My initial encounter with the whitetail buck I would later name "The Big Guy" occurred during late August back in 1991.
Encounters with whitetail bucks of trophy caliber tend to stick with you, especially if you're already inclined to appreciate the animal's rare existence. I was on my way home from photographing deer, driving slowly along a country road. To my right I suddenly spotted a buck sporting antlers like I had never seen in the wild. The deer was feeding on bur oak acorns, his awesome antlers backlit by the western sky. At that instant, I vowed to photograph the huge deer.
The next morning I scouted the stand of bur oaks where the buck had been feeding. Bur oaks are the first to drop their acorns, usually in late August. Past experiences taught me deer flock to the oak stands as soon as the acorns are ripe. Taking into account the wind, sun angle and direction in which I suspected the deer would approach, I built a small blind.
I was in the blind early that evening, despite 85-degree heat.
All was quiet for the first hour save for the hum of a swarm of mosquitoes that tried desperately, and succeeded, to find even the tiniest openings in my clothing.
About a half-hour before sunset, a doe and her fawn materialized and slowly fed in my direction. Their orange coats of late summer were in stark contrast to the surrounding green vegetation. The doe was ever-vigilant, her fawn less so. I suppressed the urge to photograph the pair, knowing that once frightened, they would alert any other deer in the area, including "The Big Guy." But the light was fading fast and I was concerned the big buck might wait for the coolness of dusk to feed. When the doe and fawn were a mere 15 yards away, they suddenly spotted my blind. I figured if I were to get any photos that evening, I would need to act fast, because the two deer were about to reveal my presence.
Then the pair's attention was abruptly diverted. Following their stare, I nearly gasped out loud as an enormous buck — "The Big Guy" — stepped into view. His heavy velvet-covered antlers spread beyond his ears. But it was the buck's tall antler tines that were most impressive. Eight symmetrical tines reached for the sky, with an odd ninth point adding some character.
Nearly as impressive was the buck's massive body. His well-muscled front shoulders were broad and powerful, tapering back to smaller hind quarters — the characteristic build of mature male whitetails. I could only imagine his appearance two months from then when, like a well-trained athlete, the buck would be in peak physical condition in preparation for the November breeding season.
At the sound of the camera's shutter, the huge deer cooperated nicely by framing itself between two oaks and stood while I took several photos. The wind direction was right and the massive buck was unable to catch my scent.
It didn't take long for the buck to retreat in the direction from which he had come. He didn't leave in the panicked helter-skelter fashion of a lesser whitetail, but one of measured caution.
As darkness settled, I walked toward my truck. In my hand was a roll of 35-millimeter film that contained what I still consider my all-time favorite series of photos of a whitetail buck.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.