Killing a 186-inch wild whitetail is hard enough. Doing it on public land is even more difficult. But Jake Bush did both in 2019.
His journey as a deer hunter began long before that, though — and some distance away.
“Growing up in southwestern New York, deer hunting has always been a large part of my family,” Jake says. “I first laid my hands on a buck at two years old and started shooting archery at four. My fondest memories mostly involve chasing deer with my grandpa, dad and brothers. I shot my first archery buck at 16, and it’s been an addiction ever since.”
He didn’t start out killing giants, naturally, but he had aspirations.
“In June of 2019 I sold my home, quit my job and moved from New York to Ohio to chase trophy whitetails on public land,” Jake says. “Throughout the years, I’ve evolved as a hunter. I went from needing the latest, greatest gadgets, scent control and lots of managed land to going out, working hard and exploring public land.
“Being able to share these memories and experiences with my family is all I can ask for,” he adds. “Some of the greatest moments of my life have come through the great outdoors. I have a passion for helping show the beauty of the great outdoors to others.”
That’s a bold move just to kill big deer, but it’s one a hardcore hunter can respect. Grit: consistent success on mature whitetails demands it.
Just prior to moving to Ohio, Jake cyber-scouted the chosen area by map. Then, after relocating, he put boots on the ground last summer. In fact, he says he hiked roughly 300 miles while looking for old rut sign, bedding areas and other evidence of big deer. He hung cameras and located multiple mature bucks.
“Between cyber-scouting and putting boots on the ground, I was able to locate several 160-class-or-bigger deer on public land,” Jake notes. “Leeward (downwind-side) buck bedding points, the theory of thermals and wind currents, as well as finding and figuring out how to set up between beds and destination food sources all played a vital role.”
Jake continued his relentless scouting into mid-September. That’s when he discovered a group of fresh, chest-high rubs on a leeward ridge point. By following the rub line, he connected the dots all the way to the buck’s bed — and the big deer was in it. He blew out of there, but Jake knew he’d be back. The gears started turning.
Having found what he wanted, Jake spent the next two weeks studying maps and fine-tuning his approach. Then, on Oct. 2, he made a move.
Conditions weren’t great that day. A heat wave brought 93 degrees, 15-mph winds and puddles of sweat. The wind was out of the southwest, though, which was perfect for the setup near where the hunter had bumped his quarry.
“I knew this deer would leave his bed to drink from the creek 100 yards away at some point in the day,” Jake explains. That’s the pattern he was hunting.
The hunter slowly scouted his way in. Along the way he spotted two coyotes, which slightly discouraged him. By then it was around 10 a.m., and Jake planned to hunt the rest of the day. There was plenty of time for the big woods to calm down.
Eventually, he reached his spot and hung a Lone Wolf tree stand near a scrape. Surrounding the setup was wild, hilly public land comprising steep, wooded ridges, standing timber and clearcuts.
Jake’s setup put him between the buck’s bedding spot and two things he knew the deer really wanted at that time of year: acorns and water. A creek ran through a thermal hub down below, with oaks standing all around it. This type of terrain feature often gives deer the wind advantage. Luckily, though, Jake had been able to set up with a just-off wind where five ridges met. He was only 80 yards from where he’d jumped the buck from his bed a couple weeks earlier.
“I had three major trails converging at my stand,” the hunter explains. “One from the ridge I was facing to my south, one from the ridge behind me to the north and a trail that rain east to west. There was a deep cut in the creek funneling deer past my stand.”
Drenched in sweat from hanging the stand on such a hot day, Jake settled in and tried to cool down. Fortunately, the thermals kept his scent from rising toward the bedded deer. The doe and fawn that crept in didn’t catch a whiff, either. They pushed on through.
Then it happened.
“Moments before seeing this buck, I heard squirrels chattering, followed by the unmistakable sound of footsteps,” Jake remembers. “The buck walked down the ridge to my east and ran straight toward me before stopping at the oak tree to browse.”
The hunter scrambled to grab his Mathews Triax and turn on his video camera. But when he drew the bow, his string caught on the camera, pointing its field of view to the left. Then, just before the shot, the camera swung back and knocked against the bow. The monster buck instantly snapped to attention.
“I set my slider to 32 (yards), aimed and squeezed,” Jake says. “My shot was slightly high and back, but still a double-lung shot. I heard the buck jump the creek and run to the opposite ridge about 50 yards away.”
That’s when the giant crashed.
“I was filled with so many emotions,” Jake recalls. “The journey to get to that point flooded in, along with thinking about my grandpa, who’d passed away January of 2018. This hunt was dedicated to him.”
Jake’s hunting buddy, Ethan, drove three hours to help drag out the buck. The hunter’s dad, brothers and sister drove five hours to celebrate with them. They all spent most of the night admiring the whitetail and reminiscing on good times they’d had with Jake’s grandpa, Charlie.
In reflection, the hunter says last year tested him in ways he didn’t expect. Moving out of state to chase big deer is daunting, but he’d done it and won. The sacrifices and work had paid off in memories and inches — an impressive 186 2/8 of them, to be exact.
“Seeing that all come together the way it did was amazing,” Jake says. “To film the hunt and look back on it made it that much sweeter. I’m just a regular guy who woke up and decided to chase a dream. Being able to show people that you don’t need anything but work ethic and passion for the hunt means a lot to me.”
It’s safe to say this Buckeye State transplant will never forget the pursuit of his 5 1/2-year-old monarch. And hopefully, his story will inspire others who still doubt such achievements are possible on public land.