Despite one of the worst droughts in history, in July 2012 my expectations for deer season here in central Ohio were as high as ever. Trail cameras were set, mineral sites were established, and other attractants were strategically placed throughout the farm. But after monitoring trail cameras for two months, I realized our inventory of big bucks was depressingly low. Although bow season was right around the corner, a "hit list" had yet to be established.
What made this disconcerting was the fact we'd taken no bucks off the farm the previous year. My core hunting group (which includes my father, Philip "Jim" Cogar, and brother-in-law Rob Donahue) had let the buck population rebuild in 2011-12. All three of us, as well as Invite X-tream and Doc's pro staffer Chase Adams (who also hunted the farm) chose to pursue our bucks elsewhere. Surely, we felt, our collective commitment that season would pay off in the future.
Despite the lack of mature bucks on our cameras in late summer, by last Oct. 22 our "hit list" had grown to four. And by Nov. 7, three of those four deer were at the taxidermy shop. My father, Rob and Chase all had managed to get it done, stretching the tape to nearly 450 inches of antler among them. Interestingly, each of those bucks was 20-30 inches larger than he'd been the year before!
Clearly, the previous season's sacrifice by everyone had paid tremendous dividends after all Regardless of how the rest of the 2012-13 season went, I already considered it to be a huge success. As I was to learn, it was far from over.
SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST
Let's rewind back to Oct. 27. I was eagerly anticipating some bowhunting after spending the earlier part of the month scurrying around with out-of-town weddings, birthday parties and road trips back home to Canfield, Ohio. After the morning hunt, I was anxious to go through photos on the memory card I'd pulled before leaving the woods. That's when I saw him for the first time.
"Un-be-lievable!" was all I could manage to say as the image popped up on the computer.
"What? What?" Dad asked anxiously. He couldn't see the screen from where he sat.
"Dad, not only do we have a 'Booner' on our hands, we have ourselves a 200-incher!"
Needless to say our plan to take an afternoon nap before heading back out for the evening hunt was quickly canceled. Instead, the next few hours were spent staring at two photos of this new giant and talking strategy.
Rob, our friend Chris Sharp (board member and Ohio hunt manager for the non-profit organization Physically Challenged Bowhunters of America) and I always assign nicknames to the bucks we pursue. However, in this case my dad was the one who came up with the name. Without hesitation, he uttered the word "Conan."
I asked him to repeat himself, and he said, "That's what we're going to call him: Conan!" Of course, this was a reference to Arnold Schwarzenegger's character in the 1980s movie, Conan the Barbarian. And it seemed a perfect name for this giant.
With the rut and our annual week- long hunting camp quickly approaching, a plan was devised to bag this truly once-in-a-lifetime deer. But the excitement was short-lived; our week of vacation passed with no sightings and no further trail camera pictures of Conan. Then, as quickly as the rut had come and gone, so too had nearly all of November.
By now, doubt and frustration were setting in. More than a month had passed since our last picture of the giant. With two more months of archery season and in my opinion some of the best hunting still left to go, I regrouped and started thinking late-season tactics.
Although a second round of out-of-town travel kept this weekend warrior sidelined for a while, I was constantly thinking about my next move. Years of experience with coming across big bucks on trail cameras, only to have them disappear forever, were all too familiar to me. This time I was determined not to let it happen.
Two weeks before Christmas, I had one day to sneak out to the woods. The plan was not to hunt the same old stand sites. As a matter of fact, I wasn't going to hunt at all. My objective was to reevaluate the property and scout it all over again, looking for late-season deer activity. Having three cameras, I decided to set them up in the top three spots I could find, based on my most recent information.
A week later I checked the cameras, and wouldn't you know it? Conan had made a cameo on Dec. 18, after a nearly two-month hiatus.
Proof that he was still alive was the motivation I needed to press on through the late season and hunt harder than ever before. I was determined to will this deer into bow range before season's end. The law of attraction (the theory that one can control achieving goals through positive thinking) was in full effect.
Aside from telling a select few other hunters, as well as my taxidermist (Zoran Saveski of Highpoint Taxidermy in Thornville), I kept Conan a secret. This was difficult, as it's my nature to share my trail camera pictures with my hunting buddies. But I knew that practice had historically been my kiss of death. In almost every instance, any record-book buck I'd shared pictures of had ended up being taken by someone else. Always the outfitter and never the hunter, as they say!
A phone call in January from good friend Mike Aleshire, who farms and hunts the land north of me, yielded season-changing information. He told me about this tremendous buck his trail cameras had managed to get a few pictures of. Always up for some big-buck photos, I stopped by his place one day after work. To my dismay, I discovered that his new visitor was in fact Conan.
Normally, I'd have been extremely excited, exchanging high fives with my friend. Knowing me well enough to recognize that I was acting a bit strange, he looked at me, grinned and said "OK, out with it."
I smirked back and said, "Well, I guess my secret is out."
By now, friends Frank and Joe Aleshire also were pursuing the buck — 1.5 miles from where he was frequenting my trail cameras. To say I was perplexed would be an understatement. What was a deer of that caliber doing traveling so far every few days in mid-January?
Everything I'd ever read talks about how big bucks during that time of year, long worn out by the rut and battling harsh winter conditions, go into energy-conservation mode. Typical behavior at that time should consist of bedding all day, only to get up once or twice for a stretch or to grab a quick bite. Conan clearly wasn't holding to that pattern.
And continuing his non-traditional ways, the deer started to make daytime appearances in front of the camera — but only on Mike's farm. With below-average temperatures and the above-average snowfall we were experiencing, my buddies were able to pattern him down to one of two stand sites.
Then, on the evening of Jan. 18, I received a phone call that Frank had actually managed to shoot Conan and that my friends were still tracking him. They tracked him that night and the next day, but to no avail.
Dreadful thoughts now consumed me. Had this traumatic experience left Conan educated enough to become fully nocturnal and even more reclusive? Worse yet, had he buried himself somewhere in thick brush and died?
Thankfully, my fears soon were set to rest. Five days later, on Jan. 23, guess who decided to show back up on my trail camera? It was Conan, sporting a noticeable back wound where Frank's arrow had entered.
Sunday, Feb. 3, was the last day of Ohio's archery season. It also was Super Bowl Sunday. Having played college football at the University of Findlay, I'm a huge fan of the game. However, while the rest of America was anticipating the Ravens-49ers battle, I was gearing up for my own final showdown, perched on a cold metal platform high in a tree.
This particular stand was not my typical setup. Usually I'm 30 feet high in a hang-on stand. As this site wasn't conducive to such heights, I was preparing to hunt from a trusty 15-foot ladder stand.
NOW OR NEVER
Shortly after getting hugs and kisses from my wife Summer, daughter Kensie and son Cru, I was en route to the final hunt of the season. For never having actually laid eyes on this deer, I felt incredibly confident that this hunt would be unforgettable. The feeling was bolstered when I got an uncharacteristic "good luck" call from my mother-in-law just minutes before I took my stand. Being caught slightly off-guard by her call, I laughed and jokingly thought, OK, that was a sign. Now it's on!
Once I'd settled into my stand, it wasn't long before deer were up and moving. A chilly 20 degrees and snow flurries made for great movement. However, the swirling northwest winds were proving troublesome down in that creek bottom. Every deer I encountered was extremely jumpy and kept running off, only to very hesitantly come back in. I was glad I'd washed my clothes one last time, in addition to taking my standard scent-free shower.
And then, as I analyzed my strategy, scent-free shower and all, I looked to the top of the hill. And there he stood! It was such a surreal moment, witnessing for the first time the very deer that had consumed my thoughts daily since October. Despite losing an estimated 50 pounds from the time I'd first seen him on camera, Conan was by far the most amazing creature I'd ever laid eyes on!
Unlike all of the other deer, he appeared unaffected by the wind; he came trotting down the hill on a string right toward me. But as I slowly stood to get ready for a shot, out of nowhere a yearling buck appeared — and he situated himself perfectly between Conan and me.
Conan hit the brakes and proceeded to watch the young buck, which was playing that head-bobbing game with me, trying to get me to move. Moments later he spooked and ran off, taking Conan with him.
Initially my heart sank as I watched the most majestic animal I'd ever seen running away. However, at the time I couldn't help feeling anything other than eternally grateful — grateful just to have had the opportunity to see such an animal. His running off wasn't about to dampen my excitement. With a fair of amount time left before dark, I still felt he'd show himself again.
The young buck hadn't liked something about my setup. It then occurred to me that I'd never stood while hunting that stand. I immediately sat back down and swung my legs to the side, letting them dangle to the right of the seat. This would allow me to come to full draw much more easily from a seated position.
About an hour later, I caught movement atop the hill and saw three bucks moving very slowly in my direction. The last in succession was Conan!
What usually takes seconds for the deer to work their way down to me took them minutes, due to the windy conditions and their jumpy disposition. Bow in hand, release on and with feet dangling off to the side, I was ready. There were now just 30 minutes remaining in Ohio's bow season.
The final showdown was on, and in typical big-buck fashion, Conan took a different route than the other bucks. Twice he worked his way within 25 yards, yet neither time was there even the slightest chance for a high-percentage shot. Conan then spooked and ran off one more time. This time I came to full draw and had a 45-yard shot but elected not to take it.
The giant continued to work his way out to 80 yards — then, all of a sudden, he stopped and looked back down the hill. There stood the very same yearling buck that had caused him to run off earlier that evening. Conan's body language suggested he wasn't happy about the subordinate buck not following his lead. The huge deer worked his way back downhill toward me, ears pinned back, walking with a purpose.
Eventually Conan took the place of the young buck next to a tree I'd ranged 100 times before at 25 yards. Then something to the east diverted his attention, distracting him long enough for me to come to full draw again. Several seconds later he went on to take two more steps, giving me a slightly quartering-to angle. I gently squeezed off the release, sending my arrow on its way.
I couldn't see where the arrow entered, but the sound at impact alone was enough for me to know it was in the deer's vitals. Conan ran to the top of the hill, tail tucked, and then stopped for about 30 seconds. I must have set a world record for the most times repeating the words "Go down" within a 30-second time frame. After watching him fall, I immediately hung up my bow, leaned back against the tree, and started to give thanks.
A phone call to my father was now in order. As soon as I looked at my phone I took note of what time it was and realized that only 20 minutes remained before the Ohio archery season would officially conclude!
Barely able to speak, I gave Dad the great news. He excitingly yelled, "You got him!?" That was followed immediately by, "Jimmy got him!" as he shouted to everyone who had gathered at my parents' home for a Super Bowl party. I could hear everyone in the background erupt in celebration, and that's when I lost it. Having a short cry never felt so good!
Even though I'd seen Conan fall a mere 75 yards away, I still quietly backed out of the woods and called for reinforcements. As soon as my friends Mike Little and Shane Bivens showed up, I jumped into Shane's truck. Shaking from both the cold and adrenaline, I excitedly retold the story of my hunt of a lifetime.
Within an hour, I had eight friends and both landowners present for the recovery effort. With no tracking job needed, we walked right up to the deer. Instead of the normal celebrating, we just stood there in silence, marveling at the majestic monarch that lay before us.
Once I had my temporary tag on Conan, concern that one or both antlers might pop off consumed my mind. (Some bucks in Ohio start shedding in January, if not earlier.) I knew we shouldn't pull him out by his rack, so Shane came up with the idea of taking apart my 15-foot ladder stand and using one of the 5-foot sections as a "stretcher." It worked!
Not thinking clearly that evening, I forgot to grab my trail camera or the arrow, which was still sticking into the ground. A few days later I returned to pick up everything. Checking my memory card, I saw my Cuddeback had managed to capture two images of Conan that day. One was taken two minutes before I shot him, the other a fraction of a second after the arrow passed through him. Barely visible in that photo was the arrow sticking in the ground as a blurry Conan ran off.
Sixty-plus days later, the rack was officially measured by Steve Boham and Dave Orndorf, who as a team represented Boone & Crockett, Pope & Young and Buckeye Big Buck Club. Buckmasters Trophy Records master scorer Ed Waite Jr. measured the rack for that organization.
There were two very different interpretations of the antlers. As a result, while Conan now ranks as P&Y's No. 9 Ohio non-typical, with a net score of 213 4/8, he ties for the typical world record for compound bow kills in BTR.
The folks at P&Y also informed me that this was their first-ever Ohio entry to have been shot in February. In fact, after some additional research and record book clarifications, it appears my buck is the largest wild whitetail ever taken anywhere in February, by any means!
Wanting to know as much as possible about the deer, I made arrangements to find out his age. A forensic tooth-aging analysis performed by Wildlife Analytical Labs of Burnet, Texas, confirmed Conan, aka "Mr. February," was 7 1/2 years old.
I'd be remiss if I didn't give a special, anonymous "thank you" to both landowners. You know who you are. And finally, I'd like to thank Dustin Miller of Sunbury, Ohio, for providing me with such amazing trophy photos after the hunt.
Any serious whitetail hunter knows that it's not often that we get a second chance on the buck of a lifetime, or even a first chance for that matter. But luck was on the side of Kyle Heuerman and his girlfriend Jennifer Weaver when they put an arrow through this 196-inch Illinois brute.
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We estimate he was 7 1/2 years old. That's based on photos from 2010, when he clearly wasn't over 3 1/2. When I got him he weighed over 300 pounds on the hoof, as suspected.
Official B&C measurer Glen Salow came up with a 'green ' gross score of 258 7/8 inches. After the 60-day drying period, he again taped the rack. This time he got a gross non-typical score of 261 3/8, with a net of 230 7/8. The gross score evidently makes this the highest-scoring wild whitetail ever harvested on professional video.
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Jon's no stranger to free-ranging whitetails across the central plains, having guided a number of clients to trophies and harvesting many big ones himself. In fact, going into 2013 he'd shot two net Boone & Crocketts: one a non-typical scoring over 200, the other a typical from public land.
With such success behind him, Jon felt all of his hunting dreams already had come true. At least, he did until a buck he'd never seen showed up on one of his trail cameras.
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Knowing I couldn't even come to my knees without breaking the little concealment we had, I decided to lie on my left side, using my left elbow for as solid a rest as could be achieved within the slight incline of the old fencerow. But when I shouldered the rifle, the sight of the crosshairs oriented at a 10-4 o'clock angle was definitely a different look from the normal 12-6 position we all practice from. Even so, I didn't figure that would matter if I aimed at the right spot and squeezed off a clean shot.
I settled the crosshairs where I needed to place the bullet and steadied the rifle. Whispering 'fire in the hole ' while floating the crosshairs on the spot, I gently squeezed the trigger until the recoil removed the buck from my view.
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With a whopping 40 inches of non-typical growth, he has a gross Boone & Crockett score of 215 3/8. The rack's 21 6/8-inch inside spread certainly helps to show off its unique character. He was just a special deer, and very much a result of patience in both management and hunting.
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Ryan Sullivan was only 19 when, during the 2013 season, he arrowed an Arkansas buck of gigantic proportions. Like many of his fellow Arkansans, Ryan is a deer and duck fanatic. For several years, however, he gave up most of his duck season to lock horns with the world-class buck.
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Junior's outstanding whitetail is the biggest ever recorded from Monroe County, and he ranks as one of the Bluegrass State's top bucks from the 2013-14 season. This great non-typical also is the latest member of Kentucky's all-time Top 30 list.
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At 16 yards, Mikell took aim at the giant and released his arrow. In an instant, the shaft had passed through him. The deer instantly whirled and ran out of sight . . . but then, within seconds the archer heard him crash to the ground.
'I remained in the stand for several minutes to gather my thoughts and calm down, ' Mikell says. 'I'm sure the entire encounter only took a few minutes, but it seemed an eternity. '
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Three double-digit tines of 10 2/8 to 13 5/8 inches, plus 7 1/8- and 9 3/8-inch brows and a 21 3/8-inch inside spread, add plenty to this regal crown. Put everything together and you have a gross 9-point frame score of 193 6/8. That's as big as it sounds.
Typical asymmetry and 11 6/8 inches of abnormal points total 25 1/8 inches of deductions, so as a typical, the deer nets 'only ' 168 5/8. But the 8Ã—5 rack's total gross score of 205 4/8 is much more reflective of its stunning size. Regardless of score, the Robinson buck is clearly a marvel of nature.
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The action was fast and furious right from the get-go. At daybreak a doe busted through the cedar thicket with an eight-point suitor following close behind. The doe, however, wanted nothing to do with her pursuer and jumped into a nearby pond in an attempt to flee the buck.
This, however, wasn't the last of the action. Nick continued to watch several bucks harass does throughout the morning, but chose not to take a shot at them.
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