July 13, 2012
Ronnie Stevens exchanged the memory card in his trail camera, turned the power back on and latched the door closed. Slipping the spent card into his pocket, he climbed into his treestand and towed up his bow.
It was 4 p.m. on October 18, just a few short hours from prime time, and Stevens was in place overlooking an overgrown 8-acre CRP field adjacent to a hardwood lot. As he settled into the zone, Stevens couldn't help but wonder what had been recorded on the memory card in his pocket.
Fishing a camera from his pack, Stevens inserted the card and began cycling through the photos that had been recorded over the last 24 hours. There he was! A giant 10-point typical with some serious G2s and wide, sturdy mainbeams was posing for the camera.
Stevens soaked in the contents of the photo, but it was the time stamp that held the most meaning -- 7:30 a.m., October 18. Based on everything Stevens had learned about this bruiser's habits over the last few weeks, he had a sneaking suspicion that the buck was using the head-high CRP grass as bedding cover during the day. Stevens stashed his camera back in the pack and looked out over the field and into the adjacent woodlot. Somewhere, out in front of him, was the buck of a lifetime.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
It was September 24, Opening Day of Ohio's 2011 archery season for whitetails, and Ronnie Stevens wasn't hunting.
Instead, he was behind the wheel, driving home from his daughter's volleyball game in Sugar Grove, southeast of Columbus.
But when Stevens wasn't actually bowhunting whitetails, he was at least thinking about them. Those thoughts prompted Stevens to take the southerly route to his home in Columbus, passing through the village of Obetz, just below the southern city limits of Columbus.
The route afforded Stevens the opportunity to scope out the bean fields in the area as the sun slipped towards the horizon, the perfect time and place to catch a glimpse of any deer that might be moving into the fields for supper.
"As my wife can attest, while I'm driving, I'm looking in bean fields and cornfields," Stevens explains. "She always worries about me wrecking. I came home the back way through south Columbus, checking bean fields because it's that time in September when bucks are together in bachelor groups."
Stevens was passing one such field when he noticed a handful of bucks standing in the beans. He instinctively slowed his vehicle to get a better look and as the field was just passing out of view, he caught a glimpse of a solid 180-class buck moving toward the tree line.
"I did a U-turn and came back," Stevens said. "The bachelor group was still there, but he was gone."
As fleeting as Stevens' encounter with the big-framed buck was, it lit a fire under the avid bowhunter and set in motion weeks of meticulous planning. He was determined to explore every avenue he had for hunting the spectacular buck.
"I started looking at aerial photos, trying to figure out woodlots and properties," Stevens recalled. "From the county auditor's Web site, I identified the owner of the 5-acre woodlot I saw the buck duck into."
For better or worse, the 5-acre property was located inside Obetz town limits, which meant it was subject to a village-wide "no projectile" law. But as is often the case in towns around Columbus, hunters can occasionally gain permission to bowhunt despite no projectile statutes if they can secure permission from the landowner and the town authorities. Stevens now knew where to find the massive 10-pointer, but a number of hurdles stood in his way.
DOWN AND OUT
"A lot of places around Columbus are like that," Stevens explains. "Normally a conversation with the landowner and the local police chief will give you a chance to introduce yourself and explain what you'd like to do, and usually they'll give you a signed permit. With that in mind, I went to see the landowner after convincing myself the buck had to live there."
Stevens made three unsuccessful attempts to contact the property owner, who was never home. Finally, on a return trip from his mother-in-law's, he noticed the landowner was in the driveway unloading groceries.
"So I pulled in, introduced myself and explained I was trying to get permission to hunt somewhere close to home. He was a nice guy, an old-timer who said his mom had been born in that house. He said 'No problem,' and gave me written permission."
For Stevens, the next hurdle was securing a permit from the village of Obetz.
"A no projectile law means no bowhunting or hunting of any deer or animal," Stevens said. "Some of the towns in this area have that."
Confident he could secure a permit from Obetz authorities, Stevens begin laying the groundwork for harvesting the big whitetail he had spotted 10 days before.
As it turned out, Stevens would have to receive permission from the Obetz town council in order to bowhunt the 5-acre woodlot where he had seen the big 10-pointer. At the next town council meeting in Obetz, Stevens and his friend, Scott Esker, introduced themselves to the council and requested permission to bowhunt the small parcel of land inside the town limits.
In response to the request, the Obetz mayor asked if any of the council members or other meeting attendees had an objection to the request. One person in the audience responded. If there was to be any hunting in Obetz, it should be limited to residents and employees of the village, the person argued. The motion was tabled.
Outside the meeting, Esker asked Stevens what his plan would be.
"Back up and punt," Stevens responded.
Stevens wasn't convinced yet that he was out of options. Across the highway from the 5-acre woodlot was an overgrown, weed-infested CRP field with grass nearly tall enough to swallow a man. If the big buck was spending time in the woods across the road, it was a decent bet that he would make an appearance in the CRP field at some point. Stevens didn't know who owned the property, but he did know one thing: the field was in the jurisdiction of Columbus, not Obetz.
"If I could find out who owned that field, I knew I at least had a chance to hunt the buck," Stevens said.
After the council meeting, and while there was still plenty of daylight left, Esker and Stevens drove past the weedy field. There was an obvious trail where deer were crossing the road into the CRP.
"I could tell it was a pinch point," Stevens said. "I told Scott, 'I want to put a camera there.'"
Through the auditor's website, Stevens located the owner of the field in question. The weedy field and the adjoining strip of oak woods appeared on paper as a likely hangout for the big 10-pointer and the ground was, in fact, outside Obetz village limits.
Two days later, carrying a handful of maps, Stevens caught up with the landowner. The encounter turned out to be an hour-long visit over coffee that ended with Stevens securing permission to hunt the CRP field.
That afternoon, Stevens placed a treestand in a big oak next to the strip of woods and hung trail cameras watching his stand and the pinch point. That same evening at 7:05 p.m., the camera at the pinch point snapped a photo of the big whitetail.
"I now knew where the buck lived," said Stevens. "Photos at the 5-acre woodlot were all taken at night. The camera at the pinch point had him in the evening. I had him on both cameras at different times. From that I knew where he lived and what his travel route was."
Stevens' reconnaissance had enabled him to pattern the buck's movements based on time of day and wind direction.
For the next two days, the east wind was wrong and Stevens had yet to step foot into the woods, waiting patiently for the conditions to be right. He knew he'd only get one chance at the massive bucks.
Then, on the afternoon of October 18, the wind shifted from the south to the north. It was time to put the plan into action.
Stevens watched calmly as the doe and a pair of yearlings eased through the CRP grass towards him, stopping to feed on acorns only a short distance from his stand.
Stevens was standing up, trying to blend into the tree, when suddenly, his knee popped. The doe's head snapped to attention and she peered cautiously at the tree where Stevens was situated.
"The lead doe saw something she didn't like," Stevens said. "For 15 minutes, she just watched me."
With the minutes feeling like hours, Stevens was beginning to wonder if the doe would ever relax. Then, as if on cue, a twang echoed across the field. Something had just jumped the fence surrounding the CRP field, and Stevens had a sneaking suspicion that it was either a person or the buck he was after.
"The doe heard it too and looked that way," Stevens said. "I looked across the field and all I saw were tines moving through the tall weeds."
It was the first time Stevens had seen the huge 10-pointer in person. He had come into the field from the adjacent woodlot, and he was now standing 70 yards away, staring straight ahead.
"When he got to where the does were bedded, he started cutting toward me, lifting his head and scent-checking the wind," Stevens recalled. "All the while, I'm checking the wind too. Suddenly he stops and turns toward me. Another five yards and he would have scented me."
The closer the buck got to Stevens' stand setup, the more nervous he became, constantly scent-checking the area.
"The buck walked into my shooting lane but he was facing me," Stevens said. "I had my bow ready but he smelled something he did not like."
After what seemed like several long minutes, the buck calmed down and took a few steps toward the doe. He was watching her as if looking for a signal.
"Where the buck stood was too thick to shoot through," said Stevens. "After a few minutes, he folded his ears down, checked the wind again for scent, then started walking back the way he came. I had no shot. Then suddenly the buck turned right, walked straight toward me and resumed feeding.
"The buck kept moving around a little bit, and I told myself, Wait for the leg to move forward," Stevens said. "His left leg was shielding his vitals."
With its head down and feeding, the buck turned left, offering Ronnie the shot he was waiting for.
"His leg shifted forward and in one motion I drew and touched off the release," Stevens said. "The arrow smacked him right where it was supposed to and buried.
"He took off running, jumped the fence and ran back the way he came. Then three does busted out of the woodlot and he wasn't following them. I knew then he was in there to stay. I checked my watch. It was 6:46."
Excited, Ronnie phoned his wife and Steve and Scott Esker. Steve reminded him to videotape the recovery. Stevens carried a small video recorder in his pack and recorded references to his hunt including landmarks, roads, his watch and bow, all the while narrating the circumstance of the hunt and naming the landmarks. This was done in an effort to head off any potential legal issues or questions that might arise with the taking of such a tremendous buck.
"After 20 minutes, I got down and walked away from that woodlot as fast as possible and went to the truck and waited," said Stevens.
An hour later, Stevens' help showed up. Hoping to beat a bad thunderstorm, they headed for the small woodlot to recover the buck.
"Steve and my brother-in-law, Troy Falter, walked along the edge of the woodlot to make sure the buck didn't come out," said Stevens. "Twenty minutes later, Steve yelled. He had walked to the end of the woods, then back through the middle and found him. When I got there the first thing I saw was its rack lying sideways."
The buck hadn't traveled 70 yards and was lying only 10 feet from where it jumped the fence. The 100-grain Slayer broadhead had done its job.
Scott Esker jumped in his truck and found two Columbus police officers at a nearby gas station and asked them to verify the location of the kill. The officers followed him to the parking area and then on foot to the deer, where one of the officers had their photo taken with the buck.
The following day, Fairfield County Wildlife Officer Tony Zerkle verified the location and legality of the kill.
As word of the big whitetail spread, the rumors started to swirl. Stevens vowed to meet the rumors head on and contacted Obetz police, leaving a detailed voice message assuring them the kill was taken within the Columbus jurisdiction, the location of the kill and the landowner's name and address. Stevens then phoned Officer Zerkle, asking permission to use his name in case he was needed to verify the bowkill.
According to Stevens, Officer Zerkle said to him, "There's nothing more you could have done to (protect) yourself."
Stevens' big whitetail was officially scored by Boone and Crockett scorer Robert Deis after the required 60-day drying period. The 10-point rack had a massive 22 1/4 spread. Its longest tines were 12 5/8 and 13 7/8 inches long. The circumference around the beams measured from 5 0/8 to 4 4/8 inches. The rack gross scored 195 0/8 with 7 1/8 deductions, netting a final score of 187 7/8. According to Gary Trent, president of the Buckeye Big Buck Club, Stevens' buck would place fifth among the largest typical whitetails taken in the state.