It's a Long read but interesting cause I never heard alot of it.
Got it from HEREThe Story
Author's Notes: The following story is Mitch Rompola's first-hand account behind the amazing chain of events in his three-year quest that lead to him bow harvesting his mega-buck. Unlike many previous articles on Rompola that focused on negative speculation, this author offers you an inside look at Rompola the deer hunter and the incredible depth of his passion for pursuing big whitetails. Mitch opens his complex world of bowhunting whitetails not to boast of his accomplishments, but to pass along 40 years of whitetail wisdom to help you, the reader, better understand the keys to successfully pursuing world-class deer.Insurmountable Odds
Our lives represent nothing more than the results of statistical probability. It's all a game of odds, really; jobs, spouses, the lives we lead, the deer we shoot.
Oh sure, we affect those odds somewhat every day by our actions and try to chart the course of our destinies. But try as we might, just what are the odds of any particular hunter taking the biggest whitetail of all time?
Consider that each year some 11,500,000 deer hunters go afield and only one of those fortunate hunters bags the biggest deer ever measured once every 40 to 50 years.
So how has just one man in his span of 40 years of hunting, harvested with a bow and arrow, close to 20 record-class bucks, three state records and probably the biggest typical whitetail ever taken with a gun or bow?
Quite simply by stacking the odds in his favor far beyond the limits of statistical probability.
A master architect of his own success, Mitch Rompola began beating the odds when he was 9 years old. Armed with only a recurve bow and undaunted confidence, he waded into a cattail marsh to take the biggest deer ever arrowed in Missouri before 1958. Mitch topped his 153-inch monster five years later by arrowing a 206-inch non-typical when he was 14. And by the time he reached 18 and left home for Michigan, he had tagged three record-class whitetails.
Thrown into a foreign environment of hunting the cedar swamps of northern Michigan, Mitch realized the odds were against him now. So he set out to topple the obstacles of probability through an understanding of the deer he hunted.
Even as a teenager he knew secret to bowhunting bucks anywhere hinged on a solid foundation of understanding through scouting. So he waded into the tangled cedar swamps scouting endlessly until he knew the whitetails as well as they knew each other. While the rest of society, including many a wanta-be expert hunter, went about their daily lives of work, family, recreation, friends and watching television, Mitch roamed the woods for miles, backtracking deer through the snow and logging their patterns.
Spending an estimated 200 to 300 days per year scouring the countryside and relentlessly interpreting deer sign, Mitch recorded everything related to the sign he saw. His log books read more like the chronicles of deer than a man. They contained every scrap of information including; rubs, scrapes, trails, sheds, sightings, how deer interacted and reacted to other deer, to other hunters, wind direction relative to movements, patterns relative to terrain, all the way into the psychology of why particular deer did what they did when they did it. The years of mounting log books with their associated maps and aerial photos only hinted at the compilation of understanding that grew behind the dark, predatory eyes of Mitch Rompola.
Simply by spending 100 to 1000 times more effort scouting than the average hunter, Mitch vastly skewed the odds of success in his favor. But the real key wasn't in the scouting time alone. It hinged on the cumulative lessons they offered to an ever-inquisitive mind. Armed with both his vast knowledge base and refined hunting skills, Mitch entered a life-consuming pursuit of big deer that perhaps only one in a million hunters would consider let alone commit their life to. Many a hunter could imagine the passion that would drive Rompola, but few could comprehend the depth of recluse man who lived their dream.
Yet, however extraordinary his commitment as a deer hunter, Mitch modestly scoffs, "Oh, I suppose anybody could really get to understand deer that much if they were willing to spend the time and effort."
The big "if" is in fact what separates Mitch from the rest of the deer hunting world. And it's that big if that helped him in tallying more record-class bucks with a bow than anyone in Michigan history, including taking the current state record typical, a massive 183 5/8-inch 12-pointer that he took in 1985.
So maybe it's not so statistically remarkable that if any hunter in North America could conceivably take the world's biggest typical whitetail, it should be Mitch Rompola. But then again, there's the vital role of the deer and its habitat in the equation, and ultimately connecting both hunter and deer. That's where probability appears to have fallen into the hands of fate.
Urban expansion forced Mitch in the summer of 1994 to look for a new hunting spot. He wasn't happy with the long drive to a remote area owned by friends, but he was encouraged by all the components the new spot offered for harboring big bucks.
Irony or fate also changed another facet of his hunting that year. A long-time skeptic of deer scents, he tried a new concept in deer lures, a synthetic scent invented by a local hunter, Kevin Kreh. "I had tried most of the deer scents over the years," said Mitch, "and experimented with different scents where I had lots of deer. But I got such mixed reactions and negative results with just 1 ½ year old naïve bucks, I would never try that stuff on a mature whitetail that I have put a lot of time into and risk a negative reaction."
So when Kevin approached Mitch with the idea of trying his Buck Fever Synthetic Scent, Mitch became more reluctant than ever. "Synthetic scent? I thought what kind of a crackpot do we had here? But Kevin had killed big deer over it so out of curiosity I tried it and was shocked at what happened. The deer literally tore the place to pieces during late spring when they were totally out of the rut. I knew this was really unusual behavior. So I tried some behind the house and also got excellent hits."
Armed with a scent product he felt he could trust, detailed maps and an unquenchable thirst to learn all he could about the new area, Mitch began deciphering the subtle deer sign there. The new spot offered a remote blend of twisting ridges that dumped in a vast cattail marsh, an ideal security hideout for reclusive bucks.
In addition to his usual scouting and logging tactics, Mitch began to develop a new technique of patterning bucks using the synthetic scent. Through trial and error, he learned how to create synthetic trap lines that helped him key in on specific spots where he might ambush a big buck. "It was mostly by accident that I learned how to effectively use the synthetic scent. At first I began putting it in a lot of areas to see where I would get the best hits. Out of 50 to 100 synthetic scrapes I found that some barely got hit while others got hit hard. So at first I used it primarily as a scouting tool to help eliminate low percentage areas. That really helped me learn about the bucks in the area. But it was a big parcel of land and I knew it would take a couple of seasons before I could hunt it effectively."
Again, Mitch was using statistical probability with the scent to focus his efforts. Just one more method of stacking the odds. And they began to pay off when during late archery season that year he tagged a 125-class buck from another area over one of his Buck Fever scrapes.
Near the end of the 1995 season, he began to understand the complex patterns of big bucks in the new spot. One snowy day while heading into his stand, he caught a glimpse of what the area had to offer. "I only saw this big buck for a second before it vanished into the cedars. It was huge. Then I saw where it had dug up the dirt and scattered it on top of a foot of snow while making a scrape. That big guy was still actively in the rut that late in the season."
Undaunted by the big bucks that eluded him there, Mitch took advantage of the harsh winter of 1996 when the vast marsh froze over. Suiting up like a Navy Seal ready for a mission, Mitch donned his scouting outfit and headed for the remote swamps and ridges. "The only way that I can successfully do all the continuous scouting that I need to and not be scent-detected by these big bucks, is to employ TOTAL SCENT CONTROL. That means that I'm totally covered with rubber from my neck to my toes. I wear strictly rubberized outerwear including rubber gloves, boots, chest wader liners, and a rain suit top. Plus I spray myself down with Vanishing Hunter. That knocks down any remaining scent. I simply can't leave any scent when I'm out there walking around and setting up my synthetic scrapes. Because if I leave human scent around my synthetic scrape areas, those big deer aren't going to put up with that for one second.
"Scent control is one of the biggest problems that foil average hunters. They put up their one stand, toss out their bait and they think they're pretty well set up to hunt. Then they go in and hunt it during the wrong wind currents without proper scent suppression and they're being patterned by the deer. It's supposed to be the other way around. And soon their hunting spot isn't that productive."
Walking the ridges and frozen swamps that winter, Mitch began unraveling the secrets of the big bucks that called the marsh home. He soon learned their recluse bedding hideouts and the narrow travel corridors where they crossed creeks and ridges. But the most important revelation came when Mitch fit the pieces of the puzzle together relative to how the bucks approached and left their bedding areas. "I realized that I had been hunting the wrong side of the ridges," said Mitch. "I needed to be more on the northeast edges if I was going to intercept these big bucks. Their patterns showed that 90 percent of the travel skirted the northeast and southwest edges of a natural clearing in there."
Now armed with this new information, he began refining the crucial details of exactly how the big bucks would approach their bedding areas in the mornings and where they would leave in the evening. Like a general plotting a coming battle, Mitch meticulously mapped out every detail of the buck's movements, and when the snows finally melted, he once again began laying his synthetic trap line.
"I spent the entire next spring moving all my setups and my Buck Fever synthetic scrape lines to the east sides of these ridges. And boy did it make a difference. Those bucks started hitting my synthetic scrapes like you wouldn't believe in March and April."
Like an attentive gardener, Mitch tended his synthetic scrapes throughout the spring and early summer. By mid-summer they had grown into raw patches of torn earth yet things of beauty to a buck hunter like Mitch. But his biggest surprise at the buck's response to his synthetic scrapes came unexpectedly when he was checking them one cool July afternoon. "I saw a deer standing down in the meadow. I had my video camera so I started sneaking down there. As I got close I saw that it was a nice buck. Kneeling down, I zoomed in on the deer with my video camera when sudden it put its ears back and another big buck walked right into the viewfinder. Then they actually got up on their hind feet and started clubbing the heck out of each other with their front hooves."
Mitch recorded the unusual event on his video camera as the two magnum bucks in velvet fought with their hooves. Finally, the big 8 point clubbed the wider racked 10 or 12 pointer in the nose and the fight ended with both bucks disappearing into heavy cover. Now more than ever, Mitch knew the area held at least two dandy bucks.
As fall colors hinted at the coming season, Mitch kept refining is synthetic scrape setups and concentrating on the ones that offered him the advantages of scent and sight. But the terrain and wind currents challenged him at every turn. "My problem was I had three big ravines coming down into points and flattening out into a giant cattail marsh where the bucks bedded. That created all kinds of tricky wind currents and thermals. So it was very difficult to setup in some of these areas."
Despite the buck's advantages, Mitch discovered that his most productive setups blended proximity to the buck's security areas with their curiosity over nearby synthetic scrapes. "I try to think like a big deer as if I were in their hooves and how I would travel knowing people were out there trying to get me. They actually travel the way I would to be elusive enough to avoid or detect hunters during daylight. Most of their travel is in fact nocturnal. These big bucks aren't about to travel a quarter mile or more to a food source in the daylight. By the time they get there, it's dark. But what I did find out was that if I got close enough to some of their bedding areas with my synthetic scrapes, they would come out enough to check these key scrapes close to their bedding spots."
Forever the statistical tactician in his hunting, and with the 1996 season soon approaching, Mitch wanted to know exactly how long it would take him to get from work to his hunting spot. So on September 18 he timed his drive, and as he drove down a two-track near his prime area, he spotted two deer walking along a ridge. He grabbed his binoculars. As the second deer came into focus, Mitch's hands suddenly became unsteady. "I'll remember that day the rest of my life. I thought, my gosh BIG BUCK isn't even the word for this thing. When it turned and looked away, I saw clearly how wide the rack was and thought I was seeing things. It was the widest spread deer I had ever seen."
As Mitch watched the massive buck, he began jotting down the details of the approximate size of the rack on a scrap of paper. When the buck finally ambled over a ridge, Mitch walked over to check for sign. There, in the soft sand of a trail, lay another significant clue to hunting the giant buck - an odd shape to the right front foot of the buck, a track "fingerprint" that would allow Mitch to further detail its movements.
That evening Mitch tallied up the rough score on the scrap of paper then rechecked the unbelievable total. "I came up with something easily in the 190's and close to 200. But I have a tendency to field judge deer on the small side, so I knew I had a good one. Now all I had to do was get him."
Mitch knew it wouldn't be easy arrowing the buck. But he never imagined it would take another two years.
PART TWO - MITCH'S DATE WITH DESTINY
Author's Notes: Even with the emerging, well-documented information about this story, sadly, some writers persist on speculating in their wallows of negative conjecture. It would appear that either the anti-hunters have disguised friends calling themselves pro-hunting writers, or some writers are so pitifully spiteful about information they lack the professionalism to obtain -- or worse, that they're content to defame the image of hunting in their tabloid attempts to sell a few copies of their publications.
So why did Henry Ford invent the Model T? Or Leonardo da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa?
The same reason Mitch Rompola harvested the biggest typical whitetail ever taken with a gun or bow.
Romantics call it destiny. Realists call it the precise juncture of opportunity, time, space and the dedicated human element capable of turning a dream into reality.
Whatever the definition, it seemed that destiny began unfolding her plan on September 18, 1996 when during a scouting trip, Mitch Rompola spotted the biggest buck he had ever seen during his four decades of bowhunting big whitetails.
Besides getting a good enough look at the sprawling rack to know it would score near 200 inches, Mitch also discovered that the buck imprinted a telltale track with its slightly deformed right front hoof.
Mitch guardedly shared the news of the giant buck with a few close friends. Just before season, he set up a stand over one his hotter synthetic scrapes that had grown to over 12 feet across that was being hit by several good bucks. His first evening over the scrape gave him a chance any hunter would envy.
Hooves in the leaves snapped Mitch to attention and he readied for the shot. A huge buck ambled past at 12 yards. Mitch held off on the giant 9-pointer, hoping the wide racked buck would soon follow. But by dusk, the first day's hunt closed without seeing the monster buck. Mitch mused how the image of the wide racked buck had now changed even him. "That 9-point was one of the biggest typicals I ever let walk past me. And I would soon regret passing him up that evening."
October 12 again found Mitch near the scrape overlooking the marsh where he suspected the massive buck bedded. Just like 40 years earlier on his first deer hunt, Mitch Rompola heard the clattering of legs in the cattails. Seconds later, a massive 12-point rack floated through the evening shadows. Painfully slow, the giant buck worked around the clearing closer to Mitch. After 15 minutes, the deer had moved within 30 yards and Mitch readied for the shot of lifetime. The tip of his arrow began to quiver like a bird dog on point. "Boy did I get excited then, because I thought, man, I'm going to get a crack at this thing. Its rack looked so wide as it was looking around I just about started coming unglued. It's been a long time since a deer has unraveled my nerves like that, but this deer sure did a number on me."
Mitch raised the bow. Fingers tensed on the string. He took in a long breath to steady his nerves. But suddenly the massive buck tensed and threw back its head as the huge 9-point Mitch had passed opening day charged off the ridge. Mitch stood stunned as the 9-point dipped its head, eyes wild, nostrils flared, and chased after the wide racked buck. Both huge bucks disappeared into the thick cover in a hail of breaking brush. Moments later, the dominant 9-point strutted back toward the ridge where it had been guarding "its" scrape.
Fearing that the 9-point would injure the massive 12-point if given another chance, Mitch now turned his attention to the ridge behind him where the agitated buck was now tearing up every bush in sight. Mitch grunted softly on his Bow Grunter call.
The commotion stopped. Ten minutes later he grunted again. This time hooves began stalking toward him. Mitch knew from the deliberate walk that the deer was attempting to pinpoint the grunt. Again, his fingers tensed on the string as he quietly waited. Heavy hooves slurped through the mud only yards behind him. As the buck finally emerged from the thick pine boughs, the string's twang broke the silence. The giant 9-point wheeled and bounded into the shadows for the last time. The pecking order over Mitch's scrape had just changed. "I shot him as much out of anger as anything else because I was so upset that he ran that wide racked big buck off. He actually had 10 points; 9 points typical with a 2 ½-inch sticker point on one of his back tines. He was lot better than I thought and ended up scoring 168 and some change."
Despite tagging the big 9-point, Mitch's thoughts remained focused on the sprawling 12-pointer. Spending countless hours the rest of that season dogging the odd shaped track, Mitch learned more of the buck's secrets without avail. He ended the 1996 season more committed than ever to tag the buck the following year.
During that winter Mitch continued his relentless scouting and backtracking the giant 12-pointer. He learned where the buck set up its approaches to its bedding areas and revealed more locations where Mitch should setup morning stands.
Again, Mitch continued to use his Buck Fever synthetic scrapes to help monitor the buck's patterns. He also raked out places on the runways the buck was using to reveal certain repeatable patterns of how the buck traversed his domain.
During the summer of 1997, Mitch began using an experimental scent dripper to dispense his Buck Fever synthetic scent. The programmable dripper, made by a local friend and accomplished deer hunter Dean Broecker, allowed Mitch to scent up his main scrape without disturbing the site. While checking on the dripper one day in late July, Mitch was greeted with one mighty welcome sight. "I noticed movement on top of a ridge and it was him; the big wide buck in velvet. His rack was already way out past his ears. He had been laying up there watching me and when I stopped to look at him, he just walked over the ridge and disappeared."
Mitch bowhunted the area the first two weeks of October without spotting the giant buck. Nonetheless, he felt confident with his setup and the synthetic scrape being hit. And upon returning from his annual hunt in Michigan's UP with friends in late October, he headed for his setup.
When leaving his truck for the woods, Mitch usually sprays his boots with Buck Fever to help lay down a scent trail as he walks into his stand. But this Sunday morning he was anxious to get back to the site before sunup and didn't take the time to scent his boots then. Instead, he waited and put synthetic scent on his boots at the scrape site that had again been freshly hit. After squirting scent into the fresh scrape and on his boots, Mitch walked over and climbed into this stand.
Later in the grayness of first light, a blocky shadow drifted through the timber. Wide beams ticked against the brush as the buck moved into the scrape and dipped its head. The buck immediately picked up Mitch's boot scent and zeroed in on the trail, heading right for Mitch. "I got ready for the shot and saw that it wasn't the wide12-point but a real nice buck. He tracked my synthetic scent trail right to my stand like a bloodhound with his nose to the ground. I drew and let him come until he was standing directly underneath my stand. He looked up and our eyes met, I released the arrow."
The big buck slammed to the ground as the arrow hit spine and heart. Moments later, Mitch suddenly realized he had seen this buck before - on videotape. "He was a nice 13- point that I had videotaped fighting with the 9-point in July of 1996. He scored 150's typical and 160's non-typical. A real nice buck."
Mitch kept scouting and relocated the wide rack's odd track near a clear cut in some pines. Forever the opportunist hunter, Mitch moved right into the area and setup one evening. He watched as the giant buck negotiated the sprawling rack through the pines. Though he didn't get a clear shot, Mitch noticed the rack touch two particular branches on each side of the antlers. He returned the next day and measured the distance between the branches "They measured 34 inches wide and that's when I really knew how much wider he was than I originally thought. I was actually embarrassed to tell anybody I was hunting a buck with a 3-foot spread because it was so unbelievable."
Though Mitch kept tabs on the buck without seeing it, firearms season came and went, and both the buck and Mitch moved into heavier cover. With the seasonal change in the cover and buck's pattern, Mitch moved into a ground blind that served mostly as an observation outpost to help him pinpoint the buck's new movements. Mitch sat one morning until after 9 AM and figured the buck wasn't going to show or had already passed through unseen. But as Mitch picked up his bow quiver and snapped it back on the bow, a haunting apparition rose from the nearby cover. "There he stood, 30 yards away, looking right at me. He had apparently bedded before I had gotten in there and I had snuck in without him hearing me. I knew I wasn't going to get a shot, so I took out my camera and zoomed in on him. I focused with him looking at me and snapped one photo before he turned and just walked away."
Mitch later projected the photo on paper and scaled the projection to fit the 34-inch spread. With the scaled image, it didn't take a skilled measurer like Mitch long to tally over 200 inches on the buck's rack.
In the winter of 1998 and entering his third year of patterning the buck, Mitch cautiously avoided scouting the buck's bedding areas. Though he was tempted to look for its sheds, he was afraid of tampering too much in the old buck's security cover and possibly scaring it off.
During the summer of 1998 Mitch continued tending his synthetic scrapes and looking for some sign of the big 12-point. But by late October, without so much as an encouraging track from the old buck, Mitch began to think the unthinkable; a poacher, dogs, a wire fence or possibly a car had taken the giant buck quietly, without a trace.
Disappointed at the grim possibilities and slogging back to his truck after another uneventful morning hunt, he noticed a flicker of gray in the timber. Mitch froze. Massive antlers swayed in the sunlight. And in another frozen instant, Mitch's spirits soared. "It was him, alive, and looking bigger than ever. He stepped out on the two-track looking in the direction of my truck, looked down my way, then just walked over the ridge and disappeared. Boy, was I ever happy to see him again."
Now more than ever, Mitch committed to trying only for the giant buck or nothing at all. Despite two other record-class bucks, a magnum 10-point and a wide racked 8-point that began hitting the scrape and following the patterns of the giant 12-point, Mitch focused on the one chance of a lifetime that had eluded him over the years.
But terrain and wind at his prime setup seemed to work against him at every turn. "First, I knew I had to set up near his bedding area because most of his travel was in fact, nocturnal. That's why I set up my synthetic scrape close enough to his bedding area that he could come out to check it. A buck like that isn't about to travel a quarter mile to a food source in the daylight. By the time he gets there, it's nighttime.
"The other problem was that three big ravines came down to points and flattened out into the giant cattail marsh where he bedded. That created all kinds of tricky wind currents with the surrounding hilly terrain. Besides paying attention to the thermals, I controlled my scent by using Vanishing Hunter. I spray it on my outerwear, exposed areas, hair, and mouth. That allowed me to hunt some of these areas that I normally couldn't at all."
On November 3, Mitch slipped into his evening stand overlooking an area near his synthetic scrape. On its apparent date with destiny, the giant buck materialized from the thick cover and moved into the scrape. Without a chance to shoot directly to the scrape, Mitch again grabbed his camera and snapped a photo of the buck as it lifted its nose toward the synthetic dripper. As Mitch looked through the camera viewfinder, he realized with a start that the buck was leaving the scrape, coming toward him. He put down the camera and grabbed his bow.
Screened by the thick cover, Mitch waited until the buck paused broadside at 20 yards. He drew in a deep breath, again trying to calm the swelling nerves. Despite the decades of shooting huge bucks, all the times he had seen this giant whitetail and the focus of his life's energies for the past three years, buck fever began to nibble at the edges of his consciousness.
He looked past the sprawling mass of antlers and focused on the spot behind the shoulder. The graphite arrow leaped through the shadows. The buck jumped. Three bounds later it stopped. Mitch strained to see the hit, the weak legs, the buckling hindquarters. But the buck simply wagged its tail and casually walked into the tangle of spruce.
For a moment Mitch stood there, his mind struggling to accept the cruel reality of what his experience knew - he, Mitch Rompola, had somehow missed the shot of a lifetime.
Numb with disbelief, Mitch climbed down and walked over to where the buck had stood. There lay his arrow sticking almost straight down in the ground, clean as it had been moments before. "It must have deflected off some brush that I didn't see and the arrow dropped right underneath him. It never touched him."
Mitch tried to find comfort in the fact that the buck didn't appear overly startled by the missed shot. Like Mitch, the buck was more confused than anything.
He got the photo developed and stared down at the picture; the buck's nose lifted toward the synthetic dripper, the rack spreading into the tangle of branches as if the expanse of beams and tines were part of the forest.
Now hoping beyond hope for yet another crack at the buck, he continued to hunt every day. But as the early bow season drew toward an end, Mitch tried to quench the rising fear that he might never see the buck again once the crack of rifles filled the woods.
On November 12, he slipped into an evening stand near the scrape where he had taken the now haunting photo. As evening shadows lengthened, a mass of antlers emerged from the cattails. Mitch tensed, but then lowered his bow when he recognized the 10-point and 8-point that often followed the wide rack. The bucks emerged from the swamp and moved into the synthetic scrape. They pawed around the scrape and glanced toward the ridges before disappearing back into the cattails. Mitch turned to the sound of hooves coming off the ridge. "Here he came, the big 12-point. He walked right into the scrape but didn't offer a shot. He appeared to be checking out what those other bucks had been doing in the scrape then followed their trail into the cattails.
"As big as he was, I never saw him being aggressive towards any other deer. He was strictly a loner to the point of actually being shy He would hang around near the outskirts of other deer but never with them. Plus, he always walked away and never ran, even if he spooked. It was as if it was an effort for him to even walk. And every step was thought out like he knew exactly where he was going."
After a fitful sleep that night, Mitch crawled from bed the next morning and headed for his spot. During the drive, he noticed the increase in vehicles at cabins and hotels. Only two days now until the crack of rifles filled the woods and sent the giant buck running deep into his dense hideout, or worse, maybe one of the gunners might get lucky and… Mitch pushed the unsettling though aside. He parked his truck and headed for his stand.
As fingers of light began to stitch the outlines of the marsh below and the ridges behind him, Mitch glanced down toward the scrape. His dark eyes looked past the network of branches, wondering if the bucks had already hit the scrape.
Suddenly, heavy footfalls on the ridge above gave him the answer. Mitch snatched his bow and turned to the sounds now bearing down on him too quickly. A tangle of antlers came toward him. He barely got poised for the shot as the now familiar 8 and 10 pointers veered slightly around his stand and passed at 12 yards.
As the two smaller bucks disappeared into the cattails, Mitch positioned his feet solidly on the stand as he collected his senses. He stared at the hillside, his eyes locked on nothing in particular.
Hooves carrying 300 pounds of buck announced what Mitch knew before he saw it. Next came the sprawling tangle of antlers through the timber toward him, supported remarkably by one very familiar deer following the same trail as the other bucks had used minutes before.
Mitch stood poised, bow up, focused yet again on the spot he wanted to hit, pushing back all other thoughts except the shot. The buck's head passed behind a large tree and Mitch made the crucial movement of drawing his bow unseen. Onward came the deer, looking bigger than life as it passed at the scant 12 yards.
The buck stepped clear of the tree. Mitch centered his sight on the massive body, now quartering away.
The arrow sliced through the morning air.
Powerful muscles responded too late.
Sprawling antlers carved a three-foot swath into the brush for the last time.
After a long moment, Mitch gasped for air, realizing he had been holding it since before the shot. The hit was unmistakable this time, solidly in the vitals with a resounding crack as the broadhead hit the far shoulder.
Mitch blinked as if to be sure it wasn't all a dream. But he knew he wasn't dreaming as the impact of his three-year quest surfaced and his knees became too weak to stand. He sat down, replaying the shot over and over in his mind until his legs could again hold him. Wobbly, he climbed down and inspected the hair and splashes of red where the buck had bolted.
Finally, Mitch shook himself free from the trance of what he had done and headed for home. He knew it was going to be a long day and he needed to share the news that would soon rock the world of hunting. "I was so excited that I had to tell my girlfriend I had actually shot the deer this time. Plus I needed to let her know I was okay because we have a pact that if I'm not back by a certain time, she would come looking for me. And I didn't want her to send the National Guard out after me."
Though tempted to take up the trail, 40 years of bowhunting savvy had hardened Mitch's resolve into the responsible decision on such a buck; give the deer some time before tracking it. He slipped out of the area and returned home. He also knew the magnitude of what he had just accomplished and wanted to get his video and still camera to document the recovery.
Mitch returned with his recovery gear and began by recounting the story from his stand to the recording video camera. With the camera continuously recording, he then took up the sparse blood trail. Just beyond a large scuffmark in the leaves, Mitch saw the fletching of his arrow sticking up over a small rise. As he pointed the video camera in the direction of the arrow, and walked over the crest of the rise, there lay the enormous deer.
The sight of the fallen buck, dissolved away Mitch's usual stony exterior as a flood of emotions washed over him; the bittersweet rush of excitement flavored with the humility of what he had done. The photos he later took, with his characteristic somber pose, only hint at the feelings beneath. "Even with all the big deer I've taken, that moment still gets to me. I always regret taking the life of a mature whitetail buck. They're just the most beautiful and magnificent animals, and there's nobody who respects them more than I do. And especially one like this that I've hunted so hard for several seasons. This buck showed me quite a bit of humility as most of them do. When I've spent so much time working on him, hunting him and understanding so much about him, it's tough when you realize that all of that has finally come to an irreversible end."
Mitch knelt beside the deer. His 35-inch Gold Tip arrow had penetrated 18 inches with the quartering away shot. One of the blades of the Gladiator head had broken where it had lodged in the far right shoulder.
For the better part of the day, Mitch muscled the huge deer, a body length at a time, over the remote ridges. Finally, with exhaustion tapping the last reserves of his adrenaline, Mitch slid the deer up a special loading ramp into the back of his truck.
As any proud hunter would do, Mitch showed his deer to a few close friends that evening. The next morning, the news began spreading faster that a jack pine wildfire. The parade began at first with admiring friends, including several official measurers. But by late afternoon, the carloads of curious strangers, were quickly growing out of control.
By Monday morning, Mitch's phone began ringing non-stop. The media had got a sniff of the story and swarmed upon him relentlessly from across the country. By Tuesday, the media onslaught hammered Mitch into seclusion.
Mitch knew enough about scoring big deer to know that his buck could possibly rewrite the history books when the time was right. But the media wasn't about to wait for drying periods, official scoring, Mitch Rompola or anything else, and immediately began bannering the deer as "The New World Record".
Overnight, Mitch's personal pride at taking the deer began turning into bitter regret as much of the media, lost in the vacuum of accurate information, began dredging up tabloid style stories of their own that personally attacked Mitch and the deer from every conceivable angle. Suddenly, what could had been scores of positive wildlife management and hunter impressions to the public, turned into a rampage of negative speculation that blackened the eye of Mitch and hunters everywhere.
Much of the irresponsible media remained indignant and actually blamed Rompola himself for his poor portrayal in print. Didn't the fool know that once he shot the big deer, the entire three-year story, the nearly 50 years of his private life, even the unscored rack belonged to them -- to the world? What a fool Mitch was to even think he could maintain some shred of control or sense of direction over his life.
Dismayed at the whole affair, while unrelated tragic events transpired in his personal life, Mitch withdrew even further into seclusion. "It's a darned shame the way it's all turned out. I don't regret shooting the deer as much as I do presenting it to the media. What really hurts is the fact that I have two grown sons who have to hear all this misrepresented junk that happened years ago that doesn't have anything to do with this deer or my life now.
"It's odd how some hunting writers and hunters can accept a lucky hunter getting a deer of this size on some deer drive because that doesn't challenge their egos. But because of my past bowhunting success and the fact that I hunted this deer for three years, they end up becoming jealous critics. But in the end, now that I've told the whole story, how people judge me and what I've done, is now up to them."
So why did Henry Ford invent the Model T? Or Leonardo da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa? Or Mitch Rompola arrow the biggest typical whitetail ever?
Romantics call it destiny.
Realists will flatly say, "Because they could."
Author's Notes: Hunters interested in learning more about the science behind the Buck Fever Synthetic Scent System that Mitch used to harvest his mega-buck and many others, visit the Buck Fever Synthetic web site at www.hawgslimited.com
or those wishing to order Buck Fever products direct can call 800-522-2728.
FACTS ABOUT THE ROMPOLA BUCK
Hunter: Mitch Rompola, Traverse City, Michigan Date: November 13, 1998 7:47 AM Hunting Method: Bowhunting From a treestand. Bow: CSS (Custom Shooting System) Signature Series Compound, 34-inch axle to axle, set at 58 pounds with Adjustable Pro-stop set to 30 inches draw with letoff adjusted to 75 percent. Arrow: Gold Tip 5-layer Laminated Graphite shaft, 5575 spine, full length 32 inches, crown dipped. Broadhead: Gold Tip Gladiator, 125 grain expandable, four blades Scent Control: Buck Fever Vanishing Hunter spray, Scent Lok Suit Scent Used: Mock scrape made with Buck Fever Synthetic Scent Shot Distance: 12 yards Distance traveled after shot: 70 yards Deer - typical whitetail, mature adult, 7 ½ years old (biologist aged) Weight, Field Dressed: 263 pounds, certified scales (estimated live weight 300+ pounds) Antlers: 38-inch outside spread, measured 216 5/8 inches net typical, by a respected panel of official Michigan measurers.