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Metamorphosis of a Trophy Hunter

Photo courtesy of Joe Schneider

Who says you can’t eat the horns? A buck fills the freezer just as well as a doe.

By Mike Handley

A brace of obscenely top-heavy whitetails hang from Joseph Schneider’s wall, one a world record. A third record book specimen is now at the taxidermist’s shop.

The man talks numbers, too. It wasn’t a “buck” he saw the other day; it wasn’t even a “10-pointer.” It was a “180.”

And no longer satisfied to be the simple guardian of CRP land, he’s become the Frank Lloyd Wright of deer habitat. One doesn’t want to be caught on this sacred ground without Joe’s permission, either.

The retired railroad engineer from Circleville, Ohio, is a big buck fanatic … a connoisseur of antlers. A trophy hunter.

But it wasn’t always so, says Joe.

Not so long ago, a few quart jars full of pink chunks were all Joe Schneider had to show for the many days he spent afield during Ohio’s deer seasons. Aside from the pure enjoyment of spending time outdoors, either alone or with his children, tagging a whitetail simply meant stocking the pantry with “cold-packed” venison.

“You can’t eat those horns,” he used to chide his friends and neighbors.

Joe was the first real hunter in his family, and he took great pains to introduce his daughter and son to the sport when they were between 8 and 10 years old. Though his own father considered hunting too much work to put meat on the table, Joe developed a passion for it, and he’s passed that on to Sallie and Ben – who share both his enthusiasm and love of venison.

Venison, in fact, was the preferred meal in the Schneider household, despite Joe’s late wife’s best stovetop efforts.

“The kids turned their noses up to what Marsha used to call ‘special’ meals like steaks,” he laughed. “They wrinkled their faces up at the fat in other meat. They always preferred venison, and they helped collect it.”

Ben and Sallie used to sit in the stand with Joe. They helped him trail deer, and then pitched in for the skinning and butchering, the latter a family affair performed atop a piece of plywood resting on the kitchen table.

Both kids worked hard at filling their tags. Sallie had both the skill and, often, luck to do it – much to the chagrin of Ben.

Joe remembers the time when Ben came home from school one day with a sour expression. When asked what was wrong, the boy sighed … “You don’t know what it’s like for everyone to know you haven’t shot a deer, but your sister has!”

“It’s funny … I can remember this stuff better than where I set down my coffee,” laughs the recent retiree.

“Back then, a buck was all it took to satisfy your peers,” he added. “Nobody even asked about the size of the antlers. All they ever asked was, ‘Did you get a buck?’”

Joe’s own obsession with hunting took root at age 7 or 8, when he was given a BB gun and terrorized the local pigeon population. When he graduated to a single-shot .410, he turned his attention to rabbits and pheasants, which he kicked up by walking fencerows.

Many times, his mom would pick Joe up from school, drop him off, and then return an hour or so later.

Photo courtesy of Joe SchneiderIt was his mother who drilled into him not to shoot anything that he didn’t plan on eating, including pigeons. He still remembers holding the plump birds’ feet with pliers so he could dip them in scalding hot water.

A couple of years later, he was carrying a 20 gauge – and a 12-gauge pump two more after that.

“In the early days, nobody ever took me hunting,” he said. “I had to learn on my own.”

When he was 12 or 13, a neighbor interested him in duck hunting – when a young Joe was mesmerized by ducks lined up in a row on the man’s clothesline. A year or two after that, a family friend actually took him hunting.

He got his first deer tag in 1959. He saw a track that year, but no deer. He didn’t shoot his first whitetail until the mid-1970s, in Washington County. Pickaway had very few whitetails back then.

A trapper friend, the late Gaylen Davis, taught him the basics of deer hunting when Joe was in his 30s – the dos and don’ts, the art of man-drives, and the importance of a deer’s sense of smell. It was Gaylen who also offered Joe his first taste of venison.

Gaylen taught Joe how to dress deer – “just a great big rabbit” – and how to can venison. He still has the notes in a cookbook: One large doe will make 16 quarts.

Nearly 40 years after Joe got his first buck tag, he literally ate the words he’d so often spouted ... “You can’t eat those horns!”

Ironically, they tasted a little like antler.

In late August 1998, Joe was bush-hogging one of his Pickaway County farms when a world-class buck jumped up at a mere 20 yards. Its antlers were thick, wide, and the many tines long. He never dreamed such a deer lived on his property!

From that moment on, lesser bucks didn’t interest him in the least. He set his sights on tagging the big one, passing up many that he would’ve normally shot. And on Nov. 30, his thirst was quenched with what would be declared a world record among Irregulars in the BTR’s pistol category.

Subscribe Today!Not counting the 18 4/8-inch inside spread, the rack tallied 203 2/8 inches – more than enough to merit the cover of an issue of Rack magazine the following year.

The quest for that awesome whitetail taught Joe a lot. By holding out for it, he was able to observe the neighborhood deer’s habits. He realized, too, that his farm was oozing with bucks that, given an extra couple of years to reach their potential, could rival the one he bagged.

The following blackpowder season, he connected with another book buck – a Semi-irregular wearing 151 2/8 inches of antler around a 21 3/8-inch spread (a composite score of 172 5/8).

Joe didn’t burn buck tags in 2001 and 2002. The deer he was after never gave him an opportunity. But in ’03, he smoked his third record book specimen, another Semi-irregular that registered 161 1/8 with the BTR (nearly 178 with the inside spread added).

The renewed thrill of the chase and the prospect of taking monstrous bucks have forever changed Joe’s outlook about deer hunting, which is not to say that he no longer craves venison. He and his current wife, Sharon, still have a healthy supply of cold-packed pink chunks in the pantry.

“You know what?” Joe now says. “You can eat those antlers!”

This article was published in the October 2005 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.

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