The neon glow read 3:50 a.m. — 10 minutes before my alarm was set to go off.
The weather forecast for that morning was breezy and warmer than ideal at 50 degrees. As I lay there in bed listening to the wind howl outside my window, I briefly contemplated switching off my alarm and rolling over for a few more hours' rest. But that thought quickly passed as a smile crept onto my face and I rose to my feet. After all, it was November 4, and to a bowhunter in Ohio, it might as well have been Christmas morning!
I began preparing for an all-day sit with a small breakfast and glass of orange juice. I would have much rather it had been a cup of hot coffee, but I have found the odor impossible to completely remove from my breath, so it's a luxury I no longer afford myself before any bowhunt.
That's just one aspect of my scent-control regimen many of my hunting friends have told me is simply "too much," and bordering on obsessive. I finished my routine of a scent-free shower, deodorant, etc., and then dressed in my scent-free sweatsuit and drove to my hunting location three miles from my home. At 5 a.m., in the dark and along the roadside, I removed the scent-proof containers from my truck and the fun began.
I took off all my clothing, with the exception of my silver-infused socks and underwear. I then sprayed down completely with a scent eliminator and got dressed in a new set of scent-free clothing. Next, I sprayed each piece of equipment that was to enter the woods with me, all of which was completely de-scented prior to being packed.
This may be the OCD my friends often declare is too much, but I have grown to enjoy this part of the hunt, whether it is truly effective or not. I believe if it gives me confidence, I will sit longer and be more attentive, and therefore more successful.
With my backpack strapped on and my bow in hand, I began the half-mile walk to my stand. Upon reaching the point where I would finally enter the woodlot, I sprayed my hands and face one last time with a scent eliminator. The short path I had trimmed months ago was easy to follow, and I took great care to not touch anything as I made my way along it in the dark.
I stopped 15 yards short of my stand and applied a scent called EverCalm to the base of a tree at a 90-degree angle to my stand. Once safely in my stand, I put on my outer layer of ScentLok, which I keep in a Ziploc bag in my pack.
As daylight started to break and shadows became reality, I saw the outline of a lone doe as she slipped along a brushy trail that paralleled my location at about 30 yards at its closest point. At 50 yards, it turned into the five-acre thicket I was positioned to guard for the day.
Twenty minutes passed, when motion caught my eye on the same trail the doe had taken earlier. Three more does were making their way into my little sanctuary. After a quick look around, I removed my phone from my pocket to text my favorite hunting buddy, my father. I sent the message, "I have at least four does bedded in my little thicket. Can't wait to see who comes to visit them."
I didn't have to wait long before a small eight-point made his way along the edge of the woods, directly downwind of my location. He caught the scent of the EverCalm on the tree, turned 90 degrees, and came in as if on a string. After molesting the doctored tree for a minute or so, he continued on a new path, never getting downwind of the does or their trail.
Not 10 minutes later, another small buck appeared and mimicked the actions of the first buck almost exactly. The does' hiding spot was holding out, and they remained undisturbed.
I waited a few minutes until I figured the small bucks were far enough away, and then decided to rattle a little. After many disappointments, I gave up on store-bought rattling devices several years ago, and out of necessity created my own rattling device. It has served me quite well in recent years, and I will never again hunt the rut without it.
I began one of my usual, loud, two-minute rattling sessions, broken a few times momentarily to intensely scan for any movement that might indicate a response. With my rattling session over, I took my seat and checked the time — 7:20 a.m.
Not five minutes later, movement caught my attention. It was a deer, about 80 yards away and in the general direction the does had come from earlier. I wondered if it was one of the small bucks I had seen earlier coming back to investigate my rattling. One thing was certain — it was heading my way.
At 50 yards, I could see a rack large enough to warrant picking up my bow. Already standing and having pulled my facemask into position, I watched as the buck came upon the trail where the does had passed earlier. That spot, about 45 yards from my stand, was where two brushy strips of saplings converged. One, which the does had followed into the bedding cover, would pass me at 30 yards.
The other, which would circle downwind of that bedding area, would pass by me at a mere 10 yards. The buck worked a scrape and licking branch for a minute or so, and although it was too thick to know exactly how big he was, I decided he was a shooter!
I knew when the buck started moving again, I would have to draw my bow as there was little cover and only seconds to shoot should he follow the does' trail. Instead, the buck chose the path that would circle downwind. At 40 yards, as he passed behind the last large tree that would separate us, I came to full draw. Once the buck was clear, I recognized him as the monster I'd watched with my spotting scope in July from a half-mile away while he ate soybeans. At the time, while he was in velvet, I had estimated him to score in the 190s.
Now I was finding it hard not to focus on his rack. It seemed jagged and heavy, and it was growing larger with every step closer he took. The dense strip of saplings seemed to be an irritation to the huge buck, as he constantly shook them out of his massive rack. At 30 yards and coming almost straight at me, I could hear the cracking and slapping of those little trees with each shake of his head.
I couldn't help but wonder why he took this path, when 20 feet to either side of him would have been so much easier. He was at 20 yards, and I had no reasonable shot. Maybe that's why he's still alive, I thought.
I realized then that this would be the largest buck I'd ever shot at, should I maintain my composure long enough to release an arrow. I could no longer look at the mass of antlers, and I made no attempt to count points or guess scores. I simply focused on my two narrow shooting lanes — one at 12 yards, and one at 10. As the huge buck approached the first lane, I started my pre-shot ritual, repeating to myself, pick a spot and smooth release. My father had taught me that many years ago, and it has served me well.
When the buck's front shoulder entered the small opening at 12 yards, I made the classic "baaa" sound in an attempt to stop him. Whether it was the wind, his antlers clattering against brush, or his fixation on the trail that would lead him downwind of those bedded does, I don't know. But he showed no reaction and did not break stride. When he entered the next small opening at a mere 10 yards, I was taking no chances.
I picked my spot and released the arrow! There was blood instantly, and the shot looked good, but the buck reacted only by speeding up to a slow jog.
Frantically, I pulled another arrow from my quiver, nocked it, and came to full draw by the time the deer had made it 40 yards. The buck paused briefly, and I searched for any hole in the brush that would offer a second shot. Then I saw a wonderfully familiar sight as the old buck took two stumbling steps to the side. A second later he staggered back three steps then tumbled over.
I let up on my bow, and that's when I came unglued! I had no choice but to sit down immediately. Shaking uncontrollably, it took me three tries to hang my bow on its hook. I could see the white of the buck's belly as he lay motionless not 50 yards away, but the brush that surrounded him almost completely obscured his rack. After a few moments of trying to absorb what had just transpired and attempting to visualize the actual size of his massive antlers, I removed my phone to once again text my father.
The text, after several botched attempts at typing, finally read as follows. "I just shot a monster. By far my biggest buck!" My father, knowing I had previously taken three 150-class bucks along with numerous smaller trophies, was elated.
My next text read, "I'm not sure exactly what he is, and I don't want to be disappointed with any ground shrinkage, but I think I just shot a Booner!" He responded with "congratulations," and told me to settle down and let him know when I found the buck.
I lowered my bow and climbed down to the base of my tree, where I then removed my outer layer and placed it once again in its plastic bag within my backpack. Ok, now I see it. Perhaps my friends have a point about my OCD, I thought, laughing to myself.
Although I knew where the buck had fallen, I decided to enjoy every second of the experience and followed the blood trail. I walked to where the buck had been when I shot and recovered my bloody arrow, which was stuck firmly in the ground. Blood was instant and plentiful, the trail as easy to see as any I have had the pleasure of following. Ten yards before he expired, the buck crossed a small creek only a few feet wide.
When I emerged from the creekbottom, there, right in front of me, was that white belly. I took a deep breath, and when my eyes fell upon his magnificent rack, I stood in awe. A combination of amazement and disbelief filled my mind, and I was temporarily overwhelmed with emotion.
"Oh my, God," I mumbled to myself, "I just shot a 200-inch deer!" Instantly I thought, No way. Don't be crazy. Get ahold of yourself. But when I looked back at the giant, clearly the biggest buck I had ever seen in person in over 20 years of hunting, I knew. This buck was a 200-incher easy, and probably more! Never in my wildest dreams had I thought a buck like this roamed these woods. This was a buck of a hundred lifetimes, and as I took a moment to thank God and the animal that lay before me, I still questioned the reality of it all.
I took a couple of quick pictures and sent them to my dad, and then I called my wife, who was about to start her day as an elementary school teacher. I told her everything I could articulate, doing more rambling than making any coherent statements. Then I sent a picture to a few of my closest hunting buddies, most of whom asked which magazine I got that picture from. It wasn't until I took a picture of myself with the deer that they were convinced.
Never before had I received such accolades. My phone didn't lay silent for a moment in the hours and days that followed, as word of my accomplishment spread throughout my circle of friends.
As I wrote this article several weeks later, I had still barely come to accept the events of that day and the trophy I was blessed with as reality. It turns out my buck officially scored 2541„8", and as of this writing the Boone and Crockett Club believes it is the largest nontypical whitetail taken on the North American continent in 2014.
All I can say is, when you put forth so much effort and give so much of yourself to something and it finally pays off even more than you could have possibly hoped or imagined, it is truly unreal. You might even say it's "too much!"