Three-Year Chess Match with Wisconsin Buck Ends at The Mudhole Stand

Big Game,White-Tailed Deer


Three-Year Chess Match with Wisconsin Buck Ends at The Mudhole Stand

Posted 2021-12-30T10:07:00Z  by  Josh Honeycutt

Elliott Smith finally crossed paths with the big buck he'd been hoping for

Rack Report Details
Buck:176 3/8 inches (green gross score)
Time of Year:Nov. 13, 2021
Place:Dodge County, Wisconsin
Weapon: Bow  Bowhunting 

Elliott Smith's 2021 buck scored 176 3/8 inches (green gross score). Image courtesy of Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith had one goal for his 2021 deer season — target a specific deer and kill it with his bow. That's never an easy task. It requires skill and discipline to pass on other bucks, and plenty of good fortune, too.

Smith had his heart set on a 5 ½-year-old deer he called R2. He had three years of history and a lot of encounters with the buck, and he hoped this would be the season they met for the final time.

R2 first showed up in 2019 as a 3 ½-year-old deer. Smith passed him up quite a few times that year with a bow and a gun. The buck stuck around for the late season, but they never found his sheds.

In 2020, the buck grew into a 160-class deer, and Smith missed him on Oct. 1. He snuck in behind me on a food source toward last light, and my arrow hit a sapling and stuck in it, he said. R2 got away clean. We had a few more encounters with him during the rut but he never got within bow range.

Then, during gun season, he passed on the deer with a bow because he was targeting a different buck. He ended up making it through gun season, and I decided that I wanted to let him go until 2021 to see if he could make a big jump again, Smith said. Once again, we were not able to find his sheds.

After a long history with the deer, Smith finally arrowed the buck on Nov. 13, 2021. Image courtesy of Elliott Smith

The infamous year of 2020 faded, giving way to 2021. The buck largely avoided trail cameras throughout summer. They didn't even see the giant feeding in ag fields, which was unusual. The season started, and they weren't sure if the deer would stick around for the long haul. But R2 did.

I did not see him much this year [while] hunting him, but trail-cam photos of him kept me positive, Smith said. I had one encounter with him, Oct. 21, on my walk out. That one didn't lead to a loosed arrow, though.

Skip forward to Nov. 13. It was cold, damp, and overcast. The temperature hovered around 34 degrees. It had rained the evening prior but had since stopped, and there was a northwest wind pushing through at about 10 to 12 mph. Conditions were right for Smith to hunt what he called the Mudhole Stand.

Sitting within some large, open hardwoods with small ridges and large ag fields around it, the stand is on top of a hill. To the east of it is a turnip food plot. To the west is a thick bedding area. A stand of big timber, followed by ag fields, stretches out to the north. And the large mudhole that gives the stand its name spreads out to the south.

Taken in Dodge County, Wisconsin, this deer lived in an area known for big bucks. Image courtesy of Elliott Smith

The morning hunt started with does and fawns walking back into the bedding cover. At about 7 o'clock, a great up-and-coming buck pushed some does through to the north. A young 10-pointer followed suit to the south. Then, a 3 ½-year-old 9-pointer followed a doe out of the food plot and up the ridge to the west. All the action kept him plenty entertained.

Around 11 a.m., I caught a glimpse of a bigger-bodied deer to the west, Smith said. There were some does milling around over there all morning, and R2 made his way in there to scent-check them. He scent-checked that group of does and walked off to the northwest, back in the direction he came from.

Knowing the buck was in the area, he held tight and decided to hunt that spot all day. Does and fawns continued milling around his stand throughout the hunt. It was nonstop movement.

Later in the afternoon, a good 3 ½- to 4 ½-year-old 8-pointer came in and pushed does around but quickly lost interest. As the afternoon went on, does and fawns continued filtering into view and meandered toward the food plot. Smith hoped for at least another sighting of the big deer.

Recovering this buck was a feeling of pure elation. Image courtesy of Elliott Smith

He got his wish, and more. With about 20 minutes of legal light left, he caught a glimpse of a deer walking toward his stand location. It was a doe. Seconds later, R2 materialized behind her. Both were moving very slowly.

She made her way right to the base of our tree and stood there for four minutes trying to pick us off, Smith said. R2 followed her but stayed about 15 yards behind. At one point, I considered taking a 38-yard shot, but decided to wait for better.

The doe eventually started moving again, and R2 followed. That's when Smith drew his bow, anchored, and settled his pin. The buck stopped, and he took the broadside, 14-yard shot opportunity. The arrow struck the back of the lungs — a lethal hit. The buck ran about 40 yards and bedded down.

We thought he was going to die right there, so we crawled down and went back to the truck to get some better lights and wait for a couple friends, Smith said. When we got to where we saw him lay down, he wasn't there. I was sick to my stomach and nervous.

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They considered backing out, but with rain incoming, they decided to start blood trailing. They immediately found good blood and stayed on it the entire time. They went about 250 yards and recovered the expired deer in what Smith believes was his core area.

I couldn't be happier to have harvested such a great animal, he said. But at the same time, you get that sense of sadness after following and documenting an animal for so many years. R2 was such a fun deer to hunt, and I couldn't be more thankful to have taken him. He was a legend of a deer. And a giant Wisconsin whitetail.

He thanks his father and friends, who helped him prepare during the offseason, as well as helped with filming the hunt and recovering the buck. And of course, his fiancée, Aleana, for putting up with my obsession and the crazy amount of time and dedication I put into this each year.

This deer means so much, Smith said. It has been a goal of mine to target a specific whitetail and harvest it. It feels so good to finally accomplish that goal through all the highs and lows of multiple seasons. It proves that patience, persistence, and perseverance pay off.

The big Dodge County, Wisconsin, buck scored 176 3/8 inches (green gross). You can watch the hunt on Midwest Whitetail.

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