hit in the neck. The distance between the blood splatter, the thick dripping from the exit wound and the light trickle from the entrance was the key.”
He called his dad and halted the search.
“Worst night ever,” Wil Moore said, describing the little bit of sleep and “awful lot” of tossing and turning in the bed. “I really thought I had messed this whole thing up.”
The search resumed shortly after daylight, with father and son starting at the last point Wil Moore had marked blood the night before.
It ended nearly 10 hours later, a total of 22 hours after the shot.
“We trailed and we trailed and we set up grid patterns and walked circles and nothing,” the younger Moore said. “We marked last blood and Dad had to go to work and I went back to the barn, got on a tractor and did some disking, just trying to clear my mind. It didn’t work. I was so upset, and I refused to let it go. I called Dad and told him I had to keep searching.”
Hal Moore returned and they expanded the search. They started checking nearby pastures and even saw buzzards circling, but knew it was way too soon for them to have the scent of a freshly-killed deer. They started checking creeks and ponds, and it was while they were at one pond that they got the break they needed.
“I was on one side of this pond, where we had found some blood in a bunch of cattle tracks where they had been coming to drink and Dad was walking the other side to see what he could find, when a neighboring farmer, Bruce Courts, came up on a four-wheeler,” Wil Moore said. “They were talking and I went over and Dad started telling him about the big buck that I had shot and that we were searching for it.”
That discussion included the reason they were searching in water — because wounded deer often head for water, presumably to help sooth a burning gunshot or arrow wound.
“Mr. Courts said something like that’s funny, because earlier that day he had seen a dead deer in a pond on his place,” Wil Moore said. “It was 500 yards in a different direction, and he said that it was what the buzzards had been circling. I didn’t figure it was my buck, but...”
Off they went.
Sure enough, upon arriving at the small watering hole, they could easily see the body of a dead deer mostly submerged under the surface.
“All we could see was a stretch of the back, like it had been in the water a while,” Wil Moore said. “I didn’t think it was the buck, and I asked Mr. Courts how deep the pond was and he said knee deep. As big as that buck’s antlers were, if it was him the rack would be out of the water.”
But, because they’d come so far, he decided to check.
He hit the pond and immediately sank to his knees in mud. He made it the 15 or 20 feet to the deer.
“I walked up on the deer’s backside and reached down to grab a rear leg and pull it up,” Wil Moore said. “When I did, the first thing that came up was the right main beam and I could see those sticker points off the G2.
“I knew right then it was my buck. I can’t tell you how relieved, how excited and how overcome I felt.”
He lunged for the head and was soon looking at the massive antlers. His dad had the cell phone and documented the moment in the water with several pictures.
“He was so happy,” Hal Moore said. “You have to understand that he is so wired up about deer hunting. That’s what he does. He’s passionate about it, and it was that passion that drove him to keep searching.”
Green-scored by a certified Pope & Young scorer, the buck measures 160 inches as a main-frame 8, and 176 inches as a 13-point non-typical. It has 25-inch main beams, a 21-inch inside spread and three tines exceeding 10 inches, including a 13-inch left G2.
“The shot went through the back of his neck and exited under his jaw, just about what I figured,” Wil Moore said. “In addition to the limbs affecting the shot, I also learned that I had figured a 43-yard shot and it was really 35. The result was a high shot. I found the arrow sticking straight down, like it would had you held it by the nock and dropped it.
“But it had blood from tip to tip and one of the broadhead blades was badly peeled back. It wasn’t the best sign or the best shot, but it was enough to keep me searching.”
That determination paid off, along with some luck.
“How lucky were we that we ran into Mr. Courts,” Wil Moore said. “He said he wasn’t even going to check his cattle that day, but changed his mind and rode past the pond were he saw that deer floating. Then, for him to ride up on us ... Wow!”
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