Larry Reece was desperate. With shooting light quickly fading and a "decent" buck almost within range (at least it was before it disappeared into a pine plantation), he glanced at the grunt tube in his hand.
The 57-year-old deer hunter from Benton, Miss., considered the little gadget long on hype and short on magic. He'd never had a deer respond to it. In fact, he wondered why he even bothered taking the call to the woods.
Yet with only minutes of daylight remaining, he figured he had nothing to lose by giving it a whirl. And moments later, Randy Reece, who was hunting less than a couple hundred yards from Larry, saw fire leap from his older brother's muzzleloader.
It came as no surprise when Randy heard Larry's voice spill out of the two-way radio. He'd shot a nice buck, and he was sure that it had been hit hard. But the deer had disappeared before he could stuff another chunk of lead down the barrel and take a follow-up shot.
"I might need some help looking," he added.
When Randy arrived at his brother's stand about 20 minutes later - a 14-foot high "quad-pod" sitting at the intersection of gas and power lines - Larry told him what happened.
Larry had seen a buck with a decent rack cross a mowed spot on the power line, but it disappeared back into the trees before he could get a good look at it. Hoping to get a second chance, he grunted twice with his call.
Almost immediately, a buck (he's not sure if it was the same one he'd seen earlier) trotted down the power line toward him. Larry said the rack looked about 18 inches wide and had a lot of points, and that was all the time he spent looking at it before squeezing the trigger of his Knight .50-caliber muzzleloader. The deer had stopped at 80 yards, staring intensely in his direction.
In describing the buck, Larry said he didn't think it was the same wide-racked deer that the landowner had reported seeing the previous day while cruising the property in his truck. The one he shot had more points, too.
One hundred fifty yards after Randy and Larry began tracking the animal, the blood trail diminished. Rather than wander blindly through the dark pines, they decided to return the following morning. Before splitting up, Randy told Larry that the buck would probably go to water.
"The deer was quartering toward him," said Randy, a shooting instructor who has taken more than his fair share of wallhangers. "I told Larry that he probably hit him low in the front shoulder, which would explain why the deer had been knocked over but managed to get back up. I've seen it happen dozens of times."
Larry went back to the scene alone the next morning, but he couldn't find any further sign. He walked up and down a small ditch that held standing water in places. He even scoured a quarter-acre pond that flanked a portion of the ditch. But he saw no sign of the deer.
"He was upset," Randy said of his normally levelheaded brother. "And he don't get upset over anything!"
Nine days later, on opening day of rifle season, both brothers returned to the property to hunt.
Later that day, Randy shot an 11-pointer. He tracked the deer until he found it, and, while admiring the handsome whitetail, caught the whiff of decay. Curious, he followed the scent to a pond that he never knew existed in the middle of some pines. It was small, about the size of a house. And in the middle of it, he spotted the white underside of a deer - Larry's deer.
"When he was out there looking, Larry had to have passed within 30 yards of that deer several times," Randy said. "He walked all through those little pines."
Randy radioed his brother with the news. When Larry arrived, they decided to cut off the head.
"It was way too far gone to do anything else," Larry said.
About three weeks later, someone rough-scored the heavily palmated antlers at more than 230 inches, which turned out to be on the low side. When taped for the BTR, the 14x16 rack's composite score (which includes inside spread) was more than 254 inches.
"Before that, he didn't even realize the deer was THAT big," Randy said of his brother. "He just knew that it was an exceptional buck, and it obviously wasn't one of the bucks that the landowner had told us about."
"I really never saw all the palmation," says Larry. "I had to shoot too quick ... You can look at the rack, or you can shoot. I shot!"
Larry is now convinced that he should have put more effort into grunting over the years.
"The grunt call - I don't even know the name of the one I have -- caused me to get this deer," he said. "It came in at a trot, looking for another buck.
"That was the first time that I've ever had one - that I could tell - come right to me like that, and I've been hunting a long time."
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Hunter: Larry Reece
BTR Official Score: 237
BTR Composite Score: 254 6/8
Location: Madison Co. MS
Date: December 7, 2001