Ronnie Stevens exchanged the memory card in his trail camera, turned the power back on and latched the door closed. Slipping the spent card into his pocket, he climbed into his treestand and towed up his bow.
It was 4 p.m. on October 18, just a few short hours from prime time, and Stevens was in place overlooking an overgrown 8-acre CRP field adjacent to a hardwood lot. As he settled into the zone, Stevens couldn’t help but wonder what had been recorded on the memory card in his pocket.
Fishing a camera from his pack, Stevens inserted the card and began cycling through the photos that had been recorded over the last 24 hours. There he was! A giant 10-point typical with some serious G2s and wide, sturdy mainbeams was posing for the camera.
Stevens soaked in the contents of the photo, but it was the time stamp that held the most meaning — 7:30 a.m., October 18. Based on everything Stevens had learned about this bruiser’s habits over the last few weeks, he had a sneaking suspicion that the buck was using the head-high CRP grass as bedding cover during the day. Stevens stashed his camera back in the pack and looked out over the field and into the adjacent woodlot. Somewhere, out in front of him, was the buck of a lifetime.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
It was September 24, Opening Day of Ohio’s 2011 archery season for whitetails, and Ronnie Stevens wasn’t hunting.
Instead, he was behind the wheel, driving home from his daughter’s volleyball game in Sugar Grove, southeast of Columbus.
But when Stevens wasn’t actually bowhunting whitetails, he was at least thinking about them. Those thoughts prompted Stevens to take the southerly route to his home in Columbus, passing through the village of Obetz, just below the southern city limits of Columbus.
The route afforded Stevens the opportunity to scope out the bean fields in the area as the sun slipped towards the horizon, the perfect time and place to catch a glimpse of any deer that might be moving into the fields for supper.
“As my wife can attest, while I’m driving, I’m looking in bean fields and cornfields,” Stevens explains. “She always worries about me wrecking. I came home the back way through south Columbus, checking bean fields because it’s that time in September when bucks are together in bachelor groups.”
Stevens was passing one such field when he noticed a handful of bucks standing in the beans. He instinctively slowed his vehicle to get a better look and as the field was just passing out of view, he caught a glimpse of a solid 180-class buck moving toward the tree line.
“I did a U-turn and came back,” Stevens said. “The bachelor group was still there, but he was gone.”
As fleeting as Stevens’ encounter with the big-framed buck was, it lit a fire under the avid bowhunter and set in motion weeks of meticulous planning. Ronnie was determined to explore every avenue he had for hunting the spectacular buck.
“I started looking at aerial photos, trying to figure out woodlots and properties,” Stevens recalled. “From the county auditor’s Web site, I identified the owner of the 5-acre woodlot I saw the buck duck into.”
For better or worse, the 5-acre property was located inside Obetz town limits, which meant it subject to a village-wide “no projectile” law. But as is often the case in towns around Columbus, hunters can occasionally gain permission to bowhunt despite no projectile statutes if they can secure permission from the landowner and the town authorities. Stevens now knew where to find the massive 10-pointer, but a number of hurdles stood in his way.
DOWN AND OUT
“A lot of places around Columbus are like that,” Stevens explains. “Normally a conversation with the landowner and the local police chief will give you a chance to introduce yourself and explain what you’d like to do, and usually they’ll give you a signed permit. With that in mind, I went to see the landowner after convincing myself the buck had to live there.”
Ronnie made three unsuccessful attempts to contact the property owner, who was never home. Finally, on a return trip from his mother-in-law’s, he noticed the landowner was in the driveway unloading groceries.
“So I pulled in, introduced myself and explained I was trying to get permission to hunt somewhere close to home. He was a nice guy, an old-timer who said his mom had been born in that house. He said ‘No problem,’ and gave me written permission.”
For Ronnie, the next hurdle was securing a permit from the village of Obetz.
“A no projectile law means no bowhunting or hunting of any deer or animal,” Ronnie said. “Some of the towns in this area have that.”
Confident he could secure a permit from Obetz authorities, Ronnie begin laying the groundwork for harvesting the big whitetail he had spotted 10 days before.
As it turned out, Stevens would have to receive permission from the Obetz town council in order to bowhunt the 5-acre woodlot where he had seen the big 10-pointer. At the next town council meeting in Obetz, Ronnie and his friend, Scott Esker, introduced themselves to the council and requested permission to bowhunt the small parcel of land inside the town limits.
In response to the request, the Obetz mayor asked if any of the council members or other meeting attendees had an objection to the request. One person in the audience responded. If there was to be any hunting in Obetz, it should be limited to residents and employees of the village, the person argued. The motion was tabled.
Outside the meeting, Esker asked Stevens what his plan would be.
“Back up and punt,” Stevens responded.
Stevens wasn’t convinced yet that he was out of options. Across the highway from the 5-acre woodlot was an overgrown, weedy CRP field with grass nearly tall enough to swallow a man. If the big buck was spending time in the woods across the road, it was a decent bet that he would make an appearance in the CRP field at some point. Stevens didn’t know who owned the property, but he did know one thing: the field was in the jurisdiction of Columbus, not Obetz.
“If I could find out who owned that field, I knew I at least had a chance to hunt the buck,” Stevens said.