Guinther, of Coschocton, Ohio, first learned of the buck when a buddy found its antlers last spring. The sheds, visible in the foreground here, suggested a rack in the 150 to 160 range. That alone was enough to put the deer at the top of Guinther’s list for the 2012 season.
Then on Sept. 9 he got his first and only photos of the buck on a trail camera. The big whitetail had gotten bigger. A lot bigger.
“They were great pictures,” Guinther says. “He turned left. He turned right. It was like he was posing for a mug shot. It looked like his rack had tripled in size from last year.”
“In the last photo, he stuck his nose right in the camera,” Guinther says. And just as quickly as the mature buck had arrived, it was gone. Trail cameras picked up no other photos of the deer before Sept. 29, opening day of Ohio’s archery whitetail season.
Guinther settled into his stand at 5 p.m. on opening day to hunt. When picking his stand site, he decided to ignore the trail cam and instead asked his buddy to show him where he found the sheds. The spot was about 300 yards from where the buck had appeared on camera.
“This was where he dropped his antlers,” Guinther says. “I’m saying this is where he hangs out. I found a perfect spot 50 yards away with clear shooting lanes, right on a four-wheeler trail, and I said, ‘This is where I’m putting my stand.'”
Guinther likes to hang stands that are a short walk from the car. He believes it’s more important to sneak in quickly and quietly without spooking deer rather than to set up closer to their core area. He doesn’t like to cut shooting lanes, preferring to hunt spots where openings occur naturally. The spot he chose fit the bill.
By 7 p.m. on opening day, he’d seen no deer activity. Then he heard the faint footfalls near his stand. “I thought, ‘Finally, the fawns are starting to come out.’ It was about 20 minutes before sunset. I figured the does would follow soon, then maybe a good buck. But when I looked down, I couldn’t believe it. It was him. It was the buck from the trail cam.”
As Guinther clutched his crossbow, he watched the buck ease onto the four-wheeler path and start walking left. That path put the big whitetail at a bad angle for a shot, and in another 10 yards it would be out of Guinther’s shooting lane. “I was already starting to think, ‘If he goes left I’ll have to let him walk.’ I wasn’t going to take an iffy shot. I told myself he’d be back.”
Then the buck stopped, turned and walked back toward Guinther’s right. As he watched, the deer stopped broadside at 10 yards. “He dropped his head to eat some grass, and I got right on him.”
A buddy hunting 300 yards away heard the shot and immediately climbed down from his stand. “He knew I’d shot the big one, because there’s no way I would be shooting that early in the season if it wasn’t him,” Guinther says. By then he’d recovered his bolt and headed back to his parking spot. After 45 minutes, the two took up the trail together. “I told him, ‘If we don’t find major blood in the first 20 yards, we’re turning straight around and walking out of there until tomorrow morning, because I’m not losing this big boy.'”
The trail was strong, and 100 yards later, Guinther had his hands on the biggest buck of his life. “We couldn’t believe how much bigger he looked in real life than on the camera,” he says. “When I finally got to pick up the rack, I realized the pictures didn’t do him justice.”
A green score of the nontypical rack totaled 196 inches of antler, with 22 of the 24 points counting as scoreable. “He’s very symmetrical, even with his forks in back, but he won’t score typical,” Guinther says. “What really amazes me is his mass. His beams are 7 inches around at the base and 5 or 6 inches all the way out to the G2s. He’s just a heavy-racked deer.”
Guinther estimates the buck weighed 250 pounds and he still marvels at how close it got to him undetected. “He snuck in behind me and I didn’t even know it until I heard those faint footsteps. Then to look down and find him standing there, right underneath my stand–well, if that’s not the thrill of a lifetime I don’t know what would be.”
UPDATE 12/12/12: Mark Guinther’s 24-pointer has been officially scored and is bigger than previously thought. The buck, which we reported on in October with a green score of 196, actually earned a higher final score than projected: 206 4/8 net nontypical.
The footsteps Mark Guinther heard two hours into his opening day sit were so soft that he immediately thought, “fawn.” But what he saw underneath his stand was no button buck. There stood a strapping 24-pointer sporting nearly 200 inches of antler. Read on to learn how Guinther managed to waylay this Ohio giant–which he had spied only once before, on a trail camera–so early in the season.