To kill his fourth 150-inch buck in three years on the second day of the 2015 archery season, Barrett Van Cleave used his growing knowledge and skills to overcome many obstacles.
Of course, there was luck involved, too, both good and bad.
“It’s a long story, with a lot of twists,” said Van Cleave, who took 1½ hours to tell it to an outdoor writer three days later. “It’s hard to pick a place to start.”
So, let’s start at the end, on Oct. 2, when the hunter had put himself in the right place at the right time to put an arrow through the chest of the Wilkinson County 15-pointer, a main-frame 12 with three brow tine kickers.
The buck approached from dead downwind, an unlucky situation that would have ended the hunt for most hunters — not Van Cleave, who takes his scent cover to the extreme.
“That’s the most important thing to me,” he said, “and I take it very seriously.”
By bathing in scent eliminating soap, preparing his clothes a day ahead and then liberally dousing himself and even the air around him with a brew called Vapor Maker made by a Natchez friend that includes a spray nozzle that breaks the ingredients down at the molecular level to enhance the cover, Van Cleave beat the mature buck’s nose.
“I’m careful about scent, even when I’m going out to check cameras,” he said. “That day, in that stand, on that field, which is in open clear cut woods, I had to crawl a long way, but when I got near the field, I squat-walked to keep my hands from leaving scent.”
As he said, he takes it to the extreme.
The buck, nicknamed Junior because his rack resembles that of another trophy taken on the property a few years ago, had to walk a long way in the green patch to reach Van Cleave’s range, but the deer never realized the trap he had entered. His approach brought him to 20 yards, giving the hunter a perfect downward shot through the shoulder blades.
Beating the trophy buck’s nose was just one of many obstacles that Van Cleave overcame. Still a young hunter in his 20s, Van Cleave’s reputation is growing and his past exploits and successes will be featured in the November issue of Mississippi Sportsman magazine.
The toughest obstacle came three days before the kill, when his confidence was nearly shattered.
The limb on his favorite bow actually was shattered.
“I decided on Tuesday to check my bow one more time,” Van Cleave said. “I’d been shooting, probably 2,000 or 3,000 arrows the last couple of months but I took my bow out and was going to take a couple of shots. The first one came off wrong and didn’t go straight.
“I said to myself, ‘that ain’t right,’ so I shot a second time. The lamination on the bottom limb of my 2010 BowTech Destroyer 350 just came apart. Two days before the season was open, I was holding a busted bow. It is my favorite bow. I’ve had people try to buy it. Even BowTech wanted it back, offering me a new bow if I would give this one back. I have so much confidence in that bow. Every big deer I’ve killed with a bow I’ve taken with that BowTech.”
After learning it would take two weeks to get the necessary parts to fix the now-out-of-production bow, Van Cleave had to turn elsewhere. He called friends and eventually found one who had an extra bow.
“He shoots a Bear bow and they give him a new one every year and he said he had last year’s bow I could use,” Van Cleave said. “And, he told me he had his wife’s BowTech if I didn’t like his Bear. He said we could crank her bow up to 60 pounds, which is what I shoot and my bow only has one draw strength.”
The short story is that after shooting the Bear, he was satisfied that he could make a kill shot and went with it.
“Within a hour and a half, I was shaving (the fletchings) of arrows with the Bear,” Van Cleave said. “It wasn’t the same as my bow, but at that point, I had a jump on any other bow I was going to find. I shot some more on Wednesday.”
That wasn’t the only adversity he faced in killing Junior.
Pigs are a major problem in Wilkinson County woods, and Van Cleave knew that deer and pigs are a bad mix. He had enough trail cam photos to know it was unlikely the big buck would be there on Sunday. Van Cleave had the buck that well patterned.
“I went down there and got in the stand and discovered that I had an armadillo den near my ladder and they made so much noise that I couldn’t hear anything move, like a deer crossing a creek,” he said. “One of them was standing there so I put an arrow through him and was going to toss him down in the hole thinking as he decomposed the others would leave.
“I went down the ladder but as I got lower I spotted one of the biggest rattlesnakes I’ve ever seen. He was right there at my ladder. I had been wanting a snake belt for a while so I decided to head-shoot him and get one made. I missed twice, so I finally put one through its body."
The snake has been skinned and will soon be around Van Cleave’s waist.
His luckiest break came about two weeks earlier, when Van Cleave knew he needed to enhance the food sources in the plot. His peas had about run their course.
“My neighbor has always farmed soybeans but this year he didn’t,” he said. “I knew I had to step it up. My mineral lick right in the middle of the food plot is unbelievable. The bucks hit it regularly and I kept it well supplied in trace minerals.
“But I needed something green. This drought summer has made that difficult but about mid September I took a chance. There was no rain in the forecast at all, but I went out there and over-seeded with rye and wheat. I didn’t drag it, though. I knew the turkeys would eat some of it, but I didn’t care. I think it was like two days later, I went to bed and checked the radar and it was clear. When I woke up, it was pouring. We got about an inch and it was enough to germinate and that field greened up.”
The stage was set, and two days into the season, the final act came for the 12-point Junior.
Green scored, the massive antlers compiled 39 total inches of circumference measurements — nearly a 5-inch average.
“My gosh, did he ever have mass,” Van Cleave said. “He was 18 inches inside and would have been 20 if not for the mass taking up about an inch on each side. What he lacked was significant beam and tine length. Both main beams were between 19 and 20 inches and the longest tine was a 7-inch G2.
“That goes to show you how mass can save you. With those beams and short tines, he still grossed out at about 153 inches. That’s a fine buck.”
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Read other stories about big bucks killed this season by clicking here.