On November 16, 2018, Brita Turbyfill killed an outsized 12-point buck that green-scored 184 ⅞ inches (net), which almost certainly puts it on the shortlist of 2018’s largest typicals. But there’s more to the story than inches of antler. As tales of big bucks often go, Brita’s is full of ups, downs, and even moments of doubt when she threatened to give up on deer hunting for the year altogether.
If you’ve ever had to persevere through a tough season, you’ll want to sit back and read this one.
Brita grew up hunting and fishing in rural Illinois, often with her dad, Bruce Lewis, on the family farm. She killed her first deer on the place. Partly as a product of the farm’s location in Jasper County, Brita has always been around big bucks. She’s had the opportunity to hunt other places—she lives in North Carolina now with her husband, Michael—but she looks forward to a trip back to the Midwest during the rut each fall.
The hunting there has always been good—but in the past decade, Bruce has become especially strategic about the wildlife management and hunting on the place. “My dad has always been a deer hunter, but he’s become much more serious about it,” Brita says. These days, the Lewis farm is about evenly split between cover and food, with a combination of corn and beans, mature timber, quail buffers, CRP, and plenty of food plots. In all of that, there are bunch of stands, too, set for every conceivable wind direction.
In 2017, it seemed to be the year of the up-and-comers. Five or six bucks shooter bucks—some with record-class potential—were roaming around on camera. The best of them was a giant typical that the crew nicknamed Rockstar. Michael, Bruce, and Brita all agreed that the buck was young with the potential to turn into something special.
“We said we’d pass on him, given the chance,” Brita admits, “But secretly, I think we were all glad that he never gave us that chance. Passing him last year would’ve been really tough.”
The Kicker 9 Saga
Hopes were high in 2018. Michael had killed one of the bucks from the previous year, but all indications were that the others had survived. It seemed like there would be a good crop of big deer to hunt in the new season. But that hope didn’t come to fruition. All but one of the bucks—a deer they named the Kicker 9—had vanished. Rockstar was the most notably absent.
“We kept waiting for a picture of him, in velvet, then during the rut—and they just never came,” Michael says. “In 2017, our trail cameras were super-helpful. This season, they were mostly just depressing.”
Still, the Kicker 9 was a regular on the farm, and Bruce put forward an “all hands on deck” approach to hunting him. Brita and Michael came in around Halloween to bowhunt the best part of the rut, and at the time, the Kicker 9 was hanging out right behind Bruce’s house. Brita had an encounter with the deer first, when it chased a doe across the neighbor’s cornfield and into the drainage she was hunting, 35 yards past her stand. She couldn’t stop him for a shot. That evening, he reappeared on the same trail, and this time stopped at 40 yards. Brita missed him clean.
“I never shoot past 30 yards on deer, and soon as I missed, I was kicking myself,” she said. “I swore I’d never take another 40-yard shot again. But, it was windy and the buck really didn’t know what had happened. I climbed down, got my arrow, and snuck out of there.”
Brita traded stands with Michael for the evening, and sure enough, the Kicker 9 trotted past again, chasing a couple does. “I got drawn twice, and had one marginal, 40-yard shot at him,” Michael says. “I decided to wait. One of the does ended up winding me, and they blew out of there.”
No doubt the crew was in the action—but it seemed like the Kicker 9 was the only shooter buck around. Michael took a detour for a couple days and ended up filling his buck tag on a buddy’s farm elsewhere in Illinois, leaving just Brita and Bruce with antlered deer permits to fill. On the Tuesday evening before gun season, the crew’s group text thread lit up: Bruce had shot the Kicker 9 with his crossbow.
Luck Gone South
The hit didn’t look good, and Bruce knew it. But the blood trail was initially promising. Joined by Brita and Michael, they followed the track across a cornfield to the edge of a treeline, where they decided to back out for the night. Michael called a local tracker with a blood dog, who advised them to follow the trail a little farther the next morning, in the daylight, before calling in the dog’s assistance.
Before hitting the trail, Bruce and Brita decided to sit in stands for a couple hours near where they’d lost the blood, mainly to keep an eye for the Kicker 9 in the event that it was still wounded and on its feet. “Basically, I was just sitting there waiting for the time to climb down and look,” Brita says. “I was just completely down in the dumps. Then, I had my first encounter with Rockstar.”
The stud that seemed to have vanished the season prior suddenly came crashing through the woods after a doe, 35 yards away.
“I saw her, then a small buck, and then Rockstar’s antlers coming through the woods. I knew immediately what deer it was. I grunted, but he wanted nothing to do with it. He chased her out into the cornfield. Still, I was thrilled that there was another shooter in the area.”
Michael was out glassing from his truck, and he actually watched the giant buck run the doe out into the field and, eventually, just 40 yards past his front bumper.
“I saw him cross the road and onto the neighbor’s place—a place that we know gets hunted. But, we ended up texting the neighbor and told him that we’d seen the big buck in the area, crossing onto his property.”
The mood was tempered as the search then resumed for the Kicker 9. After following the blood for 400 yards, they called in the tracking dog, which was able to further the trail by another hundred or so yards before things finally played out.
“Dad had shot the deer on Tuesday evening, and we finally gave up on the track at 7 or 8 Wednesday night,” Brita says. “It was sickening.”
A Shot at Rockstar
Thursday was the final day of archery season before the gun opener. It was cold that morning, with a light dusting of snow, and Brita decided to sit the same stand where she’d seen Rockstar the day before. At that point, she was thinking it was just a matter of time before the neighbor killed the giant buck, since the deer had last been seen crossing that property line.
“The wind was still good, but I wasn’t 400 yards away from where we’d combed the farm with the tracking dog the night before,” she says. “I figured we’d spooked all the deer out, and my hopes were pretty low. But then at 8 in the morning, I looked up and Rockstar was walking right to me, from the opposite direction of where I’d seen him the day before. It was perfect. He passed by at 22 yards, walking, but going slow. I didn’t try to stop him—but I guess I should’ve. I don’t know if he jumped my string or got into my wind or what, but when I shot, he was broadside—and when the arrow got to him, he was facing almost straight away. I knew the shot wasn’t good and actually thought I’d missed him. But when I got down, there was hair and a piece of fat on the ground. I’d at least made contact, but I knew I didn’t kill him.”
Michael and Brita followed up on the buck’s tracks in the snow for several hundred yards without finding a drop of blood. Unbeknownst to them at the time, the same neighbor they had texted earlier captured a trail camera picture of Rockstar just minutes after Brita shot him. Despite the injury, the buck seems to have his head down, cruising for does.
“At that point, Dad and I were ready to give up. We were thinking Kicker 9 was dead in a ditch, never to be found, and Rockstar was nicked and spooked so bad that he’d never come back,” Brita says. “I didn’t even want to hunt anymore.”
Still, they stuck with it. Michael sat with Brita on opening morning of gun season, hoping to film. But the action was minimal. After climbing down for a quick lunch, they headed back to the stand at 2 in the afternoon. “We were only hunting a few hundred yards from my dad, and we actually saw his orange vest going through the woods, headed to his stand,” Brita says. “Then we heard a shot. It happened so fast that we thought he’d dropped his gun or something. But then Michael’s phone rang. Dad had jumped the Kicker 9 just 50 yards from his stand, and he dropped him with one shot. All the sudden, after all that bad news, we were all three on Cloud 9. It was just such a relief.”
With the 160-inch bruiser on the ground and Bruce’s tag filled, the story begins to get really crazy. There were just a couple hours of daylight left, and Michael and Brita decided to change stands.
“We were debating what to do. Get down and hug Dad and just celebrate the evening, or stay after it. We knew the deer we’d been hunting all fall was now dead. And we didn’t think there was any chance of seeing Rockstar again,” Brita says. “But we were right on the field edge, and we’d been so close to the shot, we thought we’d be better off backing into the timber, just in case a different buck was around that decided to stage up until dark. So we just moved to a different stand that was only 70 yards away.”
The two settled into the new spot, and split a Cliff bar for a snack. Brita looked up and almost immediately saw a deer headed their way.
“She just said, ‘Hey, there’s a deer.’ Calm as can be,” Michael recalls. “Then we both realized which deer it was. Rockstar was headed our way.”
Brita eased her gun, a Benelli M2 12-gauge, into position, dialed the magnification on her scope back, and waited as the giant buck ambled their way.
“Michael whispered for me to take my time,” Brita says. “I just couldn’t believe it was happening. I watched him walk through the timber, and onto a path 30 yards away. Bow range. I shot him, and he dropped in his tracks. He acted the way that you pray a deer will act.”
Bruce of course heard the shot, and immediately called.
“We intentionally waited until my dad got there before walking up on him for the first time,” Brita says. “We hugged. Cried. Thanked the Lord for the good fortune and apologized for the depression. It was indescribable.”
As for the two wayward arrows, Brita’s hit on Rockstar had passed through the hind leg, leaving a hole through the bone. The buck seemed to almost ignore the injury. Bruce’s hit on the Kicker 9 was low, passing through both legs and the bottom of the chest.
The story is a good lesson for us all. Bad shots happen. Deer are tough—especially mature bucks. But a bad shot doesn’t always mean you’re out of the game. After a tough season with a few missed opportunities, it can be easy to succumb to a deer depression hang it up for the year, believing you’ve used all your chances.
But you never know when there’s another chance in the cards. Neither Brita nor Bruce hung it up. It’s safe to say, they’re both glad to have stuck with it.