Pittsburgh city limits!
Photo by Mike Nicola
The morning of Nov. 12, 2004, dawned cold and drizzly. Brothers Mike, Tom and Jim Nicola arrived at their hunting property in Allegheny County at about 7:30 a.m. The Nicolas were joined that day by Jim’s son Steve, Jim’s brother-in-law Ronald Kreutzer and their nephew, 21-year-old Dave Nicola.
The group was hunting on a rugged 100-acre tract within the city limits of Pittsburgh on the second to the last day of the early archery season. About 40 acres of the tract had been clear cut the year before, and large treetops still littered the ground.
Just before dark on the previous afternoon, Dave had arrowed a nice 9-pointer, and the deer had run into a steep ravine after being hit. Because it was so late in the day, Dave decided to wait until the next morning to begin searching for his buck.
About 80 yards into the search, Ron found Dave’s buck dead. During the tracking process, however, the two men bumped several other deer, and Tom caught a glimpse of a huge buck. The deer disappeared, and no one had a shot.
As the group gathered around Dave’s buck, Tom told the others about the big buck he had seen. He insisted it was 18 to 20 inches wide and had very long tines.
Ron decided to track the buck to see where it had gone. He followed the tracks for about 200 yards and found that the buck was headed for the big ravine. Ron presumed that the big buck had run down into the ravine and up over the other side of the hill.
After getting Dave’s buck out of the woods, the hunters discussed a plan of action for going after the big buck. Since Dave had now filled his buck tag, he volunteered to walk the area through which the buck had run. The “shooters” would set up on the side of the ravine.
Everyone figured the chances of seeing the big buck again were slim, but it was certainly worth a try.
As Mike got closer to the ravine, he could see that the buck hadn’t dropped into the ravine as expected. Instead, the buck had skirted the edge of the ravine and circled around toward the clearcut he had come from. Mike decided to climb a tree in this area.
During Dave’s push through the ravine, Mike saw a doe come around the hill on the opposite side of the ravine about 100 yards below his position. As Mike watched, a buck came out of the brush behind the doe. The buck appeared to be a nice 8-pointer with an 18- to 19-inch spread. Mike grabbed his grunt call and made three deep grunts. Instantly, the buck turned and ran into the ravine and straight up the hill toward Mike.
“I then got the bright idea to grunt three more times, which I hoped would keep the buck between Ron and me,” Mike said.
After Mike grunted, he hurriedly put his call away. As he was attaching his release back onto his bowstring, he looked up. The buck was already over the brow of the hill staring right at him. The deer quickly turned and bolted away.
“I had seriously misjudged how fast he was coming toward me,” Mike said. “It would have taken a man at least 30 minutes to climb that steep hill, but the buck did it in a matter of seconds. He was running wide open over very rough terrain — whacking his antlers on the low limbs of the downed treetops. It was an awesome sight to see, but I was dejected because I thought I had just blown my best chance for a nice buck.”
Dave finished his push through the ravine at about the same time that another member of the group, Lee Petersavage, showed up. Lee had killed a nice 10-pointer with a 20-inch spread the morning before. He and Dave then decided to walk through the clearcut that both bucks had been seen going into. Dave was to come through the clearcut high and Lee would come low around the hill. It was about 1:30 p.m. when they started.
Because the two drivers would now be coming from the opposite direction, Mike took a good look around. The ravine and open woods were at his back and he realized that he was surrounded by the large treetops that littered the ground.
“It was bad!” Mike said. “I was sure no deer would come my way as there were no open trails anywhere.”
Just before 2 p.m., he looked up the hill and saw a buck burst out of the brush about 80 yards away.
“My first thought was that he looked just like one of those bucks you see on those ‘monster buck’ videos,” Mike said.
To Mike’s amazement, the buck turned and started running right toward him!
“He was uphill from me,” Mike said. “At 70 yards, I drew my bow, got my sight picture, and then just followed him with the 20-yard pin on his chest.”
The buck had some trouble getting through the treetops. As Mike waited, he consciously made every effort not to look at the rack.
The buck kept coming. At 25 yards, he veered to Mike’s left and started moving toward the ravine. He was now traveling the same escape route he had used earlier that day.
“I uttered a soft fawn bleat with my mouth and he stopped behind a tree,” Mike said. “I could see the front part of his left shoulder through a Y of two branches. He was slightly quartering toward me and still a little uphill. I centered my pin and let the arrow fly.”
Mike saw the arrow strike the buck’s shoulder slightly to the left of where he had been aiming.
The buck took off running back up the hill headed directly toward Ron. Mike yelled for him to be ready. The buck came barreling past Ron, whose arrow cut hair but no flesh. Jim and Steve watched the buck run several more yards and stop.
“The next thing I heard was Jim yelling, ‘I think he’s down!’ “
Mike waited a few minutes, and then he couldn’t stand it any longer. He climbed down and started following a very distinct blood trail. Ron was still in the tree as Mike passed him.
“He told me where the buck had been when he shot, so I started looking for his arrow,” Mike said.
Just as Mike found Ron’s arrow, Dave shouted, “I found him! He’s down!”
“We all started laughing in disbelie
f,” Mike said. “None of us had ever killed a buck of that size. None of us had even seen a buck of that size!
“We were giddy,” Mike remembered, “almost in shock. I jokingly said to Dave that since he jumped the buck, he had the right to name it. Dave looked down at the buck and said, ‘The Freak!’
“The buck was so big, so typical, and so symmetrical, he really was like a freak of nature. So the name stuck,” Mike said.
Tom and Jim kept looking at the massive 6×6 rack, trying to guess what it might score. They both felt it would score at least 170 Pope and Young points.
“I felt like it might score in the 150 range,” Mike said. “You never think you’ll be lucky enough to get one big enough to make the 170-point minimum.”
The giant buck was taken out of the woods and driven to the house of Tom’s son, Joe.
“A few hours later I got a call from Joe and my son,” Mike said. “They came up with 184 inches gross and 175 inches net. They felt that I needed to take the rack to someone to have it officially scored.”
At first, Mike was reluctant to have the rack scored, but he finally gave in and agreed to have it scored after the 60-day drying period.
Mike and his friend, John Enterline, took the “Pennsylvania Freak” to Dave Pasky, an official P&Y scorer.
“Your buck scores 185 1/8 inches gross and nets 178 2/8 inches.” He then stuck his hand out and said, “Congratulations, you’ve just taken the new state-record archery typical buck for Pennsylvania!”
“The most important aspect of this entire experience was that I was able to enjoy this hunt with my family and friends,” Mike said. “People that I truly respect and love. It was a team effort all the way, and I thank them all.”