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Story by Kristen A. Schmitt | Photos by Austin Thomas | 1.3.2019

Second Chances

  • Environment: Elevated II
  • Pursuit: Whitetail

Perched 20’ above the ground, Alex Templeton sits quietly in her tree stand, awaiting destiny. Beneath her, radishes, turnips, oats and wheat blanket the ground: the perfect deer salad to bring in the biggest buck she’s ever pursued. For the past three years, she’s watched him grow via trail camera footage, his antlers distinct due to the inside point by his G2.

Now, she waits for him to make his afternoon appearance, her bow poised and ready to take what could possibly be the shot of a lifetime. She doesn’t have to wait long; about 30 minutes after taking her position, he steps into the field from the surrounding forest, his rack recognizable from hundreds of trail camera photos.

“It was the most euphoric moment of my life,” says Templeton. “I had never seen him in person before…only pictures of him. I thought ‘I’ve been waiting so long for you.’”

Taking a deep breath, Templeton closed her eyes. When she opened them, he was standing a mere 20 yards away from her, broadside. She took a deep breath, drew back her bow, settled her pin and released her arrow.

“I missed him,” says Templeton. “He jumped and trotted off into some trees at the edge of the plot, looking around. He couldn’t figure out what was going on and, finally, he kind of turned and walked around behind me. I sat down and didn’t react for about five minutes.”

Then, fighting back tears, she did the one thing that made sense to her: she texted her dad from her stand.

Family Farming

Raised on a steady diet of farming, ranching and hunting, Templeton is most comfortable outside. Born and raised in Polo, Missouri, as a third-generation farmer, she spends her days tending to 500 cattle as part of the beef operation she runs with her father, Mark.

Sometimes it's a lot of fun, but it's also hard work,” says Templeton. “But I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I always knew that farming and ranching were my first love. I knew I didn’t want a job where I had to work inside or commute back and forth to the city.

After graduating college, she approached her father about joining the family business. The third of four daughters, Alex had always been her father’s sidekick—the only one to spend hours outside doing farm chores and going hunting and the only daughter to express an interest in farming.

“She came hunting with me as soon as she was able to sit on my lap,” says her father, Mark. “She killed her first turkey when she was six years old. That was pretty exciting because her grandpa told them that whoever shot the first turkey was going to get a shotgun so she won that deal.”

The two settled into a solid working relationship, rekindling their daily adventures together now that she was back from college. It took time to learn the nuances of cattle farming, but Templeton persevered under her father’s patient tutelage, knowing she’d made the right choice.

How to Grow Big Deer

A self-described whitetail fanatic, Templeton soon made it her mission to start managing the acreage that makes up her family’s farms to grow bigger, more mature deer.

“I view hunting as my job just as much as I view farming as my job,” says Templeton. “They're both incredibly important to me. It really is a full circle ecosystem.”

After several years of learning cattle farming from her father, Templeton traded roles and became the teacher, showing her father how to plant food plots and run trail cameras. They now make the rounds daily, putting out feed, minerals and salt for both the cows and deer to enjoy and grabbing memory cards from their trail cameras.

“Whitetail hunting is such a mental game that everything has to work out perfectly for it to happen,” says Templeton. “It's year-round. We're running trail cameras, we're figuring out where the deer live, where to hang tree stands, how old is this deer? Is he old enough to shoot? Is he going to be bigger next year or should we target him for this year?”

Managing for big deer is now second nature to her and she enjoys documenting the progress of the local herd, watching button bucks grow into spikes; some growing beyond, reaching ten points and more.

Buck or Bust

"I got my first trail camera picture of this buck in 2015,” says Templeton. “I remember exactly when I saw a picture of him. I wanted to shoot him the moment I saw him."

For three years, Templeton captured pictures of him on her trail cameras during August/September; by the end of October, he’d vanish. She could never even find his shed antlers in the spring.

“I knew this deer had serious potential,” says Templeton. “I wondered if I could work hard to keep him alive and, eventually, be the one to get him.”

Rifle season in Missouri occurs at the peak of the rut.

Any time he’d show up on-camera, I’d think, ‘Oh, thank goodness, he’s alive,’” says Templeton. “When he showed up this fall, I knew this was his year; this was the deer I wanted to pursue.

However, like any hunt, things didn’t go according to plan. For one, the food plots that Templeton relied upon for years didn’t grow due to a hard drought that hit the region. That left her scrambling to figure out what to plant in the field that would attract this particular buck. After some research, she opted for a mixture of radishes, turnips, oats, wheat and brassicas. Next, she had to leave on a scheduled hunt in Ohio right when the pre-rut started to kick in. Her friend, Andy Fleming, continuously checked her trail cameras for her chosen buck while she was gone.

His report was disheartening.

“I was in Ohio and I found out that the deer I wanted to kill was walking daylight hours, grazing my food plot,” says Templeton. “I was sick, like physically ill about it. This was my chance and I wasn’t home to do it.”

The afternoon after she arrived home from her Ohio hunt, she headed to the woods, convinced that it was now or never. That buck would do his disappearing act within days. She found herself sitting in her tree stand that day by 3 p.m.

Second Chances

"When I got the text from Alex, I asked if she was in the stand and she said, ‘Yeah, I missed him,’” Mark Templeton recalls. “I knew what was happening then and I said, ‘Look, if you didn't bust him out of there, he'll come back. If there's does around there, he’ll be back.’ The next thing I know, she texts me again; she got him."

As Templeton sat there, trying to calm herself down from her missed opportunity, another buck walked into the area, making a scrape about 100 yards away. She watched him through her binos as he wandered closer to inspect a scrape tree right in front of her stand, but, as he started to make his own scrape, “thinking he’s tough,” says Templeton, she sensed movement to her left.

“I looked down and saw a rack through these tree limbs and I just knew,” says Templeton. “I drew back when his head was behind some limbs. He stepped out and he was about 13 yards away.”

The big buck ran at the younger buck, defending his territory. He was standing, slightly quartered away, when Templeton let her arrow fly. It was a solid hit, but the buck ran into the woods, leaving Templeton to wonder what just happened.

“To be able to get a shot at a mature deer with a bow is hard, but to get a second shot at a mature buck? I never thought in a million years it would happen that way,” says Templeton. “I went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs.”

Confident in her shot, Templeton found her arrow and, based upon the amount of blood, knew that it was a complete passthrough. She immediately called her dad and her friend, Andy, and told them she’d meet them at the house; she wanted to give the buck enough time to expire.

“We tracked him that night,” says Mark Templeton. “But there wasn't much of a blood trail at all even though the arrow was covered in blood; it was a complete passthrough and she was sure she made a good shot. We were going to give up so we didn't bump him.”

Templeton and Andy decided to trek south, away from where she thought her deer had fled, while her father decided to go back through the food plot to pick up his truck. As they walked south, heading toward where they’d promised to meet up with her father, Templeton and Andy came to a rock-bottomed creek that divided one of the fields. They plodded along, aiming their flashlights at their feet to make sure they didn’t stumble when, all of a sudden, Andy gasped, “Oh my god, there he is!”

A mere 20 yards in front of her was the buck, dead in the creek, floating in the water.

“She'd made a perfect shot,” says Mark Templeton. “The exit wound had sealed up and he was just bleeding inside. He didn't suffer very long or go very far. I'd never seen a buck just lying there in the creek like that.”

He is Templeton’s biggest bow kill ever.

She was so excited to accomplish her dream,” says Mark Templeton. “She put in a lot of work on that deer…and it ended up pretty amazing.