It was a chance with fate that placed Jeff Kaiser in a stand overlooking a small watering hole on a Licking County farm last November. The brushy hillside behind him was ideal bedding cover and the fields around him were chest high with thick weeds, but this place was not his ideal setting that morning.
Growing up in Minster, Ohio, Jeff began pursuing deer when he was 18 years old, hunting in the flat farming country around Auglaize and Shelby counties. Now 45, Jeff has harvested several nice bucks over the years.
Five years ago, Jeff and two partners, Mike and Jon Wente, received word about a Licking County farm they might be able to hunt.
"So we called and (the landowner) said no," said Kaiser. "He said that he and his nephews hunted the farm, so we couldn't. We told him that if he changed his mind to please let us know. Later he called back and said, 'We've got deer problems here, so it isn't going to hurt if you guys bowhunt.'"
Licking County is one of the top deer counties in Ohio, and is also a top county for entries into the Buckeye Big Buck Club in Ohio. Last year, Licking County hunters tagged 7,819 whitetails and Auglaize County deer hunters harvested only 737 deer during the same period. It's easy to see why Jeff and his pals jumped at chance to hunt there.
It's a large farm with plenty of crops and cover and lots of elbow room, according to Kaiser.
"It's got rolling hills with a lot of oaks," said Jeff. "Most of the fields are small with woody fingers, creeks, brushy cover and fence lines. It's a good mix of habitats, with corn, soybeans, alfalfa. Good deer food."
Jeff and his two buddies make the 2 1/2-hour trip east across the state to the Licking County farm about four times a year to hunt.
"We load up on a Thursday night, hunt the weekend, then come home," said Jeff. "During the rut, we'll take vacation and spend the whole week (there)."
The trio usually starts hunting the opening weekend of bow season and tries to get in as many hunts as possible before gun season arrives, but hunting season is not the only time they make the trip to Licking County.
The three hunters try to scout the property as much as possible during the off-season.
"We'll try to get there three times during the off-season," said Jeff. "We'll make a trip in spring to look for sheds. In July we'll split up and watch bean fields. Then just before season opens, we'll set out some portable stands.
"We use a lot of hang-ons, and I bring some climbers. We stay portable and move around a lot. We've nicknamed the various spots -- the Pine Thicket, the Straights -- and they're far enough apart we're not interfering with one another. We respect each other's space."
Unbeknownst to the trio of hunters, a Cuddeback digital trail camera that was set in a Licking County woodlot about four miles away from the farm had taken photos of a big non-typical buck in velvet early in the morning on July 30, 2010. Little did the trio know what role that buck would play in their upcoming season.
During that first trip to Licking County on opening weekend of bow season in 2010, Jeff noticed a heavy crop of acorns covering the ground. "We saw some small bucks and a fair amount of sign," he recalled.
On the next trip to Licking County in late October, the trio pulled a camper and prepared to stay for the week, taking advantage of the early stages of the rut.
"We usually pull in on Friday night and we're hunting by Saturday morning," said Jeff. "But that day I drove in later because I attended my son's football game and arrived late Friday night. The next morning those two hunted, but I slept in."
Later the following afternoon, Jeff decided to hunt a new spot where he had hung a stand back in August.
"I went back there Saturday evening and saw a lot of activity and probably three or four different bucks. I knew it was a good place," said Jeff. "I noticed the deer were moving past a ridge, and I moved my stand toward it and hunted that area five evenings in a row and saw bucks on all but one evening."
Jeff was prepared to spend the entire week at that spot, but as luck would have it, the wind changed and Jeff left the spot to avoid being detected. That move would prove to be a stroke of good fortune for Jeff, but he didn't think so at the time.
"The wind was always right for that spot but then the wind changed," he said. "So I moved to a different area and gave it a rest. I had intentions to return."
Jeff moved to another spot known as "The Straights."
"We've all hunted that spot," Jeff said. "It's a long strip of timber that connects two big woods. On the neighboring property, it connects to a ridge where the hillside is covered in thick brush. It used to be pastured but it's almost impenetrable now. We know deer are in there, but it's on property we can't hunt. The best we can do is sit below it on the backside where we have permission.
"The good thing about that backside is there's a small watering hole in the field with some big oaks nearby. It's a no-brainer to place a stand somewhere around there. Jon hunted there the morning I slept in and saw some does, so I decided to go there and try to tag a doe and bide my time until I could get back to my other honey hole."
It was chilly on the morning of November 4 but also dry and still, and Jeff hiked in without a flashlight, following a well-worn path leading to the stand.
"I'm walking through and I jump a deer," said Jeff. "It's pitch black and I hear a bunch of ruckus and some snorting, and that's something you don't want to hear in the morning. I was discouraged and got to the stand thinking, I wish I were somewhere else."
The stand sits in a small maple at the edge of the woods overlooking a weedy field where the water hole is located. Behind the stand is the brushy hillside to which the strip of timber connects.
"That morning I saw only one doe across the field," said Jeff. "Occasionally I'll call out a soft grunt. Not much happened until around 9:30."
Around that time, Jeff heard a limb snap behind him. "It got my attention," he recalled. "I usually hear squirrels but this was different."
Jeff turned toward the sound while still seated, but he didn't hear anything moving. He turned his attention back to the watering hole in front o him, but five minutes later, he again heard limbs snapping behind him.
"That was enough to get my attention again, and I pulled by bow off the hook," recalled Jeff. "There's a ravine that's comes off the brushy hill that's full of raspberry bushes. The next time I heard a limb cracking, it was moving toward me from the bottom of that ravine."
All went quiet for a brief time and suddenly Jeff caught a glimpse of a deer moving through the field toward the watering hole 50 yards in front of him.
"It must have gone down into the small pond and drank because I couldn't see him," Jeff said. "Then all of sudden it appeared and I about died. I could see the drop tines. They were very evident.
"The buck walked from the pond away toward the field. At that point, I stuck a mouth call in and let out a couple of soft bleats. He stopped and started looking around. My heart was thumping, and he started walking away again so I bleated one more time. He stopped again and then started away again, and I thought I'm going to lose him. He walked into the field, and as if he suddenly changed his mind, wheeled around and started slowly walking back."
That was the game changer, and that was when Jeff, seated the whole time, stood up, spit out his deer call and readied his Martin Pantera compound. The big whitetail, retracing its path around the backside of the pond, started angling toward him, heading straight for a shooting lane the hunters had cleared months before.
"The buck wasn't alert. It never had a clue I was there," said Jeff. "I was excited but somehow kept my cool. I was looking at his rack; I couldn't help it. I knew exactly what he was. I remember telling myself, When he gets behind that tree I'm going to draw. As soon as his head got behind the big oak, I drew. He was broadside at 20 yards when he stepped out and I took the shot."
"As soon as the arrow hit him, he took off but only ran about 20 yards, stopped and hunched up," said Jeff. "At first I thought he was going to drop, but I've seen this reaction before and knew it wasn't good."
Jeff had detached his quiver when he first climbed into the stand and placed it under his seat. In order to get a second shot off, Jeff would have to retrieve the quiver, pull an arrow from it, place the arrow on the rest and set his quiver back down.
"Luckily I got an arrow nocked without being detected and drew back," said Jeff. "He was about 27 yards away and I placed the arrow behind his shoulder. I knew the second shot was good."
At the sound of the string, the big non-typical bolted, jumping over an old fence and crashing 40 yards from Jeff's stand. This time, the Grim Reaper broadhead did the job.
Jeff recalled he sat there for probably 15 minutes just gazing into space. By then, Jeff had all but forgotten about the other stand he wished he had been sitting in that morning.
"I got down from the stand and didn't even walk over to the deer," Jeff said. "I guess I just wanted those other guys to see it with me."
Jeff walked the quarter mile back to his truck, arriving in camp around 10:30 a.m., and waited for Jon and Mike to arrive.
"Jon got back first and started talking about his morning hunt," said Jeff. "Then he looked at me kind of strange and could tell something was up."
"Did you get one?" Jon asked.
"Jon, I shot the buck of a lifetime," Jeff replied.
In January, as word of Jeff's big non-typical spread, he unexpectedly received an email with 10 trail camera photos of his buck taken in July 2010 while the buck was still in full velvet.
After the required 60-day drying period, the big 29-point non-typical was officially measured by Boone & Crockett scorer Mike Wendel, of Shelby County, Ohio. "That was an impressive rack," said Wendel. "Good mass with lots of abnormal points. You don't see many with that amount of abnormal points."
Jeff's incredible whitetail had 76 inches of abnormal growth. The right antler had 13 points and the left antler carried 16 points. The circumferences at the bases were 6 4/8 and 6 6/8. The buck grossed 227 0/8, with the final score being 219 6/8. Jeff's big non-typical will most likely be the top archery buck harvested in the Buckeye State during the 2010 season. Jeff's impressive whitetail was entered into the record books of B&C, Pope & Young and the Buckeye Big Buck Club.