This story was sent in by Scott Schauble, an avid bowhunter and THLETE contributing editor.
Over the years I have been fortunate enough to harvest some beautiful mature deer. Each one of those hunts holds a special place in my mind. Anyone that knows me understands that I am a diehard bowhunter, especially when it comes to Whitetail Deer. I think about it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Anything from improving habitat or the overall health of the whitetail herd. I’m one of “those” people that name deer; this leads me to the story of “Topp’s.” My first encounter with him was in October of 2009. At that time he was a 2 1/2-year-old buck sporting a tight framed 10 point rack. The only thought I had at that time was that he was a decent 2 yr old and I hoped that he would make it through the season. Overall I had over 2 dozen encounters with him that year.
October 2010 rolled around, and as usual, I had many different bucks on trail camera. One of those deer was a tight racked 10 pointer who was without a doubt 3 1/2 years old. I immediately recognized him as the young 2 1/2 year old that I had passed so many times the season prior. As a 3-year-old his rack didn’t show much promise, and if anything showed very little growth from the previous year. However, sticking to my plan, I passed him on numerous occasions. Again all I could do was hope that he would make it another year.
October 2011 rolled around, and all of my focus was on a 4 1/2-year-old buck named “Stickers.” I gave very little thought to the tight racked 10 pointer I had passed so many times the year before. On Oct 4th I was fortunate enough to harvest “Stickers” who ended up being one of
my best whitetails with a bow. He gross scored 178 5/8”. I had finally proven to myself that habitat improvement and passing young bucks paid off. I was sold hook, line, and sinker. As the year progressed, I had numerous encounters with a tight racked 4.5-year-old 11 pointer that I
immediately recognized as the buck I had passed in 2009 and 2010. At 4 1/2 years of age, he sported what I believed to be a gross 145” rack. He was mediocre as a 4 1/2-year-old, but it was time to give him a name. There was nothing overly unique about him, so we decided to name him “Eleven.” I passed him on 5 different occasions that fall.
October 2012 rolled around and there was no sign of “Eleven.” Over the last three years, it had become commonplace for him to start showing up on my cameras between Oct 1st through Oct 15th. It was now November 1st, and I had yet to see or get a photo of “Eleven.” I assumed the
worst and that someone had harvested him in the latter part of 2011. On November 9th I pulled trail camera cards while heading back from my morning hunt. As I watched the photos stream in I was shocked to find an absolute giant 11 pointer on my trail cams. I immediately recognized
the deer as “Eleven”, sporting what I estimated to be 170 plus inches of antler. From that point on all of my focus was on “Eleven.” I saw him a total of 9 times that year with the closest encounter being 80 yards. Eleven kept showing up on my cameras all the way through the late season until he dropped his sheds. This time I knew that he had survived the seaso, and I made my mind up that he was the only deer that I would pursue in 2013.
September 2013 rolled around, and I was more excited than ever as I knew we had a true monarch to hunt that fall. On September 30th I pulled numerous trail cam cards, to my surprise there was “Eleven” standing in a small food plot at 7:29 a.m. on September 29th.
Eleven had grown into a 190” mainframe 12 point. I was in complete awe. I told my best friend and hunting partner, Matt Wilton, that the name Eleven just didn’t do him justice. We had to come up with something better; he was the biggest deer we had ever had an opportunity to pursue.
He was at the top of the list. It only seemed natural to name him “Topp’s.” I hunted hard all of October and never laid eyes on Topp’s. November finally rolled around, and I started venturing into areas of the farm that we restricted to rut hunting only. On November 11th I
finally laid eyes on Topp’s during an evening hunt. He crossed from a thick CREP field into a small patch of timber. At 50 yards this was the closest encounter that I had with him in 2 years. Daybreak on November 12th found me perched back in the same stand. As the morning
progressed, I found myself questioning my stand choice as I had yet to see a deer. Around 8:30 I heard a deep grunt to the North of my location followed by the sound of deer running in my direction. Without pause, I grabbed my bow and got ready, within seconds I could see a doe
with Topp’s trailing her. She was headed directly to me, and all I could think was this is it… I’m going to get my chance. Unfortunately, the doe cut into the brush just short of the primary trail in front of my stand. I immediately ranged the doe at 27 yards knowing that Topp’s would take the
same path. The only problem was that I had not prepared shooting lanes beyond the primary trail, and to make a shot I would need to thread the needle. As Topp’s walked into the only possible opening, I decided not to take the shot; in the early morning light, I could not differentiate between shadows and limbs, I just didn’t feel comfortable with the shot. In my mind, all I could think was how foolish I had been to not properly prepare shooting lanes earlier in the year. That would be the last encounter I had with Topp’s in 2013. While he showed up on my trail cameras on a regular basis, I never laid eyes on him again. In January of 2014, I was fortunate and picked up his matched set of sheds. I gross scored them at 195 2/8 with an estimated 17” inside spread. I had my consolation prize!
May 2014 rolled around, and I was hard at work planting food plots as I had done for countless years. I leave standing corn and beans to provide a late winter food source for the deer. My thought is that very little is left over due to farming practices today and someone needs to give
back. As sportsman and conservationists, it is important to remember that we need to give back more than we take. This is what keeps our hunting heritage alive. As in previous years, I had also started running trail cameras during the month of May. Within weeks I was scouring
through photos of bucks just starting to put on their new racks for 2014. To my surprise, there was one standout that already sported a significant amount of antler growth. As I looked at the photos, I realized that it was Topp’s. It was a complete departure from what he had done before.
Not once in all the previous years had he stayed on the farm during the spring and summer months. As the year progressed the photos kept rolling in and he grew bigger with each passing month. To say I was excited about the upcoming season was an understatement; however, I
found it hard to focus on hunting. My wife’s dad, whom everyone called “papa,” had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Almost everyone understands the hardships of life, we all deal with them. All of us know that our time on earth is limited, but it is never easy to say goodbye. I
probably had more meaningful conversations with Papa over the course of 6 months than I had in the eight years prior. We talked about a lot of different things… his childhood, what is truly important, and just life in general. I found myself reevaluating what was important and letting go
of the things that are not. It was without a doubt a turning point in my life, and Papa had a profound impact on that (whether he knew it or not). I can’t tell you how many times he told me “that stuff doesn’t matter…. just be happy”.
One of the last good conversations I had with Papa was about Topp’s. I even took the sheds I had found in the spring over to show him. I showed him all the pictures I had of him from over the years. Now I know that deer hunting was not his thing, he was a cattleman, but he took
a genuine interest in our conversation that day. I remember him telling me that he thought it was cool that I was so passionate about it and that he really hoped I could get him. Papa passed away on October 26th. Every time I sat in a tree stand after that I found myself thinking about
him and the conversations that we had. Anytime I saw a cardinal land nearby it made me think of him…. not sure why because he hated birds. I even found myself having conversations with him. I hunted hard the first 13 days of November and did not have one single confirmed sighting
of Topp’s. I was starting to wonder if I would ever get an opportunity. On the morning of November 14th, I pulled cards from a few cameras and found that Topp’s had been frequenting a doe bedding area on the east side of my farm. Now I had to figure out the best setup to finally
get an opportunity. I had a stand within 40 yards of where he had been passing through, however I was concerned about such a long shot on a deer like this. Knowing that it would be a high pressure situation I wanted to close the gap. I decided to sit a 12 ft ladder stand located in a grown up fence row 100 yards west of the camera. The only problem was that I had not maintained the stand for the last 5 years. In fact, I had given up on the spot and never pulled the stand. I went into the hunt knowing that I would be working with shooting lanes that had notbeen trimmed for years and possibly broken straps on the stand. However, I knew that this stand would give me a close-range opportunity as the trail camera had shown Topp’s heading down an old road directly to this stand location. I left the house around 1:00 ensuring I would have ample time to deal with any issues. Upon reaching the stand, I found that both the brace strap and the seat strap had broken. The tree had actually grown into the stand. I cautiously climbed the ladder until I had a comfort level that the stand could not possibly come free. Once at the top I had to secure a new ratchet strap, break away a few small branches, and then I was ready to get situated. I quickly evaluated my shooting lanes which, while not great, afforded ample openings for the close-range shot. The only issue that I had with the setup was the orientation of the stand. I was facing northwest and the direction I expected Topp’s to come from was East. While not ideal it would have to work and besides, I just had a feeling.
Not long after I settled in, I noticed movement in the prairie grass stand to my west. Within seconds it became clear that a pair of young bucks were dogging a doe around the field. This carried on for the next hour until the deer had exited the south side of the field. After that, things were fairly quiet. I found my mind wandering thinking about the events of the past few months, all the while doing everything possible to keep the cold northwest wind off of my face. I had my heavy fleece face mask pulled all the way up over my ears and my fleece beanie pulled all the way down. The last hour of daylight was fast approaching and I began to think about the walk home. The last two weeks had been a grueling testament to my determination with quite a few days spent sitting from dawn to dusk. If you’ve never sat a stand location for an entire day, you may not understand the pure determination it takes to do such a thing…. it is no small undertaking. I had passed on a number of great deer over the course of the 2014 hunting season and I began to question my sanity. Why had I decided to pursue one animal? What drove me to this madness..? It was the culmination of years of hard work and continually pushing myself to become a better hunter. It was at that moment I realized the harvest is not truly the reward. The reward is the journey getting there. I was snapped back into focus with the sound of soybeans rustling in their pods. As I looked behind me, towards my standing soybean plot, I could see a doe making her way to my stand. She walked with purpose and quickly closed the distance. I kept checking her back trail imagining this monarch whitetail trotting towards me… nothing. There was nothing behind her. I watched the doe ease through the few shooting lanes I had and head east into a prairie grass stand. After she passed, I slowly inched myself back into a seated position.
With a mere 20 minutes of shooting light left I started to think about the walk home and how nice a warm cup of coffee would be. At that moment I once again heard the sound of soybeans rustling in their pods. As I redirected my view towards the soybean plot, I could see
this giant rack swaying from side to side. There was no question it was Topp’s and he was following the same path the doe had taken minutes before. I don’t remember standing up or pulling my face mask down. I remember grabbing my bow and preparing myself for the shot. As
he cleared the top of a brushy draw, I thought my heart would explode from my chest. With every beat, I felt as if my body was pulsating. He paused momentarily looking in the direction the doe had gone; I started to speak to myself (literally) in an almost inaudible tone saying, “calm down,
you got this.” I glanced toward the upcoming shooting lane and prepared myself as he continued on the path. I came to full draw moments before he entered the opening. When he stepped into the shooting lane, I grunted stopping him and everything went into automatic mode.
I remember settling in at full draw and slowly squeezing the release then watching the arrows fletching disappear into his rib cage. As I watched him disappear into the prairie grass stand, I still couldn’t comprehend what I had just done. I sank back into my seat with quivering legs and
a pounding heart. After what seemed like an eternity, 20 minutes to be exact, I started the descent from my stand. I climbed down, retrieved my arrow, and slowly made my way north towards a tree that I marked as the last direction I could see him heading. As I reached the north
side of the prairie grass stand, I found myself looking down at an animal that I had pursued for the last three years. We have all heard the term bittersweet, but how many of us have really taken the time to think about the meaning. For me walking up on an animal that I had pursued for years, to the point of developing a bond with, was genuinely bittersweet. One half of me was happy to have harvested him. The other half realized that I would never again see him walking the oak ridges or river bottoms of my farm. I would never pick up another of his shed antlers and I would never again get trail cam pictures of this truly majestic animal. Most definitely bittersweet…