Mark Hammer Buck: 254-Inch Ohio Brute
April 05, 2016
It was finally time. After four days of bowhunting southern Ohio's Wayne National Forest without success, it was time to return to my home in Huron County, the northern part of the state.
For years I'd counted almost exclusively on the thousands of acres of public land down south to provide me with an opportunity to harvest a quality buck. But recent years had seen a dramatic decrease in the overall deer population in the area, trophy bucks included. Fortunately, as I made the 3 1/2-hour drive home from there last fall with buck tag still unfilled, it wasn't disappointment I was feeling. Rather, I was filled with anticipation! For the second year in a row, I felt confident of harvesting a good buck only a few miles from my home.
My early-season scouting had revealed that several good bucks were using trails on which I'd placed stands and trimmed shooting lanes months prior. Among these deer was a monster I'd seen only once, on a late-July evening. Although he'd been a full half-mile away, as I'd watched him through my spotting scope I could see he was a true giant. I admittedly have little experience judging deer of this caliber, especially in velvet, but I estimated him to score somewhere in the 190s.
I had a total of 10 stands hung in three woodlots I felt should lie within the home range of this deer, as well as several other shooter bucks. Three of these stand sites I had supreme confidence in. My favorite was the stand from which I'd shot a palmated buck the previous year.
Always A Challenge
Although these woodlots are private property, I share permission with many other bowhunters. As you can imagine, hunting them on weekends can be frustrating, to say the least. Midweek, however, can provide some excellent hunting, and I'd taken the entire week off work to pursue my passion. With the next day being Tuesday, Nov. 4, I knew it was finally time to go after a trophy near home.
At 3:50 a.m. I awoke not to the sound of my alarm clock, but to that of the wind. I switched off my alarm 10 minutes before its eruption and immediately checked the weather. While the morning temperature of 50 degrees was well above normal, and certainly not ideal, it was the wind that stood out. I'm sure the fact it was howling at a steady 20 mph would have bothered many other bowhunters, but it was from the southwest — and that was music to my ears. It finally was time to hunt one of my favorite trees.
This stand sat on the edge of a small thicket in the northeast corner of the 40-acre woodlot I most enjoy hunting. It was out of this very tree, just three days short of a year prior, that I'd harvested my big 2013 buck. So without hesitation I began preparing for the day.
I faithfully employ a rigorous scent-control regimen most of my hunting friends have told me is ridiculous, if not borderline obsessive. I won't get into the specifics, as it would require a separate article, but they might have a point. I'm not sure if all of the scent-control precautions I take are truly effective or perhaps just products of my own OCD. Regardless of their true effectiveness, I feel if they give me confidence I'll sit longer and more attentively, and therefore be more successful.
After making the short drive from my home, I arrived at my hunting location almost two hours before daylight. I removed the de-scented clothing I'd worn in the truck, with the exception of my base layer, and redressed in a new set of scent-free clothing. I then completely re-treated all my previously de-scented clothing and gear with a scent eliminator, right down to my rubber boots.
Backpack on and bow in hand, I began the half-mile walk to my tree stand. It would have been much quicker to take the most direct route, but I refused to do so. I've watched the vast majority of other hunters take this path of least resistance, and trust me — so have the deer.
Upon arriving at the place where I was to enter the woodlot, I again sprayed down with scent eliminator. My pace then slowed to a crawl as I made my way the last few yards to my stand. The trail I'd cut months earlier was easily followed, and I took great care to touch nothing along the way.
I stopped 15 yards short of my stand and applied some Conquest EverCalm scent to the base of a small tree, putting the scent perpendicular to my stand. I've found that with proper placement this scent not only distracts deer while I draw but also puts them in perfect position for the shot.
I then climbed the 25 feet to my platform and attached my safety harness immediately. Next I removed my exterior layer of Scent-Lok from the Zip-loc bag in my backpack and finished dressing as quickly as possible. I try to be in my stand, seated and motionless, a full hour before shooting light.
When A Plan Comes Together
When darkness gave way to dawn, I was at last able to make out my surroundings. And my excitement grew. I could see that at least a half-dozen arm-thick trees within bow range wore the scars of recent battles with what had to be an impressive buck.
As I looked for more sign, motion caught my eye. It was a big doe sneaking along a small trail 30 yards away. She quickly made her way into the small bedding thicket without making a sound. Between the wind that morning and a rain shower that had passed through the previous evening, my eyes would have to be diligent. It was unlikely I'd hear any deer coming — at least, in time to be ready for a shot.
Only a few minutes later, I noticed more movement on that little trail. Three more does slipped into the cover silently and without hesitation. At this point, not 30 minutes into legal shooting time, I had four live decoys bedded inside 60 yards of my position. To say I was excited about my prospects would be putting it mildly.
After a quick scan of the area I texted my father, whom I knew was in a tree of his own some 200 miles away. I'd just left him in our southern Ohio deer camp the previous evening with five days left in his hunt. My text simply read, "I have four does bedded in my little sanctuary. Can't wait to see who comes to visit them."
A few minutes later, I spotted a small buck making his way down the woods edge on the opposite side of my stand. Before reaching the does' refuge he caught the scent of the EverCalm, turned 90 degrees and came in as if on a string. He licked and rubbed his face in the treated area for a couple minutes, then continued on his new path, never coming downwind of the does or crossing their trail.
Not 15 minutes later, another small buck appeared along that same woods edge and mimicked the actions of the first. The does' hiding spot was holding out, and they remained undisturbed. I wasn't at all surprised to see the two bucks so early in the hunt. In fact, I'd passed on nine such deer from this stand the previous year in the day and a half I'd hunted before filling my buck tag. It was 12:30 p.m. on that day when the beautiful 9-pointer brought my buck season to an end. I was prepared to stay on stand until 3:00 that day, as I was on this one. That's the latest I could stay and still be on time to pick up my 7-year-old son, Andrew, from school.
After waiting for what I hoped was long enough for those two small bucks to leave the area, I decided to rattle a little. After many disappointments, I'd given up on store-bought rattling devices several years ago and made my own (Antler Action Products). This rattling device has served me quite well, and I'll never again hunt the rut without it.
I completed one of my usual two- to three-minute rattling sessions in hopes of attracting one of the more dominant bucks in the area — perhaps even the one that had wrecked all of those small trees under me. A quick check of my watch showed it to be 7:20 a.m. I decided I'd wait until 8:00 to rattle again.
But little did I know that wouldn't be necessary. Not five minutes later, I noticed a deer off in the distance, in generally the same direction the does had come from. This deer, however, wasn't heading directly toward the bedding cover, as they had done. Although it was probably 80 yards away and I could see only its body, one thing was clear: It was heading directly at me.
At 50 yards, the deer reached a trail intersection. Now I could clearly tell it was a buck, and big enough for me to at least pick up the bow.
He worked a scrape and licking branch at this location for a minute or so. While still not sure of his exact size, I'd determined him to be a shooter. At this point, the buck would either take the trail the does had taken and pass by me at 30 yards or choose the other trail, which would take him downwind of the bedding area and pass by me at a mere 10 yards. He chose the second option and at 40 yards as he passed behind the last large tree that would separate us, I brought my PSE to full draw. There was no longer anything between us to hide the size of his massive antlers. I now knew this was the largest buck I'd ever seen alive.
The trail he followed was too narrow for his rack to pass through freely, and the huge buck violently assaulted everything within a yardstick's reach. The noise he made as he twisted and mangled those saplings was almost unbelievable.
At 20 yards I found it impossible to focus on his ever-growing rack. I knew he was the giant I'd seen back in July. I quickly gave my equipment one last check to make sure all was as it should be, knowing if I messed this up I'd never forgive myself. I made no attempt to count points or guess score; I tried only to focus on the task at hand.
At 12 yards I made one attempt to stop the buck with the classic baaaaa, but there was absolutely no reaction. With the giant now walking at 10 yards and perfectly broadside, I was taking no more chances. I repeated to myself, Pick a spot, and smooth release — and sent the arrow on its way.
The shot looked good, and there was blood instantly — but the buck reacted only by speeding up slightly. I could see bright-pink blood pouring out of his side. Before he'd made it 50 yards, I saw him stumble . . . and a second later, he was down.
At that point I could no longer stand. I'm still not sure how I got my PSE Phenom back onto its hanger, but it certainly wasn't on the first try. I could only see the white of the deer's belly as he lay there, and I wondered if he was really as big as I'd imagined.
When I finally thought I could hold my phone without dropping it, I once again texted my father. I told him I'd just shot the biggest deer of my life. Knowing I'd taken three of over 150 inches, he was elated.
After waiting almost a half-hour and watching two more small bucks go by, completely ignorant to what they'd just missed, I decided to climb down. I walked the few steps to where the buck had been at the shot and recovered my Carbon Express arrow, which was covered in blood and stuck firmly into the ground.
There was no need to follow the blood trail, as I'd watched the buck expire — but I followed it anyway. I did so mostly just to make the moment last, but I also was preparing myself for any ground shrinkage that might be about to reveal itself.
When I emerged from the small creek the buck had crossed just before collapsing, any doubts as to the buck's size disappeared. I couldn't believe my eyes. I stared in awe at what I knew was the deer of 100 lifetimes. I then sent a picture to my father and my beautiful wife, who was about to start her day as an elementary school teacher.
I can't begin to describe the emotions I felt that day as I thanked God for the animal I'd been blessed with. I'd given so much of myself in my 20-plus years of bowhunting, always hoping my sacrifices and preparation would someday lead to this moment. Sure enough, I was finally laying my hands on a buck that made it all worthwhile. It was finally time!
Tale Of The Tape
The huge buck ended up having 23 scorable points: 10 on the right antler, 13 on the left. With great mass and main beams of 29 1/8 and 28 1/8 inches, along with an inside spread of 22 1/8, he scored considerably more than I'd imagined when I'd seen him feeding in that summer bean field. The typical frame alone grosses 199 3/8 as a 5x5, which is truly world class. Adding the 61 0/8 inches of abnormal points to the net typical frame of 1931/8 brings the final non-typical score to 254 1/8.
At the 2015 Buckeye Big Buck Club banquet, my trophy was honored as the top-scoring Ohio archery buck of the year. In fact, he's reportedly North America's biggest overall of 2014, bow or gun.