Twenty-seven-year-old Mark “Buck” Owen of Wooster, Ohio, found and took a buck of a lifetime with his PSE Dream Season DNA bow. The story of how he found the deer, how he got permission to take the deer, and the agony of his defeat before the thrill of his victory makes this story interesting and exciting. This week Owen gives us the secrets of finding big bucks and getting permission to hunt them, the techniques he used to pinpoint when and where that buck would appear, and the way he took this 2nd biggest Ohio bow Buck ever.
I’ve been hunting deer in Iowa for 10 years with a gun and 4 years with a bow. I’ve taken one buck that scored over 140 plus points Boone & Crockett and two bucks over 130 points Pope & Young. To take a monster buck, you have to find the deer, get permission to take that buck, know exactly what time and when the deer will show up, and then make a clean and lethal shot when you have the opportunity.
I sell cattle genetics (semen) for both dairy and beef cows as a living. My territory is northeast Ohio. A couple of years ago, one of my customers and I began to talk about deer hunting. He’d ask me questions about deer hunting, and I would tell him what I thought, to help him take the deer he was hunting. I also scouted his property to try and help him take deer. I wasn’t scouting for myself. My customer had taken plenty of deer in the past, but his purpose for taking deer was to put meat in the freezer. I wasn’t trying to get permission to hunt his land or to hunt this deer by helping him.
In June, this landowner said, “When I was riding over my land, I saw four bucks and a doe bedded down. Two of the bucks looked pretty big. There was one buck that seemed to have a lot of horns.” I asked the landowner why he didn’t put out a trail camera to try and get pictures of the deer he had seen. Then I told him I’d bring my Moultrie trail camera (www.moultriefeeders.com) and put it out to enable him to see the size of bucks he had to hunt that year.
A big buck means various things to different people. I wanted to get a picture of this deer. The landowner put out some shelled corn, and I placed the camera, so it would photograph any deer coming to eat the corn. This landowner liked to feed deer through the summer to get deer coming to his property, and then he would have deer to hunt when the season arrived. At the end of a week, we took the flash card out of the camera, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I saw a really-big 9 point that would probably score 140 and lots of little 2-year old bucks and does. Then, I saw the monster buck that was in the velvet. He took my breath away. He had a drop tine that looked to be as big as my forearm, and the rest of his rack was really huge. I was excited just to see this deer and know that the landowner would have an opportunity to take him. I told the landowner, “You’ve got a magazine buck here. If you take this buck, I promise you he will show up in someone’s magazine somewhere.”
I was so excited to see a deer like this in the wild on my trail camera. I said, “I would do anything to kill a deer like that. But he’s on your property, and you need to take him. I just want to put my hands on him, after you shoot him. We need to devise a plan to dial this buck in, so, you can get a good shot at him.” The landowner laughed at how flustered I was about seeing that big buck. He thought my enthusiasm over this big buck was hilarious. I told the landowner, “I’m going to bring another trail camera to pattern the buck better.” The first picture I got of the buck showed the angle he was coming into the feeder. I brought two cameras back to the property, set-up one camera on the left-hand side of the tree that I could see in the background of the photo and put the second camera on the right-hand side of the tree. This way, I could determine which side of the tree the buck came from to go to the feeder.
When I knew the direction he was coming from, I moved up the trail another 10 yards once again placed a trail camera on the left side and one on the right side of a tree. In early bow season, bucks are very patternable. So, I kept moving my cameras until I had gone up the trail about 50 yards and finally spotted a trail going into a thick cover area. I was pretty sure this was his bedding area. This little neck of woods where the deer lived was between a soybean field and a corn field. On the other side there was a very narrow strip of woods that would put the buck within bow range for the landowner, who hunted with a crossbow. When I reached the bedding area, I backed out. I didn’t want to spook the deer that might be in there.
From the pictures I had gotten from the trail cameras, I knew this monster buck was using the same trail every day and night to go to the feeder. To keep from being confused, I put an “R” on the flash cards that I kept in the trail camera on the right side of the tree and an “L” on the flash card on the left side of the tree, as I was facing the bedding area and my back was to the feeder. This way, each time I checked my flash cards, I knew which camera was photographing the big buck. We got a ton of pictures of the monster buck, the 9 point and all the other bucks that were coming to the feeder. The feeder was in open hardwoods that funneled back to a very brushy bedding area. There were multiple trails going into the brush, which had a little knoll in it. Too, the brush connected to a pine forest. Several trails were coming out of this bedding area. I wanted to make sure we knew for certain which one of the trails the monster buck preferred.
I checked the trail cameras about every week, to learn when the huge buck was coming to the feeder. For quite a few days, the buck only fed before daylight and after dark. Then, he vanished for about 3 or 4 days, and I didn’t get any pictures of him. In the morning, he was coming to the feeder about 20 or 30 minutes before daylight. In the evening, he would show up about an hour after dark. I needed some daylight pictures, so, we would be able to hunt him during daylight hours. I hoped that buck was not totally nocturnal. Hopefully, sometime during the season, he would show-up during daylight hours. I learned that none of the other bucks were using the trail the monster buck was using. He was the only buck traveling this trail during the summer months.
We put the trail cameras out in July 2013, and the Ohio bow season didn’t open until September 28, 2013. The first picture I have of the big buck during daylight hours was on September 16. I figured out why the buck started moving during daylight hours on that day. When the soybeans are green, the deer feed on them heavily. When the soybeans are dry, the deer feed on them heavily. But when the leaves on the soybeans turn yellow, for some reason, the deer won’t feed on them at all. Also, when the soybeans’ leaves turn yellow, this is when we saw the bucks start to lose their velvet. As I mentioned earlier, there was a soybean field on one side of the woodlot, and a corn field on the other side. The corn hadn’t matured and hadn’t been harvested yet. Therefore the tastiest available food was the corn coming from the feeder every day.
Most of our Ohio deer have hard antlers by the first of September. But this buck was just losing his velvet in mid-September. In most of the pictures that we were getting of this buck, he was only showing up every other day. When the buck was gone for 4 days, I really got nervous. The first daylight picture taken of this buck, when he was in hard horn, was at 3:58 pm. His eyes were wide open, and he looked like he was out-of-sorts. I told the landowner I had really-good pictures of the buck in the velvet. He asked me not to show those pictures to anyone and not to tell anyone where those pictures were taken. I told him I’d like to show the pictures to my buddies, but I wouldn’t tell them the property where this buck was.
Here is another key to taking a big buck. The first thing that most of us do, including me, when we find a big buck, is show all our buddies the pictures. However, you have to make sure that no one knows where you’ve found that big deer. Although you may trust your buddies not to go after that buck, you don’t know what other hunters your buddies may tell the location of the big buck, if they know it. At 27-years old, I realize that I am a young hunter. I don’t know everything or nearly as much as other hunters who have been hunting 50 or 60 years know. But I do know enough to stay hushed-mouth about a big buck like this one.
As we got closer to deer season, I took the landowner’s crossbow and put a new America’s Best bowstring on his crossbow. I shot the crossbow several times to make sure it was lined up and sighted in, and at 20 yards, the crossbow was really lethal. Once I had his crossbow sighted in and ready to take this big buck, I went with him to hang tree stands. I picked a tree that had three trunks coming out of the same big trunk, because I knew then a deer couldn’t skylight me. I wear Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity when I’m hunting. I have the utmost confidence in that camouflage pattern, but I still like to use limbs and leaves to break-up my silhouette. I’ll place my tree stand about 30-yards from where I expect the deer to appear. Then, if I make any noise before I take the shot, the deer is less likely to hear me. I placed the platform of the tree stand at 27 feet, so, when the landowner stood-up, he would be 30-feet high in the tree. I like to hang my tree stands high, because if I have to move to take the shot, the deer is less likely to see me.
We set the tree stand up on a rainy Saturday. The landowner had a different tree in mind where he wanted to set his stand to be right over the feeder. But I suggested, “This is a big buck. We don’t want to take any chances of spooking him, before we take him.” We moved back 20 yards from the feeder and set the tree stand up in this triple-trunk tree, from where we should be able to see the buck coming from at least 50-yards away. Then I asked, “Would you mind if I put a second stand on one of the other trunks of this tree? Then I can video you taking this big buck, on the first day of bow season.” The landowner looked me in the eyes and said, “No, I’ve been thinking about this hunt. You’re going to hunt this stand on the first day of bow season. If you don’t get him on the first day, you also can hunt him on Saturdays. I am going to hunt the buck too. If you get him, he’s your deer. If I get him, he’s my deer. You have been doing all the work keeping up with this deer. I know this buck will mean more to you than he does to me. I wouldn’t have done the work you have done to find this buck, pattern him, keep up with the trail camera pictures of him and do all the things you’ve done to make sure I would be able to take this buck. You definitely deserve first chance to take this buck.”
That was on September 21, one week before the season opened when the landowner told me he wanted me to hunt the first day of bow season and have the first chance at this buck. The 21st held a lot of meaning for me, because my father, Jim Owen, passed away at the age of 62 on April 21 from a massive heart attack. He was an outdoorsman, a life-long trapper and a coon and coyote hunter. I shoot white fletchings on my Gold Tip arrows (www.goldtip.com). So when I got back home that afternoon, I wrote on the fletching of my best arrow, “Dad’s Shot,” because this was the arrow I planned to use to hunt the big whitetail.
For 8 days, from the time I had permission to hunt the big buck, until the day I climbed into the tree stand, I hardly ate. I had butterflies in my stomach the entire week. I really didn’t realize I wasn’t eating. All I could think about was trying to use my mental powers to make sure that buck would come in on opening day. Too, I was thinking how I would walk into the stand. I wanted to make sure I could get to the stand without using a light. I talked to the landowner and he explained, “I always fill the feeder that the buck is coming to at the same time every day – 9:00 am. I think your best plan is to walk exactly the same route that I walk when I am putting corn in the feeder, since the deer are accustomed to smelling human odor there, and it doesn’t spook them.”
I asked the landowner if he would mind pacing-off the route he took to put the corn in the feeder. He always parked his Gator at a corner post. Then, he walked 60 steps to the spot where he put out minerals, turned left, walked 24 steps to the feeder and then walked 40 steps from the feeder to the tree where we had the tree stand. My plan was to park my truck about 450-yards away from where the landowner parked his Gator and walk as quietly as I could to that corner post and follow the landowner’s route. Once I got to the feeder, I would be able to see the tree where I had hung my tree stand, because it was the biggest tree in the area.
On the morning of the hunt, I had all my Mossy Oak clothing that I had washed with Hunter’s Specialties Scent-A-Way (http://www.hunterspec.com/products/all/all/Scent-A-Way) and a little mat that I also had washed in Scent-A-Way. When I got to the place where I planned to leave my truck, I took my other clothes off, took the mat out of the scent-free bag, stepped onto the mat, put on my Mossy Oak camo, put on my Hunter Safety System safety harness, took out a Hunter’s Specialties Fresh Earth Cover Scent Wafer, sprayed down with Scent-A-Way and then walked to my tree. No, I am not being paid by Scent-A-Way – I just believe in the product. When you expect to be that close to a monster buck, you have to do everything to keep that buck from seeing or smelling you. I like the fresh earth scent wafer, because the earth scent is as natural as you can get. When I got to the tree, I tied my PSE Dream Season DNA bow to my pull-up rope, climbed into the tree, pulled up my bow, hung my fresh earth scent wafer, put my bow on my bow hanger, tied my back pack with sandwiches, water and a bottle to go to the bathroom into the tree and waited on daylight. I planned to stay in the tree all day to have a chance to take this monster buck. I had my Gold Tip Pro Hunter arrow shafts (www.goldtip.com) and the new Hypodermic Rage Broadhead, one of the newer broadheads from Rage (www.ragebroadheads.com). I had been shooting Rage Broadheads ever since I first started shooting my bow. I was as ready as ready could be to take this big buck.
I chose the PSE Dream Season DNA when I wanted a new bow for hunting after shooting three bows from every archery company that the bow shop I went to had in the store. I like a lot of speed from a bow and plenty of kinetic energy delivered to the point of the broadhead. I liked the weight of this bow and its warranty. The PSE Dream Season DNA just had come into the shop, when I was trying to pick a bow for hunting. The DNA I bought was the first PSE DNA to leave that shop. I have had the bow technicians at this shop work on every bow I ever have had. And, they promised they could deliver service after the sale, which was important to me.
I got into my tree stand at 4:00 am on opening day of Ohio’s bow deer season, realizing I would be sitting in the dark for at least an hour. As I sat in my Ameristep (www.ameristep.com) tree stand and waited for daylight, I kept thinking, “Did I spook any deer as I walked to my tree stand? I don’t think I spooked any, but I’m not sure.” When daylight finally arrived, I watched chipmunks and squirrels for the next 2 hours, while using my Bushnell range finder (www.bushnell.com) to check and recheck the distance I was from landmarks all around my stand. I know this sounds stupid, but I just wanted to make sure and have the confidence of knowing that wherever that big deer came in sight, I would know the range before I drew my bow. Occasionally, I used my Bushnell binoculars to look up the trail and scan other trails, in case, the buck possibly might have switched the trail he used, since the last trail camera picture I had of him. About 6:45 am, off to my left, I could hear a deer walking near the area where I thought the big buck was bedding.
I stayed in the stand all day. Before I left the house, I had checked when dusk would occur. It was going to be too dark to shoot by 7:11 pm. At about 6:55 pm, I took my Dream Season DNA off my bow hanger and put it in my lap. When I deer hunt, I always want to have my bow in my lap for the last 30 minutes of daylight, because I have seen more deer at that time than any other time. After I put my bow in my lap, I checked it again to make sure my sight was in place, my arrow nock was tight against the string, and the bow was ready to go, if I needed it. I also checked the time on my cell phone. When I looked up, I saw that big buck coming down the trail about 60-70 yards away from me and spotted that big drop tine. Then, I told myself. “Don’t look at the deer’s head. Look at the place you want to hit.”
He was walking straight to me, coming down the trail from my west to my east. There was a big tree he had to walk behind, before he got into bow range. I had preplanned that when the buck stepped behind the tree, I would make my draw. Each time I looked at the buck, I would look at the trail in front of him. I was searching for other trees he would have to walk past. Then if I couldn’t draw when he got behind the big beech tree, there were three really good sized trees the buck had to pass by that would block his vision to my stand. I made another quick check of my bow to make sure the blades on my broadhead were tucked to the back of the arrow, that the arrow was sitting on the rest and that my mechanical release was clipped on the D-loop. I did a thorough but quick visual inspection of the bow. I knew I was ready to take the shot, but I also needed to know the bow was ready to make the shot.
The buck came in like I thought he would. When he turned to go around the big beech tree, I came to full draw from the sitting position. Now, all the buck had to do was step out from behind that big tree, and the moment I had been dreaming about would happen. The first time I saw the buck on the trail camera pictures. I began to practice shooting from the seated position. I realized if I had a chance to take this buck, I didn’t want to have to stand-up to shoot and give the buck a greater opportunity to see me.
The tree he was behind was one of the main trees I had ranged when I got bored in my tree stand. I knew for certain that tree was at 33 yards. The buck only had to travel about 8 yards from behind the tree to reach a pile of corn that we had put out. Then the buck could see it, and he wouldn’t have to look for individual kernels of corn being thrown out by the feeder. The buck stood behind the tree, stuck his head out, looked at the corn and then looked in all directions with his body still behind the tree. When the buck stepped out, he used his nose to smell all around the corn pile. His right front leg was up close to his nose, giving me a perfect broadside shot to his vitals. Just as I started to release the arrow, the buck jerked his head up, and I froze. As he put his nose back down to feed on the corn, he shifted his weight and moved back just a little bit. In that millisecond, just as he was moving, I had released the arrow. My broadhead hit just in front of his shoulder blade. But because the deer turned a little quartering to me, the broadhead cut the vein that fed the jugular vein.
The arrow was moving so fast. I got a clean pass-though. But when the buck took the arrow, he charged forward straight toward the tree where I was, before veering a little to the right, as he passed about 8 yards from the base of my tree. He only went 12-yards from my tree before he hit the ground face first. My eyes and ears were glued to him. He started making a gurgling sound. Then, all movement stopped. When I saw he wasn’t moving, I told myself, “Don’t get up. Stay seated, stay quiet, and keep your eyes on the buck.” As I sat and watched the deer, I was shaking like a leaf. I waited as long as I possibly could stand to wait – about 5-10 minutes. Finally, I took my Bushnell binoculars, looked at the deer and saw he looked dead. I let my bow and my pack down to the ground. As I sat silently in my stand, I told myself. “Don’t fall. Take your time getting out of the stand, and think through every move you make.” Just before I stepped on the climbing sticks, I detached my safety harness from the tree. I began to slowly and deliberately climb down my climbing sticks. I couldn’t believe how big the deer was, until I put my hands on his antlers. Most of the time, when he was walking toward me, I wasn’t looking at his antlers.
I looked at where the broadhead had entered. The hole was right where his neck and shoulder met. The arrow came out a little behind the offside shoulder. In the pictures, the shot looks like I shot him in the neck. But remember, I was shooting down on him, and the arrow made a complete pass-through. He had two drop tines and a beam that came off one of the drop tines. I couldn’t believe his antlers weren’t outside of his ears. As I looked more closely at his ears, they looked like the ears on a child’s teddy bear, since they were short and rounded. From the trail camera pictures, we thought the buck had between 20-25 points. When I counted the points, he had 22. When the buck was scored, he gross scored 256 on the Buckmaster scale, which doesn’t give any credit for inside main beam width. He won’t be scored for Boone and Crockett, because he had three pedicles (instead of having two places where antlers come out of the skull, this buck had three). Boone and Crockett only recognizes deer with two pedicles. On the Pope and Young scale, the buck should score between 248 and 260. At this writing, the antlers have not been officially scored by P&Y.
I immediately called the landowner and said, “I got him. He’s down.” The landowner said, “Ok, I am eating dinner. I will be right there, when I finish eating.” Next, I called my wife, Nicky. I told her, “I got the big buck.” After what seemed like an eternity the landowner showed up with his ATV. Before we loaded the deer, I got my arrow and looked at the writing on the white fletching of the arrow that said, “Dad’s Shot.” Adrenaline, excitement, and a feeling I can’t describe went through me. I knew how proud my dad would be, if he could see this buck I just had taken. I believe that from somewhere, he saw me and the buck (see Day 2).
I learned later that as the landowner and I were dragging the buck to the ATV, the trail camera took a picture of us. When we reached the end of the road with the buck in the back of the ATV, my wife was there waiting and was as excited as I was. We got the buck back to the landowner’s house and field dressed him. I called a buddy of mine, who has a walk-in cooler. I asked him if I could leave the buck in the cooler overnight, because I wanted to shoot a lot of pictures of him the next morning. I called some of my other buddies and told them to meet me at the walk-in cooler, and that is when the celebration really took place.
Everyone wanted to know where I had taken the buck. I didn’t tell anyone, since I had made that pledge to the landowner. We shot some pictures that night. The next morning was a fairly lengthy photo session. Jason Danbury, who is the investigator for wildlife crime for the State of Ohio, is a friend of my buddy who owned the walk-in cooler. We notified Danbury that I had harvested a big deer he might want to look at, and we sent a bunch of pictures to him via text. He asked if we had trail camera pictures of the deer. I told him, “If you want to investigate this deer, I will take you to the landowner and to the spot where I killed the deer and give you any information you want.”
Then Danbury started calling around to my friends and neighbors to check me out to learn what kind of person I was and what type hunter. I showed him my trail camera pictures going back to July to make sure I had plenty of documentation. By having Danbury investigate all parts of the hunt, there really couldn’t be any question about whether I took the buck ethically or not. When Danbury had completed his investigation, he said. “Congratulations, you’ve killed a real trophy buck.”
I believe this buck had lived his entire life in that 90-acre woodlot between the two fields, because no one else in the county ever had seen this deer. All the property around this spot was corn fields and bean fields. So, these deer that I was seeing on the trail camera really didn’t have any close-by cover where they could hide in – other than this woodlot. The buck had everything he needed – a bedding area, does and food. As I mentioned earlier, the landowner started putting out corn after deer season. Just as importantly, I don’t believe this deer ever had had any hunting pressure.
The buck’s rack hasn’t been officially scored by Pope and Young. However, it was officially scored by Buckmaster. According to Buckmaster’s scoring system, the buck had a 256 gross score. Buckmaster didn’t give any credit for the inside spread of the main beam on its scoring system, so the buck officially scored 239-7/8 inches. In Buckmaster’s record keeping system, this puts the buck at number 13 of all deer harvested with a compound bow. I’m also having the buck scored by Pope and Young, because Boone and Crockett doesn’t recognize the buck’s third pedicle. Therefore, they won’t score the buck’s third pedicle.
In the State of Ohio, this buck scores as the number two archery buck ever taken. The only buck ahead of my buck in the state record books is the Beatty buck, officially scored at 304-6/8 (I believe). On the Pope and Young measuring system, my buck should score either in the top 15 or top 10 bucks ever harvested with a compound bow. I’m taking the buck to the Bow Hunting Super Show (www.bowhuntingsupershow.com) held in Columbus, Ohio, March 21-23, 2014. He will be shown at the Greatest Buck of the Year competition sponsored by “Outdoor Life” and “Field and Stream” magazines at the Deer and Turkey Expo. I took the buck to the Archery Trade Association (ATA) show in Nashville, Tennessee, January 6-9, 2014 and already been in contact with someone who will replicate the buck’s antlers. So far, this is all the plans we have for this buck.
But I don’t believe this is the end of our story. Quite a few landowners in this area have been managing their properties for trophy bucks. We are already starting to see some good 3-year old bucks. This section of Ohio has the soils, the food and the sanctuary to produce trophy bucks. I really believe that if we continue to pass up young bucks, as we have the last 3 years on many of the landowners’ properties, we will continue to see many more 3-1/2-year-old bucks and older coming from this region. Deer management for trophy bucks has been slow to catch on in my area of Ohio, because our deer grow so fast and so big. Many of our 2-year old bucks would be trophy bucks anywhere else that most hunters hunt. Let’s face it. Passing up a nice 8-point that scores 120-130 is really tough for any hunter, especially if you haven’t seen a buck that size, in the state where you hunt. But more landowners have begun to see the value of letting younger-age-class bucks walk. I feel certain we will have more big trophy bucks coming out of Ohio that are as big if not bigger than the buck I’ve taken. I really believe that our state has the potential to produce as many if not more trophy bucks as any other state, if we continue to manage our deer for older-age-class bucks.