By Tom Cross
Photo by: Tom Cross
The first time John Schmucker saw the giant whitetail now known as the "Amish Buck" was in 2004 - two years before he made headlines with it.
"I think I was the first one to see him," says John. "I saw him three times around the end of August or early September, always in the same hay field. Then Ernie Miller was going to work one morning and saw him standing in a field off Wheat Ridge Road."
With the second sighting, the buck's notoriety grew within the Amish community.
"In 2005, I saw him maybe twice," said John, "two evenings in a row in September, in the same hay field, but I never saw him again that year."
John's neighbor, David Raber, said, "We knew where the buck was staying. It was surrounded by Amish farms. And we knew no one in the Amish community would poach him; the buck would be protected during the off season."
John works as a farmhand, butchers deer during the hunting season and often helps his brother, Joseph, build homes during the summer. John's a family man and an avid deer hunter. A few years back, he purchased a used Horton crossbow. He uses a portable climbing stand, and usually hunts within walking distance of his modest home on Wheat Ridge Road.
In 2006, the buck's favorite hay field (not far from John's home) had turned into a 22-acre bean field. That summer, John and some friends watched the buck on a regular basis.
"The first time I saw him in '06 was in May, and he was just starting to get his rack," recalls John. "Then I did not see him again until early July."
By the end of the month, the field was lush with soybeans, the whitetail's favorite summer food in southern Ohio. The Amish Buck was feeding on them almost every evening.
"During the months of August and September, I saw him almost every night. If he was out there, you could see him," John said.
Photo by: Tom Cross
"He never came out of the same place to enter the bean field. One night, the buck would come out of the woods. The next, he would come out of the (adjacent) corn," John continued. "There was a cornfield with woods on both sides. I figured he stayed in the cornfield most of the time."
But at least the deer's timing was fairly predictable, and it had buddies.
"Usually just before dark, a small 3-point buck came out into the bean field first, and then the big one would follow him about five minutes later. A lot of times, I could only watch him for 15 minutes before it was too dark. I think he stayed in that cornfield all summer long."
During those late summer evenings, John and a few close friends would watch the buck from atop a barn roof.
"We were up on the barn so many times during that summer," John said, "the neighbors thought we were fixing it."
Word of the Wheat Ridge buck, meanwhile, continued to spread.
"Everybody who hunted out here knew something was in the wind," said John.
"I knew of at least three Amish hunters and three English hunters who were after the buck." (Amish people refer to non-Amish folks as "English.")
One young local English bowhunter, Chad Rains, had jumped the buck while doing a preseason scouting trip around the bean field in August. All Chad had to say to his dad was, "You wouldn't believe what I saw."
There is reported rumor of a shed antler off the buck that was found near a roadside ditch a couple of years back. But outside of a few isolated sightings during the summer, the buck always managed to completely disappear come fall. Only one credible sighting of the buck during hunting season has ever to come to light.
An Amish hunter walked up on the buck during the 2005 gun season. He'd already filled his buck tag and was hunting for a doe. All he could do was watch in astonishment as the deer bounded away from him.
Sept. 30 was opening day of Ohio's archery season. It was cold and rainy, and many bowhunters chose to stay indoors, even though it was a Saturday.
John knew of a few other bowhunters who would be after the deer that fall. In fact, there were already a couple of portable stands hung in the area. But the inclement weather caused the other hunters to stay home that day.
John spent the morning with a recently purchased horse that needed to be trained to pull a carriage. He stayed at the job until noon.
"It was probably about 3:30 when I finally got everything ready to go back there and hunt," said John. "I walked. It took about 15 to 20 minutes to get to the edge of bean field. I knew the area I wanted to be in, but I had to wait 'til I got back there to find a tree I could climb."
That was the first time the young Amish hunter had invaded the beans. All his observing had been from a distance until that day.
John carried his Summit climbing stand and his secondhand crossbow back to a fencerow along the field's edge.
"I spent a few minutes trying to locate a tree, and then I found a small one in the fencerow. It wasn't as big as I like, but there was nothing else there that I could climb," said John. "I went up about 18 feet. It was leaning a little bit, and there was one small branch I had to trim out of my shooting lane. Once I sat down, I was sweating, so I sprayed myself with scent eliminator. It was about 4:30 by the time I was ready to go."
He saw two little bucks, a 6- and an 8-pointer feeding in the bean field about 5:00. They had come from the woods.
"They were more than 100 yards away when I first saw those two. It was cloudy, rainy and real windy, and my tree was swaying," he said.
A half-hour passed before John saw the small 3-point buck that usually accompanied the big one. "When I saw the 3-pointer come out into the field, I knew the other buck would be close," he said.
"About five minutes later, the big one came out of the cornfield and jumped the fence into the beans. After checking the wind, he started to eat."
About 70 yards separated the original pair of bucks from the newest arrivals. But then the 6- and 8-pointer started slowly feeding toward the others.
"When the 8-pointer got close, the big buck, who had been watching it the entire time, stretched out his neck. After the 6-pointer came up to smell him, he lunged at the 8-pointer and began chasing it," John said.
Shortly afterward, all four bucks started heading toward John's stand.
"The 8-pointer came to within 5 yards, and then went directly behind me," said John. "The 6-pointer and the 3-pointer were about 30 yards out, and the big one was maybe 10 yards behind them."
The trio slowly fed and walked toward John's stand. The big one kept his eyes on the 8-pointer behind John's tree.
As the buck walked into the shooting lane, John wasn't nervous at all. He'd had almost 30 minutes from the time the buck appeared onstage to gather his nerves.
After the bolt struck, the buck took off across the bean field. The other bucks ran up the fencerow a short distance before stopping.
"When one of the small bucks started stomping its feet, I heard a crash out in the bean field, and then they all took off," said John.
Five minutes later, John got down from his tree and found his bloody arrow about 2 feet beyond where the buck had been standing.
"I gathered up my equipment and walked home," said John. "When I got back to the house, I called my brother-in-law, Gary Miller, and my neighbor to help me with the deer. We walked back and followed the blood trail for about 80 yards to the buck."
A neighbor drove the deer to the station in Peebles, as required by Ohio law. Once at the checking station, some procedures on tagging the deer were not properly followed by the attendants. John ended up calling the Adams County Sheriffs office, who in turn contacted Adams County Wildlife Officer Kevin Behr.
Behr told them how the deer was to be properly tagged. His message was relayed to the Peebles Police Department, which sent an officer out to supervise the proper tagging of the deer, requiring the metal tag to be placed around the base of the antlers, not through a slit in the ear as the checking station attendant had done. The ear tag was removed, and a new tag was issued and properly placed around the base of the antler.
Word spread fast within the Amish community that the big Wheat Ridge buck had been taken. When John returned from the checking station, a large crowd had gathered to see the legendary buck.
"I could barely get in the driveway," said John. "As soon as we did, they took the deer out of the truck and started admiring it. People were posing with the deer and taking pictures until 11:30 that night."
John, a member of the Old Order Amish, is forbidden to be photographed, which explains why there are no photos of him with his deer.
Hunter: Johnathon Schmucker
Official Score: 280 1/8"
Composite Score: 305 4/8"
-- Reprinted from the September 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine