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Buck Bumper

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Sweet 16

Dream quest for an Ohio giant

The first trail camera pictures were jab-dropping. Was this really in broad daylight just 150

yards from the house? The early August pictures were clear as a bell, and showed in crisp detail the myriad of fuzzy tines from multiple angles and at multiple times of the day. A monster whitetail had taken up residence in the thick valley just west of the property owner’s house. Better yet, with the shift of many whitetail’s summer range from the alfalfa fields to their fall homes beginning, this meant he may be there to stay. Opening day was just 54 days away.

With 2020 being one for the books (in many not so good ways), the pre-whitetail season had been one as well, but in a very good way. My Ohio property trail cameras were picking up more shooter bucks than ever for this time of year on both properties I had permission to hunt, which gave me an incredible amount of confidence. Most years the rut is when I finally see a mature shooter buck, but this sixteen point,

so daylight active and so close to the house on my main property gave me good reason to think I may not have to wait that long. If he stayed, I would have a great chance of getting a crack at him the first day of season. Though years of whitetail hunting had taught me to expect the unexpected, anticipation was high. I prepped two trees over the small opening in the valley where he had showed at my mineral lick that would allow an easy approach and setup for most any wind. Additional cameras were set in a dragnet on all major trails coming out of the valley, and I anxiously waited for opening weekend when I would return to gather intel and finalize a game plan. Several hundred yards to the north on a hilltop field I had a feeder and cellular camera, and if he stayed where he was, I expected to get occasional pictures of him there as well. I left on August 5th and anxiously awaited them to pour in.

I never like to make assumptions, and kept expectations low the next month and a half. I kept busy preparing my locations on state land in Michigan and went through my gear list with a finetooth comb. Pictures began flowing in almost daily from the cell cam on the hill in Ohio, and with each one came the hopes of a glimpse of a buck with sixteen tines. But none came. “He must be staying within the valley and is showing on my camera there,” I told myself. I was sure I’d have new pictures on the other cameras in my dragnet to guide my precision strike at him on the opener now quickly approaching. The plan was set. I’d have the land owner pull all my trail camera cards two days before I arrived, and I’d check them the evening before the opener and set my plan based on this fresh intel. On September 25th, with my truck packed and a calm confidence, I made the five hour drive south to the buckeye state. Four SD cards full of pictures were sitting on the table when I got there, or so I thought.

“Dang it!” The dragnet had failed, and particularly the camera at the salt lick where all the early August pictures of the sixteen came from. It had not taken a single picture. All the other cameras around the valley had worked and taken pictures of various deer, but none were of him. This was a worst case scenario. I didn’t know if he was here or not, and the only pictures I had of him were a month and a half old. Was he actually still there and shootable? Had he wandered off and made another parcel his home? To further complicate things, a beautiful wide ten point I’d have gladly shot any other year had shown in daylight at another property two of the last three evenings. This made him shootable. This made things difficult. However, with the chance at a giant and all of the season in front of me, I elected to pass on the chance at the wide ten and put in time at the last known haunt of the sixteen: the valley just 150 yards west of the land owner’s house.

I took no chances at messing up this opportunity. Giants like this just don’t show up every year, let alone take up residence where you can easily hunt them. In the weeks prior to this anticipated first hunt, I had put all the odds I could in my favor. A new activated carbon suit, meticulous de-scenting of every piece of gear, storage to prevent any contamination, and thoroughly soundproofing every piece of gear were all checked off the list. When I climbed the tree in the predawn black that morning and locked in my saddle, the game couldn’t have been stacked any more in my favor. I was there, and I waited, but he never showed - the entire weekend. Maybe this was yet another tale of the “too good to be true” being just that. Maybe he had moved on. I reset all my cameras, put aside my high hopes of catching him, and waited to return in late October. There were other big bucks to go after, and although I’d give them all up to shoot the sixteen, experience had taught me focusing on one buck can lead to a mouthful of tag soup. I wasn’t sure I was willing to taste that.

Rain and low pressure had hit hard October 28th, but as I left the evening of the 29th the stage seemed perfectly set. Precipitation would end about an hour before daylight on my first sit of my long-weekend hunt, and with it bring a crisp high pressure system. I had the landowner pull my SD cards again the day before I arrived, with guarded hopes the sixteen had reappeared. However as I scrolled through hundreds of pictures on my laptop, hope faded. The sixteen point was a no show for the entire month. I decided then that the first mature buck (4.5 or older) I saw would probably get an arrow. I just didn’t have the time to hunt ghosts.

The weatherman, usually wrong, was dead on to the minute with his prediction, and the bucks responded accordingly. Like the cold front had flipped a switch, bucks were on their feet and cruising with purpose in broad daylight on Friday morning. That sit brought six good 3 1/2 year old bucks, three of which responded to my grunt call and came on a string to within twenty yards of my stand (positioned strategically on the bench of a East-West running ridge at a slight saddle). I passed them all, but this was a very good sign. With deer traffic all seeming to converge at the end of the bench west of me, so that evening I abandoned the permanent stand and made a move with my climber to the nexus of activity. My focus shifted from the sixteen to a wide nine point I had captured on camera several times in August and who also reappeared in

October. He seemed consistent, but I wasn’t sure if he was a shooter and hope