Stuart Everett almost quit deer in 2014.
After three seasons of pursuing a photogenic whitetail with a rack that seemed to double in points each year, he got an eyeblink of an opportunity and never fired a shot. The episode left him keenly aware of how much money he'd spent and how many hours he'd devoted to be able to touch those antlers.
His obsession began in the fall of 2012. While hunting the third-generation family farm in Franklin County, Arkansas, Stuart was loaded for doe, sitting in his truck under an old cedar tree. He eventually spotted a deer chewing a maypop vine about 150 yards distant.
It was a 7-point buck, still in velvet.
"I was a little confused because all the other bucks had already lost their velvet," he said.
The next week, hoping to get a better look at the velvet buck, Stuart set out trail cameras in the vicinity. Thus began man and deer's four-year game of cat-and-mouse.
The first year, all photographs of the buck ñ and there were many ñ were taken only at night. The deer hit Stuart's corn feeders regularly.
After the hunting season ended, Stuart was so busy farming that he pretty much forgot about the animal.
When summer gave way to fall again, Stuart began running his feeders and cameras. Two weeks later, he retrieved images of the oddball buck, again, in velvet. But the seven points had bloomed into at least 20.
Stuart became so infatuated with the deer that he decided to take up bowhunting so he could get an early crack at it. To that point, he'd always hunted only with guns. He bought a crossbow.
Although he continued to collect nighttime photos of the buck, he never saw it.
Frustrated, he moved his stands. Set cameras in different spots. He tried valiantly to discover where he might cross paths with the deer during daylight hours.
The buck was very smart and skittish. Even when Stuart put corn in the feeders or took SD cards from his cameras, the buck would not come in for a few days. Not even at night.
Stuart thought he was the only person who knew about the deer until he received a text message from one of his neighbors. "The greatest buck in Arkansas" was spreading its time between farms.
Determined to lull and keep the whitetail on his property, Stuart planted lush food plots and supplemented with lots of corn.
The buck had some strange habits; it kept Stuart guessing all the time. In three seasons, Stuart actually saw the deer only twice.
Their third encounter caught Stuart off guard. While gun hunting on a rare snowy day, Stuart glimpsed his buck.
"He was running hard, like a family of panthers was chasing him," he said.
The whitetail vanished by the time the astonished hunter shouldered his rifle. That brief and frustrating encounter almost convinced Stuart to hang up his spurs. To that point, he'd invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in to trying to harvest the deer.
In another year, the rack's points almost doubled. Again.
When the 2015 bow season opened, the 6-year-old buck began making mistakes. About every three days, it passed in front of a trail camera before sunset.
After noting the pattern two weeks into the season, Stuart decided his best bet was a 15-foot-high box stand overlooking a 10-acre food plot. On the evening of Oct. 2, he spotted a bachelor group of deer 140 yards across the field, but heading his way. The last buck to emerge from the woods was Mr. Velvet.
After glassing the whitetail and realizing it was the one he'd been after for three years, Stuart said aloud: "There he is!"
One of the other bucks heard and looked up to stare at the box blind. Fortunately for Stuart, the buck soon forgot the noise and resumed feeding.
Stuart got his crossbow into position and waited until the giant buck closed to 41 yards. He admitted that if he hadn't had to wait a few minutes, he'd probably have fainted from buck fever.
At the crossbow's thump, the buck half spun and dropped.
Stuart Everett says the sound of his crossbow bolt hitting the deer was like a "fat-man belly slap from the high dive."