By John E. Phillips
Rocky Top has a new No. 3 in the BTR’s blackpowder category.
Chris Fowler apparently knows how to keep his powder dry.
Using a muzzleloader stoked from the previous season, the deer hunter from Indian Mound, Tennessee, shot a buck in 2015 that shuffled Rocky Top’s records.
The deer wasn’t the one he’d nicknamed Bullwinkle, which is the whitetail that put the extra spring in his step last season. But Chris hasn’t complained.
Chris has a 25-acre plot where he’s taken several deer that have scored in the 130s. For the past three years, he’s set his sights on Bullwinkle. His three trail cameras kept him supplied with reminders.
But he’s never seen the buck in the flesh.
Chris, a 20-year veteran of muzzleloading, was eager for the 2015 blackpowder season to open on Nov. 7, 2015. He needed only to discharge his .45-caliber rifle.
Although he’d taken the primer cap off his rifle and let the hammer down, the smokepole was still loaded with two 50-grain pellets and a .45-caliber sabot from the 2014 season.
“I had intended to shoot the gun and reload it the day before the season,” Chris said. “However, a friend called and said he needed some help.
“By the time we finished the job he had, night had fallen and I couldn’t shoot my rifle,” he continued. “Thus, I was a little concerned about the gun’s ability to fire after sitting in the house that long.”
Old powder aside, Chris wasn’t expecting to spot a world-class buck that day. He’d seen only 130- to 140-inchers on his trail cameras, plus Bullwinkle, the deer he often dreamed about but never saw in person.
He was in his stand before dawn, a new primer on his gun.
“As the sun came up, I was looking from my stand out into the neighboring property. It used to be a pasture, but had been allowed to grow up in weeds,” Chris said. “The neighbor bush-hogs that field every now and then, so it has regular new growth.”
The whole time, it was hard for him not to think about his rifle misfiring if opportunity knocked.
The morning was eerily quiet. Not even the abundant squirrels were out of their dens.
Chris sat in the stand until about 7:30, and then he gave in and smoked a cigarette. He was halfway through when he heard the rustle of leaves, which he immediately – and wrongly – attributed to squirrels.
When the sound drew closer, Chris finally saw the doe responsible. She was standing in a copse of beech trees still holding their leaves. He stubbed out his cigarette and watched her.
The doe kept looking back over her shoulder.
“I thought, Well, there might be another deer coming behind her. Then I saw a buck with chocolate-colored antlers. I thought the rack might score 130,” he said.
Nevertheless, Chris decided to take the shot if the buck stepped into the clear.
“When the deer’s front leg came through the opening, I aimed, squeezed the trigger and saw only gray smoke,” he said. “Although I felt confident in the shot, I stayed in the stand to give the buck a chance to bed down before trying to find it.”
Chris got out of the stand about 10 minutes later. Because he didn’t see the buck react to the shot, he didn’t know if he’d hit the deer. A lot could go wrong with a blackpowder gun that had been loaded for a year.
He worried moisture might have compromised the powder, or the bullet might have corroded. Or maybe something else had happened inside the barrel that could have caused him to miss.
Not finding any hair or blood did little to assuage his fears.
“Finally, I found one drop of blood and started walking down the trail I assumed the deer had taken after the shot. But there was no more blood,” he said. “The trail dropped off into a hollow with fairly thick foliage.
“I knelt down, looked under the foliage and spotted a white belly about 30 yards from the trail,” he added.
The brush was so thick, Chris could see only the buck’s body, not its rack. The deer was so small that he assumed it was a young basket-racked buck.
“However, once I saw the deer’s antlers, I had to sit down,” he said. “My legs were limp. I was breathing hard, and I was shaking like a leaf.
“I was stunned at the size of this little deer’s rack. I’ve shot does bigger than this buck. It looked like one of those small Texas deer with huge antlers,” he continued.
Once he was able to stand, Chris walked to the house where his wife asked, “What’s the matter? You’re white as a ghost and shaking like a tree in the wind.”
When Chris could talk, he told her, “I’ve just shot the biggest deer I’ve ever seen in the woods,” but his wife didn’t know whether to believe him.
Next, Chris drove his truck back to within 30 yards of the buck, which he easily dragged out and loaded.
“The buck’s hindquarters and rack almost didn’t touch the sides of my small truck,” he said. “I figured he weighed only 120 to 130 pounds, field-dressed. I’d never seen this buck on the property and had no trail camera pictures of it. It must have fallen out of the sky.”
Despite its stature, the buck had been a fighter. It has broken off two points.
“This buck is the strangest I’ve ever taken: the biggest rack ever on a very small body,” Chris said.
This article was published in the Winter 2016 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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