For a wild whitetail to survive the better part of eight hunting seasons, he can’t be very visible, and being highly unpredictable doesn’t hurt one bit either. Well, the giant buck that Ohio hunter Justin Nowak nicknamed “The Ghost” had both qualities. “To the best of my knowledge, this deer was an 8-year-old,” Nowak told F&S. My hunting buddy Evan Hoepf and I had been hunting him for four seasons, and he gave us—and many other area hunters—fits.” According to Nowak, when he finally put a tag one the giant whitetail, on November 30, 2023, “it was a surreal experience.”
Nowak and Hoepf have been hunting a northwestern Ohio farm for over 20 seasons, and have worked hard to improve habitat and plant food plots. “We make it a priority to harvest only mature bucks from the property, and I was blessed to shoot a 173-inch buck there a couple years ago.” Nowak said. “But the Ghost buck was giving me, and many area hunters, fits.
While Nowak had been getting pics of of the buck for a number of years on the northwestern Ohio farm they hunt, by the 2022 season, The Ghost had become absolutely huge. “One evening during the archery season, I had him at 60 yards with light fading fast,” said Nowak. “I tried everything I could to pull him into bow range, but nothing worked. I felt like I’d blown the chance of a lifetime! And to make matters worse, he seemed to disappear after that. I figured I was never going to see the deer again.”
When the 2023 season opened, Nowak still hadn’t been able to locate The Ghost. “At the beginning of November, a co-worker showed me a trail-cam pic of The Ghost that his son had, and I knew the farm they hunted was over 2 miles away. So I went into the rut thinking I had no chance at him, and by the time the gun season opened, I’d used almost all my vacation time. So I looked at the weather and thought that Thursday, November 30, was the best day to take a vacation day and hunt.”
After sitting for several hours, Nowak got out of his blind and decided to still-hunt through bedding cover in the center of the property when he jumped a deer. Though he only got a glimpse of antler, Nowak knew he was looking at a mature buck and took the 60-yard shot. He was certain he’d hit the deer, and walking to where he’d last seen him, he looked down to see a familiar—and amazing—set of antlers.
The Ghost turned out to be as gigantic as he’d been elusive. With 19 scorable points and a nearly 2-foot inside spread, the massive buck grossed 204-4/8 inches B&C. “I’d gotten to the point where I felt that I’d never see this buck again, much less tag him,” Nowak said. “He’d not only eluded many area hunters over the years, he’d managed to sneak by all my trail cams and never get his picture taken all fall, then bedded in an area of the farm where he’d never been seen before. When I called my hunting buddy Evan, all I could say was ‘I got him!’ and he knew exactly what deer I meant. He left work and joined me immediately. Hunting is my passion, and I honestly feel blessed to be part of this buck’s legacy.”