Anthony Peoples shot his first buck with a bow in 1996 when he was 12 years old. Twenty six years later, he carried his Black Widow recurve out onto his property in northeastern Missouri to hopefully recover the buck of a lifetime, one he’d already shot twice in the ribs—once the day prior and once the season prior. The buck vanished times.
Peoples isn’t a reckless archer. He works hard to be the most accurate, responsible, and deadliest recurve bowhunter he can be. He’s notched lots of tags with clean, one-shot kills since he got his first recurve in 2017. He manages the family property to let whitetails grow old, creating a sanctuary of sorts in hopes of harvesting large 6-year-old bucks. So, after watching this buck for two years, he felt sick to his stomach at the thought of him walking around wounded.
“I had pictures of him in the summer of 2020. Every time I saw him, he had a bad attitude,” Peoples tells Outdoor Life. “He was a pretty good buck at that point, but his whole left side was broke off. So I said ‘I’ll see you next year.'”
The buck showed up on trail cameras again in July of 2021 and Peoples decided to hunt him that fall. He got a shot at 25 yards, which is the distance considers to be his recurve sweet spot to be. He hit the buck right in the ribs, and the deer took off.
“We looked for him, scoured the area. I actually saw him a week later chasing a doe, and he wasn’t moving like his normal, aggressive self,” Peoples says. “There was another younger deer close to him, and normally the old buck would have postured up. But that younger deer was postured up and the old buck kind of walked off. That was the last time I saw him, until I found his shed in late March of 2022.”
Once Peoples realized the buck hadn’t died over the winter, he knew 2022 had to be the year. Trail camera photos showed that he hadn’t grown much from the year prior, but his body was absolutely enormous and his antlers still had mind-boggling mass. Once hunting season rolled around, a work trip, a 10-day Colorado elk hunt, and a field full of beans that demanded harvesting kept Peoples from getting out into the whitetail woods. But eventually, after hanging a stand with his 3-year-old son Larkin, Peoples found time to hunt. He walked toward his treestand under thick cover near where he found the shed months prior, feeling confident.
“I look over and there’s this small group of trees with a slough, and pardon my French, but I said to myself, ‘You’re bedded in there, you sonofabitch.’ And I just knew it,” Peoples says. “So I get in my tree, and I’m a real estate broker, so my phone rings all the time. I can’t not answer it. So I just talked to this guy real quiet. Then I hang up the phone and instantly hear something making a scrape in the sycamores behind me. And I just see this giant body.”
The telltale forked G3 poked out of the branches and Peoples knew it was the buck.
“I thought he was going to come out into this food plot and I’d get him at like 8 yards. And that just did not happen. He was headed for a trail to the corn [behind me], and I hadn’t trimmed the back of the stand. I don’t trim that much because I hate being busted. So he took his sweet time coming in,” Peoples says. “I lost sight of him a few times, then I saw his feet at maybe 30 yards. He stayed at a tree for three minutes making a scrape. I hadn’t trimmed much on his side, just barely enough. Then he decided to come out and head to the corn and that was it, boom.”
Peoples let a 650-grain arrow fly.
“It wasn’t perfect, but I felt super confident in the shot. But I’d felt that way before,” he says. “So he runs off, stops, stands there all hunched up like they do. And I thought ‘well, here we go again.'”
Peoples wouldn’t see the buck again until the next day. The night was a sleepless one as he replayed the shot over and over in his mind, the knot in his stomach growing tighter.
“The whole deal is emotional. Looking back on it, I was just sick,” Peoples says.
The next morning, Peoples waited until about 10:30 to try tracking the buck down with his dad. He had no clue whether he was going to find the deer. Of if he did find it, if it’d still be alive.
“I called a buddy of mine who has a Raven crossbow. I was thinking in a situation where I come across this deer and I can’t get to him and he’s injured, I’m not too proud to shoot him with a crossbow. We need to get the job done at this point,” Peoples says.
The two went to where Peoples last saw the deer and didn’t find anything. They walked to where he was when Peoples shot him last year and didn’t find anything there, either. Peoples sent his dad north while he walked east along the creek, hoping to see the buck down near the water. Eventually, Peoples said a prayer.
“And I kid you not, I took three steps and I smelled him. I stopped and looked up and there he was, eight yards away, laying there. At that point I put another arrow in him, and he stood up. Then I put another arrow in him, and it hit his heart, and he fell,” Peoples recalls. “At this point I’m thinking this deer can’t be killed, so I’m yelling at my dad ‘Bring me the crossbow! Bring me the crossbow!’ But I peek over into the creek and he’s lying there. I get emotional just thinking about it. He was like a dream deer.”
In the end, it took four shots, two in the ribs and two in the vitals from point-blank, to kill the buck. The first emotion Peoples felt was relief, followed by sadness. Excitement came third. Peoples guessed the buck was 6 years old and between 280 and 300 pounds on the hoof. He likely won’t have the buck scored, but he estimates he’s over 200 inches thanks to the incredible mass. More than anything, Peoples is blown away by the buck’s tenacity.
“When we caped him and looked, I wasn’t that disappointed with my shots. I put it in his ribcage twice,” Peoples says. “So I think it’s more a case of hats off to that old sucker for being so dang tough. He had very strong will.”