By Dan Armitage
Well after the close of the 2001-02 deer season, 35-year-old Adam Hays of Glenford was out hunting sheds with his dog in the suburban woodlots on the eastern edge of Franklin County when the Lab returned with an awesome antler.
“I scored it later at 81 inches,” said Hays. “Right then and there, I knew where I’d be hunting until I bagged the buck that wore that horn.”
Hunting close to home wasn’t out of character for the avid archer, who was born and raised in Reynoldsburg on Columbus’ east side. For the last decade, he had concentrated his Ohio hunting efforts inside Franklin County.
“For years, like most everybody else, I went to southern Ohio every fall for my deer hunting,” the Buckeye State native explained. “But I never really saw many big deer. In 1992, I decided that I wanted to take my hunting to the next level, to concentrate on taking big deer, like the ones you see in the magazines.”
GETS TOUGH . . .
“When I started asking around, it seemed like all of the big bucks I was hearing about were from right here at home, just outside Columbus,” Hays noted. “But because they couldn’t hunt those bucks with a gun, no one was paying attention to them.”
Hays took the hint and honed his archery skills while concentrating his scouting efforts around the suburban areas east of the capital city. He figured that the absence of gun hunting pressure combined with the abundance of food sources from local vegetable gardens and grain crops in the semi-urban landscape would allow resident whitetails to enjoy long, healthy lives while sprouting the impressive racks that go with such longevity.
Since getting bit “bad” by the big-buck bug in 1992, Hays has traveled as far as Alberta in search of whitetail trophies. All of his Ohio hunting, however, has taken place within Franklin County, where he sees – and often harvests – the largest racks of them all.
In the dozen years since he made the decision to pursue trophy deer only, by his account Hays has tallied 15 Pope and Young-class deer, with six racks that score more than 150 points and two non-typicals that gross over 200 inches. Eleven of those deer were harvested in Franklin County – including the biggest buck of them all, the original owner of the shed that Hays dog had fetched.
“I had not entered any of them in Pope and Young,” said Hays. “Being in the books was never that important to me, to be honest.”
That attitude changed last October, however, when Hays drew on what may be the largest bow-taken buck in the state last year.
“I had narrowed down his home range and located where he was bedding and feeding last fall,” explained the hunter. “I discovered that he was using a woodlot along a bean field. Since it was private land and I had permission to hunt only the field, I had to hang my stand along the edge of the woods. Since I couldn’t use the woods as cover going to the stand, I was pretty much limited to hunting in the evenings and trying to catch him leaving the woods and entering the field.”
Hays hunted the deer in the same area during the season of 2002-03 but never saw him.
“That year, the field was planted in corn, so the deer had plenty of places to hide in. But I also saw a bigger-bodied deer there that year, and I figured it might have been the more dominant buck, which might have pushed my deer out last season. All I know is that I never saw him that year, and I hunted that spot pretty hard.”
Not as hard, however, as Hays hunted the whitetail last fall.
“I hunted that deer 22 days straight,” he said.
On the 18th October evening in a row, as he sat in his stand 30 feet over the edge of the harvested bean field, Hays finally saw his deer.
“He entered the bean field from the woods to the east of where I was sitting. He was nosing around where some does had come out earlier, about 150 yards away,” Hays recalled.
Hays rattled loudly to the deer, and the buck responded by walking toward the hunter. When the whitetail was 50 yards from Hay’s stand, the deer stopped and stared into the woodlot, looking directly under the stand for the source of the antler racket.
“Then he just turned and walked back across the field in the direction he had come from,” Hays said.
Hays was in the same stand four days later when the huge whitetail gave a repeat performance, stepping out of the woods and into the open bean field as before.
It was an overcast Sunday, the 26th of October, when Hays coated himself in scent-eliminating spray and settled into his tree stand for yet another evening of soybean-field surveillance.
“This time I grunted two or three times when he came out of the woods, and he walked straight up the field toward me,” recalled the hunter. “Just as before, he stopped about 50 yards out and stared at the woods. I grunted again, and this time he came closer, within 30 yards – in bow range – but I didn’t have a good shot.”
At that point, the whitetail stood and stared into the trees as the already dreary daylight faded.
“I turned my head away from him, facing the woods, and grunted again, like a deer moving away,” said Hays. “Instead of heading back down the field, like he had earlier when I had rattled to him, he tried to loop around me to get downwind.
“But he didn’t loop wide enough, and he walked right into my shooting lane.”
Hays gave one more grunt to stop the deer, which offered a broadside shot as it sauntered past, and at 20 yards the triple-bladed broadhead did its job.
“He went down fast,” explained Hays. “By the time I lifted the binoculars to my eyes, he was down, lying about 60 yards away in the field.”
At 5:30 p.m. sharp, Hays affixed his temporary Ohio deer tag to the rack and admired his 10-point-plus suburban trophy.
“I just knew he was my biggest,” admitted the hunter, who had no way of knowing that his trophy might also rank as the largest buck any archer in Ohio would take last year.
In late January, after the required 60-day drying period, Hays’ buck was officially scored by Jim Jordan of the Buckeye Big Buck Club. The 10-point non-typical rack grossed an even 208 and netted 202 2/8, with five non-typical points.
“This one I’m entering with Pope and Young,” said Hays. “I may never get one bigger, so I guess it’s time I put a deer in the books.”
He calls his deer “The Cody Buck,” after the faithful Lab who first located the trophy’s huge shed.
Meanwhile, Hays and his canine companion are already bird-dogging another big suburban deer they heard about through friends in the area. The pair spent this past spring on the trail of a discarded antler to prove whether this latest “monster buck” was just an urban legend or yet another trophy-class whitetail living large on the outskirts of Ohio’s capital city. Anyone care to bet on what’s going to happen next?
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