For as long as Deckling can remember, the three men shared a special kinship, reinforced by their enthusiasm for hunting. And while year after year, they scouted, prepped and climbed into treestands on central Ohio farms, labored through archery, gun and muzzleloader seasons and experienced a lion’s share of close encounters without a noteworthy harvest, their passion never wavered.
The 2011 season commenced like any other for the three friends–complete with all the camaraderie, and shoulda, woulda, coulda moments that make for deer hunting tales of legend in the off-season and keep friends and family coming back for more. Unfortunately, not all three finished the season together. News of Tom Drake’s passing one December day left Deckling and his father uncertain if they could continue their seasonal traditions without their friend. “Tom was my dad’s good buddy and I always looked up to him. He was in his 60s, and last year, just before the gun opener, he passed away, and that really hit my dad and I hard,” Deckling says. “My dad didn’t hunt much the rest of that season and was really questioning if he’d even go out this year. When you lose someone like that, who’s been with us on nearly every hunt, you lose a little of the passion.” Greg and Bill all but wrote off the 2012 season. They sold some hunting gear, like Greg’s bow, at a spring garage sale and for a while, quit pre-season scouting or any other prep work. But just before they threw in the towel completely, an image captured on a trail camera posted on a nearby farm they once hunted with their old friend changed their mindset.
“We checked one of our trail cameras and there were images of this huge buck in velvet, and my dad and I were like ‘where did this guy come from?'” Deckling says. “We started keeping tabs on the deer, and he kept coming around. We first saw him in early July, so we watched him grow a little. Eventually, more deer started showing up and formed this little bachelor group, and they were all nice bucks. There were a few nice nine pointers, and a few eight-point racks, but every time we saw them, they were all together. This big buck was different though, not just because of his size. He would travel by himself a lot.” With the wind back in their sails, Deckling and his dad prepared for the upcoming archery season. They watched the deer through the summer, patterned the buck’s movements, and started formulating a game plan for the late-September opener. Then the buck threw a curveball.
“We only got daytime photos of this deer through the end of July. In August and September, he became nocturnal and all we got were nighttime images–typically from around two or three in the morning. Going into the season, we weren’t even sure he’d show up during the day and couldn’t decide if it was better to hunt this area in the morning or evening or what to do,” Deckling says. Weeks went by without a visual confirmation that the big buck was still in the area. Regardless, the two men made their way into the woods on Sept. 29, Ohio’s opening day of archery season. Bill carried his own gear, but since Greg sold his gear earlier in the year, he toted their old friend Tom Drake’s crossbow.
“We went out in the evening around 4 in the afternoon. My dad helped me get into my stand, and then he walked away to get into his. I didn’t really see anything for the longest time,” says Deckling. “Around 6 p.m., one of the deer we’d photographed all summer, a nine-point, came walking up behind me, but I couldn’t find a good shot window.” “Around 6:30, my dad sent me a text saying he just saw another nine-point deer we had photographed, and he let it walk past. So I really started waiting and watching, hoping another deer we photographed would walk by. Then, around 6:45, I heard something dash behind me. I looked down to my left, and there was the big boy about seven yards away.”
Deckling wasn’t prepared for a shot when the deer appeared. The deer noticed the movement when he shifted to increase the contrast on his crossbow’s red-dot sight and get into position for a shot. “He was downwind and he had me pinpointed, but when I tried to turn up the contrast on the scope as high as it needed to go, I noticed the buck had a corn stalk stuck in his antlers. So rather than run away, he stood there for a few moments and tried to shake the stalk off his head. That gave me enough time to set my scope to a darker setting and aim for a shot,” Deckling says. “I hit him just above the shoulder and the arrow came out around his stomach.” The deer ran out of the woods and down a row of corn, stopped briefly, and then darted back into a thicket where Deckling lost sight of him. Deckling called his dad over and they checked the area of the shot together, found the arrow, and started second-guessing the moment of truth.
“The arrow smelled horrible. It was just raunchy, and my dad was worried I hit him low and in the gut. There wasn’t a whole lot of blood. There were drops here and there, but not a whole lot,” Deckling says. “When I shot, I saw a dark spot right where I was aiming–right in the sweet spot, so I knew I hit him good and was excited. But when my dad came over and said I hit him in the gut because the arrow smelled bad, I was a little discouraged.” Walking out of the woods and down the cornrow where the buck last stood, the two men found good signs of blood and continued following the trail. With each passing step, signals of a lethal hit became more defined. “The deer looked like it went about 40 yards into the woods and stopped in a little clearing, and there was blood everywhere. I was walking behind my dad while he tracked, and not long after, he saw antlers and started cheering and all but tackled me,” Deckling says.
While it has the mass and length that undoubtedly qualifies it for trophy status, the possible age of the deer surprised both of them. “We think the deer was only three and a half years old. His body was a little smaller than I expected. We count 21 solid points, but there’s also some little stickers everywhere, so depending on how it gets scored, there could be more,” Deckling says. “We had a taxidermist look at it, and a family friend who just got his scoring license last year. They said it might land in the 180-inch range, but I’ll have it officially scored when the 60-day drying window is up.” In the days after, Deckling’s deer became the talk of the town, but he’s trying to take the attention in stride and get back to routine. “I’ll probably spend the rest of the season studying, but if my dad wants to go out, I’ll probably sit out with him,” he says. “Then during gun season, if I want extra meat for the freezer I may take a doe.”
While a good shot may have ended Deckling’s season on the same day it started, he’s not disappointed, and was quick to give credit where credit is due. “My dad watched that deer all summer. I was working long hours on an asphalt crew for college money, so my dad was able to check our trail cameras and scout all summer. I’d come home late and we’d talk about what he saw, but he was definitely the mastermind of it all. I would have gladly taken one of those nine-point bucks we saw in the bachelor groups all summer. The irony is my dad passed a five-yard shot on one of those bucks hoping he was going to get a shot on the big boy at some point in the season,” Deckling says.
ohio buck father and son
“Once he got these trail camera pictures, my dad took it as a sign sent from Tom Drake that he didn’t want us to give up just because he wasn’t there. We started feeling like his presence would still be with us out there in the woods,” Deckling says. “And thinking back to my shot, if that corn stalk wasn’t in that’s buck’s antlers, he would have been gone. That had to be another divine act, and I’m glad we didn’t give up.”
A father and son almost quit hunting after the death of their longtime friend, even selling off hunting gear at a yard sale. But seeing this buck in their trail cam photos got their spirits up and got them back in the woods. Their reward was this 21-point, 180-inch (green score) Ohio buck. Keep clicking for more photos and the full story.