By 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 28, the last day of regular gun season, Danny Duvall was shivering by himself in an oak tree. With a steady rain, high winds, and temps in the mid-20s, the 40-year-old Arkansas native just couldn’t sit in the stand any longer. Besides, the rut was over, and without any does to chase, he figured the bucks would be hunkered down in a holler and out of the wind.
“I knew if I was gonna find ‘em,” Duvall says, “I was gonna have to walk.”
The terrain he set out across was typical for this part of the Ozarks, where he’d grown up hunting as a kid. Deep and wild country with dense forests and no cell service, it was anything but flat. Duvall had hung a stand on public land there because his cousin had gotten some trail cam pictures of a good buck in the area back in October, and he tagged a decent 7-point there in mid-November.
Now on foot, he was looking for sign when he came across a well-defined deer trail not far from his tree stand. He followed it for a couple hours and dropped into a holler full of pine trees. He scanned the big bowl and saw a patch of white on the ground within 200 yards. Looking through the scope of his .30-.06, he picked out a small 8-pointer. Then he noticed a bigger eight bedded right behind it.
“It was probably 18 inches wide, that bigger 8-point — a good buck for this area,” Duvall tells Outdoor Life. “So, I started getting excited.”
For the next 45 minutes, Duvall sat there behind a tree and watched the bedded bucks through his scope. Then, around noon, he heard some squirrel hunters across the way pop off a few rounds. The bucks heard it, too. Duvall watched as one young buck stood up, then a spike, and then the two 8-pointers, which were followed by a fifth buck he hadn’t seen yet.
“That’s when I noticed this guy. He turned his head and showed his horns to me,” says Duvall, who recognized the antlers right away from his cousin’s trail cam pics. “I just lost it, man. I’d already been holding my gun up for the last 45 minutes and I was shaking like crazy.”
To try and calm his nerves, Duvall aimed for the ground below the big buck. Then he slowly raised his rifle until his crosshairs settled behind its shoulder. He squeezed the trigger and missed his point of aim. The deer ran for more than 100 yards while Duvall bounded after it.
“I looked like a deer myself running through those woods,” he laughs.
Luckily, the buck stopped soon enough, so he shot again, hitting its neck. The deer ran for another 40 to 50 yards, and when it stopped a second time, Duvall’s third shot hit home.
“When he went down, I went down,” Duvall says. “I was about dead. And I was so down on myself that I knew if I didn’t get this deer, I’d probably never hunt again.”
With the buck on the ground, Duvall had even more work cut out for him. Since he’d planned to hunt from the tree stand that was closer to his truck, he didn’t have his backpack or any game bags with him.
After field-dressing, quartering, and deboning the buck, Duvall took the extra cotton hoodie he’d been wearing, tied a big knot in the bottom, and stuffed it full of deer meat. He says the hardest part was removing the head to finish the packing job.
“I knew his cape wasn’t gonna be any good. I almost cried doing it, but I went ahead and did what I had to do.”
With the roughly 50-pound hoodie hanging off his shoulders, Duvall hoofed it back to his truck with the buck’s head in one hand and a deer rifle in the other. It took him two, maybe three hours to make the mile-long trek.
“It was all straight up and down, a rocky, bluffy mess,” Duvall says. “God was definitely laughing that day. He got a kick out of every bit of it.”
On top of being the biggest buck that Duvall has ever killed, it’ll be the first one he gets officially measured. The rack has 10 scoreable points with a few extra kickers. He says a couple buddies gave it green scores in the upper 150’s, and he’s already submitted the buck to a local contest known as the Arkansas Big Buck Classic. The event takes place later this month in Little Rock, and he’ll have a better idea then of how his buck stacks up against the others taken this past deer season. Regardless of where Duvall’s buck places, however, one thing is for sure: He earned it.