Randy Delawder hunted this unusual Ohio buck for three seasons, but the big deer always disappeared every year before the rut. In 2008, Randy knew he would have to change his strategy if he wanted to hit pay dirt.
The Ghost Buck lived in the mountains and hollows of Wayne National Forest in Lawrence County, Ohio. It was in this rugged backdrop of reclaimed forestland that the buck managed to survive in an area open to public hunting.
Randy's crossbow giant, dubbed the Ghost Buck, featured a wildly unusual rack with a 27 2/8-inch outside spread and a 14 4/8-inch club-like drop tine. The awesome rack netted 227 3/8 non-typical B&C points.
"The first time I saw him was in 2006 standing along the road," recalled Randy Delawder. "He caught my eye pretty quickly."
That sighting led Randy on a three-year chase.
"I saw him twice that summer," said Randy, "but he looked different then."
Randy hunted that fall, but a troublesome knee limited his time afield. When he did get to go hunting, he found no evidence of the buck he had seen during the summer. "I found a few small rubs but never any sign from him."
That fall, local hunters started whispering about sighting a big non-typical. One young hunter even claimed he saw a buck with a long drop tine that looked like a club. The following February, Randy had a knee replacement, but he recuperated quickly and was back at work within five weeks.
A GRAY GHOST FOR SURE
Randy next caught sight of the buck during the summer of 2007. By then, the buck seemed to be following a regular feeding pattern. "I saw him at least a dozen times," Randy said.
The big non-typical now had company. A spike and a 10-pointer had joined him, and the threesome became inseparable.
"The spike was always the first deer out," Randy said. "A few minutes later, the 10-pointer followed, and about 10 minutes after that the big boy appeared. It always went in that order."
By the fall of 2007, the buck had grown an impressive rack. "I think he had more tine length and his rack looked taller," Randy said. "However, the drop tine wasn't as long.
"The bucks spent their summer evenings browsing in the open woods staying in the same area all the time. I would watch and make mental notes. When you see something like that, you start getting serious about planning a hunt.
"I started hunting around mid-October that year. But just like the previous fall, I never saw any sign of the deer. Where he went I don't know. That's why I nicknamed him the 'Ghost Buck.'"
Randy hunted hard during the '07 bow season but never once laid eyes on the deer. Nor could he find any sign from it.
"I stopped hunting at the beginning of gun season because I wasn't going to take a chance on running him to somebody.
"Rumors of the buck began to draw attention to the area. There were a couple of trucks parked regularly on Dry Ridge during bow season."
Randy thinks the next time he spotted the buck was in April of '08. "Of course, he was without antlers, but he was with a smaller deer, possibly the spike, in the same place I had seen the trio the summer before," said Randy.
Randy did not see the big 10-pointer that spring or summer. "Something happened to him, possibly EHD got him." (Note: Southern Ohio experienced a severe outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, or EHD, during the dry summer of 2007. This resulted in the death of several hundred, perhaps even several thousand, deer.)
Randy spotted the buck again in the same area in May. "His antlers were just starting to grow, but he was very strange looking. His antlers developed in a weird way."
The two bucks had the habit of coming uphill from a deep hollow into the small forest openings around dusk. That fall, the oaks carried a heavy mast of acorns, and in an area devoid of crops, the deer fed heavily on them.
Randy observed the buck several times that summer and into September, always with the company of the smaller buck. "When you saw the young buck, you saw him."
A NEW STRATEGY FOR '08
By late summer, Randy believed that if he was going to bag the Ghost Buck, he would have to do it early in the season before the deer disappeared. "I decided to hang my stand on a trail that the spike always used," said Randy. "He came up the hill from the same location every time I saw him."
On the afternoon of Oct. 4, a Saturday, Randy's 28-year-old son, Jason, hunted the spot where they had last seen the buck in early September. Jason often accompanied his dad during those pre-season scouting trips and he was well aware of the areas used by the huge buck and his friend.
Around 5 p.m., Jason spotted the smaller buck coming up a familiar trail. Behind him was the big non-typical. The younger buck got within 50 yards of Jason before scenting him. The deer snorted, and both whitetails ran back down into the same hollow they had come from.
"Jason phoned me that night to tell me about it," Randy said. "He was so upset after blowing it that he just went back to the house and sulked. I hoped one of us would get him, but I secretly hoped it would be Jason."
A GHOSTLY APPEARANCE
After work on the following Monday afternoon (Oct. 6), Randy went hunting for the first time that season.
He carried with him a Summit climber and his old PSE Foxfire II crossbow that he had purchased secondhand for $150.
It was a quick 10-minute walk down the hollow to a tree he had previously selected. It had been hot and dry that afternoon and the wind was brisk. Around 4:45, Randy cocked his crossbow and attached a rope to it. He latched his climber to the tree, and within a few minutes, he was 20 feet up.
"I had just gotten the seat locked down when the big buck came in," said Randy. "When I turned around, he was there."
Randy had one problem. His crossbow was still on the ground attached to the rope.
"This time he came in ahead of his companion," said Randy. "He had his mouth open and was panting. It was hot that day."
The buck was only about 10 yards away, staring at Randy's crossbow.
"I looked down at him and he appeared to be different. I wondered if he was same the buck. Then he turned his head and I saw that big drop tine."
The buck continued walking a short distance. He stopped again and looked back at the crossbow. Then he started angling through a thicket. "That's when I grabbed the rope and started pulling!" Randy said.
Just as Randy got the crossbow into his hands, a loud snort broke the silence. Standing about 35 yards away, the young buck had seen Randy move. With that, Randy pulled a bolt out of the quiver and quickly laid it on the arrow rest and shouldered his crossbow.
The big non-typical, now standing only 22 yards away, took a few more cautious steps.
With the rope still tied to the crossbow, Randy found the perfect opening. Just as the smaller buck let out another snort, Randy pulled trigger.
"It looked like a good shot," he said. "The buck bolted and was gone."
At the sound of the crossbow, the young buck ran down the hollow and continued snorting. The big non-typical circled along a dense wooded ridge. "I watched him for 50 yards before he went out of sight," said Randy.
After a few minutes, Randy climbed down and approached the spot where the deer had been standing. Only a few drops of blood could be found. "I tried tracking him to where I had last seen him, but he wasn't bleeding. I couldn't find the arrow, and naturally I started thinking that maybe I'd made a bad shot."
Randy returned home only an hour after he started hunting.
"I waited a couple of hours before going back out," he said. "I had my hunting light, but I was worried."
Randy picked up where he had left off. At first he could only find a few drops of blood.
But as he continued tracking, he started finding more and more blood sign.
"I found the arrow, but it was off the blood trail," Randy said. "He had only gone another 70 yards and there he lay!"
Randy's shot had found it mark, passing cleanly through the buck's heart.
"I was happy in some ways and sad in other ways," said Randy. "It's a good feeling, but it's a sad feeling too because you know you'll never see that deer on the hoof again."
Randy's huge rack was officially measured by Gary Trent, president of the Buckeye Big Buck Club. It scored an incredible 227 3/8 non-typical B&C points. The rack had an inside spread of 21 3/8 inches, and the massive crab-claw drop tine was over 14 inches long. The Ghost Buck will take a prominent place among the top non-typicals taken with a crossbow in Ohio, probably ranking within the top five of all time!