Don Pickell wasn't certain he had done the right thing when he passed on a large young buck last season.
Now he is sure he made the correct choice.
Pickell, of Rossville, Ind., was well-acquainted with the massive, 15-point whitetail he killed on Sept. 23 on a farm in Tippecanoe County, Ind.
"I had seen this buck last year, numerous times," said Pickell, 43, a pro-staffer with Mossy Oak. "He was a 12-pointer, but not real massive. I estimated him to be 2 1/2 years old, maybe 3 1/2. I never dreamed of him showing up this year and being what he turned out to be."
The buck puts Pickell as one of the adult leaders in the Harvested Non-Typical Bow Division of the Outdoor Channel National Deer Contest powered by Buckscore (nationaldeercontest.com).
"One of my friends had seen or heard about the contest and told me I definitely needed to enter that deer," Pickell said.
In mid-July, Pickell spotted the buck on one of his trail cams in the area. He immediately knew it was the same deer and began calling it "Heart Stopper."
"Definitely the same deer," he said. "But he had made a tremendous jump in antler size.
Pickell, who has worked as a computerized machinist for 32 years, had just returned from an elk hunt in Colorado when Indiana's urban zone bow season opened on Sept. 15. After taking a doe - Indiana has implemented an "Earn a Buck" program in its urban zones - Pickell returned to the trail camera where he had seen "Heart Stopper" in velvet during the summer.
"I had taken the doe in a different area for fear of spooking the big one," he said. "I was seeing him (on the camera) in the daytime, so I knew he was on a daylight feeding pattern."
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On the morning of Sept. 23, the conditions were excellent and the wind was perfect, Pickell said. He climbed into his stand before daylight. As dawn was breaking, Pickell was watching two young bucks move through the area. Suddenly their heads snapped up, became nervous and jumped into the cornfield.
A twig snapped. Pickell turned his head and saw Heart Stopper on the same path as the young bucks. He was broadside and 10 yards away.
"As I drew the bow, my weight shifted slightly and the stand made a slight sound," Pickell said. "He snapped his head up and was staring right at me. Then I shot.
"Then my head just started spinning. I had to sit down. I was light-headed and shaking all over. I've been hunting passionately for 32 years, and it was the most excited I had ever been hunting."
Pickell moved out of the area for a couple hours just in case the shot wasn't as good as he thought. He tracked and found the buck in a dried creek bed. It was an 8x7 and field dressed at approximately 225 pounds. Its initial gross score is around 187, Pickell said. On Buckscore for the National Deer Contest, it scored 204.32.
It's another in a long line of massive bucks Pickell has taken in recent years. His 11-pointer that scored 169 6/8 was one of Outdoor Life magazine's Deer of the Year in 2008. He took a 180 last year and a few more in the 150s and 160s. Also this year, he's taken an 11-pointer with a muzzleloader that is one of the leaders in the adult/firearm/typical class of the National Deer Contest.
"But this guy was the pinnacle, the biggest deer I've ever shot," he said. "It's one thing to get a picture of a big one. It's something else entirely to get a picture and then turn right around and get him like that. It was definitely a deer of a lifetime."
Pickell's buck and many others from across the United States can be found at nationaldeercontest.com. The contest is the first-ever, national white-tail deer scoring and photography competition. It is free to enter and has categories for youth and adult hunters, as well as in archery and firearm - with typical and non-typical divisions for each.
The contest continues until Jan. 31, 2013.
For more information on Outdoor Channel's National Deer Contest, or to enter your deer, click here.
For video of Michael Waddell's study of a whitetail, click here.