For six seasons, I hunted a couple of leases in southern Ohio. Some leases resulted in successful seasons, while others resulted in tag soup at the end of the year. It’s not all that bad to have tag soup sometimes, because it just makes it that much more rewarding when the hunt comes together on a once-in-a-lifetime buck. It wasn’t right away, but overtime I’ve learned to enjoy the hunt and not the kill.
At the end of the 2020 season, I was barely even upset going home with my tag. I had just missed a 170-class buck that we knew to be only four-years-old. This buck was a homebody and pretty much spent all year in the woods where our leases were. I knew he had more growing to do, so when he ran off untouched, I was only a little upset.
The first time we found a shed from this deer, it was in spring 2018. Later that summer, he started popping on cameras, and we knew it was time to name him. “Buzz” was born because of all the short points his small frame was sporting.
We followed Buzz for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and then added him to the hit list in 2020.
After the near miss in 2020, we went right to work on planning our hunt for Buzz in 2021. We started planning stands and mock scrapes for our 70-acre lease where Buzz would frequent the hilltops.
In February, I got a phone call from one of our neighbors. He mentioned that a 46-acre property neighboring our leased property was just listed for sale. When we hung up, I did a quick search on my phone and found out Whitetail Properties Land Specialist Adam Hayden had listed the property. I called Adam, and we talked over the features of the property. I hung up, and called my wife and she was all for it. I called Adam right back and he offered to be a double agent — acting on behalf of the seller and myself.
After telling Adam what we’d be willing to pay for the property, he literally called back within ten minutes to say that he would send a contract over. That was the quickest big decision I had ever made!
I had wanted to buy land in Ohio where I hunted for several years, and it was finally coming true.
One key ingredient to this property was Buzz. I’d frequently seen him coming and going on it. When I missed Buzz, he had come from this property. And after the miss, he ran back to it. I knew this would be an essential piece to the puzzle in the fall of 2021.
November was fast approaching, and we had been getting pictures of Buzz. He was a giant! He was also running his same patterns. Still, this season, there was a difference: No other shooter bucks shared the same area as Buzz. Normally, we’d have two or three bucks on our hit list, but not this year. I think five-year-old Buzz was running this hollow, and he wasn’t going to tolerate any competition.
My two-week vacation started November 1. This year was different because we stayed in a small cabin included on the land we bought. As we pulled in to start Rutcation 2021, my wife and four girls were over the moon. The cabin was insulated and drywalled but lacked electricity and water. It was a perfect hunting cabin. My wife really enjoyed shopping for all of us to prepare for a week in the outdoors.
I climbed into the tree stand on my 70-acre lease early November 2 and waited for daylight. Each morning before the light reached the woods, I would read a chapter of the Bible. It’s hard not to appreciate all of Creation while hunting, and this is one of my most relaxing times. I can slow down and listen to what the Man upstairs may be saying to me.
The first day came and went with no sighting of a deer. I went back to the warm cabin where my family and I cooked dinner on a gas camping stove and hung out by candlelight and campfires until bedtime.
The slow activity continued for the next two weeks. I saw deer, but overall, the hunting was very slow for the rut in southern Ohio. Of the 14 days I hunted, I bet I was skunked seven days, and the days I wasn’t skunked, I saw one to three deer a day. I did pass a 140-class nine point that was locked on a doe, but I was there for a bigger target.
I went home and tried to go back to work knowing Buzz was still running the hills.
During the week I started getting daylight pics of Buzz, and I knew I had to make a weekend trip. Spur-of-the-moment trips were much easier now that I had a place to stay. I made the trip up Friday morning to hunt. Saturday morning, I sent a text to my neighbor to see when he would be up to hunt. He shot a text back, “I shot Buzz this morning but haven’t found him.” My heart sank, but I knew this was a possibility. He was hunting as hard as I was for this deer. I sent a text back, “I’ll come help.” I climbed down at 9:00 a.m. and made the short trip over.
He told the story of how he watched him come in from 150 yards, and then, sadly, he made a bad shot. We looked at the arrow and it only had a few hairs in it. The arrow had skimmed the brisket/neck area and only drawn a few drops of blood. An unfortunate circumstance, but the good part was that Buzz would likely be fine.
I went home a day early and tried to figure out what would happen. I watched the cell cameras each day and prayed for Buzz’s return. After eight days, I started to lose hope. Sunday morning came, and while hanging out in the hallway before church service, my phone vibrated. It was Buzz! Alive and well and on my land! I started contemplating how to go back.
On Monday afternoon, I was pulling a long day at work, playing catch-up from taking off the first two weeks of November. It was 5:00 p.m., and another pic came in from one of my cameras. Buzz was daylighting a second day in a row on my property. I called my wife — who had also gotten the pictures — and she said, “Let’s go!”
I had obligations until Tuesday at 3:00 p.m., and then we could make the trip out. I called my boss and told him I would work midday and hunt early and late. He agreed to the plan. I packed the trailer, the hunting gear, the camping gear, my SITKA stuff and the family and we headed back seven hours to Ohio for a third trip in November.
Wednesday morning didn’t produce a sighting of a deer, but I was used to this by now. I think the low acorn crop in the woods kept the deer near the fields. My history with this deer and recent trail cam photos told me to stay put. In the hills, I like to hunt high in the morning and low in the evening. My lease was the high ground, and my newly purchased property was the low ground. I felt good about my afternoon hunt on my property.
Around 3:00 p.m. my wife was relaxing in a chair by the campfire. My kids were playing on a few logs near the cabin. I looked at my wife and told her this was a dream come true.
I had my family with me, we were on our own property, and I was walking from my cabin to go hunt a world-class deer.
I made the short climb to my stand. It had been spitting rain earlier that day, so the leaves were extra quiet. I knew if a deer came by, I was going to have to see him and not hear him first. I did a short rattle around 4:30 p.m. and let out a couple aggressive grunts. With Buzz being the only buck roaming these hills, there was a good chance he would respond to the calls. At least that is what my nine-year-old daughter had been telling me! My family had really gotten into the pursuit of Buzz this season.
Thirty minutes later, I caught movement circling down wind of me at about 80 yards. I could see a nice rack, big shoulders and a dark coat. I brought the scope up on him, and noticed the double row of tines on his left beam. It was Buzz, and he was headed for a large opening. I moved the scope to the opening and waited. Seconds seemed like minutes as I waited for him to close the 20 yards needed to present a clean, open shot. And then it happened. I squeezed the trigger and felt the familiar recoil of my Bushmaster 450. He struggled to run to a nearby ditch and disappeared.
I watched the ditch for five minutes in case he tried to make a run for it. I decided to get down and go back to the cabin. My family had been praying for me to come back early one day from hunting. I was up there for one deer, and we knew that if I came back early it could only mean one thing. I crested the hill, and the girls came into view. My wife and kids had heard the shot, so they knew there was a chance it was me. My wife yelled out, “Did you get him? Did you shoot Buzz?” And I said, “I shot Buzz!” They burst into celebration.
I felt good about the shot, but there is always the unknown until you put your hands on those antlers. I called two of my local buddies and, once they got there, we headed up the hill.
All eight of us made the climb.
My four daughters had been praying for me to get Buzz almost every night. They were not about to miss this moment.
We arrived at the stand, and everyone let me walk over to the ditch to see if Buzz lay at the bottom. I was so thankful to see him right where I thought he would be. He had gone 20 yards and dropped.
My family and friends came over, and we all admired how big this hill country giant had grown. A mainframe 12-point with 11 additional points. His body was run down from the rut but still held a testament to the size these mature bucks can grow. We loaded him on the four-wheeler and headed back to our cabin.
We called all our local friends, and they came to see Buzz. I told the stories of hunting him the last two years, and we all stood in amazement just looking at a 218” whitetail. This was the pinnacle of my whitetail-hunting endeavors.
That night after everyone had left and my family had gone to sleep, I sat by myself reclined by the campfire. I looked up through the trees and gazed on all the stars, thousands of them just twinkling back at me. It was the first time that year I laid back and didn’t wonder where Buzz was. It felt a little emptier in that hollow that night, but my heart was full with my family in the cabin and Buzz on my tailgate.
Article and Featured Photo: Anders Blixt