Mark Ledford's 216-Inch Ohio Booner Buck

Mark Ledford's 216-Inch Ohio Booner Buck

It was November 10, 2013, and I had just spotted a mature doe and her fawn over my shoulder and was waiting for them to pass to my left. I had been hunting hard for seven of the past 10 days, and I had yet to see a mature buck.

Perhaps I should just go ahead and harvest the mature doe, fill my freezer, and satisfy my desire to draw back and release an arrow, I thought.

On the other side of the coin it was, after all, November 10, the peak of the Ohio rut. I knew there were several big bucks in the area based on my trail camera photos of them from the previous January.

I was hoping they had survived the early part of the hunting season and had not been hit by a car, especially one buck in particular that I had dubbed "The One That I Want."

I decided not to compromise, and instead chose to hold out and let the doe and her young one pass by. I would wait and tough it out, in hopes that one of the big bucks from my trail camera photos would come within range.

ledford_2I first saw The One That I Want in the summer of 2012. My buddy Dave called and told me he had seen a whopper buck about a half-mile north of my hunting spot. It was almost dark, and I decided I didn't have enough daylight left to go see the big boy that evening.

I am a Pastor with a busy schedule, and I also have four children who are involved in a lot of evening activities and sports. I was waiting for the opportunity for my first free evening to take a quick drive and see if I could spot any big bucks.

Sure enough, when I arrived at the area that Dave had described to me, I saw several deer, including one very large buck. The bucks were still in velvet, and I estimated the biggest one to be in the 180-class.

I called Dave and my buddy Jeff to tell them I had seen the big buck. The three of us drove by the area every chance we could over the next several weeks. One evening, Jeff and his wife saw four large bucks, including the 180.

Jeff sent me pictures, which I downloaded onto my computer. I labeled the picture of the four big bucks together "The Big Four," and I titled the photo of the 180 "The One That I Want."

In my wildest dreams I could never imagine that I would even see The One That I Want. Why would he travel a half-mile to my hunting area when I had never even seen him there before? Only one thing might draw him to my hunting spot — an estrous doe.

Success came very early for me in 2012 when I killed a 150-class buck on the first day of the Ohio archery season. I was hunting a funnel on a different property that had both soybeans and corn. I had killed a 145-inch buck in that same funnel in November 2011.

It was September, so it was still quite hot. As sweat poured down my face and burned my eyes, I began texting my cousin Chris in North Carolina, telling him how bored I was and how I hadn't seen a single deer.

Thirty minutes after I sent that text, the dandy 11-pointer crossed the soybean field and closed to within 10 yards of my stand. My season ended quickly and joyfully, and I'd shot my biggest buck ever.

Since a hunter can only kill one buck in Ohio, I would not even have the opportunity to hunt any of The Big Four that year. I did hunt does on the property close to where The Big Four lived, and I also took my youngest son, Camden, to the property.

ledford_3I was able to capture one of The Big Four on a trail camera in October, and later that same buck came within shooting range while I was in my treestand. On that same property, I shot several does and watched Camden shoot his first deer.

Other than that, I never saw any of the other Big Four or The One That I Want during the remainder of the 2012 season. Were the other three still alive? I wondered. Had any of them survived the hunting season? Would I ever really know?

Now it was 2013, and the August drive-bys had become a regular part of my late-summer evenings. Every chance I got, I headed up the road to where Dave, Jeff, and I had seen The Big Four and The One That I Want.

I hoped to just catch a glimpse of any of the four bucks, so that I would know they were still alive and in the area. The reality is that never again would I see The Big Four together, but that didn't matter because I saw him. I saw The One That I Want.

He didn't stay out in the field for long when I pulled my truck off the road to stare at him, but he was unmistakable. He was still alive, and hunting season was right around the corner!

The doe and her young one passed by to my left and continued into the thick brush and briars in front of me. As they were moving out of sight, I heard another deer coming. Would it be a big buck?

It was a buck all right — a button buck! He sniffed around, passed to my left, and then came out in front of my stand at about 35 yards.

ledford_4I only had about 25 minutes of daylight left and was beginning to regret not shooting the mature doe. I pulled out my grunt call and began grunting at the button buck to see if he would react.

Something caught my eye beyond the woods, out in the grass about 120 yards away. A buck with a good-sized rack had his nose to the ground like a beagle. He was running back and forth, sniffing the ground in search of a hot doe. I began praying the buck would be a shooter.

It all happened so fast! Deer were everywhere. The button buck was still hanging around. The doe and her young one were coming back and heading right toward my stand.

All of this movement (and probably the smell of a doe in heat) caught the attention of the buck and he started heading my way too. I couldn't believe it. The doe I had almost decided to shoot was the doe that was bringing in the buck!

As I continued to pray that the buck would be a shooter, I did not realize that he was the deer I had pictures of, the big buck I had seen in the summers of 2012 and 2013. All I knew was that he had a lot of mass, and that he was coming my way very fast and grunting as he came.

I stood up and prepared to shoot. When the buck was at 25 yards, his head went behind a small tree, so I took that opportunity to come to full draw. This movement caught the attention of the other three deer, and they were now all staring up at me in my stand.

The buck was now at 18 yards, and he was looking up at me, too. He was also facing me, and I knew I could not take that shot. But then he turned his head and body slightly and exposed his left front shoulder.

With all four deer ready to bolt, I knew it was now or never. I let the arrow fly, heard it hit him, and saw my red lighted nock sticking out of the deer's side. I had hit him right where I was aiming and began to pray a different prayer: "Help him to go down, Lord. Help him to go down!"

I saw him stumbling around about 40 yards out in front of me in the thick stuff where the does had originally traveled. Then I saw the red lighted nock moving out of sight. With only 10 minutes of shooting light left, and neighboring properties very close by, I chose to get down and try to find him. The blood trail was excellent, and I quickly saw my lighted nock ahead. It wasn't moving, and neither was the buck! He had piled up less than 85 yards from my treestand.

At this point I still had no idea that it was the deer that two summers earlier I had dubbed The One That I Want. As I approached the buck, he was much bigger than what I had originally thought. It was then that I realized that this buck was THE buck! "The One That I Want" became "The One That I Got!"

I raised my hands in praise to God and began to thank Him over and over again as I walked to my truck to get my flashlight. On my way, I met up with the landowner and told him I had killed a big buck. I said he probably had about 16 points, but I was wrong — he had 26 points!

After calling my family, my hunting partner, and my father-in-law, Ed, I celebrated that evening by taking the deer to show each of my hunting buddies. After the 60-day drying period, the buck measured 222 gross nontypical and netted 216.

He was my first Buckeye Big Buck Club and first Boone and Crockett buck. I had learned a valuable lesson about passing up does and waiting for the big buck to arrive. I also learned a lot about true friends and the importance of rejoicing with those who rejoice.

I was reminded once again about how I serve a great God who even gave me The One That I Want!

Author's Note: My equipment on this hunt included a Darton Maverick Express bow, Carbon Express arrows, and 125-grain NAP Thunderhead broadheads.

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