Stephen Matt Takes the Handlebars Buck

Stephen Matt said, “That’s the Handlebars Buck - the biggest buck I’ve ever seen or hunted.”
Stephen Matt said, “That’s the Handlebars Buck – the biggest buck I’ve ever seen or hunted.”

Whitetail Deer and the Hunters Who Take Big Bucks by John E. Phillips

U.S.A.-( The heartbreak often involved in scouting early is when you find a trophy buck on the property you hunt, and then that buck vanishes. You probably have all your emotions in high gear, anticipating an opportunity to take that buck. However, hunters have learned that if you persist, one day that buck may make a mistake, and you’ll take him. That’s what happened to Stephen Matt from Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

“My sister has 430 acres in Kansas, and I try to help manage and hunt white-tailed deer on the property to produce big bucks,” Matt explains. “In July, 2009, I put out trail cameras to census our deer herd.” At the first of August when Matt went to his Bushnell ( trail cameras, he couldn’t believe the big size of the buck he saw, and how many pictures he had of the buck. Matt named this buck of a lifetime the Handlebars Buck, because he had two abnormal points coming off his main beam that looked like motorcycle handlebars. After looking at more Handlebars Buck pictures in August, Matt decided to devote the entire 2009 hunting season to trying to take that buck.

Matt, who began his odyssey during the early muzzleloader season in Kansas, shoots a CVA ( Optima, and hunted the Handlebars Buck every day of muzzleloader season that year but never saw him. The Handlebars Buck also had vanished from Matt’s trail-camera pictures. From the beginning of bow season until gun season arrived, Matt was in a tree stand – still concentrated and focused on taking the Handlebars Buck. However, he never even got a glimpse of the Handlebars Buck.

Once December arrived, Matt picked up his .300 Weatherby ( Magnum but still didn’t see the Handlebars Buck the first 3 days of rifle season. Matt moved closer to the area where he assumed the Handlebars Buck was bedding near the canyon on the north side of the 430 acres. This canyon was deep and timbered, about 300-yards wide, 1/4-mile long and 150-yards deep, containing briars, brambles, thick cover and hardwoods. Matt chose a stand where he could watch the bedding area on this overcast day. He hadn’t hunted from this stand all year.

“I only had been in the stand 10 minutes and hadn’t even gotten everything situated in the stand before I spotted two does coming out of a finger of timber just east of me,” Matt remembers. “The Handlebars Buck was trotting behind them.” The buck was only 50 yards from the stand, and Matt wasn’t quite ready to take the shot. He’d grabbed his rifle, but by then, the buck had moved 100 yards from his stand. “I yelled to stop the buck, but he didn’t even flinch,” Matt explains.

When the buck was almost 140 yards out, Matt screamed, “Baaaa” with his voice and whistled. This bleat was the loudest bleat Matt ever had made to stop a buck. However, he knew his chances for success went down dramatically if he took a shot at a moving buck that far out. Finally, the buck stopped at 140 yards and turned broadside. Matt went into shooting mode, putting his cheek against the stock, resting his gun on the window of his elevated box stand, settling the crosshairs a few inches behind the deer’s front shoulder and taking the shot. The buck humped up, ran about 30 yards and went into a ditch that came from the canyon.

As Matt composed himself, he had a hard decision to make. “By now there was significant rain falling. I didn’t want to pressure the buck by immediately getting down and trying to make the recovery. I realized I’d made a really good shot. But I knew the rain would wash away the blood trail quickly.”

Matt crossed the field, looked just over the lip of the ditch, saw where the Handlebars Buck had gone down and said to himself, “That’s the Handlebars Buck – the biggest buck I’ve ever seen or hunted.” Matt immediately called his brother who had dropped him off at his stand and asked him to come back and pick him up. When his brother arrived, they made pictures and loaded up the buck to take him to the taxidermist to make sure the taxidermist had plenty of hide to produce a nice pedestal shoulder mount of this trophy buck with 29 scorable points.

Stephen Matt's Handlebars Buck
Stephen Matt’s Handlebars Buck

Matt replayed the hunt in his mind and decided that when the buck vanished, he must have gone down into the canyon and stayed there during daylight hours. Four hundred yards from the end of the canyon was a soybean field. “I believe the Handlebars Buck was feeding in the soybean field at night and spending his daylight hours in the canyon,” Matt reports. “I don’t believe I’d have seen or taken him if something in the canyon hadn’t spooked him – perhaps a coyote.”

Matt, who has spotted and taken other large bucks from this canyon, says the only time he goes into the canyon is during the spring of the year to hunt turkeys or in the fall to retrieve a buck he’s shot. “To consistently harvest big bucks off any property, you have to give the deer a safe zone where they’re not disturbed before and during deer season, except to recover an animal you’ve taken,” Matt says.

  • BTR Score – Buckmasters’ Composite Score – Number of Inches: 189-4/8
  • Official Buckmasters’ Score: 176-2/8 (doesn’t include inside spread of main beams)

This is an excerpt from John E. Phillips newest book “Whitetail Deer and the Hunters Who Take Big Bucks”. Click here to get more info about this deer hunting book and other deer hunting books by John E. Phillips.