The Ohio 'Moose' Buck: 252-Inch Buckeye Beast
April 07, 2015
The quest for a world-class whitetail usually is told from the perspective of a single hunter who was on that deer's trail and finally caught up with him. But not every such chase is a solo affair. Sometimes the details of the pursuit are best related by more than one person.
So it is with a non-typical called "Moose," an Ohio monster found dead last winter. Here, we present his story as told by a pair of hunters: Drew Wisecup, who knew of the deer while he was alive, and Keith Orr, the guy who found him dead.
By Drew Wisecup
For many years now I've been fortunate to hunt a close friend's farm in south-central Ohio. I'm part of a small group who have hunted together on this property almost all of that time. Over the years, we've "divided" the property into individual hunting areas. The one I hunt is in the northeast portion of the farm.
As it turned out, by chance that's where Moose showed up. My section borders another farm in almost an "L" shape. The bottom corner is a natural pinch point where I've hunted for the past 10 years. The pinch point is an area where a ravine, the property boundary, two switchgrass bottom fields and a levee meet. It's a natural gathering point for deer.
Over the years I've used different mineral blocks in different places, not to pull deer into the area, but to build gathering waypoints to collect information on the herd. This proved to be important, as the oldest of spots — an oak stump I'd been replenishing for three years — is where Moose first appeared.
He first showed up on Sept. 2, 2011. The photos were taken with an inexpensive camera, so details of his rack were hard to make out. One thing was clear, though: He was unique. I showed the pictures to my wife immediately after they came up on the computer screen, and we both noticed the palmation he had on both sides of his rack. My wife noted, "He looks like a moose," and the name stuck from that point on.
I didn't see Moose at all while hunting that season, and as far as I know, no one else did, either. I'd learn, after his death, that Moose was only 2 1/2 years old in those first photos.
Moose made several appearances at the same mineral block that summer. By this time, he'd really added bone to his rack; the photos were startling, to say the least. He began showing up on the cameras in late August and continued to visit them through October.
I hung a stand close to the mineral block, in hopes of getting a glimpse of Moose. But I never did. He was impossible to pattern. All of his movements were at night, and even then on a sporadic basis.
Good friend and fellow big buck chaser Tim Nelson pored over what little evidence I had of the deer. He tried cross-referencing dates and times with moon phases and various weather conditions, but without any luck. The buck's only consistent pattern was that he never was visible during the day. We concluded my only chance of seeing him that year was to spend a lot of time in the stand and hope to get lucky during the rut.
After putting so much effort into chasing Moose, Tim and I concluded his core area was on a property next to the farm we hunted. The spot was a small woods on a hillside, surrounded by switchgrass. There were houses only a half-mile on the other side of this small oasis, but to my knowledge, only one person there ever saw the deer. My stand was connected to the patch of woods by a wooded levee, and he evidently traveled it alone to leave his core area.
Starting in mid-October, I spent as many days as possible on stand. That year rut behavior started early, and there was a lot of activity toward the end of the month.
On Nov. 1 I finally got my first and only look at Moose. There was a lot of chasing that morning, and at around 9:00 two does shot out of the ravine and into the bottom field. Out Moose came, nose to the ground. He was chasing the does on a path that would take him past me at a range of over 80 yards. There was a west wind, and he was going to pass downwind of me. I'd purposely placed my stand over 25 feet up in the tree and was overly cautious when it came to scent control, but I knew it was going to be quite a trick not to get winded.
Moose continued chasing the does, and when he was still upwind I used a grunt call to stop him. He looked right at me in the stand. I knew if I moved at all I'd be busted, so I didn't. He turned his head and bolted off to continue chasing the does. (He'd be caught 29 minutes later on a trail camera at a nearby feeder.)
Later that day, good friend Caleb Duve would hunt that same stand and have another encounter with Moose. Caleb actually stopped him within shooting range, but his arrow only gave the deer's belly a close shave. We never saw the giant again the rest of that season.
I put out cameras early the following June, hoping to gather more information on the deer. I could only hope he'd lost some of his fear of daylight. But Moose never showed on any of those cameras, even into the start of bow season.
In late September I finally moved one of my cameras to a spot closer to the buck's core area. The only reason I didn't do this earlier is that it's an open field with no way to hunt Moose should he travel through there.
On Oct. 5 I checked my cameras, which were set to video, and got the surprise I'd been looking for: Moose was marking his territory on the fence line. And he was huge. It was the first time I'd been able to see him close up and in action. This was the only huntable area in which Moose was showing himself on camera, but it was an open field with nothing more than an open fence line for cover.
After I'd called my friends Caleb and Tim, we devised a plan to hunt from a ground blind there. Using the property line as a backdrop, we were able to brush up the blind to the point we felt confident it could result in a good bow shot.
For several weeks we hunted there in the mornings, as this was the only time close to when Moose was coming through there. Only issue was, even then he kept coming through 1-2 hours before legal shooting time. We never saw him except on camera.
The rut seemed to be running late in 2013; activity in the woods wasn't peaking on the same schedule as the year before. I'd estimated the best time to bowhunt would be the full week before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I was called out of town on business and wasn't able to hunt then. Before leaving, I discussed the situation with Caleb and told him he could hunt my stand.
As you can imagine, it was a rough two weeks for me. During that span, Caleb saw Moose twice. The first time my friend was taking a lunch break, and the giant chased a doe right in front of his parked pickup. The second time Caleb missed a 35-yard shot from my tree, giving Moose another belly shave.
I returned home the weekend before Thanksgiving and hunted the following Monday morning with no activity. But when I then pulled camera cards, there the deer was — where I'd never seen him before. I sent the photos to Tim and Caleb.
Moose was in an area called "the pines." We never hunted it, because it's a bedding area with an almost constant west wind, and there's no good place to hang a stand. But Caleb immediately called me to let me know he'd hung one right by that camera.
My next call was from Tim. He informed me that, based on our data, Moose was on a 3-day cycle — and the next day he was due to cruise those pines. I now was almost positive all of the hard work was going to come together.
The closer it got to noon, the more excited I grew; that was when Moose was hitting the pines. Then, as I was anticipating the deer's arrival, I got a text: "I just shot Moose" . . . and my heart sank.
I was happy for the person sending the text, but I couldn't help but be disappointed at the same time. The previous day, before I'd gone to bed another of our friends had called to ask where he could hunt. I suggested the ground blind, as my tree stand was off limits and there was no other stand set on the farm.
I really didn't have reason to think Moose would walk past the ground blind the next morning, as he'd been absent from that camera recently. What I failed to realize was that he was walking behind my camera, a mere 15 yards from the ground blind, to get to those pines. Now he'd finally walked in front of the blind and had offered my friend a shot.
At this point, I called Caleb, Tim, Keith Orr and T.D. Van Camp to tell them the news. Then we set about the task of recovering the deer. I'll let Keith tell the story from here.
By Keith Orr
About halfway into my annual 2-week "the time I take off my regular job to procure one year's worth of meat in a sustainable manner for my growing family of five" (I learned a long time ago to not call it "my vacation" in front of my wife), I was in a tree stand on my family's farm. That's when Drew texted to let me know Moose had just been shot.
After replying that I'd be there in an hour, I immediately climbed down from the tree. Ending a hunt prematurely isn't something I take lightly. When you consider how much effort it takes to get into a tree scentless during peak hunting time, there's almost nothing more important than staying there. In this case, however, nothing could be more important than getting to T.D.'s farm.
Approximately one hour later, Drew's co-worker Tim and Chris' brother Caleb arrived at almost the same time I did. I'd assumed I was there simply to help direct the loading of Moose into a pickup and gawk — but it turned out the buck hadn't yet been found. All we had so far was 12 inches of broken arrow shaft.
After deliberating on the situation and getting permission to cross the ground where Moose had run, the five of us set out after the deer through the neighbor's tall CRP prairie grasses. We fanned out, moving slowly, looking for any telltale sign. Then Tim located a spot of blood. From that spot we managed to follow a worrisomely thin blood trail for approximately 100 yards through the grass to the other edge of the field, where there's a wooded escarpment.
As we were collecting our thoughts at the edge, Caleb suddenly whispered for everybody to be quiet. He knelt and saw a deer move in the trees. Chris ran to the trees with bow readied but didn't see the deer.
We walked to where the buck had been bedded, and there was only a small pool of blood. More than two hours had passed since the shot, and Moose had only gone 200 yards before bedding. But there wasn't much blood to show for it, and he seemed to be moving okay.
The first good snow of the season was predicted for that night: 5-6 inches, with a cold spell to follow. If the deer died before the snow started he'd be buried for a while and difficult, maybe impossible, to find. However, if we continued to follow, we might push him farther into the hinterlands and lose him. A difficult decision had to be made.
Using the weather forecast to justify what we all wanted to do anyway, we went after the buck. But before moving, we wisely sent Chris and his bow up ahead to the end of the treed escarpment to watch for Moose and possibly get a shot if he popped out. The rest of us walked north, picking up spots of blood at first, then just walking to the end of the trees in a search of the deer or any sign he'd traveled through there.
Chris was out about 100 yards and gave us hand signals indicating he'd seen Moose. We convened again to discuss things. Chris said Moose had run from the trees across a mowed lane and into a wooded stream bottom. However, Chris hadn't seen the buck exit. Either the buck was still in there or he'd escaped undetected. Chris also reported that, based on how Moose was running, he was "hobbled up pretty good."
We formulated a plan we felt couldn't fail: Three of us would walk the half-mile back to the vehicles and grab our bows (compounds and crossbows). Tim had left his bow at home, so he stood sentinel over the creek bottom until we returned.
We set up Chris where he'd seen Moose go into the bottom, in case the deer came out that way. I hid behind a large walnut tree next to the mowed field edge lane at the end of the bottom field Moose likely would run into. Drew took a route along the wooded high bank around the bottom field, and Caleb walked around the field at the base of the high bank. The idea was that Moose would spook at some point and run by one of us, and we'd shoot him. OK, it was a long shot, but that's all we had with the resources at hand: five people.
With everyone in place, we commenced with the plan. Drew walked away up high, Caleb low, Chris in the rear, Tim on a bluff overseeing the show and me behind the tree. Twenty minutes later, Drew and Caleb had made their way around the field to where Chris was and near where we figured Moose was lying, but nothing had happened. So I started zigzagging through the field toward them: long back-and-forth swaths through grass as high as my head with arrow nocked and ready.
The swaths were against the comb of the grass and kept bumping my arrow off the rest, so I finally quivered the arrow. Shortly afterwards, I saw Moose standing at the end of the field, getting ready to make a move. I knelt to nock my arrow and draw . . . but before I could get ready, he started running. I jumped up and ran to cut the distance, as he was going to pass to my right. Before I could stop and draw, he'd already passed me at the closest point and was adding distance.
But the deer finally did stop — right in front of the tree I'd been behind!
I was about 70 yards from Moose at that point. But given the fact he'd been declared mortally wounded, I took a "hail Mary" shot. I have no idea if the arrow hit its mark, but he did run on — northwestward along the creek, heading upstream.
We had another council and decided the deer really wasn't running as though he was badly hurt. And to our knowledge, there was no way to go into the area where he'd run. So in hopes the deer would recover from what we now hoped was only a superficial wound, we backed out.
Dejection of course quickly set in. So much so that we dropped the whole issue for weeks. Meanwhile, the night the search ended it snowed quite a bit. It also got cold and stayed that way. In fact, it was one of the longest, coldest and snowiest winters in our memory.
Mike Rex, an active member of the Buckeye Big Bucks Club, is a friend of mine. But last winter he changed his e-mail address at some point, so I temporarily lost track of him. When we got his family's Christmas card with his updated e-mail address, I sent him trail cam photos and videos of Moose. Mike responded with a phone call imploring me to keep looking for the deer.
So in January, I called Drew and T.D., and we came up with a plan: We'd get permission from the neighbor to put out corn and cameras in Moose's core area. Then we set up three cameras. One would be over corn, another over a mineral block and another at a gate opening.
The first time out I had to park about .7 mile from where I wanted the camera, and I sledded in 100 pounds of feed corn, a camera and a bucket through drifted snow. I weigh only 130 pounds, so you know I was committed to learning of Moose's fate.
This went on for weeks until March, when after hundreds of deer photos we still didn't have any of the huge buck. But then, we really had very few of any bucks. Regardless, the evidence pointed toward Moose no longer roaming the area.
Badly wounded deer of course tend to seek water, then die in or near it. So in a world of hundreds of acres of tall CRP grasses and copious woods, the natural place to resume our search for Moose was near water.
It was mid-March, and luckily, due to the extended cold temperatures the streams hadn't really been flushed out by spring rains yet — but we knew they were sure to come, and soon. With the first warm day of the year coming up, I decided to take the afternoon off work and walk the stream. I texted T.D. and Drew about the plan. Drew didn't get the message, though, so T.D. and I met to begin the search. I started 1 1/2 miles upstream from the creek's mouth and began walking down. T.D. started at the mouth and started walking up.
Right away I found a bleached doe skull on a gravel bar. The plan was to walk downstream and look for Moose lying in the water or on the bank nearby, but not in the adjacent woods. That would take time we didn't yet have. So I passed a lot of good cover I knew might have held Moose's remains. I kept on, not really knowing where I was in relation to where we'd last seen the deer, as I'd never been in that area.
I eventually came to a tributary that entered from the west. There was a downed tree blocking access to the smaller waterway, so I debated whether or not walking up it would be part of the plan. I decided I'd climb over the tree, walk to the mouth of the tributary and just look up it as far as I could see.
But I never had to look that far. As soon as I climbed over the tree and stepped to the tributary's mouth, there was Moose. He was lying in the water, facing up the small stream, completely submerged with the exception of his antlers. I couldn't believe it, but the plan had worked. We'd found that needle in the haystack. It was a miracle!
Amazingly, Moose lay not far from where we'd last seen him. He'd evidently run straight to that spot, crossed the stream and was going to run up the tributary when he'd fallen dead. We of course were sad we hadn't found him sooner, but ultimately thrilled to have found him at all.
I took a photo of Moose and sent it to T.D., who immediately called the game warden to document the find and issue us a salvage tag. Once that was taken care of, it was time to get Moose out of the creek.
Recovering this giant was like unearthing a mammoth from a glacier. The temperature had plummeted the night after we'd last seen him, and the cold hadn't relented until the week before we found him, meaning he was relatively well preserved. His rack was the only part sticking out of the water, so when the creek was frozen the squirrels had gnawed on many of the small points and stickers. But for the most part the antlers remained intact.
The timing was fortuitous, because the annual Ohio Deer & Turkey Expo was to be held in Columbus the next weekend. I took the rack there and had it panel scored by several measurers, including Mike. With a rack so big and complex, having more than one person measuring was helpful. It only added to everyone's confidence in the net score, which is 252 1/8 inches.
But amazingly, even that wasn't the end of Moose's saga. When my kids saw the rack the night of the find, they really got excited. My youngest then asked if she could take a shed antler to her third grade class the next day. So I randomly handed her one of the many sheds I'd picked up over the years. It's one of my uglier finds, because it sort of has two main beams.
Days later, after she'd brought the antler back home from school, I went to put it away and realized it looked like Moose's right antler. Sure enough, when I put them side by side, I realized it was his shed!
Normally I write the date and location on each shed when I find it, but for some reason I hadn't on this one. Had I done so, it would have helped fill in some of the missing facts about the deer. Call it just one more unlikely twist in the tale of an amazing Ohio whitetail.