Hunter Swims Icy River for 200-inch Buck

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Mike Reed passed on this deer once and regretted his decision. After getting a second chance, things got crazy

Rack Report Details
Buck: 201 5/8 inches (19 scorable points)
Time of Year: November 5, 2019
Place: Iowa
Weapon: Hoyt REDWRX Carbon RX-1

Midwest Whitetail's Mike Reed poses with his 201 5/8-inch buck. (Midwest Whitetail photo)

In August of 2018, “Midwest Whitetail’s” Mike Reed got pictures of what appeared to be a 3½-year-old deer with world-class potential. It already pushed 160 inches. “We think we maybe had photos of him in 2017, too, but in 2018, this young-looking deer had points all over and we thought ‘Wow, what a prodigy,’ and so the name stuck,” Reed says.

Prodigy it was.

Reed and fellow pro staffer Jared Mills (also co-owners of 41 North Media, which produces Midwest Whitetail) bought the farm where the buck lived in 2017. River bends, timber, crop fields, and marshy habitat throughout their new property almost certainly guaranteed consistent buck encounters. They didn’t hunt Prodigy in 2018. But by August 2019, the deer had blossomed into a giant 4½-year-old deer. Before the season, Reed and Mills agreed to pass him, despite the buck surpassing the 200-inch mark. “Initial thoughts of shooting this deer hadn’t crossed my mind because Jared and I just agreed we would pass him,” Reed says.

Passing a 200-incher sounds crazy, but both hunters knew other mature deer were around that were at least 5½ years old. But in October, they started getting daylight photos of Prodigy and second-guessing their plan.

As documented on “Midwest Whitetail,” Reed encountered the deer on November 2. The buck fed in a neighboring cornfield for quite some time, allowing him and his cameraman, Jake Sproule, to lay down some great footage.

Surprisingly, the buck meandered all the way in, from 350 yards out to just 35. And at 35 yards, Reed couldn’t believe the size of the deer. “After the hunt, Jared and I were talking about the encounter, and I told him, I won’t purposely hunt him — but I really don’t think I can pass him if I see him again,” Reed says. “I lost some sleep over that close encounter.”

The area gets pressured, with a lot of shotgun and muzzleloader hunting. Reed and Mills knew their neighbors weren’t on board with passing the buck, and so they agreed to shoot it, should either of them get another chance.

On November 5, Reed did get that second chance. It was a calm, cold, 28-degree morning. “The action was slow until around 9 a.m.,” he says. “We had two little bucks come by, but then we saw a coyote sneak in from behind. Being that it was slow, and we had lots of coyotes on camera, I decided to take it after making a little rabbit call with my mouth.”

“It probably wasn’t the best idea, but I decided to just swim across. I made it across no problem and pulled up on a log. I lifted his head and sure enough, it was him.”

While looking at footage of the coyote, Reed and his cameraman heard deep, guttural grunting. Sure enough, a doe, small 6-pointer and Prodigy come barreling through.

When the giant buck stopped at 17 yards, Reed didn’t let it walk by a second time. The shot was a double-lung hit, but judging by the footage, Reed wasn’t so sure. After a bit, they climbed down to look at the arrow, and there was bubbly blood at the site of impact. They called Mills and a few others and began tracking three hours later. “We got on the trail and blood was spraying out of both sides,” Reed says. “The blood trail actually crossed with that one of the coyote I’d shot earlier.”

They ended up accidently following the coyote tracks for about 80 yards before realizing it wasn’t the buck’s trail. They slowly backtracked and resumed Prodigy’s path.

As the party tracked closer to a large river, they spotted a bloody bed where Prodigy had laid down. “After finding his bed and following the blood trail into the river, we went downstream to check the bank and see if he changed his mind and returned to shore,” Reed says. “That’s where we found blood on the bank and fresh coyote tracks, but no deer tracks.”

Reed acquired permission from the neighbors to access their land and check out a large sandbar near his side of the river. “We got back in our trucks and drove over to their land and looked around for tracks and blood,” Reed says. “We didn’t see any. But downriver (and on the deep side), we spotted what looked like a deer caught under a dead tree.”

They ended up getting out a drone to check if it was. Sure enough, it was a deer, and a 200-inch one at that. “It probably wasn’t the best idea, but I decided to just swim across,” Reed says. “I made it across no problem and pulled up on a log. I lifted his head and sure enough, it was him. I ended up tying a rope around the deer and swimming back across.”

Easy, right?

“The footage on Midwest Whitetail made it look like a simple decision, but it wasn’t,” Reed says. “There was a lot of debating, and we weren’t sure if we should go grab a boat or what. Just swimming across ended up being the least time-consuming choice. I was exhausted by the end of this saga.”

The river was dangerously cold, but with towels and dry clothes back at the truck, Reed was able to quickly dry off and warm up. “We weren’t intending for the hunt to be this crazy, but the recovery process just made the whole hunt epic,” he says.

One thing is for sure — Reed will have a hard time beating the drama this hunt produced during the recovery process. He now has a 201 5/8-inch, 19-point buck to show for it, too.

Watch the full hunt on Realtree 365.

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