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The Hunt for Barnacle Bill, a Pennsylvania Giant

Brandon and his parents, Gayle and Don, stood over one of the biggest bucks they had ever seen. Gayle cried tears of joy while Don hugged his son. Don whispered in Brandon’s ear, ” I am so proud of you! I remember the first deer you shot.” Brandon soaked in every moment of the embrace before tending to the buck named Barnacle Bill.

Deer hunting is a passion Brandon Pratt learned at a young age. His grandpa Jim was an avid archery hunter who taught him to shoot a bow. Even though Brandon loved shooting his bow, he had his first taste of success during the Pennsylvania rifle season. At age 12, Brandon killed his first deer, a button buck. This success fueled his passion for hunting Whitetail deer.

Over the next dozen years, Brandon hunted hard but only killed one other deer with a gun. In 2010, at the age of 24, Brandon shot his first Pennsylvania trophy buck. Brandon was watching an enormous nine-point near a small chunk of woods. After the local farmer picked the corn around the woods, Brandon used his climber to sneak in and hunt the buck. A well-placed arrow brought the 161 4/8 inch, nine-point deer to the ground.

Brandon’s luck continued in 2011 as he filled his archery tag with another tremendous nine-point. The 157 7/8-inch typical buck had towering brow tines and long main beams. Brandon was shocked that he had killed two monster bucks in consecutive years. He set a goal to kill another mature buck with his bow in 2012.

Setting up multiple trail cameras on the public land that Brandon hunted was a labor of love. In the summer of 2012, Brandon began getting pictures of a non-typical buck with a second main beam. Another large, typical eight-point caught his eye, and he named that buck “Curly.” Having two monster bucks to hunt would keep Brandon occupied throughout the season.

Barnacle Bill in 2020, showing off his velvet for the camera.

Goal Accomplished!

Brandon was excited to pursue the two bucks and kept a keen eye on them using strategically placed trail cameras. On October 22, the non-typical buck presented Brandon with an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Brandon’s Hoyt bow put another Easton arrow in a buck’s pumphouse. After a long drought of not killing a deer, Brandon accomplished his goal of shooting a mature buck for a third straight year.

After harvesting the double main-beam buck, Brandon prayed that the large eight-point he called Curly would make it safely through the gun season. The eight-point vanished, leaving Brandon worried that another hunter had killed him. Brandon breathed a sigh of relief when Curly showed up during the summer of 2013.

Over the next seven hunting seasons, Brandon focused on hunting Curly. Curly’s rack grew significantly season after season, but the buck also became smarter. Brandon had multiple encounters with Curly, but he couldn’t get within bow range of the elusive monarch. Fixated on Curly, Brandon passed on numerous mature bucks hoping to kill the enormous eight-point.

In 2019, the quest for Curly came to an unexpected end. Brandon began getting pictures of Curly and couldn’t believe what he saw. Curly grew a smaller set of antlers and only had six points. Due to antler restrictions, Brandon was unable to shoot Curly. Brandon was emotionally drained from the seven-year roller coaster ride and forced himself to pursue another mature buck. On November 1, he shot a gorgeous eight-point buck, snapping the seven-year drought.

The Covid pandemic whipped Brandon and hindered his ability to hunt during the 2020 season. His Moultrie cameras were busy sending photos of countless mature bucks. A summertime picture of a young non-typical buck caught Brandon’s attention. The deer had a nine-point main frame rack with a split right brow tine and numerous points on his bases. Brandon knew he was young and figured he would pass on the deer if he saw him. The 2020 season ended with Brandon’s tag unfilled.

Busy, busy, and busy are the three words Brandon used to explain 2021. He and his bride-to-be, Amy, had made plans to celebrate their wedding on August 28.  Brandon was so occupied he hardly had time to get his trail cameras out. Amy enjoyed going spotting with Brandon, so the lovebirds scouted the agriculture fields a few times a week. The time together allowed them to discuss their wedding plans and watch mature bucks.

Amy began naming the bucks they saw. One deer, in particular, had a gigantic velvet rack with points everywhere. Brandon used binoculars to watch the buck while Amy suggested calling him Barnacle Bill. Brandon chuckled, but the name stuck.

Amy asked Brandon if he had pictures of the buck from 2020. Brandon wasn’t sure but thought it could be the non-typical deer from the prior year.

August 28 was a day to remember. Family and friends gathered together to celebrate Brandon and Amy’s wedding. The newlyweds soaked in every moment of their commitment to each other.

After the couple returned from their honeymoon, Brandon began focusing on hunting Barnacle Bill. Brandon headed to the public land he hunts and set up 10 trail cameras. He hadn’t seen the giant buck since the buck shed its velvet. Rumors were swirling about a massive, chocolate-horned buck roaming the area. People thought the deer could top 200 inches. Brandon hoped it was Barnacle Bill and he prayed that he would get him on camera.

A month and a half passed without any sightings of Barnacle Bill. Brandon began to worry that his target buck had wandered off to a neighboring property. Amy told Brandon to be patient and hope for the best. She believed the huge buck would eventually stop in front of a camera and prove he was still around. Brandon loved her confidence.

On the morning of October 21, Brandon reached for his cell phone to check his trail camera app. He opened the app and started looking through the pictures. A branch had fallen out of a tree, slightly blocking his camera. Brandon couldn’t believe the branch was causing the camera to take photos of nothing. Irritated with the stick blocking his camera, he almost put his phone down.

A gorgeous eight-point buck snaps a seven-year drought

He’s Back

Brandon quickly scrolled through the images of nothing and almost skipped a critical photo. A massive buck with over a dozen points stopped in front of his trail camera at 11:01 p.m. A second picture revealed the deer was a STUD! Brandon rushed to show Amy the image; she knew it was Barnacle Bill. Brandon’s heart raced with excitement!

Taking every precaution to keep from spooking the buck, Brandon strategically hunted Barnacle Bill over the next thirteen days. Exhaustion began to set in. Brandon was running himself ragged. After an evening hunt on Friday, Nov. 5, Brandon crashed. That evening Amy suggested that Brandon sleep in on Saturday and take a break. Brandon knew the rut was about to heat up, but the weather forecast called for unseasonably warm temperatures for Saturday. He needed a good night of sleep, so he listened to his new bride.

Brandon slept well and woke up refreshed. He helped Amy with tasks around the house. Amy and Brandon talked during lunch about where he would hunt in the afternoon. Brandon believed the buck had gone nocturnal to avoid hunting pressure. He didn’t have any more pictures of the deer on his cameras. Amy kissed Brandon on the head and wished him good luck.

The thermometer in Brandon’s truck read 60 degrees. Brandon questioned his intentions of heading to the woods. He parked his truck, dressed in lightweight camo, and grabbed his gear. Brandon cursed the weight of the climbing stand on his back. He walked at a snail’s pace to keep from sweating. When Brandon finally reached his hunting spot, he was soaked! Brandon began to attach his climber to a tree and then stopped. He heard a four-wheeler coming his way. Frustrated with his luck, Brandon packed up his climber and headed to another section of woods.

Quietly entering the timber, Brandon chose a cherry tree to climb. He ascended the tree quietly and stopped when he was 20 feet off the ground. Next, he pulled his Hoyt bow up and knocked an arrow. Looking around, Brandon noticed lots of water. The swamp that bordered the timber had flooded. Panic began to set in, and Brandon contemplated getting down and moving.

Brandon made a habit of texting Amy once he was in his stand. Before reaching for his phone, he grabbed a bottle of scent killer and sprayed himself. Brandon hoped the spray would cover the smell of his sweat-soaked clothes. Returning the bottle to his pack, he turned his attention to his phone.

Brandon with his target buck, Barnacle Bill, after a sleepless night.

Spotting Bill

The sound of splashing water captured Brandon’s attention. He dropped the phone in his pocket and looked towards the splashing sound. Brandon’s heart stopped! Barnacle Bill was walking through the flooded timber. Brandon slowly reached for his Hoyt bow and attached his release to the d-loop. Brandon tried to stay calm and focused on making a good shot.

Barnacle Bill walked at a leisurely pace. The deer was on a path that would bring him close to Brandon’s vantage point. Bill passed behind a large oak tree, and Brandon drew his bow. The buck never broke stride and walked into the open. Brandon floated his pin on the buck’s vitals and released the Easton arrow.

The broadhead passed through the buck quickly. Barnacle Bill was surprised but never bolted away. Brandon grabbed a second arrow from his quiver. The stunned buck stopped broadside and looked around. Brandon drew his bow, and the arrow fell off the string and crashed to the ground. His heart sunk as he watched the buck trot into some thick cattails before disappearing. Brandon sat down and began shaking uncontrollably. He knew Amy would be expecting his call, so he dialed her number. Amy answered the phone, and Brandon whispered, “I just shot Barnacle Bill!”

The conversation was short, but it was enough to stop Brandon from shaking. He thought the shot was good but didn’t want to push the buck. Slowly and quietly, Brandon climbed down the tree and snuck out of the timber. The climber on his back was lighter on the walk back to the truck, and Brandon noticed an extra spring to his step. Had he just killed Barnacle Bill after only being in the tree for 15 minutes?

Amy was waiting for Brandon when he got home. She showered him with hugs and kisses. Brandon called his parents to tell them the good news. He asked them if they would help track the deer in the morning. His parents were excited to be part of the recovery.

The following morning Brandon picked up his parents and drove to the hunting property. Together they walked to where Brandon shot Barnacle Bill. Brandon followed the blood trail while his parents looked ahead to ensure the deer didn’t jump up and run.

After following the crimson path for 60 yards, Brandon saw antlers. He pulled Barnacle Bill’s rack out of the cattails, and his parents stopped in their tracks. Bill was bigger than Brandon thought. Before beginning the long drag, Brandon’s mom took numerous pictures of the giant buck her son had killed.

Brandon credits his wife’s positive attitude and support for his success. After all, Amy was the one who named the buck and then encouraged Brandon to take a short break and recharge. He also admits there was a ton of luck involved in that hunt, but you will never hear him complain about that.

Barnacle Bill weighed an astonishing 211 pounds field dressed. After the 60-day mandatory drying period, the author scored Brandon’s trophy. Barnacle Bill’s official gross score was 192 5/8 inches. He had over 35 inches of non-typical growth. Both main beams were over 28twenty-eight inches, and he had over 41 inches of mass. A buck of a lifetime!

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