so you want to kill a

World-Record Whitetail?

Field and Stream - - GIANT - In­ter­view by Will Brant­ley Pho­to­graphs by The Voorhes

Are you ready for the sud­den fame, social-me­dia back­lash, and crazed an­i­mal-rights crowd? Stephen Tucker says it’s all to­tally worth it. Here’s how the Ten­nessee farmer’s life changed af­ter tag­ging the largest hunter-killed whitetail buck ever

On the chilly morn­ing of Nov. 7, 2016, Stephen Tucker fol­lowed a sparse blood trail into a creek drainage in Sum­ner County, Tenn. His muz­zleloader was loaded and ready for an­other shot, but it wasn’t needed. The blood trail im­proved, and at the end of it lay a 47-point non­typ­i­cal buck. Tucker knew the deer was spe­cial. His brother-in-law sug­gested that it could even be a state record. By the next evening, Capt. Dale Grand­staff of the Ten­nessee Wildlife Re­sources Agency, an of­fi­cial Boone and Crock­ett mea­surer, green-scored the buck at 3082⁄8 inches. That would make it larger than the non­typ­i­cal, hunter-killed record of 307 5⁄8 from Iowa that had stood for 15 years. Grand­staff said to Tucker: “Put this rack some­where safe. What you’re hold­ing could be life chang­ing.”

It was. Within 24 hours, the words world-record Ten­nessee buck leaked onto social me­dia, and the quiet, 27-year-old farmer was hurled into a me­dia frenzy and a whirl­wind of on­line ru­mors, spec­u­la­tion, and scru­tiny.

More than a year has now passed since Tucker killed his buck. In this ex­clu­sive in­ter­view, he re­veals in his own words what it’s like to kill a record-set­ting whitetail in the mod­ern, al­ways con­nected age of deer hunt­ing. —W.B.

First time I saw the buck, I was on a trac­tor leav­ing a field where my un­cle and I had been shelling corn.

I knew it was a big deer, but I thought he had corn­stalks or some­thing caught in his rack. I didn’t re­al­ize it was all antler points un­til I got my first trail-cam­era pho­tos of him. I didn’t sleep for three nights af­ter see­ing those first pic­tures.

I waited un­til early Novem­ber, when the Ten­nessee muz­zleloader sea­son opened, to hunt the buck.

I thought the be­gin­ning of the rut was my best chance at see­ing him in day­light. I set up a ground blind on the edge of the corn­field, and on open­ing morn­ing he stepped out at 30 yards. I shoul­dered my muz­zleloader, aimed, and …

snap. The gun mis­fired. I thought I’d blown it for sure. But then two morn­ings later, he came out in the same spot, and this time the gun went off. [Read the com­plete story of Tucker’s hunt at fiel­dand­ tucker­buck.]

The mo­ments af­ter we re­cov­ered him were a blur.

It was just an un­be­liev­able feel­ing. We knew he was big, but none of us were think­ing world record un­til Dale Grand­staff rough scored it. I didn’t re­al­ize then how crazy things were about to get.

That first week af­ter I killed the buck was a whirl­wind.

My phone was ring­ing non­stop. Mag­a­zines, news­pa­pers, and web­sites were call­ing and ask­ing for in­ter­views and of­fer­ing money for my pic­tures. The stress ac­tu­ally made me sick—so much that it was hard for me to even go to work for a cou­ple days.

Other than the Ten­nessean [news­pa­per], I didn’t give any in­ter­views the first week.

I didn’t want to jump into any­thing. The amount of at­ten­tion was ex­cit­ing and unreal, but I was ner­vous about it all, too. I ended up giv­ing the story to FIELD &

STREAM, and it was picked up on CNN, USA To­day, and Fox News. I was on the cover of North Amer­i­can Whitetail.

I’m not a big Face­book guy.

I ac­tu­ally deleted my per­sonal page, though I do have a page called “Tucker Buck,” where I post up­dates on out­door-show ap­pear­ances and story links. Hon­estly, social me­dia was rough, es­pe­cially in the be­gin­ning. For the first few days af­ter I killed the buck, my bud­dies told me to just stay off Face­book be­cause of things peo­ple were say­ing— claim­ing the buck was high­fenced or poached. Once it made na­tional news, an­i­mal­rights ac­tivists were send­ing me death threats. I didn’t re­spond to any of that stuff. I tried my best to ig­nore it.

It was crazy the num­ber of peo­ple who thought that I sold the rack.

Within a cou­ple days, peo­ple were claim­ing that Bass Pro Shops or Ca­bela’s bought it for big money. Some of those ru­mors are still out there. Just the other day, I had a guy tell me that his nephew told him I’d sold the antlers for $300,000. I haven’t sold the antlers, and have never had an of­fer. I haven’t heard a word from Bass Pro or Ca­bela’s.

Af­ter the 60-day dry­ing pe­riod, Boone and Crock­ett panel-scored the buck in Nashville.

They started early in the morn­ing and fin­ished around three o’clock. Their final score was 3123∕8. I was all ex­cited. Scen­tLok had in­vited me to the ATA [Archery Trade As­so­ci­a­tion]

Show in In­di­anapo­lis, and we jumped in the truck and headed that way, with me on cloud nine. I had the antlers with me, and all day at the show peo­ple were ask­ing me about that final score. But then Dale Grand­staff called me and said he had some bad news. Boone and Crock­ett didn’t want to ac­cept the score be­cause they weren’t sure about the mea­sure­ments on the pal­mated ar­eas of the rack. They asked to mea­sure it again.

The sec­ond time it was panel scored, Justin Spring from B&C’s Mon­tana head­quar­ters came out.

He was a cool guy—and when they started ad­ding it up, he said, “Stephen, you’re go­ing to love me. I made this deer grow to 315!” But there was a math er­ror ad­ding up the score sheets. When they tal­lied it all up again—and checked it sev­eral times—it was 312 even. That’s the buck’s final, of­fi­cial score,

312. It won’t ac­tu­ally be

rec­og­nized as the new record un­til the 30th B&C Big Game Awards in 2019.

Peo­ple told me that Milo Han­son never worked a day in his life af­ter get­ting the world-record typ­i­cal.

If that’s true, good for him. I must not have played my cards right. I got some en­dorse­ments, and I get to make some ap­pear­ances at out­door shows and ex­pos. I got a new Knight muz­zleloader out of it. But I still have to work on the farm ev­ery day. I saw a story not too long ago that said some­thing like, “Hunter cashes div­i­dends on Ten­nessee buck.” It made it sound like I got rich off a deer, which just isn’t true.

I re­mem­ber the first kid who came up to me at an out­door show, want­ing an au­to­graph.

That was re­ally cool. I never dreamed I’d be giv­ing au­to­graphs or pos­ing for pic­tures. Some­times I want to tell peo­ple that just be­cause I killed a big deer, it doesn’t make me a bet­ter hunter than any­one else. I’ve re­ally tried not to let that stuff go to my head. I’ve prob­a­bly done a dozen out­door shows, and I re­ally en­joy them.

The real antlers don’t go to the shows any­more.

The rack is locked up in a vault. I have an idea of what it’s worth, and I can’t af­ford the in­sur­ance I’d need to keep it in my home. I have three replica mounts of the buck. I guess the real rack is for sale, for the right price, but for now I’m more con­cerned about keep­ing it safe. I don’t know what I want to do with it—but I’d like for it to be dis­played some­where peo­ple can see it and ap­pre­ci­ate it. The deer de­serves that.

The place where I killed the buck is gone.

Right now, right where my ground blind was sit­ting, are track hoes and ’doz­ers. That part of the farm was sold, and it’s be­ing cleared for more houses. I knew it was com­ing. Still, to ac­tu­ally look at it—it’s sad.

This year, I’ve got a 230inch typ­i­cal on cam­era.

[Laughs.] Not re­ally. The big­gest buck I’ve seen so far this year might score 140.

I’d be per­fectly happy with a deer like that, so long as he’s ma­ture. I like pick­ing out one ma­ture deer and hunt­ing him. It doesn’t have to be a gi­ant. If any­thing, last year’s sea­son taught me to be a bet­ter, more care­ful hunter. I’m obsessive about my trail cam­eras, scent con­trol, and prac­tic­ing with my bow—and my muz­zleloader. I think muz­zleloader sea­son will al­ways be my favorite.

I guess in this day and age, killing a world-record deer and all the at­ten­tion it causes could ac­tu­ally make a per­son mis­er­able.

That’s al­most hard to be­lieve. I tried to keep this all positive and fun—and for the most part, it was. I wouldn’t trade the ex­pe­ri­ence for any­thing.

On a Pedestal This is one of three replica mounts Tucker had made of his buck.

Record Taker Stephen Tucker with the Knight muz­zleloader he used to shoot the buck.

The Kicker The Tucker Buck was panel scored at 312 even.

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