When the eyes of men and nose of dog fail...
By Ed Waite
If the name Esker sounds familiar and the photo on the cover looks even more so, you might want to look back at the Winter 2009/2010 issue of Rack magazine. The smiling hunter is Scott Esker, shown with his 2008 buck. This time, Steve Esker is out front with his '09 bruiser.
They're twin brothers, both avid deer hunters in Ohio. The Eskers are gaga over whitetails, and they're in the woods throughout the year, scouting if not hunting.
Trail cameras are in place and working the year 'round, keeping track of the old boys and the up-and-comers.
Prior to the 2008 season, Scott and Steve acquired a parcel they'd hunted for eight years. They knew the land very well and immediately set about planting food plots and erecting stands for various winds.
Steve had picked out two bucks that year. He passed on several 150-inchers while holding out for one of the big boys. He figured the largest would top 180 inches.
Scott tied his tag to a monster that year while hunting a different tract. Steve wound up eating his tag. But at least nobody else shot the deer he was hoping to see in his sights.
The waiting game began anew in September 2009. Steve passed on a big 150-inch buck his very first night in a stand. Knowing there were four months of archery season ahead of him, he was in no hurry to settle for a lesser deer. He was convinced it was just a matter of time before the bull of the woods showed.
On the season's fourth overcast evening, the wind was perfect for that same spot. Deer were feeding all around the setup that day. A few does and smaller bucks were first, followed by a familiar 10-pointer. Steve was pumped.
"I had my video camera attached to the tree and was able to look at the display while seated. I had already shot some footage of deer passing my stand," he said. "The does were feeding off to the east when, suddenly, something spooked them.
"There was a lot of blowing and stomping, and then they all ran back toward me. However, the excitement was short lived; everybody calmed down and eventually started feeding again," he added.
"Twenty-five minutes later, I looked up the fencerow and saw THE buck. There was no mistaking that fellow, standing in the clover patch right in front of my other stand, about 130 yards away. It was browsing and scoping out the other deer in the field.
"The buck was moving toward me, so I turned on the video camera, pointed it in the right direction, and then I stood slowly so I could more easily turn to face the buck as it approached. My crossbow was ready," he continued.
"The deer moved right-to-left and into the food plot just in front of me. I was almost frantically trying to move the video camera with my right leg as the deer passed in front of me," Steve added. "I managed to keep the deer in the screen, but I don't know how.
"That buck must have had a sixth sense. Every time it moved, it ended up behind some obstruction that blocked my shot. After what seemed like hours, it approached an opening where I could thread the needle.
"By then, the adrenaline was pumping and my heart was pounding so loud I was surprised the deer didn't hear it. At 20 yards, it stepped into the clear, and I squeezed the trigger. I watched the arrow fly to the target. It was a good shot; the bolt passed right through, and the deer disappeared.
"I'd been concentrating so hard I didn't notice that several other deer had moved into the foot plot, including three other bucks. At the sound of the shot, every deer in the field bolted toward the tall grass and trees beyond.
"Deer were running everywhere, helter-skelter, and I lost my buck in the group," he continued. "I sat down to catch my breath and regain my senses, and then I took the video camera in hand to review what happened.
"The footage showed the arrow entered just a little below where I had aimed, but it was a pretty good hit. But that's all I could tell. When the deer bolted, it was almost instantly out of the camera's view," he said.
Steve called his brother, and they decided to go to the house for a while and look at the video on the television screen to determine where the buck ran.
The guys then returned to the farm and started the search, but it had started to rain by then, which didn't help matters. All of their searching produced a single spot of blood, and there was no hope of following the trail in the dark.
The next day, Steve contacted a man who has a tracking dog. After a good bit of searching and sniffing, the dog never picked up the trail. They realized later they'd put the dog in the wrong place, where there was no trail to follow.
By midday, the searchers were frustrated and stopped for lunch. Steve recruited a few more sets of eyes, and they returned to find a buzzard flying overheard. They concentrated below it, but there was still no deer.
Finally, the remaining hunters wanted to be in their stands for the evening hunt, so that left Scott and Steve to go it alone.
Steve's frustration was nearing the boiling point. He knew the monster was out there somewhere. He also knew that he would do whatever it took to recover the deer.
Back at home, he fired up his computer and started looking for where he could rent a helicopter. He found Fairfield Air Adventures and pilot Steve Slater, who agreed to come out and help.
"I described the exact location of the farm, the field and a place where he could land nearby to pick me up. He knew the area and told me he would be there very soon and that I should meet him there.
"Slater landed at about 5 p.m., and we were back in the air within minutes. As soon as the helicopter was above the field, I saw the deer lying in the 6-foot-tall grass. The pilot landed, and I got out and ran over to it.
"We must have been within 10 yards of that exact spot several times during the previous 22 hours, but because of the tall grass, we just never saw it lying there," Steve said.
After the recovery, Steve noted that he'd made a perfect double-lung and heart shot. His arrow had done the trick, though the buck somehow managed to run about 160 yards before collapsing. Steve's 2009 trophy will share a place of honor in his basement with many of his other mounts, including another 2033/8-inch buck taken in 1994.
Editor's Note: The footage Steve got that afternoon is scheduled to be included on "Deer City USA" on the Outdoor Channel. It'll also be included on the 2009 DVD produced by Parker Crossbows.
• Hunter: Steve Esker
• Official Score: 193
• Composite: 212 2/8
-- Reprinted from the August 2010 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.