Decatur, Mich. — Dowagiac resident Jeff Toy is a self-described meat hunter.
Like any hunter, he gets excited at the sight of a mature white-tailed buck, but he spends most of his time in the woods with the intent of filling his freezer, rather than in pursuit of a mammoth rack.
“I just enjoy hunting as a whole,” Toy, 33, told Michigan Outdoor News.
It was in that spirit that Toy trekked to the woods with his father, Ed Toy, and 14-year-old cousin, Bailey Adams, on a windy and snowy Nov. 25. His focus was to help his two companions get some venison, but it turned out to be a record-caliber hunt when he shot a massive 12-point buck that could challenge the state record.
Toy set his father and Adams up on private property he had permission to hunt near Decatur in Cass County early in the afternoon, then got into position to watch the two during the evening hunt.
“I went out with no intentions, really, to hunt myself,” Toy said. “But I grabbed a bucket and a Benelli smooth-bore 12 gauge” and sat across an open field, facing into 25-mph winds and blowing snow.
“I kicked back and more or less watched them,” he said. “They shot some, and I was really excited. I stood up and grabbed my gun, but … after they had done their shooting, I sat back down,” opting instead to wait until dark to check on his partners.
Moments later, a large deer appeared in the field, though Toy couldn’t tell whether it was a buck or doe. With tags for both sexes in his possession, he decided to take a shot.
“Through watering eyes and snow, that deer I judged was about 100 to 150 yards,” Toy said. “I could see it was a mature-bodied deer.”
Toy fired one round from his shotgun and the animal crashed and fell after running a few dozen yards.
“I just kind of laughed and thought ‘Yup, I got it done,’ ” he said.
Toy had no idea his harvest would turn out to be one of the biggest bucks shot in Michigan this season, or ever.
Toy said he found blood, then followed the deer’s tracks about 40 yards to claim his prize – an unbelievable 12-pointer.
“My dad and cousin each ended up shooting a doe, too, that night, so it was a pretty cool night.”
It wasn’t until the hunters hauled the deer into the family’s butcher shop that Toy realized just how truly unique the experience was.
“We weighed it before we dressed it and it was 235 pounds,” Toy said. “I had (the antlers) measured at just under 200 inches, but nothing is official until 60 days after I shot him,” once the antlers have fully dried.
A Boone and Crockett Club panel is expected to officially score the massive buck at the end of January, he said.
Toy said he has hunted every year since he was about 10 years old, but had only taken a handful of bucks in his lifetime, including an 8-point earlier in the year.
“It was 100 percent the right place at the right time,” Toy said.
It’s likely to go down in history as one of the best hunts anyone has ever had in Michigan.
“The record-holder currently is Troy Stephens. He shot it in 1996, and it has a score of 198 … even,” Terry Kemp, data manager for the Commemorative Bucks of Michigan, said. “There are only four deer on record over the 190 mark, according to the Michigan Big Game Records, Ninth Edition.”
The Boone and Crockett scoring system requires a 60-day drying period before scores can be officially recorded. During the drying period, antlers will shrink some, though how much can vary depending on several factors. Regardless, a green score approaching 200 inches is “obviously a giant,” Kemp said.
Brent Rudolph, the Michigan DNR’s deer and elk program leader, agreed.
Quality deer management practices have helped hunters consistently produce 120- and 130-class deer, he said, but harvesting a buck as big as Toy’s is truly something special.
“A 200-class deer, or one in the 190s, is a pretty unique phenomenon,” Rudolph said. “A lot of things have to come together for a deer to get that big, and for a hunter to actually get it.”
Toy’s wife, Stacy, said that while the big buck has generated a lot of attention, it hasn’t changed her husband’s outlook on hunting.
“He’s the type of guy who just likes to go out and hunt, period. He literally hunted 10 days straight, day and night, this year,” Stacy Toy said. “Everyone keeps saying, ‘Oh, you better hang it up now.’
“He was back out hunting just a few days later.”