Photo courtesy of Santo Fallo.
I started hunting deer in my late teens, primarily during Ohio’s one-week gun season. Although I had shot a bow, I did not archery-hunt seriously until my mid-20s. I hunted as much as possible during college, and once I completed school, I had much more time to pursue my passion.
BUDDING TROPHY HUNTERS
My good friend and hunting partner Mark Chieffo had access to 200-plus acres of private property in Trumbull County. Prior to the 2004 season, we had hunted that land together for seven years. We agreed not to shoot any bucks with fewer than 8 points, and the antler spread had to be at least ear-width.
A GHOST BUCK?
During the 2003 season, my brother Joe, Mark and I noticed a set of unusually large hoofprints on the east side of the property. I decided to hunt this area during the early archery season, but all I saw were does and a few young bucks.
On November 9, 2003, I hunted the edge of an old clearcut near the spot where we’d seen the large hoofprints. About 4 p.m., I started calling a little more aggressively. Within 10 minutes a very nice buck moved into view, and I got into position for a shot.
The buck seemed nervous and tense. Suddenly he bounded away and stopped about 40 yards out, looking back, but not presenting a clean shot. He simply trotted off with his nose to the ground.
The next day, I returned to the same stand with less confidence. At around 3:30 that afternoon, a doe passed within 60 yards of the stand with her tail pointing straight out. From this, I knew the rut was beginning to heat up.
At about 4:15 p.m., I glanced over to the spot where the doe had passed, and a giant 10-point buck was standing in her tracks! When I spotted him, he was actually looking up and curling his upper lip. I had an open shot, but my proficiency level is about 30 yards, and he was maybe 10 yards beyond that distance.
I didn’t take the shot. The buck continued on, following the doe’s trail. I bleated on my call as he went by, and although he did glance over in my direction, he never slowed down.
THE BIG 10 OR BUST
Naturally I set my sights on hunting that giant 10-pointer. He was a perfect 5×5 typical with high, light-colored tines and a very wide spread. The tips of his beams seemed to go straight out instead of sweeping inward.
Despite my best efforts, I never saw him again during the remainder of the 2003 season.
BACK IN BUSINESS
Once again, we started seeing the same large hoofprints during the summer of 2004. Based on my previous sightings, I had to believe that those tracks were his. Archery season started out on a slow note, with a lot of doe sightings. A few weeks into the season, my brother Joe started seeing a nice 8-pointer on a regular basis, but I was still seeing mostly does and a few younger bucks.
On the morning of the 2004 early youth gun season, I was archery hunting with another close friend, Rocky Prezioso. Around 8:30 a.m., I saw movement coming through the clear-cut. It was the big 10-pointer, walking down an old logging road that passed within a few yards of the stand I was in!
THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!
This was going to be the moment — or so I thought! As the buck approached, he suddenly stopped just out of range. Then, for no apparent reason, he changed direction and bolted out through the clearcut on the other property. The wind was right, and I had been quiet and still in my 26-foot-high stand. What could have gone wrong?
The answer came a few moments later, when I heard voices. A young boy and an adult came walking through the woods on the adjacent property. Obviously, the buck had heard them coming and he had spooked.
Gun season came and went, with no big buck sightings on the property. But we still had muzzleloader season and late archery season to go, and I wasn’t about to give up. On the eve before the muzzleloader opener, I decided to hunt the same stand I’d been in on the day when the big 10 had been spooked.
DAY OF RECKONING
The muzzleloader season opener, Dec. 27, 2004, was a cold day with temperature readings in the single digits. Six inches of new snow covered the ground. I picked up my brother and my buddy, Rocky. We arrived at our hunting grounds at approximately 6:30 a.m.
As I made my way to the stand, I could feel a slight breeze on my face coming from the south, blowing directly toward the rub line I had planned to hunt. Knowing that wouldn’t work, I retraced my steps back to the truck, then circled around and entered the woods from the north, so that my scent wouldn’t disturb the area I planned to hunt.
I settled into my alternate location — a hollow beech tree that had been struck by lightning. I had gun-hunted this location on the ground in the past and felt good about it.
With all the snow on the ground, it was easy to see through the woods Suddenly, I glimpsed movement along a rub line on the edge of the clearcut. Three does went trotting through, with a larger deer trailing behind them. The does passed by me, and as the larger deer neared, I could see bits and pieces of massive antlers.
The buck stopped directly in front of me at about 60 yards, with a small opening revealing his chest. I centered the crosshairs behind his right shoulder and gently squeezed the trigger.
At the shot, I could not see directly ahead, due to all the smoke blowing back into my face. As the smoke cleared, I hoped to see a buck piled up on the ground. But all I could see was white snow.
Upon closer inspection, I found a few bits of flesh with some brown and white hair attached to them, but only a few flecks of blood. That let me know I had connected. I followed the tracks in the snow for a short distance, and still saw no sign of blood.
Serious doubt starting creeping into my thoughts. I was only a few hundred yards from the adjacent property, when I heard a shot from that direction. I wondered if my wounded buck had been the target.
I decided to wait. As I sat there, four more does came b
y, and then Joe and Rocky suddenly appeared, having come over to see what I had shot. By now, it was around 10 a.m. and we decided to follow the trail. There was very little sign at first, but soon blood in great quantities appeared on both sides of the trail.
A WORLD-CLASS TROPHY
The buck had traveled about 150 yards before he piled up in the snow. The heavy bullet had gone through both lungs, and the buck had probably died within a minute of being shot.
Upon examining his antlers, though, it became evident that this was not the big 10-pointer I had been after. This buck was considerably larger!
My buck officially scored 191 2/8 typical Boone and Crockett points. The rack is almost a perfect 5×5 with only 4 4/8 inches in side-to-side deductions. On May 6, 2005, The National Muzzleloading Rifle Association recognized my buck as the largest typical whitetail ever taken in Ohio with a muzzleloader, and the third-largest typical whitetail ever taken in North America. (The ranking world-record muzzleloading typical whitetail scores 193 2/8 inches and was taken in Saskatchewan by David Wilson in 1992.)
Looking back, the whole experience seemed ironic. If I hadn’t been hunting the big 10-pointer, I’m sure I would have settled for a lesser buck. And if that had happened, I’d never have had the chance to take such an incredible whitetail.
When it comes to hunting whitetails, you never know what lies ahead!