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#WhitetailWednesday: The Story of the Wyoming Monster That Still Haunts My Dreams

buck
Travis Smola

This is one buck I’ll never forget seeing. 

For today’s #whitetailwednesday, I’m going to tell you a personal big buck story. I wish I could tell you it was one of a successful hunt I had. But that’s just not the case.

Talk to any hunter and they’ll likely have a story of that ONE buck they saw ONE time hunting or not, that haunts their dreams.

This one is mine.

It all started in late August of 2014. I’m Michigan born and raised, but I lived for a while out in the shadow of Yellowstone National Park, working in Cody, Wyoming.

I didn’t stay in northwest Wyoming permanently and I also didn’t hunt there.  The reasons are varied and complicated and I won’t get into them here. All you really need to know is this part of the Equality State is an unbelievable sportsman’s paradise.

Even though I wasn’t hunting, I spent a great deal of time watching and photographing the wildlife.

In those three months I saw a little of everything, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, black bears, elk, golden and bald eagles, and even bighorn sheep. I actually filled many of my evenings after work just cruising around Cody photographing the numerous “town deer” that live within the city limits.

Travis Smola

But I quickly discovered whitetails were few and far between. I was starting to doubt there were any until I spotted a couple of scrawny does in mid-September.

Even then, it was another month at least before I spotted an approximately 100-inch buck. At this point I was convinced there likely weren’t any whitetails of a notable size out here, so I just kind of quit looking for them.

My time in Wyoming was quickly coming to a close, but I ended up not scheduling my move back until almost Thanksgiving so I could enjoy the area as much as possible before going back to Michigan. My parents, having some free time, decided to come out and help with the move.

Also, they just wanted the opportunity to see the American West in the winter months.

This is where the story of the biggest whitetail I’ve ever seen begins. Once my parents arrived, I had one day to take them out to see all the wildlife in the area. The big focus of morning that day was the highway leading out to Yellowstone. The park was closed for the year at this point, but I had spent the days prior photographing the herds of wintering bighorn sheep that had come down out of the mountains and into Wapiti Valley.

This was was a special day. After seeing the sheep, we also spotted a herd of over 200 elk and watched two big mule bucks get into a knock-down, drag-out fight right in front of said elk herd!

Travis Smola

It was by far the best day I’d had yet in the state for wildlife sightings, but the best was yet to come.

Later in the afternoon, we took a drive down another highway chock full of deer to the southwest of Cody. This was an area I had seen almost 500 mule deer in a two-hour drive the week before. We took our time cruising down the roads, stopping whenever we saw anything interesting like an elk or bald eagle (I’m not exaggerating. It’s absolutely unreal how much wildlife one sees in this part of Wyoming!).

Finally, we started making our way back to town when I spotted another mongo-sized mule deer out in an open filed less than 100 yards from the road.

Travis Smola

At least, I THOUGHT it was a mule deer on first glance.

When I trained my binoculars on the buck, I realized something was up. This buck didn’t have the tell-tale short brows of a mule deer. In fact, his brow tines were huge daggers. What’s more, he didn’t have forked G2s.

Travis smola

I quickly realized the buck didn’t have the trademark black-tipped tail of a mule deer. Nope, this deer had the tail of a whitetail!

Travis Smola

One thing you have to understand is that my home state of Michigan has almost half a million hunters. The pressure is immense. As soon as deer season starts, the bucks are scared of their own shadows.

A buck of the caliber that I was looking at in this moment would NEVER be caught dead or alive in an open field after the gunfire starts on November 15. It boggled my mind he was standing 100 yards off the road at 11 a.m.!

Travis Smola

The massive buck was busy tending to a doe and when a younger buck approached.

Travis Smola

But the big guy was having none of that and promptly ran his competitor back across the field before circling back to his lady.

Travis Smola

Here I was, over 1,100 miles from home, with the buck of a lifetime right in front of me, and I can’t do anything about it because I don’t have a license and he’s on private property. And I was leaving to go home the very next day!

Travis Smola

It was at that moment that I realized I was looking at the biggest whitetail buck I’d ever seen in the wild. It almost didn’t seem real. He looked like Bambi’s dad. A true monarch standing in an open field in broad daylight!

Travis Smola

After watching him for 20-some minutes, it was time to go. I drove off, leaving only with some photos and the memory of this monarch of the woods.

Travis Smola

I checked online field judging guides, which used the buck’s ears and eyes as guides to its size, and I’ve conservatively estimated the buck at 165-170 inches since then. That would make him a whopping 30 inches bigger than the largest buck I’ve shot here in Michigan.

Travis Smola

I’ve searched the net, trying to see if I can find a photo of a successful hunter with this buck, but no success.

I suppose I’ll never know for sure what happened to this animal. But his memory is forever burned into my mind. I know the odds of seeing another this size aren’t good, but this is the kind of stuff that’ll keeps me getting up on those frosty November mornings looking for another one just like him…

NEXT: CHECK OUT THESE 25 AWESOME VINTAGE DEER HUNTING PICTURES FOR #WHITETAILWEDNESDAY

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#WhitetailWednesday: The Story of the Wyoming Monster That Still Haunts My Dreams