It’s probably a good thing Troy Johnson’s luck wasn’t so good in 2008.
Ditto for 2009.
While the Ohio bowhunter would’ve been very happy to stick a 165-inch whitetail in 2008, or the same deer — only 25 inches bigger — in 2009, doing so would’ve robbed him of being one of 2010’s inductees into the BTR 200 Club. Plus, his story would’ve fit on a business card.
Instead, you’re reading it here.
Troy’s first and only encounter with the buck in 2008 came during the season’s final hunt. It was early January, when hunting over food sources is perhaps the best way to punch a tag.
Before that day, he had no idea such a buck was passing through the 12-acre woodlot he’s hunted for 18 years.
“I was in a tree about 25 yards from a bait pile,” he said. “Eight or 10 deer were feeding there, off and on, all afternoon, but none piqued my interest.
“Just before dark, I noticed a big buck standing downwind and about 100 yards due east of me. I watched it through my binoculars for several minutes,” Troy continued. “I judged its rack to be about 165 inches — a good buck, for sure. But it must have sensed something was wrong.
“Even though other deer were feeding between us, it would not come any closer,” he said.
The following summer, Troy began retrieving trail camera photos of the buck. He had several units stashed in the woods, which flank more than 1,000 acres of marsh and a CRP field. Croplands abut the far side.
Most of the photos were taken at a well established mineral lick.
“It had to be the same buck, only bigger ... closer to 190 inches,” explained the hunter.
“Oct. 12 was the first time I was able to hunt in 2009,” Troy said. “I was in a row of trees between the marsh and the CRP field. It was really more of a scouting trip. I wanted to get an idea of what was going on out there, to see where and when the deer were crossing and if the big buck might show during daylight.
“I was in the tree by 2 p.m.,” he continued. “About an hour later, this buck stood up from its bed 100 yards out in the CRP. That was the second time I had actually seen the deer with my own eyes.
“It stood there looking around in every direction for at least 10 minutes, and then, when it decided all was clear, it bedded back down in the same spot.
“Of course, I had tunnel vision during the rest of the afternoon,” Troy said.
The buck remained in its bed until only 30 minutes before dark. When it finally stood, it looked around and began ambling toward the woods.
“I immediately grunted a few times, and it turned and started coming toward me,” Troy said. “It hung up at about 50 yards, however. It was directly upwind and couldn’t smell me, but it refused to come closer.
“That distance would’ve been okay for me, but I was not about to try it under windy conditions. Plus, this buck was too incredible to risk a marginal shot.
“I tried every trick in my bag to lure it closer, but to no avail,” he continued. “The buck wandered off, disappearing into the shadows, which is why I nicknamed him the Gray Ghost.”
Troy has no idea what caused the buck to leave him that day, and that was the only time he saw it in 2009.
The next August (2010), Troy set out his trail cameras and checked them every week. He was thrilled to retrieve a photo of the buck at his mineral lick.
“Between August and October, I got more than 100 pictures of the buck, mostly at night,” he said. “He had grown substantially from the previous year; I guessed he’d score well into the 200s, perhaps even 250. He looked like an elk when in velvet.”
It’s no wonder Troy decided to devote the season to finding that buck in his sights. He had three stands that allowed him to hunt with the wind.
“There was a good acorn crop that year,” he said. “I hunted while the nuts were dropping, but I never saw him. Then I hunted the stand overlooking the crop field’s edge on the western side of the woods.
“After my hunt on Oct. 29, I pulled the chip from a camera overlooking a major trail bordering the CRP. I had two daylight pictures of him dogging a doe the previous day,” he added. “Those were the first daylight shots I’d gotten in two years!”
Despite his intention to hunt the entire day, Troy had to work the next morning. He didn’t get into his CRP stand until almost noon.
“There was a strong west-southwesterly wind of about 20 mph, and I wanted to be on the opposite side of the woods from where the trail camera had photographed him two days earlier,” he said.
Between 1:30 and 2:00, a big mature doe approached in a trot from downwind. She stood beneath Troy for 10 or 15 minutes, and then she settled down and went back out into the CRP, bedding down just 40 yards from him.
“I kept a watchful eye on her,” Troy said.
He didn’t see another deer until 5:15, and it was the Gray Ghost skirting the edge of the woods.
“He was heading right for that hot doe,” he said. “It was incredible to watch. The buck was grunting, thrashing trees with his antlers, stopping to paw the ground, peeing on his hocks ... just tearing up the edge line as he came closer.
“I tried grunting a few times to make him think another buck was close, but he never paid me any attention. I thought he would never be in range as he came around, but when he was directly downwind of me, he stopped and stood for several minutes, checking the air and pawing the ground.
“Suddenly, the doe jumped up from her bed and went directly south. My high vantage point gave me a clear view of the entire field. He might not have seen her for the tall growth, but I am sure he heard her making an exit.
“Almost instantly, the buck was following her across the field. But he made one very fatal mistake: He stopped broadside at 47 yards to check her scent.
“I threaded my arrow (bolt) through a small opening in a pin oak tree and made the perfect shot,” he said.
The buck ran only 30 yards across the CRP, and then stopped and laid down. Within minutes, he was finished.
“That was the shortest hunting season I’ve ever had, but, oh, what a season!” Troy said.
“I‘m not a new kid on the block. I’ve heard all the stories about hunters killing big bucks and battling rumors. To nip that in the bud, I called the local game warden, who was happy to come out and take a look.”
The officer verified where the buck was shot and where it fell. He even put the metal band on the antlers to certify that it had been checked-in. Hunter: Troy Johnson
BTR Official Score: 218 3/8
BTR Composite Score: 238 5/8
— Photos Courtesy of Troy Johnson This article was published in the October 2012 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.
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