22 Points On 20 Acres: The Jeff McCulley Crossbow Buck
July 23, 2012
The archery season had already begun in Ohio when I acquired permission to hunt a total of about 20 acres. My first outing was an afternoon hunt that I expected to produce more results from a scouting perspective than a hunting perspective. The property had an area of large pine trees with some very thick cover to one side. There were open woods with some large, very dense thickets in the back of the property. A brushy fencerow with a few trees separated the area of pines from a large field to the other side. Farmland bordered the other side of the woods to the rear. I found an area that appeared to have a fair amount of deer traffic, and I picked that spot to put up my ladder stand.
The first morning in the stand brought four does within bow range, but I had already decided, since there was very little — if any — hunting pressure, that I was going to hold out in hopes of taking a nice buck. A few days later, on an evening hunt, I watched a small 6-point and a couple of does feeding in the field to my right. On a morning hunt a week or so later, I saw a buck working his way around the edge of the field through the brush and into a big thicket. Even though I didn't get a good look at his rack, as the cover was too thick, he appeared to have a decent set of antlers. Several hunts went by with sightings of does and the smaller buck I had seen previously.
In early November, on a morning hunt, I got a good look at the buck I had seen around the edge of the field as he passed through the area at about 50 yards from my stand. He carried a very nice 8-point frame with long tines, a wide spread and pretty good mass, too. Unfortunately, he passed through, never getting close enough for a shot. It did not take much thought for me to decide he was the one I wanted.
A few days later, just before dark, I was watching a couple of does feeding and grazing in the field when the little 6-point showed up to keep them company. The three deer were soon joined by a smaller buck, which I had not seen before. The two bucks started to play around with each other, sparring back and forth. I thought for sure the sound of those two sparring bucks would bring the big 8-point out to have a look, but he never showed.
Not wanting to spook the deer, I remained in my stand until well after dark. Finally, all of the deer decided to move on. They passed right by my stand and left the area.
As the Ohio gun season arrived, I decided to continue my pursuit of the big 8-point with my crossbow since the landowners did not allow any gun hunting. A few opportunities at does and one of the smaller bucks presented themselves, but I had no chances at the big 8-point. Hearing a few shots on surrounding properties during the weeklong season made me start to think my chances at the big 8-point might have evaporated.
One evening, just before Christmas, I found out that "my 8-point" made it through the gun season. He entered the area where I was sitting, but not wanting to step out of the cover to present a shot, I watched him again as he worked his way out of sight.
With only a month of deer season left after the holidays, I continued the hunt for the big buck.
There is one word that describes January bowhunting in northeast Ohio — cold! Usually there is quite a bit of snow, too. Any bowhunter who has hunted the late season in the Great Lakes area of the country knows that it takes serious devotion and a true love of the sport to endure the kind of weather Mother Nature can throw at you at that time of year.
With temperatures in the single digits, some mornings the thought of taking a doe for some fresh tenderloin was starting to sound good, but I kept alive my hopes for a chance at the big buck.
On the morning of Jan. 5, 2010, I thought my shot was going to present itself as the big 8-point stepped out and headed my way. At about 40 yards, he stopped and looked back as the small 6-point appeared and made his way toward me on the same path. As he reached the bigger buck, he changed his path and passed by my stand just out of range, with the big 8-point following behind him. Once again, I watched the big buck disappear out of sight.
I returned that evening for a hunt, and hoped to see the buck moving again. Not long after climbing into the stand, three does passed through the area within range, but I chose not to shoot, hoping the big buck might show himself again.
On the way home that evening, I couldn't stop thinking about how cold I had been that evening and how good some fresh tenderloin would have tasted.
The next morning was quiet. A few hours in the stand with no deer movement, cold temperatures and an empty stomach sent me home to get a bite to eat and warm up a bit.
On the afternoon of Jan. 6, 2010, I climbed into my stand about 2 p.m. and got ready for the evening. A little time passed when the big 8-point appeared and made his way toward me on the same path as the previous morning, except this time he continued straight toward me. Passing directly under my stand, he never offered me anything except a shot straight down through his back. Hesitating to take that type of a shot, again I watched him as he disappeared out of sight.
Disappointed, I knew that was the last time I was going to sit there and watch him walk by without a shot. I climbed down to look for another spot to put my stand to possibly get a clear shot at the buck. I moved closer to the rear corner of the property, where the buck had exited on a couple of occasions. I had also seen a fair amount of activity in that area from other deer.
With a little more than a foot of snow on the ground, I was able to move quietly. I found a spot closer to the corner where the pines met the fencerow, field and thickets to the rear of the property. I knew it was too late in the day to move to the stand then, so I just cleared the snow away from the base of the tree and sat down on the ground for the last little bit of the evening.
After getting settled, I used my doe bleat can call one time just to make the sound of a deer in the area.
Fifteen or 20 minutes had gone by when a doe stepped out of a thicket, looked around a few moments and started toward me. At 30 yards, she stopped and stood a minute, taking another look around. I decided that it was time to take her, and when she turned her head and looked away from my direction, I raised my Horton crossbow.
Looking over the sight, waiting for her to turn for a shot, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. As I moved my eyes to look that way, a buck stepped out and with a couple quick of steps was behind a large tree, blocking the view of his head and shoulder area.
I immediately moved the crossbow for a shot at him instead of the doe. As he stepped out from behind the tree at 25 yards, I leveled the sight behind his shoulder and squeezed the trigger.
The unmistakably loud "swhack" sound followed, and the buck hunkered down and bolted off.
I watched him run out of sight as I laid the crossbow in my lap and started to absorb what had just happened in the last 60 seconds.
After a few minutes passed, I got up and walked to where the buck was standing when I shot. I got confirmation of a good shot when I found some blood sprayed in the snow and a red arrow.
Overwhelmed with excitement, I returned to where I was sitting and waited about an hour to look for my buck. Although by then it was after dark, tracking him was relatively easy. With a flashlight and the snow on the ground, it did not take long to find him. He had gone about 40 yards from where I had found my arrow.
As I approached, I could see one antler sticking up off the ground. I got my 8-point, so I thought.
As I reached the buck, I realized this was not the 8-point I had seen. This buck had some non-typical points, including a drop tine and unbelievable mass. I immediately raised the head to reveal the other antler, which was buried in the snow when he fell. Looking at the other side of his rack, I was almost in shock. More non-typical points, including two more drop tines and huge mass.
I could hardly believe what I was looking at. I had truly been blessed with the buck of a lifetime.
After putting my temporary tag on the animal and getting help to haul the big monster out, I decided to wait until the next morning to take him for a permanent tag.
The next day at the check-in station, the big buck drew quite the crowd. People gathered around to take pictures and find out where I had shot such an unbelievable animal. After leaving the check-in station, I called Bill Price of Bill's Taxidermy in Atwater, Ohio, to discuss skinning the buck for a mount. Bill has done work for me and my family and friends in the past and I trusted him to do a good job with this one as well.
After the 60-day mandatory drying period, Boone & Crocket and Buckeye Big Buck Club scorer Dave Haynes scored the buck at the Ohio Deer and Turkey Expo. The basic 8-point frame has a total of 24 scoreable points, with 88 inches of non-typical points and H-1 (circumference) measurements of 9 5/8 and 9 2/8 inches, respectively. The buck had a total gross score of 263 5/8 and a final net score of 257 4/8 Boone & Crocket points.
It was the largest deer taken in the 2009-10 season. The buck also stands as the No. 2 Ohio crossbow buck of all time and No. 4 all-time Ohio buck with any weapon, according to Buckeye Big Buck Club records.
I would like to thank Bill Price for doing such a fantastic job on the mount and for the speed with which he did it, as he had it ready for me to take it to the Ohio Deer and Turkey Expo in Columbus just two months later. I would also like to thank my father, Tom McCulley, and his cousins, Jed and Britt Watkins, for introducing me to the outdoors at a young age and teaching me how to become a good woodsman and successful hunter.