The Nightmare of a Whitetail Named Big Tobey

The author has had close calls with many memorable big game animals, but only one keeps him awake at night — a whitetail named Big Tobey.

The Nightmare of a Whitetail Named Big Tobey

As a little boy or girl, did you have nightmares? Were you scared of the boogeyman, haunted houses, and creepy crawlies that kept you awake at night? I was lucky, I guess, never having suffered insomnia from such things. It wasn’t until later in life that a few harrowing experiences wrecked my ability to fall into a deep, uninterrupted sleep. When I find myself staring at the ceiling far into the night, my wandering mind often turns to the “one that got away.”

If you’re an experienced bowhunter, you have several stories of close encounters that just didn’t work out. While I certainly do, one whitetail buck haunts me more than the others. If it had worked out, I would have been wrapping my fingers around the beams of a giant 5x5 with multiple stickers that I know would have grossed well over 200 Pope and Young inches. Here’s how it went down.

Southcentral Kansas, mid-November, hunting a new property that I’d spent the two previous days running and gunning looking for just the right spot. I found it in a small patch of woods a half-mile from a big ag field. The spot was centered around an old ramshackle barn, where a pair of ancient, broken-down barbed-wire fences intersected. Two long traditional rub lines met at the intersection, and one of the thick wooden gateposts had been rubbed to an hourglass shape over decades. There were fresh rubs up and down both lines, and several scrapes clustered nearby. The place reeked of big buck action. I had 6 days to hunt it. 

That’s the good news. The bad news? I was filming an episode for a now-defunct cable TV hunting show, and had a rookie cameraman with me. We chose a tree within shooting range of two fresh scrapes at the end of a rub line, and up the stands went. After 5 days, I’d rattled and called up a dozen different bucks, all 3.5-year-olds or less, and seen a couple 4.5-year-olds as well. It was awesome hunting, but I was “all in” waiting for Big Tobey. I just knew if we played the wind right and had patience, it was just a matter of time.

Down to the Buzzer

Day No. 6 broke with a misty drizzle, and for some reason I’ll never understand, the camera dude decided he wanted a different angle on things and set his stand in a different tree some 20 yards at a 90-degree angle off to my right. This proved to be a fatal mistake.

About 0830, I glanced over to check out the camera dude, and there he was — Big Tobey. A fricking gihugeous buck, ghosting silently down the rub line through the mist from the cameraman’s 6 o’clock, scent-checking the scrapes, not 25 yards away from me, and 30 yards directly behind camera dude’s tree. He was at my 4 o’clock, so I could not risk moving to turn into position to draw and shoot. The buck was walking a trail that would lead him directly under the camera dude’s butt! The cameraman and I made eye contact, and I mouthed, “Don’t move!” He received the message and, to his credit, froze.

Maybe 5 yards behind his tree and on my side of the trail were three tall junipers. Big Tobey took maybe 20 minutes to move 20 yards, just sensing his surroundings, before he ended up right behind those junipers, screening him from me. Now, I did not give a rat’s a** if we got this on film; I was going to shoot this buck if I could. So, with the camera guy barely breathing, I slowly swiveled to my right, leaned out of my tree on my harness, came to full draw, and tried with all my might to find a little hole in the junipers through which I could slip an arrow. No dice. I let down, skootched back into my tree, drew again, and aimed. No good. Big Tobey never moved.

So, knees knocking and with the heartrate of a hummingbird, I thought, patience. All that buck needed to do was take three steps forward, or three steps backward, and his chest would be exposed. I told myself, relax and let him make his move. When he does, you own him.

It took maybe 10 minutes, and it happened. He lifted his head, took in a snootful of air, then made his move. Not forward, not backward, but directly away from me, completely screened by the junipers, then out of the tree line — and out of my life forever. There was never a shot.

How did he know to go that way? I think he got a tiny sniff of the camera guy, and when he did, he simply walked off in the one and only direction that kept him alive. I think about this all the time, but I’ve seen it before with some really old critters. If they just sense that something is wrong, poof! They’re gone.

How do I know how big this monster was? The biggest whitetail buck I’ve ever arrowed is a perfect 10 that nets 178 P&Y points. Big Tobey made him look like a teenager, both in body and antler. I thought, well, I’ll just come back and hunt him again the next year. Sadly, the man who had access to this particular property lost it to an outfitter lease. To my knowledge, nobody ever saw Big Tobey again.

Yes, there have been other close encounters that haunt me. A huge Arizona bull elk. A monster Illinois whitetail. A giant Arizona muley. A caribou bull with antlers like Christmas trees. But none keep me awake like Big Tobey.


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