If there's a little piece of wooded ground surrounded by deer food - especially in Ohio - you can bet it holds potential. This world-class buck thought it had found the perfect sanctuary.
By Ed Waite
Photos by Todd Bailey
Seeing a great buck with a doe while he was driving to his hunting spot primed Todd Bailey's pump. The deer were in a soccer field within a mile of his destination, and it wasn't even 3:00.
It was no ordinary buck, either. Todd figured it for a 160-something-incher. And he couldn't wait to get into his ladder stand.
"That was my first year to hunt that little section and my third trip that season, though I'd acquired it several years earlier," he said. "It's a small five-acre plot of woods and CRP, completely surrounded by croplands that had most recently held soybeans.
"I'd like to say that I had scouted the area extensively and had a good idea of what was likely to happen, but my holdings are very small.
There's not much a guy can do besides hope," he added.
Todd wasn't going in completely blind, however. He knew the woodlot held a clearly defined rub line and several active scrapes. Even if they didn't live on his place, lots of deer - presumably some very good bucks, too - were passing through there.
"Seeing that big buck on the way to my stand had me pumped," he recalled. "I knew the rut was on, and the big ones obviously were moving during the daytime.
"I had been putting out some corn to attract does to my property, and I had also established a mineral lick near a natural spring that seeped steadily from the ground. The spring provided a good flow of water, summer and winter, and the deer frequented it. My ladder stand was near there," he continued.
In his first two sittings in '09, Todd had seen a pretty good 10-point buck and a doe, but they never came within crossbow range.
Todd was aloft by 3 p.m. on Nov. 5. Although the wind had lessened considerably and the temperature was in the low 50s, nothing was moving inside the woodlot.
"From my stand, I could see almost every square foot of the five acres and even into the fields beyond," he said. "There were a couple of good thickets I couldn't see into, but it was unlikely anything was in those since I'd walked right past them. I had a good vantage point, but if nothing is there to see, then there's nothing to shoot."
The silence continued for two hours.
"I was on the verge of getting down at 5:00 and going home when I spotted movement to my far right. When I focused on it, I realized it was a very nice, large-bodied buck. It was simply moseying along, seemingly without a care in the world.
"Before I climbed into my stand, I had sprinkled a bit of Tink's #69 nearby. Actually, I used half a bottle. The earlier winds had surely spread the scent around, and I couldn't help wondering if that was what brought that buck to my little patch of woods.
"The buck was coming toward me. If it stayed on course, it would pass within 25 to 30 yards. It kept coming, too - walking, stopping to sniff, and then walking again. I was sure it was locked onto the Tink's and thought it was following a doe," he said.
"After seeing the rack initially, I knew I could not look at it again. I had to concentrate only on arrow placement. As the deer got closer, I raised my crossbow and prepared for the shot. I watched as the buck neared my 25-yard marker, and then I let it pass so it was quartering away from me.
"When it was just beyond 25 yards, I released the bolt. It looked like a very good hit just behind the left shoulder. I could actually see the wound," Todd continued.
The buck ran maybe 40 yards before collapsing in the tall grass right in front of Todd. It might have kicked a couple of times, but then it went still.
"Just that quick, the hunt was over; it couldn't have been more than two minutes from my first seeing the buck 'til it was lying on the ground.
"When I was holding on the buck and ready to pull the trigger, this thought kept running through my mind: 'If I screw up and miss this buck, I will be devastated.'
"I didn't wait any time at all before I got down because I could plainly see the buck was dead. After I lowered my gear, I walked straight over to it.
"Since I was hunting alone and there was nobody to share the excitement with me, there was no need to linger. I dressed it out, loaded it up and was on my way to the check station before dark.
"I knew there were deer in this area. Even though I'd owned the land for almost five years, I was just never in a position to hunt it until that week. I have talked to a lot of people who live around here, and they've all said there are a lot of big deer.
"It was really a strange day. I was low, at first, because it was warm and windy. I saw nothing before this incredible buck arrived. My elation was very high at my success, and then it went low again as there was no one there to share the joy," he said.
• Hunter: Todd Bailey
• Official Score: 177 3/8
• Composite: 199
-- Reprinted from the August 2010 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine