October 20, 2022
By Lynn Burkhead
As the football crazy state of Oklahoma watched October’s annual Red River Showdown between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns a few days ago at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, bowhunter Ken Simpson was watching the clock.
Because after having grown up in Ohio and being a dedicated Ohio State Buckeyes fan, the 43-year old Tulsa Police Department lieutenant wasn’t really paying much attention to the gridiron happenings down in Big D at the Texas State Fair. Instead, he was waiting for the right time to head into the deer woods for a chance encounter with a buck that might as well be a ghost.
That buck was very much real though, a big non-typical that had roamed the local woods for several years now. Now on the downhill slide at 7 ½ years of age, the old timer buck was keeping to a pretty set schedule as the early days of the 2022 Oklahoma archery season started to slide by. And with the weather conditions offering Simpson a chance, he was hoping that their paths would finally cross in a way that only a deer hunter can understand.
After all, as the ancient King Solomon once wrote in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
A man of deep faith himself, Simpson hoped that on this particular Saturday afternoon, four long years of seeing this buck appear in the early season, disappear well before Halloween, and then reappear again after New Year’s Day, would finally result in a chance to let an arrow go towards the aging monarch’s 10-ring.
“I’ve known of this deer for four years, but despite that, I never had even one close encounter with him,” said Simpson, whose wife Tara and daughters Piper and Miley also join him on occasion in the Sooner State deer woods. “Until I finally got him last weekend, I had never seen him on foot in person. I’d get some pics of him before the season and in early October, then he’d disappear, and I’d get some again in January. That was it.”
Those mysterious photos from Simpson’s Tactacam Reveal game camera showed a monarch of the local woods that had everything that a buck needed to make a magazine cover like Petersen’s Bowhunting. The buck also had everything necessary to place highly in the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Cy Curtis scoring program if the hunter could ever catch up with the whitetail of his dreams.
Simpson grew up wanting to deer hunt, dreaming of the big bucks he’d see in magazines and on TV shows. He kept asking his dad Ken Simpson III if he could tag along on gun season hunts in Ohio back in the 1980s, but his dad resisted until he felt his young son was old enough and ready. That opportunity finally came when Ken Simpson IV was eight, but it would be nearly 10 years down the road before he would take a buck, despite hunting with a shotgun, and later on, a Horton crossbow. When you’re young, busy in school, and playing quarterback and linebacker for the local high school football team, time is short — and deer aren’t always cooperative when you want them to be.
But every now and then, they are. And armed with information gleaned from a stenographer pad journal that Simpson had kept showing the buck’s movement patterns at various times, he felt a good bit of confidence as he finally headed out the door on that fateful early autumn day.
“I got him on camera early this year,” said Simpson, a police department lieutenant. “When I go back and look at the log I kept, I put my camera out in early August, and I started getting pictures of him in velvet. While that was intriguing, I also knew that over the past few years, those pictures would evaporate with him slipping out (of the area) sometime after the first of October.”
Simpson’s log — which chronicled the date, the time of day the buck would show up at a corn feeder, the direction he had approached from, the direction he had departed, and the weather and wind direction — helped him figure out when he could hunt as the clock ticked and the buck’s mid-autumn range prepared to change.
“I had learned that I could generally hunt him out of that lock-on treestand only on a north wind,” said Simpson. “Of course, that’s kind of rare in early October since the wind in Oklahoma is predominantly from the south then. But the forecast showed a wind change and some cooler weather, so I was hopeful that would get him up on his feet when the wind shifted to the north.”
Like a real-life hobgoblin, the buck’s secretive travel tendencies and the rare window of having the right wind direction added to the mystery. And with the Sooner State’s muzzleloader season and gun deer season approaching, not to mention the old monarch’s advanced age, and Simpson knew his chances to tag this dream buck were starting to slip away.
“When I first saw him on camera four years ago, my jaw just dropped and I thought ‘Is this for real?,’” said Simpson, who is a National Archery in the Schools (NASP) instructor and usually shoots a Mathews Traverse compound bow).
“He was so big that he kind of looked like a horse, body wise, that is. As I got more pics of him, he dominated my dreams and waking thoughts. I shared the photos with my dad and no one else, even if it was kind of hard to keep this all to myself. I knew that if I went around hooping and hollering about this deer, it would draw the attention of others to him like a moth to a flame and I might not end up getting a chance to tag him.”
In addition to playing his deer hunting cards close to the vest, Simpson also opted to trade in his compound bow for a PSE Fang crossbow, a well-used family hunting apparatus that would be pressed into service since Ken’s upcoming traditional bowhunt at the legendary McAlester Army Ammunition Plant had limited most of his summer practice range time to dialing in stick-and-string shooting skills with a recurve bow.
As the Oklahoma archery season brought no encouraging results earlier in the season’s first week on a thin north wind, the weekend weather change found Simpson finally in his stand at mid-afternoon on Saturday, Oct. 8 with a sunny sky and a temperature near 70 degrees.
A short while after settling into his treestand — and using new ScentLok Savanna clothing he had purchased for his upcoming trad bowhunt — Simpson spotted a mature doe and a yearling doe, and the hunt was on.
“I knew I was in the money because of previous trail cam photos,” he said. “But the light (north) wind worried me a bit because I’m at the highest point on a slight hill and that five mph wind would blow a bit, and then almost completely stop.“
For awhile, the mature doe scent-checked the air with her nose held high. When she settled down, convinced that everything was ok in the woods, the evening progressed in steady fashion as a semi-parade of does and smaller bucks came and went. Eventually, there were five deer nosing around within 20 yards of Simpson’s stand. And that’s when he heard another deer approaching quietly, steadily.
“I was watching the other deer, their reactions, their eyes, and their body language,” said Simpson. “I was also slowly reaching up to take my crossbow off the hanger and bring it down to me (in case it was the bruiser buck). And all of a sudden, I see him, and all of those antlers, and I thought, ‘Holy cow, there he is!’”
For just a moment or two, Simpson had trouble believing in what he was seeing.
“He was bigger in person than I had thought he was in those pictures,” he said. “I was thinking 190 to 200 inches of deer, the buck of a lifetime. When he stepped out into the clearing, he looked like a huge mule deer against all of those other little whitetails. When he stepped out, all of those others were like ‘Yup, this is your corn dude, we’re out of here.”
As the buck made his way closer, Simpson says he never really got buck fever, crediting his training as a police officer for that. Using what is called diaphragmatic breathing, Simpson inhaled and exhaled with his stomach muscles, calming his heartrate and making his nervous system work for him — not against him — as the shot opportunity of a lifetime closed toward a spot 20 yards away.
He also remembers looking at the trees, thinking about an inspirational passage he had read from Christian theologian A.W. Tozer on how people of faith are grounded in Christ no matter how their lives turn out. And as the serene moment played out, Simpson realized that all he wanted was to make a clean, killing, ethical shot.
When his slow movement brought the crossbow into shooting position, and the scope’s crosshairs settled just behind the buck’s ribcage as it slightly quartered away, Simpson went on autopilot and the shot was suddenly away. At impact, the big deer bolted, ran down the hill, and disappeared.
As everything settled back down and got quiet again, the woods were almost cathedral like for Simpson and he was able to spend some time quietly thinking about the past four years, and to offer up a few heavenward prayers of thanks.
“For me, I can’t separate my faith from my family life, my work, and even my hunting,” he said. “Hopefully, it shows up in everything I do, even chasing a big buck in the Oklahoma woods. It’s the foundation of everything. Like C.S. Lewis once said, it’s learning to see God in everything (of life).”
A short while later, a few deer started filtering back in Simpson’s direction, minus the king of the woods.
“I was confident in the shot because I saw where it hit him, I saw that bolt zip in and the fletching disappear,” he said. “And I knew it was the perfect shot angle, too. But the woods are so thick in there, I didn’t want to risk bumping him and getting him up in case he wasn’t finished. I didn’t want him running off, so with a cool night upcoming, I decided to let darkness fall and take up the trail first thing the next morning.”
Simpson does admit that he stared at the ceiling and prayed a few more times in the long overnight hours, knowing that the Sooner State coyotes would be prowling about. After a few hours of fitful sleep, he showed up with his work partner, hunting buddy, and taxidermist friend Kevin Scalf, and the pair went to work blood trailing the deer.
“I got up in my treestand, directed Kevin to where I had last seen the buck, and then we went about 20 yards and found the first blood. We then had to get down on our hands and knees at times, going through thorny saplings, sticks everywhere, and all kinds of thick stuff. It was easy to see why deer lived in there because it was full of security cover, ample browse, and nothing could approach them without them being alerted. It was a deer sanctuary, I guess.”
Finally, as the search reached the bottom of the hill, Ken stood up at the edge of some briars to stretch and look around at where the buck might have traveled next. And when he did so, Simpson looked over and saw the buck’s back and its antlers sticking high up into the morning air only 15 or 20 yards away.
“I remember just thanking God for this and praying the whole time, I was incredibly thankful,” said Simpson. “I also remember thinking that this kind of moment will probably never happen again in my lifetime, so I stood there for a few seconds, just soaked it all in, and enjoyed the moment. Then I called out to Kevin, and we walked over there and got our hands on that rack.”
If the long preparation, the hunt itself, and the outcome seemed a bit surreal to Simpson, cold hard calcium in his hands confirmed that his faith in a buck he had never seen had suddenly materialized into real life sight. He took a photo or two and started texting his dad, the man who got him into the sport years ago.
“My dad is my best friend,” said Simpson. “It was so incredible to share that with him, to get those texts coming back that said, ‘Hey son, good job!’ and then a congratulatory phone call.”
Simpson also soon communicated with the landowner, then a good friend, and also his bowhunting mentor Carl Gomez — a retired ODWC game warden — an official Cy Curtis measurer, and his wife’s uncle. When Gomez put a measuring tape to the buck’s rack last week, it confirmed 17 scorable points, an inside spread of 20 inches, good mass, and a gross score of just more than 190 inches.
In the several days that have passed since the big buck went down, Simpson says his feet have barely touched the ground.
“I’ve since discovered that others were aware of him, some were able to hunt him, and he was kind of the area’s Loch Ness Monster,” he chuckled. “I’m also aware of what a great blessing this was from God, an undeserved gift. I definitely don’t feel worthy of being the hunter who got to take an animal of this caliber.”
But Ken Simpson was that humble hunter, being a part of an all-American tale in the nations’ deer hunting heartland, a story about faith, family, being in the woods, and a season of time when lots of faith, prayer, and dreams collided on a spectacular autumn afternoon.
Because sometimes, October’s monster buck dreams actually come true, right?