No matter how big the buck, you can’t split it over two tags.
The story of Big Frank begins in the summer of 2010. I first captured him on a trail camera on August 29, 2010. As soon as I saw the photo, I dedicated my entire season to pursuing this monster whitetail.
Not only did I never see Big Frank while hunting, I didn’t get him on any more trail cam-eras that year, either.
The 2011 season came with high hopes, but Big Frank was a no-show once again. I figured he had either died of old age, was hit by a car or had been shot by another hunter.
The 2012 season started like the previous two, with hanging trail cameras, putting out mineral licks, and topping it off with a bag of corn in hopes of capturing some nice deer on film. I checked my camera for the first time on August 31. I grabbed my memory card and headed back to the truck to check the pictures with a digital camera. When I got to the photos on August 17, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Big Frank was back, and he was gigantic.
I called Matt Gardner, a friend and co-worker, to share the excitement. The following Monday, Matt and I went through the photos. We were in awe of this special deer, and there was no question it was going to be Big Frank or bust once again. I checked my cameras every two weeks throughout the rest of the summer to minimize the disturbance. Big Frank was showing up regularly.
Every time he made an appearance, I documented the time, temperature, moon phase and his direction of travel in an effort to figure out his patterns. As the summer progressed, he made a couple of daytime appearances, so my hopes were high.
Deer hunting often becomes an emotional roller coaster. I was flying high while enjoying Big Frank’s regular camera appearances, but the lows were about to come.
In mid-September, Matt and I were at work when his phone beeped with a Facebook message from his friend, Matt Hiatt. The two Matts had been Facebook friends for several years, and the message was a picture of a deer. Matt showed me the picture, and my heart sank instantly.
My camera wasn’t the only one Big Frank was posing for, and I had to face facts that the secret was out.
After contemplating what to do, I decided to reach out to Matt Hiatt to see where the picture was taken and to share information with him.
Before that call, I had never had any contact with Matt Hiatt, but we talked about Big Frank for 45 minutes. It turns out we were hunting adjoining properties, and Big Frank was roaming back and forth between the two. It wasn’t long before Matt and I met in person and became fast friends.
On the evening of the bow opener, I was in my stand watching two large deer in a bean field right before dark. Neither presented a shot, so I snuck out of my stand at 8:05 p.m. I headed out again the next evening, but before climbing into my stand, I checked my trail camera. Big Frank had been there at 8:20 the evening before, just 15 minutes after I had left the woods.
The next couple of weeks were uneventful, and I was getting excited for the rut. Hurricane Sandy was rolling though Ohio, bringing rain and cold temperatures. The first cool, sunny day following that massive storm, I was at work thinking I should be in the woods.
My cell phone rang at 9:30 a.m. When Matt Hiatt’s name popped up on my caller ID, I knew it was too late. Matt didn’t have to tell me what happened; I knew before I picked up. I left work immediately to help track or drag Big Frank.
As I entered the woods, I saw Matt standing next to the giant deer and immediately recognized the huge main beam sticking up off the ground. In all my years of hunting, that was the most bittersweet moment I’ve ever experienced. I had 105 pictures of Big Frank, had tracked him for months and shot him a million times in my mind. And he was now dead.
On the other hand, I was very happy for Matt and glad he made a clean, ethical harvest. It was also comforting to know Big Frank didn’t die at the hands of a poacher, from old age or by a vehicle.
By Matt Hiatt
The first time I heard about a giant buck roaming the farm I hunted was in 2010 when my buddy Peter Oakes told me about the wide giant he saw while hunting the opening day of Ohio’s gun season. I was excited for Peter and his crew but was admittedly a little bummed that I hadn’t had a chance at the deer.
Fast forward to June of 2012 when my hunting buddies and I were out working the property, cutting shooting lanes, planting food plots, refreshing mineral sites and setting up trail cameras. By the end of July, we had a few stands hung.
In the evenings after work, Peter and I would go to the properties and glass fields to see which deer were coming out and where.
The first time I laid eyes on Big Frank was mid-August. Peter and I pulled in, and as we were driving down the lane, we saw a group of about 10 deer in the bean field. As we approached the parking area, we could see the deer better and could tell it was five bucks, two does and three yearlings. “Wow!” was all we could say as we scrambled to try to take a picture of the big buck.
The problem was those deer were not where we expected to see them, and they immediately saw us and trotted off before we could get any pictures. The image of the wide giant was nevertheless burned into our memories.
Over the next month and a half leading up to archery season, I didn’t see Big Frank or get any pictures of him. I wrote off the one-time sighting as a fluke and thought he must have moved on.
Then, a week before opening day, I checked trail cameras one last time. I had a picture of Big Frank on September 19, and it was just 10 minutes before legal shooting light. The problem was it was on a farm across the street from my stands.
I had gotten pictures of some other decent bucks around my stands, so I wasn’t too up set, although visions of Big Frank continued to haunt my dreams.
The first month of deer season was filled with encounters with does and young bucks. I was hunting hard since my wife Rhonda and I were expecting our first child in mid-November. I knew my hunting time would be minimal once the baby arrived, so I wanted to score before then.
I like to pull the memory card from the camera closest to the stand I’m hunting so I can help pass the time by checking out the pictures. It was a pleasant surprise when I saw that Big Frank had been just 10 yards from my treestand at 5:35 a.m. on October 27. My annual rut vacation began on November 1. I was up early, full of excitement and wondering what the rut would bring past my stands.
I settled in at 6:18 and waited for daylight. Once there was enough shooting light, I decided to do some rattling. Although it had been mostly young bucks and does, I had been having good luck toward the end of October seeing deer after rattling sequences.
About 5 minutes after I finished, a small buck came trotting through. He looked around a bit, but when he didn’t see anything, he continued on by. Then, at about 8:20, I heard what sounded like a football team running through the woods in my direction.
I stood up, grabbed my bow, turned on the camera and pointed it toward the sound. A doe came charging through about 35 yards out, followed by the buck I had rattled in earlier.
My heart sunk, since I was sure a giant was going to be trailing that doe. Right after those two deer went by, I saw something that caused my heart to skip a beat. It was Big Frank, and his rack was every bit as impressive in person as it was on the pictures. I wondered how he got through the woods carrying such a wide rack.
He didn’t have any trouble as he came crashing through the honeysuckle, somehow managing to get his wide rack through with ease.
The next 5 minutes felt like an hour as Frank slowly moved in on the doe. She was walking directly toward my stand, and I thought, This is perfect!
I was wrong, because she stopped just 10 yards away and then stared directly up at me for what seemed like forever. Frank was not far behind her, so I sat absolutely still and focused hard on not scaring her.
I let out a sigh of relief as she slowly turned to walk off in the direction she came from. I was sure Frank would follow her, which would give me a chance to shoot as he turned. However, the old buck walked out of my shooting lane.
By the grace of God, there was a hole in the brush the size of a basketball. Like it was scripted, Frank stepped behind a tree, allowing me to draw. Then he put his vitals perfectly behind the hole in the brush.
Deep breath, let the arrow go... “Ssssswwwwaaaaccckkk!” Frank ran off into the honeysuckle, and I sat down, trying to calm down and beginning to breathe again.
I immediately sent a text to my wife and got more interesting news: The doctors said she might be in labor. Perfect!
At that point, I knew I might have to forego the hour minimum I usually wait before tracking. I also knew it was time to break the news to Eric.
When he answered the phone, all I could say was, “Hey, dude, I’ve got some bad news for you.” He immediately knew what I meant.
Peter, Eric and Matt all showed up a short while later to help me drag the buck out and get a few pictures. Just as I got ready to dash to the hospital, I got word from Rhonda that she was not in labor and I could relax and enjoy the trophy. Five days later, I received another blessing, baby Lauren Alice Hiatt.
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