When Indiana bowhunter Drew Rutledge started getting trail cam photos of one particular buck four years ago, he knew it had potential. By 2022 the buck was a heavy 10-pointer, and Rutledge says it had grown significantly by the time this season rolled around.
“I’ve got hundreds of photos of the deer over the last four years, and I watched him grow bigger and bigger,” the 34-year-old from Mt. Vernon, Indiana, tells Outdoor Life. “I figured last year his rack was about 165 inches. This year his rack became massive, gaining two more points and putting on a lot of mass.”
Rutledge says he tried hunting the buck last year when he had around eight close encounters. On one sit the deer came within 18 yards of him following some does, but the buck never presented a clean shot. Patterning the buck was always a challenge, he explains, because the buck was far-ranging and rarely showed itself on camera during daylight.
“Of all the photos I have of that buck, 95 percent of them were at night,” he says. “Sometimes he’d just disappear, then show again at night, usually during a south wind, which isn’t good for hunting his favorite food plot on our 260-acres of family land.”
So, earlier this year, Rutledge re-worked the property. He planted different crops in the foot plots and created additional water sources. By late October, the buck seemed to be sticking around the property more often. He was getting plenty of pictures of the deer, but the consistent south wind made it hard for Rutledge to hunt the food plot.
“I couldn’t hunt the spot until Nov. 17, and I knew the wind was supposed to shift out of the north, and the temperature would drop 20 degrees that afternoon,” he says. “A couple of my friends and my dad told me I better get in there and try hunting the food plot because the rut was on, and a favorable north wind was forecast that afternoon.”
Rutledge slipped quietly into a ground blind at about 3 p.m. on Nov. 17. It was a spot that usually had deer activity later in the day, and he didn’t see anything until after 4 p.m. That’s when two does emerged from a timbered spot and walked into the food plot that was bright green with ripe radishes and turnips. Five minutes passed and he saw more does moving around in the timber just over 100 yards away.
“Then the big buck just popped out of the woods at 120 yards,” says Rutledge. “He stood still on the field edge for 15 minutes watching the two does that were coming straight to me across the food plot …. I knew he had to come across the field with the wind blowing from him to me to get to the does, and they just kept walking across the field right toward my blind.”
The does were 30 yards from Rutledge’s ground blind when the giant 12-point started moving. The buck didn’t seem inclined to expose himself in the open field with the wind at its back. But that was the only way he could check the pair of does that now were 20 yards from Rutledge.
The buck stopped at 40 yards from Rutledge and presented a clean broadside shot. But the veteran bowhunter believed the buck would come even closer, as the does were still near his blind. So, he waited before drawing.
“When he was walking at 25 yards I tried to grunt-stop him, but he didn’t hear me,” Rutledge said. “I grunted a second time louder while at full draw. He stopped, snapped his head up, and stretched his neck. I knew I only had a couple seconds to shoot, so I let my arrow fly and hit him right behind the shoulder at 22 yards.”
The deer ran only 50 yards and Rutledge watched it fall over. He walked over and finally put his hands on the buck after four long years.
“I thought the whole time it would score about 170-inches,” said Rutledge. “I was stunned when a good friend of mine, who’s scored lots of bucks, measured it.”
The symmetrical 12-point’s green gross score was 185 2/8 inches, with a net score of 175 2/8s inches. After a 60-day drying period, the buck will be officially scored, and will almost certainly become a Boone and Crocket and Pope and Young record deer.
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The buck will be mounted by a taxidermist and is destined to hang on a wall beside another buck Rutledge killed a decade ago. That buck was taken just 100 yards from where Rutledge’s most recent 12-point was killed.
“When I shot my other mounted buck 12 years ago, I figured I’d never get another deer bigger than that 181-inch whitetail,” Rutledge explained. “Now I feel the same way about my 12-point, 185-inch buck. But you never know—I’m still young and have a lot of bowhunting ahead of me.”