July 17, 2023
Honestly, since I was a young boy, I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with the bow and arrow and with hunting whitetail deer. When I was seven years old, my dad bought me my first bow — an Xi Silverhawk XP — and I was hooked from that moment. Fortunately, my home state of Virginia has plenty of deer, so over the years Dad and I were able to enjoy many great bowhunting adventures.
But as a teenager reading countless hunting magazines and watching more than my share of outdoor TV, I began to dream about making a trip to the Midwest’s Cornbelt. When I went off to college, my time and funds were limited, but I still figured that somehow I’d make it happen. In 2008, while in my senior year, one of my professors asked me to be a lab assistant for one of his Wildlife Biology classes that fall. I’d be super-busy that semester, but I said, “Sure thing, sign me up!”
Turns out, I ended up meeting one of my best friends in that class, and the door to the Midwest opened up for me. Grant Wallace was two years behind me in school, but we soon found that we had a shared passion for bowhunting. Before long we were swapping hunting stories and sharing photos, and I realized that he was as crazy about hunting whitetails as I was. And his family owned a farm in Ohio!
Grant invited me to come up and hunt with him in the fall of 2009, so I headed off the first week of November — no windshield GPS, no iPhone mapping app, just MapQuest directions telling me how to get there and back. Let me tell you, for this small-town kid with limited traveling experience, that was a big deal for me. And, boy, did we have the time of our lives!
Here we are, 12 years later. Grant and his family have been gracious enough to let me come back year after year, and now my dad even gets to join in the fun.
Dad and I make our annual trek to Ohio during the first or second week of November. It’s a trip that we look forward to every year. We spend 52 weeks out of the year talking and texting over the year’s hunting strategies and the potential for upcoming bucks. Over the past dozen years, we thought we’d experienced it all, having taken quite a few topnotch bucks. But last summer, Grant placed trail cameras over some mineral stations, and almost immediately we were looking at photos of a buck we couldn’t believe.
There he was — this large, split-droptined, double-main-beamed buck with bladed tines and stickers and kickers everywhere. To say the least, we were giddy! We wondered whether capturing him on camera was a fluke. Where in the world did he come from? Was he a regular, or would we never see him again? Regardless, we all agreed that with his club-like droptine, “Caveman” was a fitting name.
After we had time to process the Caveman situation, we realized this was the same buck I’d encountered back in 2018. Let us jump back in time to the morning of November 5, 2018.
On that calm, crisp morning, I experienced what we like to call one of those “rut-crazed hunts.” You know the kind of hunt I’m talking about: One of those days that’s forever burned in your mind and fuels future fires during the November grind.
That morning while in the stand, I watched this buck lock-down a hot doe. He was a big-bodied buck with a huge head, and I watched him fend off several other bucks as they honed-in on the scent of the doe. Bucks were bristling-up and posturing, grunting, chasing, and snort-wheezing. Although I realized he was a mature buck, I elected to pass on him due to his gnarly but narrow rack.
I ended up tagging-out that morning on a nice eight-pointer (but that’s an entirely different story). After I shot the eight-point, I packed up my gear and quietly climbed down the tree. As I began to ease toward my truck along the edge of an overgrown CRP field, I spotted Caveman and his doe. She was bedded down, and he was standing almost directly over her. I knew he was rut-crazed, and I wanted to see just how close I could get to him and his doe. While recording on my phone, I ended up walking within 15 yards of them before they took off. He was completely oblivious to my existence because he was so focused on his doe.
After that close encounter in 2018, Caveman fell off our radar. Over the next two years, we would occasionally talk about that gnarly buck I’d walked up on, but we never really knew where he went. So, we sort of shrugged off his disappearance...until we snapped his photo at a mineral site in August 2021.
Over the next couple of months, Grant and I strategized over the phone. I knew this buck was at least 4½ years old when I’d encountered him in 2018. He now had to be at least 6½. We regularly exchanged phone calls and texts on locations where we thought Caveman might be bedding, feeding, or traveling. During a couple of late-evening glassing sessions in August and September, Grant was able to put eyes on the buck. Grant called me and said, “Well, I’m looking at him again.” And our giddiness didn’t subside. We’d never had a buck of this caliber that was this consistent.
As the September 25 season opener arrived, Grant began the quest for Caveman. We knew it was only a matter of time before the buck would show up. We’d communicate almost daily via phone calls or texts and discuss stand locations, wind directions, and hunting pressure (was he being pushed too much or not enough?). Our minds were flooded with thoughts on how to capitalize on this buck.
Finally, on October 21, Grant had set up in a pinchpoint where compounding terrain features opened up to some cropfields. Not long after climbing into his stand, Grant spotted a doe, and then out popped Caveman right behind her. The buck wasn’t chasing; just hanging out downwind as mature bucks do, slowly following and watching her every move. As the two deer made their way toward Grant, all the stars appeared to be lining up. That is until the neighbor started riding his dirtbike up and down a nearby road and spooked the deer.
Grant called me soon after, practically in tears and sick to his stomach. I often say that hunting can take you from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. A true rollercoaster ride of emotions typically accompanies most hunting seasons. It has actually taught me that while life can be a grind, good things are always just around the corner.
Two days later, on October 23, Grant climbed back into the same stand. It was a super-rutty sit. Grant ended up seeing several bucks and tagged-out on a great 10-point that he just couldn’t pass up.
With Ohio being a one-buck state, and with Grant now done hunting, Dad and I knew that Caveman would still be there, and we couldn’t wait to get to the farm! Of course, the buck wasn’t living solely on Grant’s place. Although the old buck was frequenting their farm, we knew at times he was on neighboring properties as well. Grant decided he’d deploy several cameras and wait for our arrival to check them.
Friday, November 5, Dad and I pull out of Virginia and headed to Ohio for what we call our week of “rutcation.” The hunt began with camera checking, treestand prep, and some quick scouting. As luck would have it, one of those cameras had daylight photos of Caveman.
As our rutcation week began, we started bouncing around on a few different farms, sitting many of the same stand locations we’d hunted in the past. We saw plenty of small bucks, and lone yearling fawns were in abundance. But the mature bucks and does were not showing themselves. I passed on a nice 3½-year-old 10-point and a mature eight-pointer. Every buck that I saw made me think of Caveman.
Monday morning, November 8, was my sixth sit of the hunt. That morning, I told Grant and Dad that I was going to devote the rest of the week to the area Caveman frequented.
But that morning resulted in more of the same — several small bucks and two yearling fawns. I texted Dad and Grant and said we needed to change things up. I figured most of the mature bucks were locked-down with does, so I suggested to Dad that we meet up at 11 a.m. and do a quick, midday scouting mission. It had warmed up to 60 degrees and was quiet, so I hung a new stand not even 150 yards from where my truck was parked. The spot was in a swale between two cropfields that intersected a fencerow.
We knew the drainage held deer, but we’d only hunted it once or twice before. I asked Grant if he thought I should walk farther down the draw to see if there was any fresh sign. “You know what will happen,” he said. “You’ll spook deer.”
I said, “Yeah, you’re right. I’d better not. I’ll just follow you back to the house.”
We loaded into the trucks, and Grant pulled away. I followed in my truck, but upon glancing back, something told me to take another peek at that draw. I threw the truck in park and sent Grant a text that said, “I’m going to ease into the draw. I’ll be at your house in a few.” Dad stayed next to the truck, and I asked him to watch the bottom side of the draw in the event I jumped deer.
I had just peeked my head in the draw where the swale intersected the fencerow and, just as we’d anticipated, a large-antlered buck blasted out of there with a doe and they ran across the picked beanfield. I didn’t get a good look at the deer, but all Dad could say was that the buck was a dandy and he didn’t need binoculars to see his rack. I knew it wasn’t Caveman because Dad said the buck was wide, but I knew the draw was one of those places where a buck and doe in heat would hide away from other deer.
It was 1 p.m., and I told Dad that I was going back to Grant’s house to shower because I wanted to come right back in there to sit for the remainder of the day. I explained to Dad that while I knew it was warm and the buck movement had been slow, we were, after all, hunting the Buckeye State, and it was November 8.
Arriving back at the property at 2 p.m., wearing a fresh set of hunting clothes, we saw a five-point with his nose to the ground in the draw where we’d jumped the buck and doe earlier. I’d hunted in there one time before, so I knew the tree I wanted to sit. With the wind in my favor, I made my way into a forked walnut using my climbing sticks and tree saddle, in hopes that the hot doe from earlier would wander back into the draw with that big buck.
It wasn’t long before I spotted a small eight-point walking across the beanfield. He cruised through the draw, heading into a big block of cover on Grant’s property. This draw connected two larger blocks of cover. We’d mostly overlooked this spot, even though I knew there was just enough cover there for cruising bucks.
At about 4:45 p.m., I looked into the cut beanfield and spotted a huge-bodied deer making its way into the draw. At 150 yards away, my first impression was that it wasn’t a shooter because it wasn’t super-wide. But after easing the binoculars to my eyes, a large club droptine materialized…and I was in disbelief… Caveman was heading into my draw!
He entered higher up than I’d anticipated but was probably 45 yards from me in the thickest part of the draw, with absolutely no available shot. Since I didn’t plan for this setup, I hadn’t cut any shooting lanes.
As I was assessing the situation, I could see Caveman drinking from a small puddle. Carefully, I eased my grunt call from my vest pocket and made a couple of soft grunts. He didn’t react, so I grunted at him again — this time with a little more volume. When Caveman raised his head and looked my way, I hit him with two more grunts. The draw was so thick, I knew he couldn’t see me. He began to aggressively paw the ground, and then headed in my direction. I was a nervous wreck.
As he closed the distance to 25 yards, walking straight toward me, I was able to draw my bow and knew it was gametime. When the buck came into the open at about six yards, I gave him a soft “maahh.” He froze in his tracks, and I tucked my pin tight against his shoulder and released. I watched as my lighted nock flashed into his vitals, and then he bounced off into the beanfield and stopped, looking around like nothing had happened.
I began to panic, but as I nocked another arrow and ranged the buck at 47 yards, I noticed he was beginning to wobble. He tipped over seconds later, and I was left in utter disbelief!
I quickly grabbed my phone and tried to call Grant. He didn’t answer, so I texted him and my dad, telling them I’d shot Caveman and he was dead in the middle of the beanfield!
I was still shaking when Grant and Dad arrived on the scene. And I’ll never forget what it was like for the three of us to walk up to my Buckeye State monarch. Honestly, the entire hunt was a team effort, and I felt like Caveman was as much their buck as mine. We were all riding on a cloud!
Never be afraid to change things up. Try to live — and to hunt — with an open mind. You never know when a door will open to your dreams!
The author hails from southwest Virginia and is also passionate about wildlife/land management and conservation.
For this hunt, I shot a 60-pound PSE Source bow, Easton Axis 340 arrows, and 100-grain Slick Trick Magnum broadheads. My final sit was in a CRüZR XC saddle, and I used a Tethrd Predator Platform and Lone Wolf Climbing Sticks.