Neal Page spent Saturday morning the way he’s spent many past opening days: He headed out the door onto the land behind his house and worked his way along a swamp, hoping for the best.
There are big deer in those woods, Page knows. Back in the 1980s, he bagged a buck — his largest to that point — that weighed 231 pounds.
So when he skirted the edge of the swamp on opening day of the 2015 deer season and heard the snap of twigs, he wasn’t overly surprised.
“I look up and I could see something coming through the firs and hardwoods,” the 64-year-old Page said. “I could see the tips of horns coming through, and I thought, ‘Wow. That’s a good one.'”
Page waited for the buck to make its next move, and eventually, it stopped behind a tree.
“Of course, they always stop behind stuff,” he said.
Page said he already had a shot lined up, but wanted to make double-sure before he pulled the trigger.
“He’s heading toward me at a teeny bit of a trot,” he said. “I was leaning back against a tree and I had a bead on it, and I blatted: ‘Bap! Bap! Bap!’ Three times. The third time, he stopped and he kind of looked into the bog, because it echoed. When he stopped, bang, it was over.”
Page’s son-in-law, Mark McLain, was hunting nearby and heard the shot. He arrived a short time later and Page told him where to begin searching for the deer.
It didn’t take long for McLain to find it.
“He said, ‘There he is. He’s a good one. He’s a monster!'” Page said.
That, he was.
Page said the deer, a 10-pointer, weighed in at 282 pounds, field-dressed (but including the heart and liver). The buck’s neck measured 34 inches around.
After tagging the buck and taking it home to hang, Page quickly learned that he was a very, very popular man.
A steady stream of visitors — some of whom he’d never met — turned onto the gravel road he lives on, looking for “the monster.”
Page met everyone with a smile, and told his story over and over again.
“About 9:30 Saturday night, finally people stopped coming,” he said. “I didn’t hold anybody off. Everybody came in. [On Sunday], there must have been, at any time, 25, 35 people here.”
And Page was a gracious host.
“Everybody was whooping and hollering,” he said. “I make homemade jelly and jam and pickles, and they was putting the pickles to ’em. They had a lot of fun. Everybody had a lot of fun.”
Page said he would have been nearly as happy for a neighbor if they’d bagged the big buck, and admitted that when it comes to shooting a big deer, luck plays a big part.
“You can’t plan on anything. You can’t figure those [big bucks] out,” he said. “You just luck onto ’em.”