Mature bucks are difficult to harvest. Their sense of smell, hearing and ability to sense danger make them a challenge for even the most experienced hunters.
One particular South Delta buck had an unusual defense. His 146-inch rack, with thick bases and long main beams, made hunters so nervous it appeared no one could hold a rifle steady enough to shoot him.
"I first saw him last year," said Thomas Garland of Onward, Mississippi. "I had an encounter with him, but his main beam was broke off at the G2. There wasn't any point in killing him like that."
The broken antler was the buck's pass to live another year, but Garland had his sights set on the buck this season. Photos of the buck began appearing on game cameras in early December. His rack was bigger than before.
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Garland hunted the same stand where he encountered the buck last season, and although he was seeing some good bucks, the one he was after never appeared. On Christmas Day, that changed.
Garland walked outside to get his gear out of his truck for an afternoon hunt. As he got ready and began walking to his stand, he kept his eyes on a group of does feeding in a field 500 yards to his right. He was so fixed on the feeding deer, he almost didn't notice the buck standing directly in front of him.
Big deer dodges a bullet ... twice
"It was him," Garland said. "I had to hit the ground.
"I ranged him at 360 yards. I ended up taking a shot at him off the ground and I missed him."
The situation and Garland's nerves had gotten the best of him, but he was in a stand the next day. The buck didn't show. However, Garland would get another chance.
"The following morning I was in a stand," Garland said. "I'm hunting a big field. I could see across the field into the woods."
Garland saw movement. Two does were slowly walking in the woods while feeding. The big buck was following. While he could see the buck, he had no clear shot. Garland watched the buck trail the does. As each minute passed, his blood pumped faster.
After 10 minutes of watching, Garland finally got a clear shot.
"I flinched right before I shot and I immediately knew I missed him," Garland said. "It's been a long time since I've had a deer shake me up, but he shook me up like I was 12 years old shooting my first buck
Deer hunter calls for support
Garland called his wife, Victoria, and told her the buck had run toward another stand and encouraged her to go there and hunt him. She was less than enthusiastic because she'd just returned home from her morning workout and had not eaten.
Even so, she gathered her gear, some snacks and went to the stand. The snacks didn't last long, though. She left and went home for lunch.
Victoria returned to the stand about 2 p.m., but wasn't hopeful. Mississippi was experiencing a heatwave and she didn't feel deer would be very active.
"I sat out there for a while and felt like I should have had on suntan oil," Victoria said. "Instead, there I was in camouflage."
The afternoon passed uneventfully. Victoria saw some young bucks and does, but nothing else. Victoria admitted she was paying more attention to her phone than she should have been. When she looked up from her phone, she panicked.
"He was straight in front of me," Victoria said. "I was so nervous because there were no mature does out there so I knew he wasn't going to be there long."
Two more missed shots — or was it one?
Victoria grabbed her rifle and took a shot, but said she was shaking and so nervous that she missed. Strangely, the buck didn't run. Maybe he'd grown accustomed to people shooting at him and missing.
"He wasn't alarmed," Victoria said. "He stood perfectly still."
Victoria chambered another round, took a deep breath and fired again. The buck didn't act like he was hit, she said, but he did run away.
Victoria was convinced she'd missed again. She said she saw nothing about the shot to indicate the deer was hit and there was no blood to be found. The hunt seemed over.
Victoria said after she and Garland arrived home, she spoke with a neighbor who was nearby when she fired. He said the impact of the second bullet sounded like it hit the buck. She and Garland took their tracking dog, outfitted with a GPS collar, to the field and let him do his job.
Big buck down
It wasn't long before their GPS unit indicated the dog had stopped. Victoria said she was expecting the dog to move at any moment, but he didn't.
"We ran in there," Victoria said. "I was freaking out.
"I totally thought I'd missed this deer and there he was, dead as a door knob. I started crying. I was loving on the dog and crying. I hugged Thomas. It was just the best moment. There was so much adrenaline and excitement."
There was plenty to be excited about. The 8-point gross-scored 146¼ with 5½-inch bases, 25 inch main beams and a 23-inch spread. It is the biggest she's harvested to date.
Garland said he's become the subject of lighthearted jokes among friends, but long after the jokes are gone he'll have a reminder of how he missed the buck twice only to have his wife harvest it.
"Now I get to look at that deer on the wall the rest of my life thinking, 'That should have been my deer,'" Garland said.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Mississippi couple misses trophy buck three times before wife bags it