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Deer Hunter Fundamentals: Faith, Family and One Giant Buck

Reaching the pinnacle of my hunting career with a 218 3/8-inch whitetail in Adams County, Ohio, with my beloved family by my side to celebrate.

Deer Hunter Fundamentals: Faith, Family and One Giant Buck

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This story starts in 2014 when my buddy Tyson Kuhn and I went to Kansas for our first ever out-of-state hunt. After seeing 13 shooters over 140 inches and harvesting a 160-class 9-pointer, these Virginia boys knew it would be the first of many over-the-border trips.

The problem was that we didn’t want to keep flying to our hunt, and Kansas isn’t a guaranteed draw. I called two buddies of mine that knew a thing or two about hunting out of state, and I asked where we should focus. They both said southern Ohio. I started searching the internet for outfitters. I narrowed them down by using two criteria: first they needed to be harvesting bucks consistently, and second, they needed to be big. Real McCoy Outdoors in Adams County, Ohio, passed the test. I called the number on the website, and Chad McCoy answered.

I asked Chad a lot of questions about his deer hunts, and we had a back-and-forth for about 30 minutes. My buddy had told me to get references, and Chad provided three. I called all three, and after speaking with them, I was convinced this was the place to go. I called Chad back and booked a hunt for two during the last week of October.

Two weeks later, my wife and I found out that we would be having our third daughter, and the due date was October 30th! That threw a wrench in the fall plans of arrowing a pre-rut giant, so I called Chad McCoy with the intention of putting our hunt off for a year. To my surprise, Chad said he had another option. He offered for us to lease two pieces of property.

I explained the option to Tyson, and we agreed to make a trip to check things out. It then turned out Tyson couldn’t go, so two weeks later, my family and I blasted off to Ohio for a long weekend. Chad showed me the properties and provided a place for us to stay, which also was the place we would stay when we came up to hunt on our lease. After looking over the properties and running it all by Tyson, we gave Chad the agreement to take our deposits and apply them towards the leased properties.

In the following months the real work began. We poured over maps and developed plans for hanging stands, feeders and trail cams. We made several trips to Ohio and developed our properties. The fall of 2015 I shot a mid-140’s 8-point that I was not able to recover. Tyson shot his biggest buck at the time, which was a 136-inch 10-point. We had several shooters on camera and knew we had made the right decision with Real McCoy Outdoors. In 2016, I would go on to shoot a 163-inch mainframe 9-point, and then in 2017 Tyson missed a 150-class 8-point. The deer were getting bigger, and we were getting better at figuring them out.

In the early spring of 2018, we made the trip up to southern Ohio from southeast Virginia to start preparations for the 2018 hunts. When walking the hills and moving stands, Tyson found a small 5-point shed antler. It appeared to be the first rack of what would one day be a nice buck. We had no clue the story that was unfolding…

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Four years of trail camera data show the buck’s impressive progression in antler growth and body size. The author and his hunting partner could tell in 2018 that the buck could some day be a giant, and they certainly were correct. Photos courtesy of Anders Blixt

YOUNG BUCK TURNS BIG

The fall of 2018 produced a good crop of bucks. On my work trip up to Ohio during the opening weekend of the archery season, I spotted a large buck bedded in a bean field. By a work of the Lord, we gained permission from the landowner, and 45 minutes later I arrowed my biggest buck. The season was over on the first day, and I was happy to tag a 178-inch main frame 12-point that had eight other points.




Tyson would have to run solo that fall. We ran our cameras, and one young buck continued to stick out. The buck we’d found the shed antler from was now a mainframe 10-point with a split G2. My buddy Justin Nichols came on a guest hunt, saw the trail cam pictures of the deer, and nicknamed him “Buzz,” because of all the short tines on a heavy-beamed rack.

In 2019, Buzz was really catching our eye. He had blown up to a 150-class 4 1/2-year-old with a split G4 on his left side. As always, he was very daylight active on all our cams. We knew he had great potential, and after talking with the neighbor we all agreed to let him grow. I didn’t hunt much that season, because my wife came down with a bad case of Lyme’s disease. I hunted a few quick weekends and almost connected with a 170-class buck on a friend’s property during Thanksgiving week. Again, my neighbor found both sheds to “Buzz”.

In 2020, we were all eager to see what would show up on the cameras prior to the season start. Without delay “Buzz” was daylight-active, along with a couple other mature bucks that had significantly smaller racks. Buzz was a 160- to 170-class buck. How in the world could we pass the biggest deer of our lives if he were to come by?

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That year Tyson tagged out on one of the 130-class bully bucks that was running the show. Another guest hunter tagged a 140-class 9-point that was 7 1/2 years old. I hunted hard, and after 16 days, Buzz came by my stand at 40 yards after a short grunt sequence. I had my crossbow dialed in. The 40-yard poke for my Ravin was a chip shot. Buzz was cruising by, looking for the source of the grunts. I had already ranged his trail and was just patiently waiting for him to stop in the wide-open Ohio timber. He was walking from my left to right.

Tyson had moved the stand I was sitting in, placing it in a large double trunk maple tree to help conceal our figure. As the buck tracked right, I steadied my crossbow on him, waiting for him to stop. Finally, he paused, and I had my chance. I squeezed the trigger and instantly I heard a loud smack. In an instant my crossbow jerked left, and my cheek pained where it had been on the bow! And I knew I had missed.

Buzz hopped 10 yards or so and looked around for the source of the noise. I looked at my bow and was slowly putting together what had happened. I was so focused on Buzz that I didn’t notice how close the limb of the crossbow had come to the tree. When I shot and the bow’s limb expanded, it pushed the crossbow left with great force. Fortunately, Buzz didn’t figure out what happened, and he continued his path. I watched him travel off into the woods unaware of how close he had come to death. I climbed down from my stand and left at an early 8:00 a.m. to head back to Virginia with my tail between my legs.

Buzz frequented the cams for the remainder of the season, and the neighbor found his left side shed. As sad as I was to miss him, I was happy to see him survive the season, knowing this home-body buck would once again haunt the hills we were hunting in 2021.

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but for those who work hard, a chance at a giant buck is possible. Photo courtesy of Anders Blixt.

SAME BUCK, NEW SEASON

In February of 2021, a piece of real estate that bordered the main lease we had with the McCoys came available for sale. It was also known that Buzz was frequenting this property. I spoke to my wife, and soon we had a contract on the property. It also had a small cabin on it that we could fix up and stay in, making our trips a little sweeter. Ohio was quickly becoming our second home. When I decided that out-of-state hunting was something I really wanted to do, I had a sit down with my wife. Her only response was: “I fully support you doing it, but I don’t want to be left behind with our four daughters. I want to go.”

This fit in to the plan perfectly. They had always come with me for work trips and hunts and stayed in the rental cabins that the McCoys had for us. Now this was something we could call our own, and it touched three of the four properties we hunted. Right on cue, Buzz was hitting the cameras and boy had he grown up! He was a minimum of a 190-class deer, and maybe, just maybe he could pass that magical mark of 200 inches. For the first time in his life, he was a 6x6. The last three years he had been a 5x6. In addition to the typical frame, he had added a ton of extra points.

We didn’t put any cameras out until early September, because we were so confident he’d be there. We knew the crossings, the main scrapes, the bedding areas and the pinch points to target him on. November approached, and we made plans to hunt. I showed up on Nov. 1, after a brief camping trip with the family at a campground for Halloween festivities.

Buzz hadn’t daylighted yet, but we had several night pics of him in his zone. On Nov. 2 at 3:58 p.m., I was getting in my stand late that afternoon after completing a few last-minute preparations. Little to my knowledge, the Cuddeback cell cam showed Buzz was 120 yards away making a scrape. I didn’t see him, but I was close. I hunted the first week solo and didn’t see him. Tyson arrived that Saturday and we started tag teaming the ridge that Buzz used. We figured we would create a zone defense and hope that when he crossed the ridge one of us would get a shot. The morning of Nov. 7, I heard a chase coming up the hill and soon had a doe 50 yards away with three bucks surrounding her, and one of them was Buzz!

Buzz never came closer than 90 yards. One of the other bucks was a 150-class 9-point, and he was moving in on the doe. She took off down the hill and up the other side. Once out of sight, I heard a buck growl let out that echoed in the hills. I think that was Buzz telling the other two boys they better back off! On Nov. 13, I had to return home and to work. When Friday came, I couldn’t take it any longer.

My wife blessed my quick trip, and I shot back up to Ohio. I hunted Friday afternoon and got skunked. This was day 14 of hunting for me, and I bet I had been skunked 7 out of 14 days. With limited acorns in these mature woods, there was little food for the deer. In my gut, I knew Buzz would cross the ridge I was hunting, eventually. And there was nothing that would pull me off the plan. But on Nov. 20, I received a gut-wrenching text from my neighbor. It said: “I shot Flat Rack.” That was his nickname for the buck we called Buzz.

I knew this was a very likely possibility. My neighbor, Dale, had put in as much time and effort as anyone to harvest this deer. He had found three out of four years of sheds and passed the deer several times. I immediately offered help to track and climbed out of my stand. Upon arrival, Dale and his grandson had found the arrow and informed me that the tracking was called off. He had grazed Buzz, and it was not a lethal hit. In 300 yards, he had only found 6 drops of blood. I was sad for Dale, and at the same time worried of what would come of Buzz. Would he return? Would it be business as usual? Or would he be gone forever to roam the hills of someone else’s property? Only time would tell.

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The author’s trophy buck will always bring back memories of his time spent learning to hunt the rugged hills and hollers of southern Ohio — a place where some truly giant whitetails call home. But more so than the big buck, giant rack, or taxidermy, he’s thankful for the precious hunting memories shared with his family over the years. Photo courtesy of Anders Blixt

THE RETURN OF A GIANT

The days felt like years. My buddies sent me text messages daily asking if Buzz had showed on camera. A week went by, and I started to drop Buzz off my radar. After four years of getting his picture every 72 hours or less, I thought he had moved on or possibly died from wherever he had been hit. I had plans to return on Wednesday, Dec. 1, and would spend my time looking for his place of death.

The morning of Nov. 28, I was at Church with the family. My phone pinged with cell camera photos, as it usually does this time of year; and since we were not in service yet, I checked the pictures. There was Buzz — in all his glory at 9:00 a.m., standing on his favorite ridge. I smiled and quickly sent out a few texts to my main hunting buddies: “He Lives!” Kind of fitting for a Sunday morning text from Church!

The next day I was putting in a long workday, and at 5:00 p.m. I got another pic. It was Buzz again, in the same place daylighting on the ridge. It was time to start thinking of going back. I had a property closing scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on Nov. 30, and then we could leave. Was my wife up for a third trip to Ohio in November? Before I could even ask her, she asked: “You ready to go back?” Trophy wife, trophy life, boys! Soon we hit the road to our cabin in Ohio. We arrived at midnight. I quickly set the beds up, turned the heat on, and got the girls in bed.

Our cabin doesn’t have any utilities, so I try my best to make it accommodating for the girls while I pursue my passion of harvesting giant whitetails. At 1:00 a.m., I started organizing my gear and getting it ready for the morning hunt. I checked the wind, picked my spot for the hunt, and set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. As soon as I closed my eyes, I felt like the alarm was going off. I grabbed my gear, my favorite Little Debbie Christmas tree cakes, and headed for the woods. That morning was nice, but I didn’t see a deer. Regardless, I thanked God for letting me enjoy creation and to be able to live my passions out.

At 3:30 p.m. I headed back to the woods. As I walked out of the cabin, I told my wife how blessed I was to be staying on our own land and walking from our cabin to go hunt a possible 200-inch deer. That must be the pinnacle of my hunting career. I couldn’t imagine a better scenario for me. I climbed the hill 300 yards and settled in my stand for the evening. After 30 minutes, it was apparent to me that my gas tank was running low. I decided to put my head down for a minute on the shooting rail. Sometime later, I woke up. I looked around and everything seemed just as I had left it. Trail cameras later showed a pair of does had walked by.

My oldest daughter had encouraged me to try some rattling this evening. I had been telling her how Buzz was running the whole block of woods. There wasn’t another mature buck living in this 600-acre hollow. So, at 4:30 p.m., I cracked the antlers together and let out a few buck roars. And then, I waited.

It had been drizzling most of the day, so the leaves were silent to walk on. Visibility in these mature woods was about 150 yards. I knew I would have to spot Buzz, because I was never going to hear him walking. Then I caught movement to my right, and at 100 yards a mature buck walked into my range, circling down wind of my location and likely trying to catch the scent of whatever buck fight had just occurred. It was the first week of gun season, and I had my .450 Bushmaster rifle ready to go. I had forgotten my binoculars at the cabin, so I checked to see what deer it was with my scope. I quickly noticed the parallel tines coming off the main beams and knew it was Buzz!

I lowered the gun and started picking out a clear shot on what I thought was his current track. A large shooting lane was 20 yards ahead of him. I raised my rifle, steadied my aim and waited for him to walk into view. The seconds felt like minutes as I waited for him to close the distance. Just like I thought, he stepped into view, and I let out the infamous “MEH!” The colossal buck stopped almost perfectly broadside at 80 yards and looked my way. I slowly squeezed the trigger until the shot rang out. Bang!

He took off downhill towards a ditch at the crack of the gun. I could see his tail was down, and one of his front legs appeared to be compromised. I felt confident I had made a solid hit. The buck disappeared in a shallow ditch, and I waited for him to come out. After five minutes, I decided to climb down and head back to the cabin. It was about 30 minutes before last light when I arrived back at the cabin. My wife and daughters had been waiting for this moment all season.

They knew if I arrived back before dark that there was a good chance I had shot Buzz. I crested the last ridge when my family who was playing in the front yard spotted me. My wife yelled out, “Did you shoot?” They had all heard the shot and prayed that it was me. I just smiled and stared back. My wife again yelled, “Did you shoot Buzz?!” I said, “I shot Buzz!” All five of them erupted in cheer and ran towards me. My wife started choking up.

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Back in 2015, the author was eager to pursue whitetails away from his home state of Virginia, and ultimately, he settled on Adams County, Ohio, based outfitters Real McCoy Outdoors as his chosen big-buck destination. The next few hunting seasons produced great results and influenced Anders to also purchase his own piece of land in the area. The investment paid off with this beautiful non-typical whitetail he took, scoring 218 3/8. Photo courtesy of Anders Blixt

CELEBRATIONS BEGIN

I quickly gave my family the rundown of how things happened. Then I hopped in the truck and drove out to where I had enough cell service to call Tyson. He was nothing but excited for me. We agreed to let him lay an hour before going in to recover him. I sent a few requests out to all my buddies to pray for Buzz to be in the ditch. My wife sent a text to her Bible study ladies to send a few prayers up for us.

As I drove back to the cabin, the rain started coming down. Any hope of a blood trail was quickly washed away. Two of my local buddies rolled in with their ATVs, and we headed up the hill to see if our prayers would be answered. We cautiously made the climb, as we had the ATVs loaded down. My whole family had waited all season for this moment, and they weren’t going to miss the best part. I walked up to where I thought Buzz may be laying. I was quickly relieved to see him laying belly up in the ditch! Everyone was overjoyed. It meant so much more to me that my family and friends were a part of the recovery. My girls had prayed for this deer so many nights. They had been drawing me pictures of what it would be like the moment I shot Buzz.

We gave Buzz a ride on the ATV back to the cabin. And good gravy, did he fill up that ATV! I grinned the whole way back and just tried to let it sink in what had happened. Later we loaded Buzz up and headed into town to send pictures to all my friends who had supported me. I called Chad and Lear McCoy and met them at a local gas station. They were so excited for me and in awe of how big this deer was. I told the tale of how it went down, and we just gazed at him in the back of my truck.

It was now just past 9:00 p.m., and my supporting family was running low on energy. I bought them some ice cream, some ice bags for Buzz, and we headed back to our cabin for the night. We got the girls in bed, and I kissed my wife goodnight. Then I went back out to put the tape on the massive rack. After the most enjoyable scoring session I have ever had, I totaled the inches up to a sum of 218 3/8. Buzz had made and incredible 50-inch jump between 5 and 6 years old — truly impressive!

The next day we took pictures, and I took phone calls reliving the story of how it went down and all the history I had with the deer. I met my lease neighbor, and we compared sheds and laughed about the probability that God answered my daughter’s prayers instead of Dale’s prayers, because they were so much cuter than him. That night after everyone had gone to bed, I sat by the campfire at my cabin and looked at the stars. Then it slowly faded over me. For so many nights, I had wondered where Buzz was and where he would show next. What property was he on? What pattern would he follow? Was he still alive?

Those questions were no longer valid. Buzz was with me, and the hunt for him was over. What a blessing it was to have lived that story, and to now share it with so many.

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