March 31, 2021
As the sun fell, the tension rose. The slightest movement was risky. From upwind, in wandered another doe group. Every few minutes, another group of four does appeared. They were everywhere. With a racing heart and senses on high alert, the hunter remained motionless.
He figured they'd circle downwind, but they didn't. The wind at their backs, they continued straight toward him. In the fading daylight, a total of 14 does came closer and closer.
Those dozens of eyeballs were about to witness an electric moment unfold. The hunter couldn't move. Pounding heartbeats rattled his eardrums. He wasn't sure what was happening, but he was about to find out. He knew that during that time of year, with that many female deer surrounding him, a buck was bound to be nearby.
Since its leisurely 9:00 a.m. start, it had been a slow sit. With a belly full of breakfast and mild temperatures in the low 40s, Tucker Schmitz became part of the landscape. It was Nov. 1, and the brightly colored backdrop at sunset on that autumn afternoon in Adams County, Ohio, had been worthy of a Thomas Kinkade painting.
Flanked by ag fields on one side of his stand and bedding cover on the other, Tucker's lofty perch on the white oak ridge seemed like the catbird seat. It was one of those proven spots that still is home to an old ladder stand.
The stark contrast of the heavily harvested hardwoods across the property line made it hard, but not impossible, for Tucker to break up his outline. The 21-year-old lineman had ascended his ladder stand, then used a climbing stand to get a little higher, eventually reaching 40 feet before disappearing into the big maple's canopy.
Earlier in the week he'd captured trail camera pictures of a familiar buck. Based on photos of him from '18, Tucker had guessed the buck then to have been a 145-inch 4 1/2-year-old. Without much fanfare, the ‘18 season had passed. Tucker thought the buck might gain another 10 inches or so of antler by the time the '19 season arrived.
But the pictures told a different story. The extra year had allowed the deer to reach full maturity, resulting in way more significant gains. In fact, the buck had become truly spectacular! While still an 8-pointer, he'd packed on tons of antler. His typical frame had grown enormous.
This surprising confirmation fueled Tucker's excitement. There was one problem, though: The hard-to-pattern buck had eluded the cameras. Of the few pictures, all were snapped in the dark. But then, on Oct. 28, the buck made that single daylight appearance. It was a Monday, and Tucker's vacation time was already scheduled to begin that Friday, Nov. 1. All he needed was the right weather conditions, and the forecast was calling for a cold front!
On Friday the temperature dropped only 5-6 degrees, but the northwest wind was perfect. Tucker had photos of the buck using the area before dawn, so he worried a conventional approach in the dark could spook him out. Instead, before heading to the woods, Tucker decided to take his wife, Savannah, to the local diner for breakfast. Afterwards, eager for the action the rut had in store, the bowhunter slipped into his spot.
For the better part of the day, he sat and saw zero deer. He knew things can happen quickly during the rut, and he knew deer must pass through the area to go from their beds to the adjacent fields to feed, so he was patient. It was the perfect ambush spot, and it certainly was a decent way to spend a Friday.
When Tucker suddenly became surrounded by the parade of does, most of which entered from his left, his strategy seemed to be working.
If just one of the females was “hot” or getting close to estrus, local bucks would pick up the scent. Tucker was downwind of the does. If a buck came from downwind, there was a good chance he'd have to pass the bowhunter to get to the ladies.
Even if a buck got downwind of him, Tucker was 40 feet up the tree on the ridgetop. It's tough to beat a deer's nose, but he hoped that extra stand height might help just enough to keep him from getting busted. That is, if the does didn't bust him first. The setting sun reminded Tucker of the potential risk that falling thermals could carry his scent down to the deer.
Despite being forced to remain as still as a chess piece, Tucker was only one move away from checkmate. However, because he was sitting so high, he needed a shot opportunity greater than 20 yards, or his shot angle would be too steep. But like the thermals, this was beyond his control.
The does seemed to be on edge. Each passing moment allowed precious shooting light to escape. Just before dark, four more does came in, and with them there was a buck in tow. Tucker knew immediately that it was him.
Within 30 seconds, the giant circled downwind and presented a 26-yard broadside shot. The arrow hurried forward, taking only a split-second before finding its mark. Everything happened so fast, but it was the longest moment of Tucker's life.
Pulling the animal's head from the tangled understory, Tucker was amazed as an impossible amount of antler emerged. The buck was an 8-pointer, but he wasn't like the others. Gripping each side of this exquisitely symmetrical typical rack, Tucker marveled at how much bone continued to flow upward from his hands. It seemed never-ending.
He gathered himself and called his dad.
At age 6, Tucker had begun hunting with his father and grandfather. Their legacy had left a lasting mark on Tucker's relationship with hunting, and now it's a tradition he shares with family. When you have 11 siblings, as Tucker does, family intersects many things. But hunting seems unique. It has a way of getting inside you. Maybe it's already in there, connecting us to our past. But few things have so many layers. Few things are so personal, but so easily shared.
In hunting, the absence of sharing is rare. In Adams County, Ohio, just as in so many other great places across the country, hunting is an integral part of the community. Hunters share space, time, traditions, meat, mentorship, moments and memories.
Fondly Tucker recalls many moments three generations of Schmitz hunters have shared. After hunts, they often gathered in the garage until supper was ready, passing the time sharing the warmth of a space heater and stories of hunts past and present.
One such story is about Tucker's grandpa's big 8-pointer, a 145-inch bruiser, the mount of which was the patriarch's prize possession. Grandpa Schmitz visited and stayed with family during Ohio's short gun season, and he even brought the mount of his buck along for the hunt! Proudly displayed in the garage, this venerable old buck, the largest taken by the family, joined them around the heater like an honorary family elder silently sitting in on the stories.
What a blessing it is that the timing of whitetail gun hunting coincides with the holidays, providing even more reason for multiple generations of family, friends and neighbors to gather to share in the event. The value of this time together is immeasurable. A quick story lasts for just a few minutes, but it can live on in a child's memory for a lifetime. It can be as simple as a word or two, a brief correction, those fleeting moments of instruction on how to use a knife or a sewing needle; learning the proper way to hold a hammer or shake a hand; learning how to drive, or the secret ingredient in a cherished family recipe.
Although these great moments happen in a flash, they can make a lasting impression on a young person's heart that might never be forgotten. In the setting sun of a life well-lived, you can bet few things matter more than sharing a laugh or a hug with a grandchild.
When Grandpa Schmitz passed away, the family buried half his ashes in the woods and put up a tree stand in the spot. Usually Tucker sits there the first day of the season to once again hunt with Grandpa. Those are the kinds of moments that make deer hunting a special pastime.
It's fitting that Tucker married into another hunting family. Savannah is an accomplished hunter whose family operates Real McCoy Outdoors, an Adams County outfitter with over 10,000 private acres and a reputation for producing legendary bucks.
After recovering the deer, Chad McCoy, Savannah's dad, drove Tucker around town with the tailgate down, causing quite a stir. Those old enough might remember this is what people did before Instagram. In America's small towns, events like this are still community affairs to be shared. They still make the newspaper, and kids talk about them at school. Who knows? Seeing the buck might even have inspired a kid to bug a parent enough to get them both into hunting. It happens.
Tucker was encouraged by the community's support and excitement over his massive animal, and their reaction is easy to understand. Most people will never lay eyes on a buck of this stature, and fewer still ever have the chance to touch one.
The buck's rack nets 172 7/8 in Boone & Crockett's all-time record book for typical whitetails. That's quite a number, especially for an 8-pointer taken with a vertical bow! The rack's gross score is 177 4/8.
People often wonder if killing a world-class whitetail changes hunting for the hunter. They assume there's nothing left to accomplish, that it signals a raising of the bar on antler size and age to an unattainable level.
Tucker admits it'll be hard to trump this buck on size, but he's certainly not done hunting. He seems interested in pushing the age envelope and would love to have a chance at a larger buck. But then, who wouldn't?
When discussing this buck, he doesn't seem focused on the stats. A sense of achievement comes with a record-book buck, but in Tucker's case, it comes across in a humble, if not surprised, appreciation and lasting amazement. That's refreshing.
He seems equally pumped when discussing shattering the family's long-time standard, Grandpa's old 145-inch 8-pointer. Perhaps it's from the weight of that buck's legacy after a lifetime spent admiring his grandfather and his trophy. Or, maybe it's because this is still not even the biggest buck under Tucker's own roof.
Remember Savannah? She has a few giant bucks of her own. One is a huge 172 2/8 gross 10-pointer. Not to mention, she's also taken a 13-point giant that grossed 178! It's tempting to assume big bucks like these create some competition between her and her husband. However, Tucker claims he's used to it by now.
They've been together since their freshman year of high school, and she always seems to have a better deer. It comes with the territory. After all, Savannah is a McCoy, one southern Ohio family known nationwide for killing giants. In any case, this young couple is establishing their own impressive hunting legacy, and that's something to be proud of.