When Ohio's Grant Garber solicited the assistance of local outfitter Eric Ashcraft with Close Encounter Whitetails, he was looking for guidance on how to establish a food plot to entice mature bucks during daylight hours.
Easier said than done, right? Often so. But they managed to pull it off, resulting in a Boone & Crockett non-typical on the wall.
The plan was set into motion last summer. By mid-August, the two men had created a tactically placed food plot in a secluded, sheltered and yet easily accessed part of their hunting property.
Grant is the quintessential American kid. He grew up in small-town Ohio under the mentorship and love of a great family, including his parents, David and Rhonda. In addition to being a hunter, he was a standout athlete and leader on his high school football team.
Grant has hunted deer for nine years on this Licking County farm.
Although this part of Ohio produces a lot of quality bucks, going into last season all Grant had to show for his efforts was some close calls with decent deer. And so, at age 19, he decided to seek help from Eric, who pumps oil and gas wells on the farm. Grant wanted to learn some fresh techniques on how to draw and hold mature deer, and he knew Eric had mastered positioning and growing food plots.
Grant already had a notion of where to place one, and Eric validated his hunch. So last summer, they took advantage of the fact a bulldozer was conducting some work on the property. After a day on the dozer, a once brushed-over well site had been turned into an Evolved Habitats food plot. On Aug. 17, the plot was planted to Rack Radish and Clover Crush, accompanied by appropriate amounts of pelletized lime and 15-15-15 fertilizer.
This new location was an "internal" food plot, not one placed on the wide-open edge of an agricultural field. Because of that, Eric and Grant knew they needed to make the majority of their disturbance all at one time. When you disturb a mature buck's "living room," you don't want to continually return to make on-site improvements.
Old bucks are wary of constant pressure, and continued habitat work, trail camera checking and/or stand setup prior to the season can push them outside their core areas.
For this reason, just a week after planting the plot, the men placed an Ameristep Man Cave blind along the predominantly downwind side of the plot and brushed it in. By late August, everything was set. Then everyone prayed for rain.
To keep deer from reacting negatively to human activity, Eric likes to deliver feed and mineral supplements to his deer using the "cover" noise of a running vehicle. Rather than alarming whitetails, this sound almost becomes like ringing the dinner bell on a daily or weekly basis.
The plan was relayed to Grant, and he took note. Once a week in late summer, he or his mom, Rhonda, would drive down into the new plot and put out 250-300 pounds of corn, topped off with some Acorn Rage. This combination attracted plenty of deer.
With the food plot in a sheltered valley in some of Ohio's best deer country, and with a routine feeding program under way, the idea was to attract as many older bucks as possible and hold them there at least until the rut. Grant was looking to harvest his first Buckeye Big Buck Club qualifier, which takes a net score of 140 inches typical or 160 non-typical.
Things started to look promising, as several younger bucks appeared immediately after the plot was created. In fact, Grant and Eric accumulated more than 1,000 trail camera photos of does and young bucks in the first 3 1/2 weeks. And then, on Sept. 12, things got even more exciting. That's when a monster non-typical was captured on camera for the first time.
With the season coming in 16 days later, Eric decided to pull the Lights Out Crush #10 camera, as the intelligence he and Grant needed had already been gained. Some deer spook at game cameras, and the hunters didn't want this buck — which they'd decided to call "Goliath" — to shy away from a place he'd just started to frequent.
Eric has filmed hunts professionally for 14 years, and he knew this setup was ideal. He and Grant agreed the only wind to hunt the blind was from the northwest. As a result, they hunted the blind only twice in the first two weeks of bow season.
The second time in the stand, they had Goliath coming straight to the blind — but he held up at 80 yards. After surveying the site, the buck elected to walk straight away from the hunters.
The night of Oct. 16 presented the duo another northwest wind. That afternoon, Rhonda again took Grant and Eric back to the stand in a UTV, as was standard practice for this setup.
After dropping off the pair at the blind, Rhonda drove over to the bait site, which was positioned only 30 yards away, and refreshed with shelled corn and Acorn Rage.
Then the wait began. At 5:15 p.m., two yearling bucks entered the plot and began feeding on brassicas as well as the corn. Within the hour, two older bucks entered the plot from opposite directions.
They didn't appear to be true enemies, but they subtly postured a little to keep each other on their toes. The older of the two then elected to step off the plot about 10 yards, where he aggressively made a rub and worked a scrape.
Around 6:20, as the hunters were focused on these bucks, they looked up and saw Goliath straight out about 100 yards. He was feeding on native vegetation but easing toward their blind.
The older of the two other bucks didn't seem frightened by the monster's approach. In fact, his posturing behavior and vocalization intrigued Goliath, as he passed the point of no return and entered the plot within crossbow range. The challenger moved off the plot about 20 yards from the bait and allowed the giant to approach unobstructed.
Grant patiently waited and took advantage of a distracted Goliath to calm his nerves and prepare for the shot. The non-typical fed briefly on the corn, then turned broadside to the blind as he watched the circling challenger.
That's when Grant took his shot. The Barnett Ghost 400 sent a Rage-tipped arrow through the buck's vitals at 30 yards. He took off on a dead sprint, maneuvering back into the pine slashing he called his bedroom.
The hunters gave him a couple hours. After reviewing the footage, they felt the shot placement was sound and with family and friends, began the recovery process. After a quick 180-yard trail, Goliath was found dead.
The beast has 27 scorable points, heavy bases and main beams of exactly 27 inches each. The 6x6 typical frame grosses 177 3/8 and nets 173 5/8. Tacking on the 37 5/8 inches in abnormal growth catapults the buck to a net non-typical score of 211 2/8. The deer had a live weight of 260 pounds, and he was estimated to be 5 1/2 years old.
A buddy of mine who frequently harvests mature bucks once made a comment that rings true. "Sometimes killing older bucks isn't as hard as people think," he said. "They're hard to kill because there just aren't that many out there."
In Grant Garber's case, the region supports habitat to grow world-class bucks, and he executed a technique of establishing a secluded plot, with minimal human disturbance, to recruit a 200-inch buck to set up a bedroom adjacent to the kitchen table. That enabled two hunters to access the blind undetected.
So by no means was this hunt a case of luck. As you've seen, several unique decisions were made to enhance the opportunity, and Grant seized the moment.