11 Sep The Westfall Arkansas Giant!
THE 187″ GIANT…
By Eric Westfall
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)
After the alarm clock had just issued its ear piercing cry of annoyance for the umpteenth time, I decided to spare my wife and turn it off instead of hitting the snooze button again. After all, what was wrong with me? It was November 4, 2014! Primetime for all die hard bow hunters. Yet, here I was dragging myself out of bed.
I don’t know why I was feeling this way. I had in my possession the “golden ticket” to Willy Wonka’s big buck paradise for SW Arkansas, Rick Evans’ Grandview Prairie. Only 40 permits are issued per year to this 5000 acre, archery only, wonderland. I had been the first person in this year’s hunt to kill a doe and, therefore, became eligible to kill a buck. I had trail camera photos of a giant buck that was showing up consistently in one area. Yet, I was mentally exhausted and physically drained.
Although I had been blessed to harvest a doe only three days into the season on October 13th, I had yet to see a deer from the tree stand since. In 12 trips to Grandview, I had seen a grand total of 4 deer from the stand prior to November 4th. The vast majority of my trail camera pics of this buck were at night and confined to one area. This spot consisted of a small finger of woods that was raining Shumard acorns. Since there is a low population of deer on this place, I feared the buck would be gone once the rut was in full swing.
In order to keep from “bumping” this buck out of the area, I only hunted in the timber during the afternoons. I hunted in the fields the few mornings that I hunted. The stands that I had in the fields were put in areas where I could see long distances in the hope I would catch a glimpse of him leaving the timber at daylight and therefore, get a better idea of where he liked to bed. However, the morning hunts proved futile with no deer sightings and extreme difficulty getting to these stands prior to daylight.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)
On the drive to the WMA that morning, I had made my mind up that I was going to hunt the timber. If I bumped him on the way in to the stand, then, so be it. The hunt would be over on November 30th, and I believed my window of opportunity was slowly slipping between my fingers. While sitting in the tree stand, my confidence level was reaching the bottom of disparity. I had even went to my lease for a few hunts where I knew that I could at least see a deer in the hope that a deer sighting or two would recharge my batteries for the return to Grandview. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a deer on those two sits either!
My mind was beginning to drift, and I was already thinking about other possible areas to start hunting. Past experiences had burned unforgettable memories into my brain of unsuccessful quests. On numerous occasions, I had concentrated on one particular buck, only to be disappointed and left with a pocketful of unfilled tags at the close of the season.
As I became more ensnared in my “pity party”, I began to doubt everything. I questioned my hunting area, the stand location, my tactics, etc. When everything seemed so desperate, I looked up from my distorted haze, and he appeared.
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
My first memories of hunting consist of chasing squirrels in the hardwoods of SW Arkansas near a small community called Nathan. Most of these escapades were with my Papaw, Granville Westfall. As a matter of fact, squirrel hunting was the only type of hunting I witnessed my Papaw participate in. After killing 3 or 4 squirrels during a hunt, it was time to go home. He said this was enough to eat and would leave some for future hunts.
My deer hunting experiences were fashioned with my Dad, Jerry Westfall. The morning hunts usually consisted of sitting on a log or under a tree. Once you became bored with this spot, you could get up and change locations. After mid-morning, the rest of the day usually involved a pack of hounds. It was a southern tradition in which my family was raised. I enjoyed the fellowship of deer camp and the endless stories of yesteryear.
I loved being in the outdoors. Fishing and hunting were more than “hobbies” to me. As I grew older, deer hunting became a larger part of my life. However, I did not truly develop a passion for deer hunting until I started using archery equipment.
I was fresh out of college and the proud owner of a York bow, an API lock-on tree stand, and a bag full of screw-in tree steps. The first doe I killed with my bow was more exciting than any buck I had killed up to that point. I was hooked, and from that moment on, I consumed every piece of deer hunting literature I could get in my hands. There was no such thing as “too much information”. I learned more about deer hunting during my first year of bow hunting than all the previous seasons’ experiences combined. The challenge was something that appealed to me.
Speaking of challenges, there is a reason this WMA is named Rick Evans Grandview Prairie. It consists mostly of fields of native prairie grasses with small fingers of timber interspersed. Most of these fields are eye level, or above, grasses which make for endless bedding area possibilities and difficult hunting.
The first time I hunted here, I was not prepared. I had never hunted public land, much less “limited access” public land. My equipment was not up to par and thus, the experience was not pleasant. Then, came an interesting piece of technology, the internet. Treasure troves of information were available at the click of button. The next greatest piece of hunting technology was the digital trail camera. This little device took scouting to a new level. The next time I drew a tag to Grandview, not only was I prepared, I was able to successfully harvest a nice 10 point buck. I was proud of my accomplishment.
“And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
Matthew 21:22 (KJV)
The first trail camera pics I had of this buck were in September. I was scouting this area because I had killed my doe here on opening day the last time I drew a tag. I never expected to see a deer that would possibly score 170” in this spot. Every “great” idea I came up with, ended with same result, nothing. I was in constant prayer with the Lord looking for help.
As the buck hopped over the log 30 yards in front of my stand, a rush of emotions flooded my body. My heart rate was off the charts as the adrenaline surged through my veins. I slowly stood and turned my back to him. Why I did this is anyone’s guess. Maybe I thought that if I couldn’t see him, I could better control my emotions. After retrieving my bow from the hanger, I slowly looked back over my shoulder expecting to see a giant buck staring at me with eyes the size of a dinner plate! However, to my surprise, he had his head down picking up acorns like he was bobbing for apples.
After turning around, I prayed for composure. I was definitely losing control and on the verge of blowing this entire hunt. Watching the deer for what seemed like 10-15 minutes at less than 25 yards was almost too much to handle. At no point did this deer appear alarmed. There were several times when he passed through a small “pie plate” size opening. One voice in my head would say, “There’s your shot!” Only to be met with a quick reply of, “Are you crazy? Just be patient and he will walk into your lap!”
As the moment of truth presented itself, I asked God to help me make a good shot. Even though it was only a mere 17 yards, I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Upon impact of the arrow, the buck spun and bolted. I noticed a good portion of the arrow was protruding from the deer, however, the location was undeniably in the boiler room. As I stood there processing the events that had taken place, I was an emotional wreck. I tried to wait at least 30 minutes, but that was not going to happen. I decided to get down and see if there was any indications to confirm that I had indeed made a good shot. At the point of impact, I found blood with air bubbles in it. I decided to take up the tracking job and about 80 yards later, I found him, stretched out against a tree. Once again, flooded with emotions, I began to thank the almighty God above for the many blessings He has given me.
My cousin and another hunter helped me get the deer back to the truck. Social media had spread the news so fast that the local Game and Fish knew about the kill before I loaded the deer. Data is collected off of each harvest at Grandview. Two biologists determined that according to the deer’s tooth wear, he appeared to be only 3 ½ years old. After the minimum drying period, the deer had a net typical score of 187 2/8” total gross (including abnormal inches) and 161 6/8” net typical at the Arkansas Big Buck Classic.
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10:31
There was a time in my life when I attempted to tackle all of life’s challenges by myself. I didn’t have time for the Lord during deer season. I only wanted God when it was convenient for me. Very seldom did I go to the Lord in prayer. The few times I attended church were during Sunday morning services. My upbringing was in the church, yet I had strayed from the course. My lack of dedication and service was not an appropriate display of affection to the Creator of all things. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ down to earth to give the ultimate sacrifice in order that a non-deserving sinner such as myself could have eternal life. Yet, this was how I exhibited my gratitude.
I thank God for introducing me to my wife, Detra Westfall. When I met her, I found out that she shared the same birthday, November 7th, as my daughter from a previous marriage, Jordan. Our first child together, Morgan, was also born on November 7th, even though she wasn’t due until Thanksgiving. (Tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.) Detra helped me become a better Christian. We have been blessed with another daughter, Brooke, and are more active in our local church. In today’s society, a person can post pictures of a big buck on social media and receive hundreds of comments and “likes”. However, that same person can post a scripture or a comment concerning God and only receive a handful of comments. The direction our country has taken disturbs me. Our only hope is through prayer.
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Philippians 4:13 (KJV)
The most important thing in my life is my relationship with Jesus Christ. In order to have a relationship with Him, I must communicate with Him regularly. I did not do anything in this story, God did. Without Him, we are lost and spinning on a path to destruction. With Him, we have peace and comfort knowing the best is yet to come. Continue to pray for our country and its leaders that they will make decisions based on God’s will. May God bless you all and I hope you have a wonderful year.