EUREKA (AP) - They say records are meant to be broken, but records were the furthest thing from Mike Mettler's mind on Nov. 17 when he cut loose an arrow at a whitetail buck he'd been hunting for two years.
Instead, the 39-year-old bowhunter from Eureka was more concerned about steadying his nerves to make an ethical shot on the largest deer he'd ever seen.
"I don't get buck fever very much anymore, but boy, I had it this time," Mettler told the Aberdeen American News. "I missed clipping the release on my loop a couple times because I was already shaking so bad. After the shot, I tried to follow the buck in my binoculars, but I couldn't even hold them steady enough to watch the deer."
Deer shot with archery equipment rarely drop on the spot, and the recovery process is a continuation of the hunt that can encompass the entire spectrum of human emotion, from agony and despair, to the rush of sheer joy and exhilaration.
"I thought I made a good shot, but there wasn't much blood to trail other than just a couple specks here and there," he said. "So, I went back to my truck and drove around the property."
Mettler and his father run 350 head of cattle and farm 1,500-acres in McPherson County. He has lived and hunted on the land all his life, except for the time he spent serving his country while in the Marines right after high school.
He said he knew all the crops on the surrounding properties had been cut and he thought he might be able to see the deer from the road. After an unsuccessful search driving around the section, he decided to go back to the food plot where he shot the deer.
"I saw a couple drops of blood heading east toward one of our cut cornfields," he said. "I came up over a little rise, and there was the biggest-bodied deer I'd ever seen lying in the corn. I was almost more relieved than excited. We had a heck of a time loading him. My father and I had to snort a little bit to get him into the back of the truck."
Pending approvals from the Pope and Young Club, a conservation organization dedicated to archery records, and the Boone and Crockett Club, an organization that keeps complete big game records, including those killed with firearms, it will break two state records.
The current state record for typical whitetail archery is a buck killed by Curtis Courtney in Lincoln County that scored 182 7/8 inches. Not only does the Mettler buck shatter that record by more than 10 inches, but it's also the largest typical whitetail on record ever killed with either a gun or bow in South Dakota. It tops a buck killed by Glenn McClane in Sanborn County almost 70 years ago that scored 193 2/8 inches.
Mettler's buck's official score is 194 1/8 inches. In order for the buck's rack to be officially entered into the record books, it must go through a lengthy process, which is why the buck Mettler killed back in November is raising eyebrows in January.
"To be officially measured for Pope and Young and/or Boone and Crockett, a rack must dry at room temperature for a minimum of 60 days," said Stan Rauch, who has been an official P&Y and B&C measurer for the better part of three decades. "Craig Oberle from Mellette, who's been a P&Y measurer for over 30 years, and I co-measured the buck. He submitted the entry materials to P&Y, and I will submit them to B&C."
Mettler said he waited 61 days before having the rack measured, just to be sure it was in line with both clubs' standards.
A buck's rack is measured using an equation that accounts for the length of the main beams, points, mass and inside spread.
"Once the clubs go over the entry materials and determine that all is in order, the trophy is then officially entered into the records," Rauch said. "This is a tremendously big deer. It's all a bit mind-boggling when we contemplate the fact this is the largest typical whitetail taken in South Dakota by any hunter since 1948."
Mettler first learned about the big whitetail last year during rifle season, though he admits he wasn't able to hunt very much in 2013.
He estimated he spent more than 180 hours pursuing the deer this fall, hunting for 30 days straight at one point. To make things even more interesting, Mettler and his wife, Liza, welcomed their second daughter, Sadie, to the world on Oct. 29.
"I had the buck on camera a number of times, but it was always at night," he said. "The first time I had him on camera during shooting hours was the same day my daughter was born. In the hospital, I told my wife that was probably the only chance I would have had at him."
But Mettler didn't give up, and when his daughter was a couple weeks old, he returned to the stand near the buck's bedding area, which was a thick swath of cover on neighboring property. Mettler's stand location has a watering hole in front of it and a 10-acre food plot of corn behind it. The first part of November was frigid with substantial snow, causing the water hole to ice over.
"With the water being froze, I didn't think it would attract deer close enough to shoot, and with bowhunting, you have to sometimes go where the deer are," Mettler said. "I've had really good success with spot-and-stalk hunting, and it's also my favorite way to hunt. It was breezy enough to hunt from the ground that day, so I got down and hunted the corn behind the stand."
Mettler eased his way into the food plot and was held up by a doe standing about 50 yards away.
"It was really thick in there because some corn regrew from last year's plot, too," he said. "I saw a rack sticking above the corn that was about 15 yards closer than the doe and only about four rows over. He was bedded down, and I didn't want to press my luck because that doe had her eyes on me, so I waited there for about 40 minutes or so."
When the doe eventually started to move, the big buck stood up, and Mettler was able to make his shot count.
Mettler has killed several nice deer with his bow and rifle over the years, but he's never had anything officially measured.
"I just love to hunt, and I thought this deer deserved to go through the process," he said. "I've measured a couple deer I've shot, so I know roughly what they score for my own benefit, but that's about it. This is more about the deer and the quality hunting opportunities we have here in South Dakota."
Mettler said the fact he killed the deer on his family farm, where he's been hunting since he was old enough to legally carry a license, makes everything even more special.
"It'll be all downhill from here," Mettler said, laughing about how he'll have fun trying to top this deer when the 2015 deer seasons roll around. "Right now, I'm just thankful my wife and baby are healthy, and it'll be nice when the buzz over this deer dies down a little bit. The hunt and the whole process have been a great honor."