By Mike Handley
Photos Courtesy of Dennis Bolyard
When Dennis Bolyard arrived home early from work last October, he decided there was no better way to burn the remaining daylight than to go grocery shopping. But instead of heading to the supermarket with a list in his pocket, he donned his camo and grabbed his bow.
It was the first time he'd been able to do any hunting in 2008, and he was loaded for doe burger.
Dennis began working seven days a week in September. Whenever he wasn't behind the wheel of a propane truck, delivering gas, he was painting tanks.
On Oct. 29, however, the 49-year-old from New Straightsville, Ohio, found himself with a few hours to spare and decided to climb one of the trees on his own 9 acres.
"I needed some deer burger. My wife, April, loves it," he said. "So I went to my doe place. We'd seen some nice ones back there."
That was his second year to hunt with a bow - a Christmas gift from his wife. Had April not bought it, he might never have had one.
"I couldn't see putting $700 in a bow," Dennis admitted. "Besides, I had a crossbow, and I always hunt Ohio's shotgun season. Of course, it was nice to know I wouldn't have to freeze to death during the gun season in order to shoot a deer."
The Bolyards' property borders the Wayne National Forest in Hocking County. A lot of deer - mostly does - filter out of that forest onto their land, usually at night. Dennis had seen a couple of nice bucks, but he never gave serious thought to hunting them there.
He got off work at 3 p.m. that day and was 25 feet aloft by 3:45.
Anticipation was high, being that it was his first time in the saddle that fall, but the afternoon passed without incident. Until late.
As he was descending the tree, Dennis heard something approaching.
"I was one step away from the ground, and this incredible buck walks up," he said. "My tongue was hanging out!
"It walked right up to within 35 yards and stopped, quartering away from me, and I took the shot," he added. "It happened just that quickly. Right place; right time. In another couple of minutes, I'd have been on my way back home."
Dennis doesn't remember how he got back to his house, but when he snapped out of the post-shot daze, he was there waiting for the hour hand to make a couple of revolutions. By 9 p.m., he was back in the woods with his flashlight.
Two and a half hours after he began looking for the buck, he finally found one speck of blood almost 80 yards from where the arrow had connected. It was near a creek crossing. On the other side was government land, a swampy area with 5- to 6-feet-tall weeds. Rather than bumble around in the swamp at midnight, he decided to back out and resume the next morning.
Dennis went to bed that night, but he didn't sleep. He couldn't shake the image of the monstrous buck from his mind, wondering if it was really as big as he remembered and reliving the shot over and over, trying to make sense of the lack of a blood trail.
At 5:30 a.m., still well before daybreak, he told April, "I can't stand it anymore!"
He returned to the creek with his flashlight, noting that the heavy frost was not going to make the task any easier. Rather than cross over onto the public land, he turned and followed the creek until he spotted a log, which turned out not to be a log.
As he got closer, the log morphed into more than 300 pounds of hair-covered venison burger, lying dead in 18 inches of water.
It took Dennis almost half an hour to wrestle the big whitetail up the 6-foot creek bank. The effort required every ounce of strength and adrenaline he could muster. Keenly aware that he'd never be able to load his first bow deer into the truck, he recruited reinforcements.
The buck was quite the head-turner locally. Dennis' taxidermist was so worried that something might happen to the antlers, he put the rack under lock and key. It was the largest the man had ever mounted.
Hunter: Dennis Bolyard
Official Score: 188 4/8"
Composite Score: 204"
-- Reprinted from the October 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.