Ben Carver’s story behind the biggest buck he’s ever killed with a bow is, in his words, kind of funny.
Weird is a better adjective for what happened Sunday afternoon in Oktibbeha County.
“It is kind of a funny story, about how it happened,” he said. “It’s strange, and in more ways that one.”
First, Carver didn’t want to kill that buck.
“My son Hayes, he’s 8 and in his first year of hunting with a crossbow, had asked me to let that be his first buck,” said Carver, an insurance representative from Starkville. “I had told him I’d save it for him. You have to understand that we have been watching this deer for three years, and he’s been a 9-point every year with a similar rack. He’s just been getting bigger. Hayes named him El Toro.
“This old buck (aged post mortem at 5½ years) was smart. He has always been nocturnal. In those three years, of all of the trail cam photos we’ve got of him, all but one came after dark. We got one daylight photo and that was Oct. 5 last year. This has been the hardest buck I’ve ever had the pleasure of pursuing.”
Carter said he has identified three mature bucks on the property, with El Toro being the boss. He was hunting the other two, and one of them showed up in his honey hole about 6:30.
“I was hunting a cutover, about 30 acres, which is what these deer use as a bedding area,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of beans and corn on neighboring lands and we figure that’s why these bucks are so nocturnal. Once they reach the corn and the beans, they can basically feed all night.
“I had an Ameri-Step ground blind brushed up pretty good along the main trail that the deer use to get from the bedding area to the bean fields, right before it crosses a creek. They use that trail to travel between bedding and feeding.”
A buck appeared along the edge of the cutover just to Carver’s left, and he recognized it as one of the shooters and got ready.
“This was one of the other 140-class deer, an 8-point, and he walked up and at 6:40 I took a shot at 25 yards and shot over his back,” he said. “I knew I had missed, and then I had a choice of going to find the arrow and confirming a miss or sitting tight and waiting to see what might come. I know a lot of times when I shoot a deer or miss a deer, if there’s time left before dark and I haven’t messed things up too bad, another deer might come along.
“At least, that’s what I convinced myself of, so I sat there. Wouldn’t you know it, five minutes later …”
Without a sound, another buck approached. Carver was a little dumbfounded since he had just missed a shot, which sent the first buck bounding away through the brush toward the creek.
“I don’t know if maybe he was coming to see what the commotion was or if he just didn’t hear it, but when I looked out a little slit in the blind to my right, here comes this buck approaching on the same path the other one had used,” Carver said. “He was walking along and was in an area where the skyline behind him doesn’t allow a real good view at dusk.
“But from what I could see, some of the antlers and body, I knew he was one of the shooters I’d identified. I couldn’t recognize him for sure, but I didn’t feel like it was El Toro because he’d never come out in the light. When he stepped in front with a clear shot at 22 yards, I hit the release.”
The shot was perfect, a double-lung penetration that clipped the heart.
“But, the broadhead lodged in the skin on the far side and didn’t pass through and there was absolutely no blood to trail,” Carver said. “He had turned and bounded back into the heart of the 30-acre cutover.”
Confident in the shot, the hunter’s prospects improved when he couldn’t locate the arrow. His friend Steven Stuart came to help track the buck.
“We started making loops and looking and didn’t find anything, no blood, no busted grass, nothing,” Carver said. “I told him that we couldn’t talk while we were down there because I knew there were other bucks in there and I didn’t want to mess it up.”
He was thinking El Toro was still there and he wanted to be able to put his son on him next weekend.
“We were out there with our flashlights and that’s all we could see,” he said. “Steven decided to make a bigger loop across the cutover and he spotted a patch of willows, like there was some water out in the cutover so he walked to it. That’s where the buck had died, right in an old dry water hole. I could see him waving at me with his flashlight so I knew he had him.
“When I walked up, Steven asked me, ‘OK, so which buck is this?’ I looked and said, ‘uh oh, I’m in trouble now.’ It was El Toro.”
The buck weighed an amazing 232 pounds, and as a 9-point grosses 145 6/8 inches. It had 22¾- and 22½-inch main beams and was 15.5 inches wide. His G2 and G3 on the left side each exceeded 10 inches and the corresponding points on the right were both 9.5 inches.
“My biggest with a bow, for sure, but I have killed a lot of nice deer including a 170 with a gun in Indiana,” he said. “But I knew I had some explaining to do, and not just to Hayes.
“We just remodeled our house and my wife had told me that no more bucks would hang on the wall unless it was El Toro. When I got home I walked in and said we needed to talk and she followed me out and immediately recognized El Toro. He is going to hang in the house, not just down in my man cave.”
So, what about Hayes?
“I showed it to him on Monday, and you know what, he was OK with it,” Carver said. “He knows a big buck when he sees it and understands what happened. He told me that it was OK if I just put him on one of the other big bucks, ‘like maybe the one you missed, Dad.’”
Click here to read other big-buck stories from the 2016-17 season.
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