During the 2015 deer season, I began bowhunting a southern Ohio buck I came to know as “The Freak.” I’d have been more than stoked to get him that first year, but it evidently wasn't time yet. In fact, it wouldn’t happen for four years.
Looking back on it now, I realize my problem was that the Highland County giant continued to pattern me at least as much as I patterned him. And what made it even tougher was that I had permission to hunt him on only seven acres. I was all but certain that if a hunter got him, it would be someone other than me. But I never heard of anyone getting the buck, and I continued to capture occasional photos of him on my trail camera.
Finally, as the 2019 season kicked off, I decided to change my approach. I’d been hunting the deer in the same way for three years but had never had a chance at him while hunting. On the other hand, over that span I’d learned more about his core area. Believing he actually was bedding on the seven-acre parcel, I moved forward with my plan to hunt him from an old stand I’d abandoned when I built the box blind a few years before.
On the evening of Oct. 5, I slipped into the dry creek bottom and made my way into the stand as stealthily as I could. To aid in doing so, I took an entirely different route than I’d ever followed before. With this being only my second time hunting this location all season, my hopes were high that this was going to be the day. But then, I’d felt this every time I’d hunted him.
The wind direction wasn’t exactly what I’d have liked, but it wasn’t horrible, either. With my obsessive concern over scent management, I felt I’d be OK. I always use an Ozonics and a mask called the Breath-Taker carbon mask alongside other forms of scent control before entering the woods. I always start my hunts with prayer after settling in for the hunt, thanking the good Lord for the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors — in particular, the opportunity to harvest a mature whitetail.
After a couple hours of swatting mosquitoes but seeing no deer, I started to lose hope and think it was going to be nothing more than just another quiet evening in the woods. But then, just before 7:00 p.m. I saw something walking at a pretty good pace toward me through the undergrowth.
I immediately recognized The Freak by his split G-2 tines, and my pulse jumped to 1,000. I lost all control of my breathing and started to panic, realizing the wind had recently shifted a bit — and not for the better. I reached up to make an adjustment to the Ozonics unit and pulled my mask up over my nose.
The buck closed quickly. I watched him at 33 yards for a good five minutes before he made a move and gave me the opportunity to come to full draw. However, I immediately had to let my bow back off and remove the mask so I could find my anchor point and execute the shot I’d been dreaming of for so long.
I asked God for a sense of calmness to come about me so I could make a good shot and then came to full draw again. I settled my 30-yard pin on The Freak and started to feel very relaxed, even though I felt he was going to hear my heart beating like a drum in my chest.
The shot looked great, and I watched him run over the ridge with my arrow sticking out of his side. At that point I realized my lighted nock hadn’t deployed. Now worried and wondering why I hadn’t achieved a clean pass-through, I began to panic. I started replaying the last few seconds in my head over and over and still felt good about the shot placement. It was only 7:00, with a lot of light left.
I sat tight for another 20 minutes and then started packing it in. Not wanting to risk bumping the deer, I got out of the woods as fast as I could and left the property. I drove about 4.5 miles to the end of the road to get cell phone signal so I could call a buddy for help.
When I rang his phone, I couldn’t believe it: No one answered. Evidently everyone had gone somewhere to watch the Buckeye football game on TV or actually had traveled to the game.
Unable to reach my friend, I waited three grueling hours before going back in to look for blood. With minimal sign, I started to worry and second-guess my shot all over again. It took me over an hour to track spotty blood just 100 yards or so.
But then . . . there he was. Overwhelmed with emotion, I broke down and began to sob like a baby, continuing to thank God for this amazing journey. My shot had hit the deer perfectly, piercing both lungs. The reason for my arrow not having passed through was that it had hit the inside of the opposite shoulder blade.
The Freak had consumed me for the last few years, and I’d finally killed him. I’d only seen the buck for a few seconds the year before but had hundreds of live photos of him. I now believe he’d been bedding under 100 yards from my box blind and had watched me come and go on many occasions. The time stamps on many trail camera images only solidified my suspicions about that.
I’m still in disbelief that I was able to pull this off, because The Freak was so smart. But that afternoon I finally closed that chapter of my exciting journey.