August 18, 2022
By Nicole Miller
My dad, Paul, is an avid hunter. I have always admired his enthusiasm and dedication to the sport. I can still remember asking him, “Why don’t you buy me a bow? I bet I can shoot a big buck.” I’m not sure how seriously he took me, but sure enough, he gifted me my first bow. Since then, 20 years have passed, and I’m still giving it my best to uphold my end of that bargain.
I’ve had the opportunity to chase some great deer over the years, but nothing could have prepared me for the buck I called “Woody.” I selected that name as tribute to late Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes. One of his famous quotes reads: “There’s nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you.” After my four-year quest to tag the giant buck, there couldn’t have been a more fitting depiction of my hunt for this elusive whitetail.
The Quest Begins
It all started back in the late season in 2018. On one particular hunt, I hadn’t seen a single deer. Losing patience, I decided to make my way home early. I walked up a lease road that runs the length of my dad’s farm. As I reached the top of the hill, I caught movement off to my right. I could make out a deer with its nose to the ground. The deer quickly spotted me and threw its head up. The buck’s rack was silhouetted by the fading skyline. I could not believe what I was seeing! I hadn’t seen a deer of his caliber all season. We both met cresting a hill, standing 25 yards apart. It had crossed my mind to try to draw my bow back. But the deer was facing me, and light was fading. Naturally, the buck didn’t give me long to dwell on the situation. He bolted back over the hill to cover. My first encounter with Woody would prove to be just as exciting as my last.
I continued hunting him that season, but our paths never crossed. Trail cameras delivered the only solid evidence of his existence. He remained largely nocturnal. I looked back through old trail cam pictures and found photos of him dating back to 2017. He had made such an impressive jump in antler size, and I knew he had the potential to be something special. He just needed time to prove it. Cameras confirmed Woody made it through the 2018 season. The follow-ing spring, I was able to find his right antler while shed hunting. Excited for 2019, it didn’t take long to realize how cagey this deer truly was. I never saw Woody that entire season — not one single encounter after months of hunting. The buck’s nocturnal habits kept him out of harm’s way. He was not one of the many deer that stayed on the farm and took advantage of the food plots my dad supplied through the winter months. Instead, he simply vanished until the following rut.
More Close Calls
Despite heavy hunting pressure, Woody surprisingly made it to the 2020 season. I estimated him to be 5-6 years old at that time. Dad and I picked up his right antler from 2019, as well as the match to his 2018 set. All three sheds were found on the east side of the farm. As puzzle pieces started to fall in place, we both focused our hunting efforts to that side of the property.
On Nov. 14, my dad was ending an all-day sit, when Woody made an appearance at last light. Dad was able to get a shot off, but a pesky tree limb sent his arrow on a different path! Exactly 10 days later, I finally had my own opportunity at Woody. It was Nov. 24, and the rut was winding down. I watched a few does make their way across an open field. I had my camera sitting in my lap, planning on snapping some quick photos of them. Suddenly, every squirrel and blue jay within earshot sounded off. Expecting a coyote or possibly a bobcat, I kept my camera ready.
Never suspecting a deer, I peeked over my left shoulder and found the cause of all the commotion. It was Woody with his nose to the ground like an old bird dog! He was 50 yards behind me. I knew I didn’t have time to stand, for fear he would catch my movement. I remained seated, tucked my camera between my knees, and reached for my bow. Woody finally made it into my only shooting lane, and I knew it was then or never. I went to draw my bow and couldn’t get it to break over! Woody caught me struggling and jerked his head up, staring me down as I made it to full draw. I didn’t even get a chance to aim; he was already in the next county.
I had just been busted by the deer I had waited two years to even lay eyes on. I couldn’t believe I had been so careless. And it cost me. I remember leaving the stand on the lowest of lows. I relayed the story to my dad later that evening. And he sent me a text message that read: “Just remember, no matter what happens with this deer, we’ve had a slim chance. It might not be the best chance or the kind you want, but what an exciting privilege it is to get to hunt this buck. So, we will keep our chin up and keep hunting him hard.”
The Turning Point
As the 2020 season ended, Woody’s travels on our property became less frequent. The rut had taken a toll on him. He had a broken antler tine and seemed to have an injury that was slowing him down. I had no confir-mation that he made it through the season, no sheds and no trail camera pictures. With no indication of his survival, it was going to be a long wait for October.
While scouting in late summer 2021, I located an impressive buck. The deer was sporting only a half rack with a deformity to his opposite side. I had never spotted Woody this early. Could this be him going downhill, and was it an injury that caused the deformity? Unable to tell for sure, the waiting game continued. October finally rolled around, and one day I made a quick stop to pull trail camera cards after work. It was nearing the time Woody usually made his return. I went straight for the “Yonder Tree” — a giant white oak that Woody loved to frequent.
While checking my camera, on the third video in, I finally got what I had been waiting for! I had two videos of Woody working over a licking branch on Oct. 19. Although it wasn’t a clear shot of his rack, it was undeniably Woody. And he was by no means going downhill, boasting his best rack yet! He flaunted a massive 6x6 frame. I guessed him to be 6-7 years old at this point. I was so relieved, but the pressure was already starting to set in. I knew my odds of getting a crack at Woody were growing slimmer with each passing day.
On the morning of Oct. 24, I rushed to make it to my stand before daybreak. It had rained throughout the night, and I knew exactly where I was headed. My climber was already set up on a little poplar from a previous hunt. As I made my way through the dark, there was an owl hooting right above me. I always liked hearing them. I remember one calling the morning I had missed Woody. The timber was soaked from all the rain and helped suppress the noise of my climb. I eventually got settled and waited for the woods to awake.
Daylight finally broke way to a dreary-overcast morning. It was impossible to hear anything moving, so I focused my attention on a little knob/bedding area. I was able to catch some movement in the brush just below the knob. I took a quick peek through my binos, and I caught the right end of an antler beam pushing through the briars. I knew instantly that it was Woody!He was on a mission, 60 yards out and closing fast. I knew I had to stand up quickly without him catching me. Attempting to stay calm, I told myself to take it one step at a time. I whispered to myself "If you stand up, see if you can grab your bow. And if you can grab your bow, see if you can draw."
Woody was coming directly to my tree! I was able to grab my bow and get into position. I needed to let him work past me for a quartering-away shot. I was concentrating right behind his shoulder, trying not to look at his rack. But just as I was getting ready to draw, Woody changed direction. He made a 90-degree turn (putting him broadside) and started up a bank where I had no shot. I knew I had to stop him instantly, so I decided to bleat at him, knowing I had a 50/50 chance of him spooking. I drew as quickly as I could and gave him the hail mary of all bleats.
Just like in our last confrontation; Woody froze and looked directly up at me! This time, I was already at full draw. I put my 30-yard pin on him, and I took the shot. Woody barreled through the brush. I tried my best not to let my emotions overcome me. The orange glow of my knock was the only thing I could make out as he bolted away. I just sat there in my climber trying to process what had just happened.
I frantically tried to call/text my husband, TJ, and my dad, who were also hunting that morning. The cell service is horrible where I hunt. After a few attempts, I was able to reach my mom, so she was first to receive the news. Word finally made its way, and we all decided to meet up at my dad’s cabin. I wanted to give Woody plenty of time before we tracked him.
I worked my way down the tree. Concerned with my shot, I wanted to check for blood before I headed out. Relieved, I found blood where the shot took place. I knew it was a good sign, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Just as I turned to head out, I happened to catch a glimpse of something up the hollow. I fumbled to get my binos, and that’s when I lost it! I was looking at white belly. Woody had fallen just 80 yards from my stand!
A Potential World Record is Realized
The walk to Woody was a moment I’ll never forget. Just as my first encounter had unfolded, here I stood, face-to-face with the buck of my lifetime. Humbled, I fell to my knees alongside him. I screamed, I cried and I thanked God. It was truly a bittersweet moment knowing the hunt for Woody had finally come to an end. I couldn’t wait to get back to the cabin. For once, I wouldn’t be dragging my dad and TJ into the assumed track job. This time it was just a recovery! With their help, we got Woody to my parents’ house. Most of my family was there for the celebration. After a quick photo shoot, we all jotted down guesses to his score on a scrap piece of paper. With deductions, I figured him to net in the 180s. I had told myself if I ever actually shot Woody, a full-body mount would be the best way to honor him. The morning concluded with a trip to the taxidermist (special thanks to the Yurco Family).
After the drying period, Woody was officially scored by Ryan Huffman. My husband, my dad, (along with his good friend Dwayne), and myself all sat huddled around Ryan as he ran the tape. We were all shocked when he announced the official score. With the abnormal point on the left antler, the rack has a gross score of 204 3/8, and his final Boone & Crockett net score is 191 typical. Woody falls within the all-time top rankings for typicals harvested in Ohio by male and female hunters. In addition, he is potentially the largest typical ever taken in the Buckeye State by a woman.
I soon realized Woody’s accolades don’t end there. Incredibly, I’ve been informed that the entry score to the Pope & Young club has been accepted and is the highest typical score on record submitted by any female bowhunter. If the rack’s entry score is confirmed by a panel of Pope & Young measurers at the club’s next biennial convention, currently scheduled for April 2023, then he will in effect be the Women’s World Record typical white-tail by vertical bow.
Standings aside, the significance of this deer will never be topped for me. Woody was a true warrior that some-how survived to become a legend. My father and I experienced a ride that most hunters can only dream of. My dad would always tell me, “That’s what hunting is all about. One minute you’re just watching a squirrel, and the next minute a giant buck could be heading straight to your tree!” Pap, you were right! What an exciting privilege it was hunting Woody. For me, the true privilege was getting to share the journey with you.