Scott Thomas said he misses having a deer called Top Hat around, though the tall and thick 160-inch 9-point buck is already hanging on his wall at his home in Madison.
Looking at a mounted rack is nice, but it doesn’t compare with the four-year relationship the hunter had with the buck before killing it with his bow on Oct. 3 in Madison County.
“I’ve never had a buck that I had such a long history with like that,” said Thomas, 31, a brick mason. “I’ve been watching him since he was 2 years old, and had pictures of him for four years before I killed him.
“I had so many trail cam photos and several close calls, and I’ve never had that kind of deal with any other deer.”
Close calls? Yep.
Thomas rattled up the buck to within bow range Dec. 7, 2014, only to have the buck stop behind a tree, figure out something was amiss and take off.
Later that season — on Jan. 22 — the buck chased a doe within shooting range but never stopped.
Two seasons ago, the buck gave Thomas a perfect shot for his bow, but the hunter backed off when he saw that the deer’s right main beam had broken off just past the G2.
The years before that, Thomas just passed on the buck.
“All that tim I was watching this buck grow up, add maturity and mass and length, and it was amazing (to see) his progression,” Thomas said. “Seeing that and having all those photos, man, that was pretty special.”
Collecting those photos led to the finality of the relationship.
“I noticed that, after he had some age, the only time I was getting photos of him in daylight hours, during legal shooting time, was when there was a high moon (the tail end of the full moon phase as it starts to wane),” Thomas said. “And every encounter with him was on the high moon. That’s when he would move and use the food on that particular part of the property. He was living in a tight stretch of timber and thickets bordering a big corn field, with the corn about 200 yards in from the edge.
“I put about 10 cameras throughout that part of the property, just trying to find his primary trails. I pinpointed the main trail, and I knew that one month, during the high moon, I’d catch him on that trail. I hung my stands — one for a north wind and one for a south wind — on the July 4 weekend.”
Thomas didn’t have to wait after opening day.
The 2015 bow season opened on Oct. 1, a Thursday. It was gusty the first and second day, and the moon was just not quite right.
“So I stayed out of there,” Thomas said. “I wasn’t going to take any chances. My friends all told me I was crazy, that I should be in there, that he was going to leave the area.
“But, I knew he wouldn’t leave. This was his core area. This is where I had always seen him and had pictures of him.”
Thomas wanted to be certain he didn’t do anything to alert the deer.
“I didn’t want to risk it,” he explained. “That area is dense. It’s very thick, and when the wind blows it bounces around, and I knew he could get my wind and it’d be over.
“But on that Saturday, it was supposed to finally let up.”
He went to the stand at about 2:30 that afternoon and got 25 feet up the tree in his north-wind stand.
“It was still really blowing and I was a little concerned, but right before 5 o’clock, the wind just died,” he said. “It got still, and it was perfect.”
Things started happening quickly.
Thomas said a small 6-point and an 8-point came out, and eventually got in a shoving match.
“The 8 was bigger, and he pushed that 6 about 100 yards,” he said. “I’d never seen a deer push another around like that. Then a bunch of does and yearlings came out.
“That’s when Top Hat came out, and he started pushing the does and yearlings out. He nearly rammed one of the does, trying to push her out. I’m standing up by then and getting ready.”
It was excruciating for the hunter.
“I had to stare at that deer for 20 minutes while he stuck tight on that trail,” Thomas said.
And then the buck was right where he was supposed to be, at just the right time.
“He walked right to me, within 20 to 25 yards,” Thomas said. “He was kind of quartering toward me. I took the shot and hit him high on his right side, and I must have hit a bone because the arrow curved down and I got a complete pass-through.
“He turned and went back, making a huge circle. I lost him because the pass-through took the Illuminock out of play.”
He wasn’t taking any chances.
“It was so thick and getting dark, and I lost sight of him,” Thomas said. “I shot him at 6:15 or 6:20, and I backed out and didn’t start looking for him until after 11 that night.
“I found good blood, followed it to where he had laid down and then started to lose it as it became a trickle. That’s when I decided to back out and give him the night.”
The next morning, Thomas and some friends returned, and quickly found Top Hat about 100 feet from where they’d stopped the night before.
The buck’s amazingly tall rack included main beams stretching 26 ½ inches and G2s measuring 13 ½ inches. There was one sticker off the back of the right G2, making it a 9-point. Both G3s were over 11 inches. The brow tines were short — 4 and 5 inches — and the inside spread was 17 inches.
“The mass was great,” Thomas said. “Both bases were 6 ½ inches, and the other measurements were 5 ½ and 4 inches. We aged him at 6 and guessed his weight at about 250 pounds
“ This was the year he peaked, even though he was just a mainframe 8-point.”
The hunter’s victory was bittersweet.
“I can’t believe this deer is gone,” Thomas said. “It had been so long a time that I had been watching him. But he often travelled with a 140-class buck we call The Ring because his basket rack almost makes a full ring.
“I’m on him right now. He was with Top Hat the night I shot him, and he ran into the field to the corn and trail cams had him coming out at 2 a.m. I haven’t seen him again, but I know where he lives.”