Zach Singler's 203-Inch 'Out of Nowhere' Buck
July 19, 2016
The unlikely events that led me to a 200-inch Ohio whitetail in 2014 actually began back in 2012, with another deer — in another county.
Driving home from work one evening in late December of that year, I spotted one of the biggest typical bucks I'd ever seen. He was feeding in a nearby winter wheat field.
The next day Dad and I hung a couple of trail cams, and we immediately started getting pictures of the big joker. As I'd already filled my buck tag a month prior, we hung a stand in hopes Dad might cross paths with the buck. But it never happened.
In 2013, the deer was even bigger. I got photos of him all summer — but then he disappeared. I captured a photo of him in daylight on Nov. 4, and then one on the night of Dec. 24, but never saw him with my own eyes. The only local farm I could hunt was on the opposite side of the road from where he resided.
In 2014, I got only a select few photos while the buck was growing; then he vanished again, around the second week of August. But I figured he was still alive, and I wanted him.
NEW GROUND TO HUNT
Early last summer I decided to try to lease another farm, just for a change of scenery and to give my other spots a break. I knew the odds of the big typical frequenting the farm I had to hunt were slim; I needed other options.
To my knowledge I had no big bucks in my usual places, so I was in the market for new ground.
After searching for a month or so, I ended up going to look at a farm a co-worker's family owned about an hour from my home. Although it was grown up in several fields of broom grass and other growth, I saw it had adjoining corn and soybean fields on one side, along with thousands of acres of timber beyond that.
With those being among the few crop fields in that area, and with the area having that much timber, I knew the farm had serious potential. So I worked out a deal with the landowner and leased it.
Excited, in mid-August I set out for the lease with three trail cameras. After several weeks of trail pics, though, it seemed that the only homebodies were two solid 10-pointers smaller than what I was hoping for.
The farm had plentiful white and red oaks, but it needed something more to hold deer. So early one morning around the beginning of October I loaded up my tractor, 6-foot tiller and 350 pounds of winter wheat and headed for the lease.
After about eight hours of working ground and spreading the wheat with a hand seeder, I finally had some plots planted. The wheat started to pop up that following week, and I was anxious to sit over those fields in the evenings.
Dad and I started hunting hard around mid-October, but still there were no sightings or photos of any really big deer on any farms we could hunt — including the new lease. Then, as Dad and I were on our way home from hunting the lease one evening in late October, I got a disappointing phone call.
A good friend said a big typical had been killed near my parents' place in Brown County. Later that evening he sent me a pic, confirming it was the buck I had history with. It was sad to hear he'd fallen but was happy he'd been shot ethically by another avid archer.
TURNING TO PLAN B
Hearing that news, I shifted north and narrowed down the other areas I'd focus on. But before hunting them, I left for a mule deer hunt in Utah.
While there, I received a call from Dad, who said he couldn't find any of the trail cameras I'd put up at the lease. Dad usually has no trouble finding my cameras, but I'd tried to disguise these better, being that it was unfamiliar territory. I figured he'd just overlooked them.
Upon returning to Ohio, I realized he hadn't. All of my trail cams were indeed missing. In 10 years of hanging cameras in three counties, I'd finally been victimized by a thief. So here it was, the first week of November, and not only did I have no shooters I knew of, the one farm I had high hopes for had a trespasser and thief on it.
Dad and I continued to go back and forth among farms, hunting no specific deer but hoping to cross paths with a big outsider drifting through. The lease turned out very strange, though: there was little to no deer movement.
Our other farms are always good for seeing 10 to 12 deer per sit — but hunting the lease, we'd see only one or two deer, if any. I think the area was just so vast and plentiful with acorns that deer didn't have to move far to get food.
"On the Internet, the author had admired trail cam photos of a huge buck. What he didn't know was that the giant was in his "backup" hunting area."
But persistence pays. I just knew there was a good chance a giant could pass through this area at any given time. I opted not to hang any more cameras, as I'd been hit for three there already. If I were to learn about any shooters on the lease, it would be with my own eyes.
WINDS OF CHANGE
On Nov. 21 I had my Lone Wolf climber in the back of the truck, intending to hunt the opposite side of one of my food plots after work that evening.
Typically our prevailing winds are west to southwest, which would have been ideal for that particular setup. Upon arriving at the farm, though, I checked the weather on my phone — and to my surprise, it showed a dead-east wind. I was disgusted, as my only option for that wind was a stand I'd hung in early season and had hunted a few times since, seeing little activity. But I changed clothes and made the walk uphill to that stand anyway.
It was very cold, and as the evening transpired, I noticed considerably more deer activity than normal for the farm. A couple small bucks made their way out to the wheat, followed by two does and then a buck with a broken right antler.
One of the small bucks eventually made a loop and ran both does back into the timber behind me. The stand faced the field, so most of my concentration was on the bucks still in front of me.
Once the noise settled, I heard what sounded like steady walking through the leaves behind me. I turned and saw a buck walking down a big ravine, heading my way. He was 150 yards or more away through some hardwoods. I thought he looked awfully wide, but for whatever reason, I didn't think he was that big. I kept sitting but did have my bow upright on my knee and the release clipped on, just in case.
BIG BUCK'¦SMALL WORLD
Little did I know this deer was one I'd actually seen a number of times. Not with my own eyes, and definitely not on my trail cameras, as all on that farm had been stolen. I'd seen him on the Internet.
With Facebook, Instagram and other social media websites, trail cam and harvested deer photos taken with cell phones seem to go viral very quickly. All summer I'd seen multiple photos of big deer on the Web, but one would continue to recirculate.
Not only was this deer catching a lot of attention, he supposedly was an Ohio buck. In fact, a good friend from California took a screen shot of the buck from Instagram and sent it to me, saying, "Have you seen this Ohio buck pic going around?"
Not only had I seen it, I'd even heard the photos had been taken only an hour from where I hunted. I thought I might even know the guys who were hunting him — but the way photos and rumors fly, I never paid that much attention to it all.
Regardless, the photos I'd seen of this buck stood out over others I'd seen all year. He was extremely wide, with a huge G-2 tine on his left side. His right had also many points, including heavy brows with a lot of trash.
As I watched the buck behind me, he crossed the ravine and came onto my ridge. I tried to keep my eyes on him, but he stepped into a thicket and with a couple other deer moving around, I somehow got him mixed up with another. There was still a bit of snow on the ground in the timber, and you could hear a pin drop.
I started to hear something walking toward me, but I still hadn't taken my eyes off what I thought was that wide buck in the distance. I couldn't see the deer that was walking my way, but figuring it was either one of those does or the small buck that had run them in there, I didn't want to stand and spook anything.
As the mystery deer neared, it walked behind a cedar. Only when it put its nose to the ground could I see it was the wide buck I'd seen earlier — and he had a lot of antler to go with that spread. Then he stepped out: just 11 steps from the base of my tree.
So there I was, caught with my proverbial pants down, sitting and not drawn. Luckily, I'm right-handed, and the trail he was on was to my left, so shooting while seated would be an option. When he stepped out from behind the cedar I saw his right antler and instantly thought of the Internet buck.
As the deer kept walking, I followed him until he walked behind a locust tree. I slowly came to full draw. But as I tried to anchor with my kisser button, my balaclava facemask got in the way. When I reached over with my thumb to push it down, the buck caught movement, stopped and swung his head up toward me. But it was too late; the arrow was on its way.
I watched it sink right behind the right shoulder, and the deer took off into the field. He ran to the edge, stumbled and took off again into the timber. Then I heard a big crash.
I couldn't believe what had just happened. As with any other buck I've ever shot, I couldn't dig my phone out of my pocket quickly enough to call Dad. Getting no answer, I quickly phoned a buddy. Then Dad beeped in. I told him I'd just shot what might be a 200-inch deer and that he looked just like the one floating around on the Internet. I said I felt confident in the shot and that I was going to see if I could find sign.
My arrow was sticking into the ground and covered in blood. Thanks to the 2-blade Rage, I could follow the trail with ease. As I quietly made my way into the timber where I'd last seen the deer stumble, I looked downhill...and there he lay.
I soon was standing over my biggest buck. I hit my knees, speechless, and thanked God for the opportunity at such a beast. I again called Dad, now to confirm the monarch was down. He was elated and said he'd be there after picking up my friend Chad and Chad's girlfriend, Jennie, to help.
Dad also advised me to call the Adams County game warden, to see if he'd come to the site. (That's probably smart for anyone killing a really big buck, given the way rumors fly today.)
After calling Mom to give her the news, I registered the buck via Ohio's telecheck system. Then I looked up the ODNR website on my phone to get game warden Scott Cartwright's number. I wasn't sure I'd get a response on a Friday evening, but he answered and said he'd be glad to come out to my hunting location.
When he got there, I walked him to my stand to show him the arrow and then let him trail the 20-pointer to where the deer still lay.
Several days later, the guys with whom the live photos had originated got hold of me. My deer was one they'd been after for years. They'd actually missed him on video in 2013, when he was a big, mainframe 8-pointer with those same "trashy" brow tines. The guys gave me an SD card with more than 10,000 live photos and two years of history of the buck.
It's great meeting people who share that passion.
Sometimes things just come together. That certainly was true of my 2014 season. My mom called me as I was going out to hunt last Nov. 21. Knowing I was frustrated over the theft of my cameras, she reminded me that God had blessed me with some big deer over the years.
She said to just be grateful. Moments after talking to her I checked my phone to see we had that rare east wind, changing my plan and leading me to where I shot the buck.
I want to thank game warden Scott Cartwright for taking time out of his Friday night to help. Thanks also to my good friend and coworker Dairell for getting me that lease.
Most of all, thanks to my parents: Mom for putting up with my hunting habit and always being supportive, and Dad for teaching me everything I know about harvesting big game.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
The huge typical the author chased for several years made B&C as well. Ellen Turner tagged that 11-pointer, which was in our June issue. You'll see both of these bucks on upcoming episodes of North American Whitetail TV.