You've Got to be Kidding!
By Mike Handley
Photo by Rick Busse
If Tink's could somehow pen up a bunch of 63-year-old men and either figure out where their tarsal glands are or dig between their toes for the interdigital glands, the deer lure company might just have another winner. And the first shipment - seven bottles of "Old Man Smell" - would be to central Ohio.
The only hitch is that it could take three or four years to work.
If Dan Bradley were still hunting, an eighth bottle would be required. But the 63-year-old deputy sheriff hung up his spurs following the 2008 season, the year he went from goat to hero among his pals who used to joke about his growing collection of unspent deer tags.
That was the fourth year for Dan and a group of friends to hunt Ohio's Zaleski State Forest in Vinton County. They usually rent a cabin near Lake Hope State Park (which has to be booked almost a year in advance), from which they can access thousands of acres of public ground.
Six guys made the trip in '08, arriving on Nov. 29 with plans to hunt until Dec. 6.
It had been three years since Dan had used his tag.
"I'd had a real dry spell," he said. "I never even took a shot at a deer in that time. I didn't even see a deer to shoot. All my buddies ribbed me, saying I had that old man smell. They didn't even want to be near wherever I was hunting."
The first three days of their trip, Dan didn't even hunt. It was rainy and cold. And when he did go out, he saw nothing.
On Thursday night, when the guys pulled up to the Water's Edge check station, the local watering hole where you can ogle Polaroids of successful hunters and chow down on pizza, they walked past someone's 10-pointer.
"I grabbed that rack and said, 'Man, I'd like to get a deer like this,'" he said to nobody, because his pals had kept on walking.
"On the last Friday, I waited until that afternoon to go out," he said. "I went to a place I'd never hunted. I'd never been that far in the forest."
He followed a ridge and dropped off into a 40-yard-wide hollow between it and another ridge. He fell in love with the place as soon as he saw it.
"I almost blurted out loud, 'This is a honey hole if I've ever seen one,'" he said.
Dan didn't have a stand with him; he carried only a collapsible chair. He cleared a spot next to a giant oak and sat, cradling his 12-gauge Remington 870 and very happy to have stuffed his clothes with heat packets to ward off the below-freezing temperature.
The day before, one of his buddies offered to split a doe he'd shot with Dan. But Dan declined. He was hungry for a buck, which is why he passed up a chance at his own doe that day.
About 4:30, he saw a big-bodied deer coming down the opposite hillside. Although Dan couldn't see antlers until it was halfway down the mountain, everything about the animal screamed buck. And when he did see the antlers, he gasped: "Oh my god ... What a rack!"
The buck halted exactly where a couple of does had stopped earlier that afternoon. The lead doe, in fact, had busted Dan.
"The only shot I had was head-on," he said. "I looked at that deer and said, 'Boy, I hate to do this to you,' and then I shot him right between the front legs."
The buck sprinted, and Dan got a second shot when it was between 30 and 40 yards away. When the deer fell, the giddy hunter set his gun down and started jumping up and down.
After field-dressing the buck, Dan started the uphill drag. But he gave up on the idea after moving it a mere eight feet. He was hoping one of his friends had heard him shoot and would come to investigate. When it was obvious that nobody was coming, he covered the deer with leaves - worried that another hunter might happen upon his buck and claim it - and went back to the truck to meet his friends.
He told them he'd shot the largest spike he'd ever seen.
When they saw the deer, they knew they'd been the butt of a joke.
"They went wild over that deer," Dan said.
And so did the park ranger, who told them he'd never seen such a buck come out of that forest, and he'd been there since 1996. He aged it at between 6 and 7 years old. (Dan keeps one of the deer's molars on his table, just in case he ever decides to have it scientifically aged.)
Dan didn't even buy a hunting license in 2009. He no longer has the drive, though he's looking forward to introducing his grandson to the sport in 2010.
"He's a little hyper right now," he chuckled.
"It's funny. I was just reading 'Nobody Said It Would be Easy,' the story in Rack magazine about the guy who suffered a long dry spell before he shot a big buck. That was MY story! Like him, I never gave up," he said.
On their way back home, Dan was tickled at all the attention. Other drivers seemed to fight to fall in behind their truck. A lot of vehicles pulled up beside them, the occupants waving their cell phones and cameras because they wanted to take photos.
• Hunter: Dan Bradley
• Official Score: 199 3/8
• Composite: 221 7/8
-- Reprinted from the July 2010 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.