From the time he first saw this buck in 2004 to the time he shot it last season, Kenny Pickard knew he had one thing going for him. The buck spent most of its time confined to a very small area!
Kenny hunted this giant 10-pointer with a bow for three seasons. At one point in 2005, Keeny came up to full draw on the buck at 30 yeards, but he could not get a clear shot. Then, a year later in 2006. Kenny downed the monster with his muzzleloader.
The big 10-pointer that Kenny Pickard had been pursuing for the past three years finally appeared in an open bean field on the second day of Ohio's gun season last year. The unwanted company of two smaller bucks, which were also vying for the doe's affection, had the old buck preoccupied with defending his claim on the lady. Kenny was perched in a stand overlooking the creek valley that morning, and the ruckus got his attention.
Kenny had first seen the enormous buck at a considerable distance across a picked and weathered cornfield in central Clinton County in southwest Ohio in late May of 2004. Kenny, a farmer and avid deer hunter since his youth, was plowing and preparing the ground for spring planting. He instantly noticed the size of the buck's rack from his elevated seat inside the cab of the tractor he was driving.
"He was in velvet with three other bucks," recalled Kenny. "He was an 8-pointer then, still growing his rack, and was the biggest of the three. I'm certain it was him, because of the way his rack was shaped."
Kenny had a trail camera set out that spring, and he was lucky enough to get photographs of the buck in velvet. Kenny never laid eyes on the deer again until the following October during bow season.
"I saw him one time in early bow season near the area where I had first seen him in spring," Kenny said. "That was the last time I saw him in 2004. I thought maybe he might have gotten killed. He was a real nice buck then, probably a 140-class 8-pointer."
The next time Kenny saw the buck was on a September morning in 2005 while checking trail cameras just prior to the Ohio archery opener.
"I observed him from a distance walking the creek line," said Kenny. "I was watching him with binoculars, trying to figure out where he was going. He was a big 10-pointer then."
Kenny caught a brief glimpse of the buck in October. Then, in November, the big 10 drew the attention of a deer-hunting neighbor who saw the buck in the same creek valley the day before the youth gun season was slated to open. The neighbor called Kenny and excitedly told him about the sighting. The large wooded creek bottom where the buck was regularly seen is a mixture of hollows, brushy pockets, weedy hillsides, and corn or bean fields along the upper edges, making it an ideal deer and wildlife corridor.
"My neighbor said he saw a big deer and thought it was headed my way," said Kenny. "So I went out the next morning, the opening day of youth gun season, with my bow. I heard shooting down the creek line. Then a buck and a doe came into the top side of the woods. I was on the bottom side, and he was following the doe. I was hunting off the ground because it was too thick to hunt from a stand, and I was leaning up against a tree when the doe walked within eight yards of me."
Kenny first saw the buck about 30 yards away coming out of a thicket and trailing the doe toward him. "I was at full draw twice for as long as I could hold it."
Even though the big 10-pointer had gotten within 12 yards of Kenny, there was multiflora rose bush between Kenny and the buck. "I kept thinking he would step out. I had a small pocket I thought about trying to shoot through, but I just didn't. Then the doe walked back the same way she had come from, and he followed her, walking straight away from me."
Kenny never saw the deer again the rest of the season, but his neighbor observed the 10-pointer one more time trailing a doe across a field just before Ohio's gun season opened.
The next confirmation that the buck was still around came from a trail camera photo taken in February 2006. The buck had shed his right antler but still carried his left side. "We looked and looked for both of his shed antlers after that, but we never could find either one," Kenny said.
During that summer of 2006, several photos were taken with trail cameras showing the buck in velvet. "I wasn't sure that was him until I got nine more pictures in September," Kenny said. "By now he was a huge 10-pointer, and after seeing those photos I decided to seriously start bowhunting just for him."
Kenny knew the woods and brushy thickets the buck lived in well, having farmed and hunted the land since he was a boy growing up on the farm. He knew the two primary bedding areas the buck was using, and he was familiar with travel routes and feeding areas. More importantly, he knew the subtleties of the land and the habits of the deer that lived on that land as only one who had hunted the area for many years could know.
"I knew where the deer were going and I stayed out of their bedding areas," Kenny said. "I tried to keep my scent down and I only hunted when the wind was right. I hunted from both the ground and tree stands. I passed up a lot of pretty good deer waiting on this one buck."
Kenny saw the big 10-pointer six times that fall, but the old buck never offered a close shot.
"The first time I saw him, it was toward the end of October," Kenny said. "I was in the back woods, and he came out of the front woods shortly after sundown and fed by himself in the bean field for over an hour. He was over 200 yards away, and I watched him with my binoculars the whole time. After he finished feeding he turned around and went back into the woods and laid down."
Kenny didn't see the buck again until the week before Ohio's firearms season. "That was Thanksgiving week," Kenny recalled. "I took some days off trying to get him before gun season opened."
Interestingly enough, with every sighting since 2004 Kenny had always seen the deer in the same small general area. "He was usually hanging out in a 10-acre patch of woods that's super thick, with hardwoods, brush and cornfields surrounding it."
Kenny recalled seeing the buck four times that week. "One day I saw him with a couple of other smaller bucks, and on another day he was with a doe. Of course, wherever she went he followed, and I rattled and couldn't get him to do anything. Another time he crossed out in the middle of a field, 100 yards away from anything, and I rattled and he wouldn't respond. The fo
urth time I saw him, he was on another property where I didn't have permission to hunt. He circled way around and crossed the creek. He seemed to know; that buck seemed to have a sixth sense."
Kenny's neighbor was now after the big 10-pointer as well, and he'd passed up a 9-pointer during bow season that would have scored in the 140s in hopes that the big 5x5 would eventually offer a shot. Other sightings also occurred in the area. Based on all of the sightings, Kenny believed that the buck probably ran a 2- or 3-mile line up and down the creek valley, looking for does.
Ohio's firearms season opened on Monday, Nov. 27, and Kenny, who likes to hunt with his Remington 700 ML .50 muzzleloader during gun season, went to another place to hunt that opening morning.
"Believe it or not, I was on my way to town the Sunday before gun season and I saw him cross the road onto another neighbor's property. So I didn't hunt my usual place on Monday, because I was hoping that all the pressure might push him back to the place where I had seen him."
At dawn on the second day of gun season (Tuesday, Nov. 28), Kenny was back in his favorite haunts sitting in a familiar tree stand that he had built as a teenager while still in high school.
"I like the stand because it's located between the two bedding areas and I can see both sides of the narrow strip of woods I hunt in," Kenny said.
At about 8:30 that morning, Kenny saw several deer 150 yards away following a trail out of the far bedding area on the top side of the woods.
Two yearling bucks -- a small 4-pointer and a 6-pointer -- along with a bigger buck, were all following a doe, and it was obvious that she was in heat, as the younger bucks were constantly trying to woo her away. Meanwhile, the older buck kept busy chasing away the youngsters. After a few minutes, Kenny realized that the older buck might be the giant 10-pointer, but he wasn't sure.
"He was not really worried about anything except chasing the smaller bucks off," Kenny said.
From his tree stand, Kenny could see that the deer were not going to come past his stand as they switched trails and followed another path that veered away from his position. So, knowing that he had to try to make something happen, Kenny made a bold decision while the deer were still about 100 yards away.
"When they didn't take that upper trail, I knew where they were going, so I lowered my gun, climbed down and took off to try to intercept them."
With the direction of the breeze, Kenny was afraid that the deer might wind him, so he quietly circled around the bottom of the hill and then followed a brushy waterway through the woods to the corner of a bean field at a fence line.
"The deer usually only jump the fence in two places, and the group walked past the first spot," Kenny said. "So I went to the next crossing and waited in some brush and weeds. The 6-pointer walked past me and then the doe begin feeding close to me along the edge of the field. I couldn't see the big one and I had no idea where he was. I was on my knees, and I could see the doe, and the 6-pointer was looking right at me. He knew something was up."
Kenny finally spotted the big 10 about 65 yards away in the middle of the field.
"I just stayed still and waited. Then I saw him, but there was a tree between us. So I leaned over to shoot around it. I leveled the crosshairs and took the shot. He took off running, and my first thought was that I didn't make a good shot. I jumped into the open to get out of the smoke so that I could see what was happening, and I started to reload at the same time. The buck went about 150 yards before he staggered and went down. Then I stopped reloading."
Everything had happened so fast that Kenny still had his doubts as to whether or not this was the buck he had been after.
"I didn't get a good chance to look at him because I was in a hurry, but I figured it had to be him because there are not many bucks around that big. Then I walked up to him and I said to myself, 'That's him for sure!'"
Kenny's buck was officially scored on Jan. 27, 2007, after the required 60-day drying time by Gary Trent, president of the Ohio Buckeye Big Buck Club. Incredibly, the main-frame 5x5 netted a whopping 192 3/8 typical B&C points. A 21 5/8-inch inside spread and G-2s measuring 13 and 14 inches contributed to the world-class score. Total deductions, including a 1 4/8-inch abnormal point, amounted to 5 7/8 inches.
After scoring the rack, Gary informed Kenny that he now held the record for the largest whitetail buck ever taken in Ohio with a muzzleloader. The buck is also the new No. 2 whitetail by muzzleloader, missing the current No. 1 spot by only 7/8 of an inch. (The ranking world-record typical by muzzleloader scores 193 2/8 and was taken in Saskatchewan by David Wilson in 1992.)
Ironically, during the '04 season, Ohio muzzleloader hunter Santo Fallo shot a huge 10-pointer in Trumball County that scored 191 2/8. (See the July 2006 issue for Santo's story). Kenny's buck now replaces Santo's buck as a new state record by a muzzleloader. And like Santo's buck, Kenny's buck has also been entered in the National Muzzleloading Rifle Association's record book.
Kenny harbors a lot of fond memories about his three-year quest for this once-in-a-lifetime whitetail.
"I really enjoyed the challenge," Kenny said. "But you want to know something? From where I first saw him in 2004 to where I finally shot him in that bean field was probably no more than about 200 yards in distance!"