Changing Of The Guard

Changing Of The Guard

Veteran bowhunter Mike Rex had made a herculean effort to arrow an Ohio megabuck known as the 'Sticker Tine Buck,' but the 2008-2009 bow season was rapidly coming to a close. It fell to Mike's son Ryan to finish the job.

Ohio's bow season was nearly over in January 2009 when an emergency snow day closed Ryan's school, giving Ryan the opportunity to hunt the 'Sticker Tine Buck' one last time. After a brutal afternoon on stand enduring the ice and cold, Ryan arrowed the huge buck late in the day. With 16 scorable points, the deer netted 181 7/8 non-typical.

Ohio whitetail hunter Mike Rex first saw the Sticker Tine Buck while driving home from a restaurant in late October 2008 with his sons Ryan, 16, and Corey, 14. It was an hour after dark, and the buck suddenly dashed across the road through the car's headlights. Mike hit the brakes to avoid a collision. The buck lingered long enough to show off its tall main-frame 10-point rack. A small yet obvious sticker point on the left G-2 gave the buck its name.


That chance encounter immediately made the Sticker Tine Buck the focus of the Rex clan's hunting season last year. Mike is an avid bowhunter who, at that time, had taken 18 Pope and Young-class bucks in Ohio in consecutive years. (Mike appeared on the cover of North American Whitetail in January 2006 with a 218 6/8-inch Ohio monster taken on opening day of the 2005 archery season. See his story in that issue.) Ryan already had three Pope and Young bucks to his credit, and Corey had taken four good bucks with shotgun and crossbow. You won't find a family that shares a closer bond built around whitetail hunting.


Mike had hunted the area where he saw the Sticker Tine Buck years before, but he knew the property had changed hands. That very night, he checked his plat records and found the name of the current landowner. The next day, he secured written permission to bowhunt the property.

THE QUEST BEGINS
After two hours of scouting the property, Mike had found only a few small rubs and half-hearted scrapes. Maybe the giant buck had just been passing through, he thought. Mike was almost relieved because the property contained a sheer hillside that was rocky and physically demanding. He was about to give up when he saw some huge oak trees on top of the ridge and decided to check them out. When he crested the ridge, he spotted the Sticker Tine Buck standing next to a bedded doe 30 yards away. The hunt was on!


Mike Rex arrowed this Pope and Young 8-pointer in late November 2008, thinking it was the Sticker Tine Buck. Since he had filled his tag, the task of shooting the Sticker Tine Buck then fell to his 16-year-old son Ryan. Ryan came through with flying colors at the 11th hour.

Mike determined that the Sticker Tine Buck was traveling down the ridge into a drainage that had cut into a rock face. To the east of the drain were open hardwoods. To the west of the drain was a band of thick 'grouse' cover that bordered an overgrown pasture. Mike believed the buck approached the drainage through the cover from the west, which is the direction of the predominant wind in southeast Ohio. He set his stand in a tree on the eastern downwind side of the drain. Provided the buck did as expected, that would give him a 20-yard shot.

Mike also set up a trail camera near his tree that automatically sent photos via satellite to his computer and cell phone. This let him keep an eye on the spot without intruding into the area. The camera captured the first photo of the Sticker Tine Buck in early November.

Mike had correctly figured where the buck was traveling. The downside was that the photo had been taken at night.

Of the 41 trail camera photos in which the Sticker Tine Buck was captured, all but one were taken at night. This photo clearly shows the buck's sticker tine on the left G-2, the inspiration for his name. The impressive rack also sported split brow tines.

BATTLING THE ELEMENTS
To avoid making the buck warier than it already was, Mike went to his stand only when the wind was from the west. Over a five-week period, he hunted there 17 times. Eleven of those outings were sunup-to-sundown vigils. Staying on stand all day is challenging anytime, but it's brutal in subfreezing temperatures. After a brief warm spell in early November, Ohio's weather turned unseasonably cold. Morning temperatures typically dropped into the teens, and they were accompanied by blustery winds and frigid wind chills. Mike claims that he couldn't have stayed on stand all day were it not for a Heater Body Suit that he used for the first time last season. He claims it exceeded his expectations.

Although the Sticker Tine Buck failed to pass Mike's stand during shooting light, other whitetails were more obliging. Mike often had does and smaller bucks within bow range, including a few 140-class whitetails. The deer sightings helped him pass the long hours on stand, but even the most avid hunter can become discouraged.

At daybreak on Nov. 16, Mike was in his tree for the 11th time. His intention was to stay until dark. A few does passed through that morning. Then there was a lull in the action.

Warm and cozy in his body suit, Mike found himself lapsing into a drowsy stupor. At noon, he received a text message from his son Ryan. Although Mike isn't a text-messaging fanatic (as are many of today's teens), he admits that it is an excellent way to communicate silently while on stand.

REGRETS AND MISFORTUNE
Ryan's text message said a trail camera on another property had taken a photo of a big buck. It was all the excuse Mike needed to head home to see the photo and take a short break. The buck in the photo was a 160-class 10-pointer with a split G-2. After ogling the photo with Ryan, Mike stretched out on the couch for a 15-minute nap. He overslept, waking up two hours later. He frantically headed for his tree stand. He was about 50 yards away when he saw a doe only 10 yards from his tree. She bolted with the Sticker Tine Buck in tow.

'If I had stayed on stand that day, I could have killed that buck,' Mike said. 'I knew right away that I might have blown my only chance to get him.'

On Nov. 22, Mike waited in his tree for the final time. A few small bucks showed up in the morning, but nothing stirred during the middle of the day. At 2:30 p.m., Mike received a text message from a friend that the Ohio State Buckeyes had just gone up 35-7 over their archrival Michigan. As he looked up from his phone, a doe trotted past his tree with her tail up. Then Mike glimpsed heavy antlers only yards behind her in the thick cover. It had to be the Sticker Tine Buck!

Mike grabbed his bow and let an arrow fly when the buck stepped into the open. The deer ran only 40 yards and dropped within Mike's view. As he walked up to the buck, Mike suddenly realized that he hadn't noticed the sticker tine. Sure enough, he had killed a buck he had never seen before.

Most hunters would have been tickled with the buck. Its typical mainframe 8-point rack grossed in the 150s and netted just shy of 140 points. However, nothing about that buck made Mike feel good. His goal every year has always been to take a buck that sports nothing smaller than the 140-inch minimum score required for the Buckeye Big Buck Club. He was sorely disappointed that this buck fell short. The biggest hurt was that he didn't kill the massive Sticker Tine Buck he'd been hunting.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Mike's spirits were lifted the following evening when Corey tagged a nice 10-point buck during the statewide youth gun season. The Rex clan was now down to Ryan's buck tag, and the Sticker Tine Buck was still out there.

Ryan, then a high school sophomore, has his father's zeal for hunting whitetails. But his hunting time was limited to Sundays. Football, basketball and homework during the fall and winter left no time for hunting on weekdays. Over the next two months, he was able to hunt only seven times.

In late December 2008 and early January 2009, the Sticker Tine Buck became more predictable. The main rutting season was over, and now food and survival dictated the buck's movements. The trail camera was getting pictures of the buck with increasing regularity, but all the photos were taken at night. Of the 41 trail-camera encounters with the Sticker Tine Buck that season, only one photograph was taken during daylight hours.

After studying the trail camera photos and backtracking the Sticker Tine Buck in the snow, Ryan chose a stand site farther up the hill from where his father had killed the 8-pointer. Just as his father had done, Ryan picked a tree that worked in his favor with a west wind. He also set the trail camera up in his tree.

In December, the wind blew from the west on only two of the days Ryan had off to hunt.

He spent those two days on stand, but the Sticker Tine Buck never showed. Not one to give up, Ryan looked forward to New Year's Day, when his schedule left him free to go hunting. Unfortunately, his basketball coach called him with last minute plans for an extra practice session. Ryan wanted to hunt badly, but he went to practice to uphold his commitment to his team.

Ryan's frustration rose to a new level when he checked the trail camera photos after basketball practice that evening. They revealed that the Sticker Tine Buck had passed by his tree stand at 5:20 p.m., well before dark. This was the only daytime photo of the buck ever captured.

After 14-year-old Corey Rex tagged this outstanding 9-pointer during Ohio's statewide youth gun season, and after Mike had filled his tag in late November with the 'wrong' buck, the Rex clan was down to Ryan's buck tag. Thanks to a severe ice storm, Ryan made good use of his tag on Jan. 28, 2009, by downing the Sticker Tine Buck.

AN 'EMERGENCY' HUNT
On Jan. 26, Ryan and his father glassed the Sticker Tine Buck tending a hot doe in a brushy field about a half-mile from where Ryan was hunting. The buck would leave the doe's side briefly to run off a nice 8-pointer that was also bird-dogging the doe. No photos of the Sticker Tine Buck showed up on the trail camera for the next two days.

Bow season was scheduled to end in three days, and Ryan had no days off left to hunt.

The Sticker Tine Buck had eluded both him and his father.

On Wednesday, Jan. 28, southeastern Ohio was hit with the worst ice storm in decades. A coating of thick ice and snow snapped tree limbs like toothpicks and toppled tall trees that felled power lines. Electricity went out everywhere. The roads were so bad that there was a Level 3 Snow Emergency, which means all roads are closed to non-emergency personnel, with the exception of a personal emergency.

Ryan's school closed and basketball practice was canceled. Ryan figured that hunting the Sticker Tine Buck qualified as an emergency. Traveling the roads wasn't a problem with his father's 4-wd pickup. But trekking up the steep hill through snow and ice was treacherous. Would the ice crunching underfoot alert the buck? Was there any chance the buck would move before dark?

Ryan was in his stand by 3 p.m. Every tree, branch and bush was covered with ice. Ryan was suspended in a brilliant sea of frigid diamonds glistening in the sun. At 4:10 p.m., he sent a succinct text message to his father: 'My butt is frozen to the seat.'

IT'S HIM AT LAST!
About an hour later, two does appeared and slowly meandered toward Ryan. That's when the Sticker Tine Buck and the 8-pointer he had seen two days earlier appeared through ice-covered branches 40 yards away. Ryan grabbed his bow and attached his release. The big buck was cautious, but he appeared to be focused on the deer around him. He was in no hurry to offer Ryan a shot.

Each second passed in slow motion. After five minutes, Ryan struggled to maintain his composure. Finally, the Sticker Tine Buck moved within 25 yards and presented a broadside shot. Ryan promptly loosed an arrow. The buck took a few quick steps and looked around, wondering what had happened. Then the deer collapsed.

This time there was no need for a text message. Ryan called his father and nearly split his eardrums with his exclamation: 'I got him!' Ryan waited in the tree for his father and brother to come and help him drag the buck downhill. When they arrived, Ryan was so cold and emotionally charged that he had trouble climbing down from his stand.

As Ryan, Corey and Mike admired the Sticker Tine Buck, they were overwhelmed with emotion. Anyone would have been thrilled with the buck, whose rack netted 181 7/8 non-typical points. When you add to that th

e family's shared love of hunting whitetails in the Appalachian hills they call home, it's easy to understand why each of them had to wipe away tears of joy.

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