Mark Owen’s Ohio Buck: 256-Inch Buckeye Bruiser


Does this photo of a joyful hunter look familiar? If you’ve spent much time browsing social media sites in the past few months, there’s a good chance you’ve seen it.

There’s also a good chance you’ve heard the buck was shot in one of at least five different states, by at least four different guys and that the score was one of at least three different numbers. It’s funny how the Internet spreads information — and misinformation — about big deer.

Truth is, I shot this great buck in eastern Ohio’s Wayne County on the third day of the 2013 bow season. And while as of this writing I haven’t had him officially measured for the Pope & Young Club’s records, one measurer for another scoring system has given the 22-pointer a gross score of 256 inches.

Everything about this Ohio buck is out of the ordinary, and so is the story of the quest to take him. You see, while I was involved in his pursuit for many months, I wasn’t even the guy who was going to hunt him.

The Story Begins

An anonymous friend had the honor of getting a glimpse of this giant months earlier, as he was bedded in his woods with four other deer. This was on land I didn’t even hunt. Once my friend and I knew of the mass the beast carried, we began to plan for bow season.

Through use of trail cameras and other scouting, we began to study the buck. We ultimately figured out his bedding and feeding areas and most of his daily travel tendencies. He never traveled far from home during the time we scouted him. In retrospect, we think that helps explain how he lived long enough to become such a phenomenal buck.

It was important that we never invaded his sanctuary. He truly was a creature of habit. Once we learned those habits, we did whatever we could to avoid spooking him. That included never pulling a camera card when he might be disturbed.

Midway through September, as the soybean fields began to turn yellow, the buck spent more time in the woods and less in the fields. For us, that was positive — it meant more time on camera. In fact, as he began to show up on camera more often, in just a few days we were able to capture the process of him shedding his velvet. Those pictures were amazing.

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Things Change

A week before season, with the buck’s pattern nailed down, my friend and I went out to hang stands. It was a rainy Sept. 21.

The 21st of each month now is of tremendous meaning for me . . . and an unfortunate one, at that. You see, my dad, Jim, passed away suddenly last April 21. That date now marks each month’s passing for me.

As my friend and I hung stands on Sept. 21, I told him I’d really like to video him hunting the monster whitetail. It would be great to capture footage of him claiming the buck we’d spent so much time on. My friend looked at me with nothing but sincerity and said, “I’d rather you not.”

For a moment, I didn’t understand. But what he said next made it all clear.

“You’re going to be the one hunting this deer first,” he told me.

I never expected that. This was his deer, in my book. All along we’d worked together in preparation for him to make the harvest. So I was in awe that he was giving me the opportunity to be the hunter.

“If you get this deer, it was meant to be,” my friend said.

I can’t explain how I felt that entire final week before the season. But I was excited. In anticipation, I practiced shooting with all of my gear on. I shot standing, and I shot sitting. With my stand directly in line with the buck’s most likely approach to the feeding spot, I felt it likely I’d have to shoot while sitting in order to avoid spooking him.

Finally, it was Sept. 28: opening day of bow season. I barely slept the night before but found I was in no way tired when I headed out in the predawn. I made my way to the stand well before 6 a.m. My paces were counted, and no flashlight was used.

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Early on, the owls kept me company. I began to listen to their hooting well before dawn and ended my day with their hooting welcoming the dusk. In between, I spent all day in that tree, seeing only a 9-pointer I wasn’t there to take.

I can’t help admitting my disappointment in that day. We felt we had the giant’s pattern down pat, but he was nowhere to be seen. Out of respect for my friend’s wishes I didn’t hunt Sunday. I then worked on Monday, with plans to get in a good afternoon hunt.

But when I finally got into the stand I was flustered, because I was off schedule. I had to rush to kill my scent where I parked, again at the base of the tree and then yet again when I climbed into the stand. But the wind was in my favor.

Once I was able to relax, I looked over the hardwoods. To me, there’s nothing better than looking across the land from 25 feet in the air. I find my time in the woods a comforting chance to think about my dad. That’s when I feel closest to him.

As dusk began to set in, I heard a rustle to my northwest. I chuckled to myself and said under my breath, “OK, Dad. Now bring him my way.” I chuckled because for some reason I really didn’t expect the rustle to have been caused by the big buck.

A few minutes later, my eyes darted to movement on one of this deer’s frequented paths. There he was…coming right toward me! It was about to happen just as we’d planned!

The Moment of Truth

As the buck crossed behind a large tree, he gave me enough time to check my equipment and draw without being seen. With me waiting at full draw he lingered, carefully coming through the cover.

As the deer was coming in so slowly, my arms finally began to fade. I desperately needed the right shot. I knew that if I missed this deer, we’d most likely never see him again. This was the moment my friend and I had worked so hard for.

Finally I had the shot I wanted, at 33 yards. I aimed and released. But just as I touched off the arrow, something unexpected happened: The buck began to take a step backward.

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Rarely does a flawed shot result in a happy ending. It typically turns into a story of the one that got away. But this time was different. As the deer stepped back, my arrow entered just in front of his shoulder, severing a major artery. The giant ran not over 45 yards before hitting the ground.

I sat motionless, in shock over what just had taken place. My dream was no dream any more; it was reality.

After about five minutes I finally regained my composure enough to lower my gear from the stand. I was shaking so badly I had to focus on making my legs work. It was a chore not to fall.

As I walked to the dead deer and picked up his massive rack, you can’t fathom how I felt. All of the pictures we’d collected of him couldn’t have prepared me for what I had in my hands. I of course had to share this moment with my friend and called him. We now laugh about that conversation, because I was nearly incoherent. All he could make out was, “He’s on the ground.”

The next call was to my wife. We laugh about that one, too, because the only thing she really could understand my saying was, “I got him.”

I was happy when my friend finally got to my side. It was an honor to share something so spectacular with him. His pure selflessness gave me the opportunity to tell this story.

And I have no doubt my late dad played a part in this, as well. When I was a boy, he instilled in me a deep respect for nature. He taught me it’s really something to be proud of to harvest from the land God graciously provides. He’s the man who taught me the woods, and I can never thank him enough for it.

In fact, the arrow that killed this giant was dedicated to him. Before the season, on one vane I’d written “Jim” and “DAD’S Shot.” I’ll treasure this special arrow, along with the memory of this amazing hunt, for the rest of my life.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>