Steve Esker would have been hard-pressed to top his 2009 hunt, which ended with a 19-point Buckeye State bruiser that tallied 216 on the Safari Club International scoring system. But top it he did on Oct. 14 with this 24-point buck that green scored 217 7/8 SCI. It marks the second consecutive (and third overall) 200-class whitetail for the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, crossbow hunter.
Esker, you may recall, rented a helicopter last year to help him recover a buck that had disappeared into a CRP field after the shot. A night of heavy rains had washed away any sign of a blood trail, and a tracking dog Esker brought in was unable to get a scent.
Once the chopper pilot put him in the air, Esker needed only a minute to sight the buck in the tall grass–within 10 yards of where he’d been searching earlier that day.
As the 2010 season approached, Esker had his eye on a couple of trophy bucks: A 180-class typical…
…and “TF24” (short for Tree Farm 24), so named because he lived on an old nursery with poplars and birches growing in neat rows. The 240-acre farm inside the Columbus city limits also has cornfields on two sides of its overgrown tree thicket.
Last year the buck was a 9 x 6 160-class deer (left), Esker says, “which means he put on 50-plus inches in one year–and he was only 4 ½ years old.” This was the last photo Esker got of the buck in 2009; he disappeared after Sept. 2. The buck to the right is “Stickers,” a 160-inch 14-pointer. In the background is an 8-pointer that reached 150 this year; Esker passed on him twice at 20 yards.
TF24 showed up this year in July, again with Stickers, and quickly rose to the top of Esker’s hit list. “The first time I saw him, I knew he was going to be a giant this season,” he says.
The two big boys were still running together in August, though it became clear that something was wrong with Stickers’ right side. Esker estimates his left antler at nearly 100 inches. “With both sides he would have been a giant this year,” he says. “Hope he grows it back next season.”
Twice the 24-pointer disappeared for exactly 32 days, the second time showing up again on Sept. 20. “I don’t know if I’d call it a pattern,” Esker laughs, “but it was kind of interesting.”
Esker knew he needed to hunt the tree thicket, but the straight-line plantings made that difficult. He finally located an oak that had sprung up wild between rows; it raised him only 15 feet off the ground but provided a shooting lane he could find nowhere else in the thicket. He started putting out corn to draw deer, but the 24-pointer wasn’t interested. Finally, Esker tried apples, which did the trick. “He couldn’t stay away from those apples; he was there three or four nights a week.”
Esker could only hunt the stand with a west or south wind, and he crawled the 80 yards from the edge of the thicket to his tree. He got in eight sits before the buck showed up on Oct. 14, 20 days into the Ohio archery season.
The forecast called for the wind to shift at 7 p.m. from northwest to west. “I thought, ‘That’s good. I can sit tonight,'” he recalls. “When the wind is less than favorable, you almost have to talk yourself into trusting that the weatherman is right. Sure enough, about 6:45, that wind starts to shift. As soon as it did, I got blown at by a doe. But I had a five-point buck in front of me, and he kept munching apples. About 20 minutes later I was watching a mineral lick to my right, and when I turned back left he was standing in front of me at 24 yards. He was so stealthy I never heard a twig pop.”
The buck was already agitated because of the trail cam’s tick, but Esker says that worked to his advantage. “It made it better, because he was actually distracted from me.” This trail cam photo, taken moments before Esker took aim with a Parker Tornado crossbow fitted with Red Hot Pin Point sight, shows the buck just after it turned to face directly into the camera–and broadside to Esker.
The blood trail thinned after 75 yards and Esker again endured a sleepless night after backing out without recovering his buck. And just like last year, a torrential rain erased any remaining sign. But this time when he and his buddies returned at first light, the search was short: A friend, Travis Vollmar, found the buck 40 yards from where they’d called it quits the night before. “Travis said, ‘You don’t have to hire a helicopter this year, but there is a finder’s fee–I’ll take the $300,'” Esker laughs. He was all smiles after getting a close look at the buck, including this view that shows off the rack’s 41 3/8 inches of mass measurements.
Esker’s first 200-class whitetail, a wide 16-pointer harvested in Licking County on Nov. 3, 1994 with a crossbow, scored 205 1/8 SCI.
Last year’s 216 SCI, also taken with a crossbow, fell in the city limits of Columbus.
Esker says this year’s 217 puts him in the company of Stan Potts and Adam Hays–a fellow resident of Reynoldsburg and good friend of the Eskers–as the only people to have taken three 200-class whitetails with archery equipment.
Three 200s even seemed to impress Esker’s toughest audience: His wife, Wendy. “This is the very first time she’s ever posed with me and a deer, because she is not really all that fond of my time in the woods,” he says. “I mean, I hunt seven days a week. If I can be in a tree every evening and some mornings, I am. She has put up with a lot. So I was proud and a little baffled that she joined me for a photo.”
Crossbow hunter Steve Esker of Ohio had a bit to live up to after his 2009 hunt in which he rented a helicopter to help recover a 19-point monster buck that disappeared into a CRP field. However, the 24-point behemoth with a SCI green score of 217 7/8 he arrowed on Oct. 14 was a nice topper. Steve Hill got the story from Esker on the hunt for the stealthy and elusive buck.