As summer slipped into fall in 2010, the excitement of deer season and my annual trip to Nebraska continued to build, and my thoughts were almost completely occupied by monster whitetail bucks.
The last two seasons left me broken hearted. I had lost a 150-class buck in 2008 and a 170-class deer in 2009. But maybe, just maybe, the snake-bitten seasons were behind me.
Still, I knew I was missing what could be the best week of bow season in Nebraska, a reality that allowed at least some doubt and uncertainty to slip in.
My pastor had invited me to hunt with him and a friend of his in Ohio. For three years in a row, we had planned the trip, but in each case, some unforeseen tragedy would cancel the plans. This year was a go, but unfortunately, the trip was scheduled for November 7-12 — prime time for the spots I hunt in Nebraska.
My buddies couldn't believe I was actually going to get on a plane and fly halfway across the country to hunt a piece of ground about which I knew very little, when I could hunt my own honey hole in Nebraska during the best week of the season. I said I had given my word that I would go with Pastor Shane on this hunt, and that for better or for worse, I was headed to Ohio.
I got on a plane in Lincoln, Nebraska, bound for Ohio without a clue as to the property we would be hunting. I had no idea if we'd be set up on a private farm or if we'd be hunting public land. And for that matter, I certainly didn't know what the trophy potential was.
You'd have to know my pastor to understand. He just loves to fly by the seat of his pants on these kind of trips. He says it makes it more exciting.
During the flight, I did, at least, chat with a passenger who was familiar with the area I'd be hunting, and he confirmed that that part of the state was known for good bucks.
Finally, I had firsthand information on the area, along with a reason to get excited.
We landed in Columbus, and I couldn't even find my ride for about 15 minutes because of miscommunication. After some lonely time on the airport curb, I finally spotted my ride. I jumped in the truck without knowing where I was going or how long the ride would be. At that point, I met my new best friend, Pastor Ken Roark.
Ken immediately began selling me on the hunting in the area, describing the trophy bucks he had spotted in his front yard and building my expectations for a great hunt. And then he dropped the awful "but."
"But, the weather could be an issue this week," Ken said, "because it has been unseasonably warm.
From there, the conversation continued to go south. As it turned out, I'd be hunting public ground in Ohio.
You've got to be kidding me, I thought. I left Nebraska for this?
The only experience I had on public ground was back home in Louisiana, where the competition was fierce and the deer became almost entirely nocturnal during hunting season. Some of the biggest deer in Louisiana are on public land, but getting a shot at a trophy during daylight hours was nearly impossible. In eight years of hunting public land in Louisiana, I had never had a shot at a trophy buck. We arrived at Ken's place about 10 o'clock on Sunday night, and I met up with my other hunting buddies, Ray and Earl. Ken's family made me feel at home and comfortable right away. They were most gracious hosts.
On Monday morning we slept in, which I welcomed after five days of hunting and traveling. Our first stop was to visit one of Ken's friends to see the 200-inch deer on his wall.
What a buck, and what a story, I thought, but I'll probably never get that lucky.
Still, Ken and his friends were really working us up.
"You're going to see plenty of 130-class 10-pointers," they told us, "but don't shoot because we've got plenty of better bucks."
Finally we arrived at the ground we'd be hunting. It was a pretty area on the side of a tall ridge, with some good feed trees, plenty of cover and lots of big buck sign. Unfortunately, it was caught between a busy neighborhood and a rifle range. Our first hunt was unproductive and loud — AK-47 loud. I'm sure the deer had conditioned themselves to the noise, but I hadn't. I only spotted one doe that evening, but Ken insisted I give the spot another try.
The nearby neighborhood and firing range were even busier the following morning. Admittedly, I was beginning to get a bit uneasy with the entire situation, and the rifle range was making me downright jumpy.
After the morning hunt, we all decided we should make a move to a new location. We headed back to Ken's home to regroup. He said he had another spot that might be good but that it was public land also. He printed out a map of the area and marked a couple spots that he thought would be good.
That evening, the four of us split up on the area. Pastor Shane and Ray headed east, and Earl and myself went west. Earl found himself a spot and I kept on going until I began jumping deer. Unfortunately, with the wind coming from the wrong direction, I had no alternative but to keep moving until I found a better setup. Finally, I found a spot that would work with the prevailing wind direction and where I could see for several hundred yards.
That first evening I saw 12 bucks and many does. They were chasing, grunting, snorting, blowing and fighting — right in front of me.
Wow, I thought. That was an unbelievable hunt.
I picked a tree about 40 yards away from my initial setup where I thought I would be closer to the action and hung my stand there for the following morning.
I was full of life the following morning, ready to get into the woods and start another day of hunting. I spent about 20 minutes carefully and quietly cutting limbs as I climbed.
Ray was set up about 200 yards from me, and I could hear him grunting and rattling, so I refrained. To my surprise, the woods were dead quiet that morning until about 8 a.m., when a nice 140-inch 10-pointer appeared. Since the biggest buck on my wall at the time was 135 inches, I decided to take the shot.
I centered my pin on the approaching buck's vitals and pulled the trigger on my release, but all I saw after the shot was a white flag waving goodbye. My arrow had deflected off a stick, leaving nothing but a tuft of white chest hair from the buck and a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Snake-bitten again? I wondered. No way!
That evening, I climbed back in to my API climbing stand. Based on the amount of action I had seen in the area, I decided to play it safe and avoid using scents or calling. It was about 55 degrees with a slight southeast wind.
Around 4 p.m., it was like someone opened a gate. Deer began filtering in, but this time, they were within bow range. Two small bucks were chasing a pair of hot does all around my tree, and the disturbance must have caught the attention of every deer in the woods. A 130-class buck moved in from my left, and a 140-inch deer came from the right. I stood up to shoot the bigger buck, but he moved through my shooting lane before I had time to draw.
The two larger bucks began circling each other, sizing each other up for the ensuing fight. Despite being only 20 yards away, I didn't have a clear shot at either deer.
Suddenly, a lone doe appeared out of nowhere and walked straight in to my tree, sniffing the ground and the limbs I had trimmed. She was trying her best to bust me, and I was beginning to get nervous. She's going to blow the whole thing, I thought.
Just then, I heard a deep grunt like I've never heard before. I turned to look, and 80 yards away, through the brush, I could make out what was obviously a mature buck.
The buck emerged from the brush and headed towards the ridge behind me. I knew immediately that this buck was a shooter, and I could tell that I was about to have an open 40-yard shot. But I couldn't move. The lone doe was still standing next to my tree.
Eying the two smaller bucks, the mature deer turned and headed straight toward the doe underneath my stand. A mere five yards away from me, the buck began raking his antlers through the tree limbs below.
I still don't remember how I managed to draw my Mathews Switchback, but I placed the top pin on the buck's vitals and touched the release. I heard the arrow hit its mark and watched as the buck dropped his head and bolted. I could not believe how big his antlers were.
Deer scattered everywhere, but I heard my buck crashing through the brush and thrashing on the ground. For a few minutes, I sat in disbelief. Then I sent a text message to Ray telling him that I'd shot a great buck, but that I was going to wait until dark to climb down.
When Ray finally got to my location, I was shaking like a leaf. I showed him where I shot the deer, and he couldn't believe how close it was to my stand — just five paces! We began tracking and found a blood trail immediately. After about 30 yards, we found the arrow, which was dripping wet with good blood. The blood trail thinned for the next 30 yards, and then it became a steady, heavy trail.
I actually walked past the buck, but Ray spotted him. "There he is!" Ray shouted. "Man, you shot a warlord of a buck!"
The buck got bigger and bigger as I walked up on it, and I think I almost passed out as I sat down beside it, thanking God for such a magnificent animal.
The horns were massive, measuring almost 7 inches at the bases, and the mass carried all the way out. The buck's G2 tines measured 12 inches each, and the G3s topped 13 inches. With no cart and no four-wheeler, we had to drag him out, but with so much adrenaline pumping through all of is, we figured it wouldn't be a problem. And it wasn't — for the first couple minutes. We ended up cutting a six-foot pole and strapping it to the antlers. With one man on each side of the pole and one man holding the buck's legs, we were able to drag him out, but it took nearly 3 1/2 hours.
Pope and Young officially scored my buck at 190 6/8 net, with a gross score of 196 4/8, which would place him among the top 10 all-time typical bucks for Ohio.
So if anyone out there is wondering, yes, I will be heading back to Ohio come November, and yes, I will be hunting public ground.