Sometimes, gaining access is as simple as rolling down the window and asking.
He’d been told the landowners never allowed hunting on their property, and that was all Dave Shanabarger of Canton, Ohio, needed to hear to deep-six his desire to hunt there. Continually taunted, however, by a buck wearing 200 or more inches of antler, he exhumed his hopes and decided to ask anyway.
After all, the worst he could get was a “No.”
Dave first thought about that land in August 2008, when he and a buddy spotted a handsome 10-pointer in a bean field while driving down a rural road. Its rack was encased in velvet, its summer coat thin, but the deer’s frame and the antlers’ mass indicated it was a 3 1/2-year-old.
“We were also pretty sure there was the beginning of a kicker coming off the right base,” he said.
The next time he saw the buck was in late June 2010. Even from 200 yards and unable to count the number of points, Dave could tell it was a monster. He got a better look at it two months later, and he was even able to get video footage.
“I didn’t have permission to hunt that farm or any of the others near there, so I began questioning area landowners,” he said. “Meanwhile, three buddies and I saw the same deer on the same farm for several weeks.
“One day, I happened to meet a neighboring farmer who told me the landowners had never allowed any hunting on their farm, period. I was kind of down after that, and I decided I wouldn’t even ask,” he continued.
Two more weeks of regular sightings changed Dave’s mind.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m just going to stop and ask. What do I have to lose?’” he said. “One day, I was going home from shooting sporting clays, and I pulled into the folks’ drive. The lady was outside.
“When I started to open my door, here came her five dogs, and I was scared to get out. They were barking like crazy,” Dave continued. “Anyway, the lady came over to the side of the car to see what I wanted. At that point, I just simply asked if they allowed any deer hunting.
“Her reply was succinct: ‘Oh, no. We never allow any hunting at all on our property. Nobody is allowed to be on here!’
“I was shot down that quick, but the lady seemed very nice. I continued to talk to her, asking about the dogs and the farm and how long they had been there, just general conversation. I think that, over the course of our talk, I asked her five times if there was any chance they would let me bowhunt.
“Ultimately, I told her about the buck and how much I would really like the chance to hunt it. It was an older buck, I explained, that would likely live only another year or two,” he added.
Eventually, the woman smiled. She told Dave that if her husband agreed, she’d let him do it ... hunt for THAT buck.
“She said, ‘If we give you permission, the only animal you are allowed to harm on this farm will be that deer. Nothing else.’
“Nothing else, I’m sure, was to include their goats, sheep, cattle, horses and the five dogs,” Dave said. “They own 80 acres, 30 of which are wooded.”
The woman took Dave’s telephone number and told him she’d talk to her husband.
“By then, I was so anxious that I was distraught over the thought of waiting perhaps several days, only to find out they would not grant permission,” he said. “I asked her a favor: ‘Yes or no, please call me back tonight to tell me so I don’t have a heart attack from thinking about it.’”
The call came a couple of hours later, and the deal was struck.
With permission, Dave set out half a dozen trail cameras along the edge of the 30-acre woodlot. The first two weeks were a bust, but 56 photographs of the buck were included in the batch retrieved on Sept. 11.
“It was still in velvet, and the photos — from every direction possible — were awesome,” he said. “When it left that first camera, it traveled down the tree line and was photographed by another. I wish I’d had a video camera pointed at myself when I uploaded the photos on the computer at home. My expression had to be priceless.”
Additional photos were collected through Sept. 26, the day after bow season arrived.
Dave couldn’t hunt opening morning, but he did make it out for the afternoon.
“We had a north wind, which was perfect for one of my stands,” he said. “Right away, I saw two very nice bucks, a 2-year-old 6-pointer and a 9-pointer that was maybe 3, which I would’ve gladly taken under normal circumstances. I had pictures of both those deer.”
The wind was totally wrong for hunting the farm on Sept. 26, but it shifted back out of the north on the 27th. Dave swapped the memory card from one of his cameras en route to his stand and was aloft by 4:30.
“About 6:00, I saw the familiar 6-pointer emerge from the tall grass and slip out into the bean field. About 15 minutes later, this bad boy stood at about 60 yards and upwind,” he said.
“I kept losing sight of it in the weeds and brush, but it was heading away from me until it turned toward an apple tree. Deer had trampled the ground underneath that tree, gorging on apples.
“My stand was facing the wrong direction, so I had to lean out slightly,” he said. “I got the crossbow up against the tree and lined up for the shot. When the buck was at 35 yards, it stopped and looked at me for several minutes,” Dave continued.
“I guess a 200-pound guy 20 feet up a tree makes a pretty large blip,” he said. “Finally, the deer seemed to relax and walked 15 yards closer before taking a second look.
“I was sweating and shaking, amazed that the deer’s eyeballs were going to make me fall out of that tree. After tormenting me for forever, it turned sideways and began walking into some weeds. That’s when I took the shot, which speared both lungs.
“Within seconds, I could hear stomping sounds in the tall weeds,” Dave said. “I couldn’t figure out what it was, at first, and then I realized it was the buck kicking brush as it expired just 10 yards from my tree. It died seconds later.
“That’s when my nerves got the best of me,” he added. “Before that, while aiming and shooting, I was stone cold.”
After admiring the deer, Dave went straight to the farmhouse and told the landowner lady he’d shot the deer. She was excited and stunned at the same time, and then she started crying.
“I got all emotional, too,” Dave said. “We hugged each other on her front porch.”
After a friend helped him retrieve the buck, they showed it to the woman, whose parting words were, “I’ll hold the key for the gate until next year!”
Hunter: Dave Shanabarger
Composite: 208 7/8
– Photos courtesy of Dave Shanabarger
This article was published in the Winter 2011 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.