It was the worst and best of days...
Ryan Bearden was disgusted and ready to go someplace else, anyplace else, maybe even back to his warm motel room.
Though 2010 was the Alabamian’s third year to make the almost 500-mile drive to Ohio, he’d hunted this Highland County farm only once before that cold Dec. 18. All he really knew about the place was that 40 of the 200 or so acres were wooded.
When he struck out that 18-degree morning, he skirted a cornfield — trudging through 6 to 8 inches of snow — and veered 20 yards into the adjoining woodlot. He jacked himself up an oak tree, settled in and watched the paint dry on a winter landscape devoid of color and deer, painfully aware that the wind was carrying his scent straight into the property’s only cover.
“Seems I was just disappointed all morning,” he said. “I was cold and miserable, hated the wind’s direction, and I’d seen nothing.”
The 24-year-old had been fighting the urge to relocate for half an hour when, at 9:00, he spotted two bucks running along the edge of the field. Both were 8-pointers; one was a shooter, or at least it was good enough.
Just as he was about to lay his crosshairs on the larger buck, he saw a third one — even bigger — coming down the same lane.
The two 4x4s cut into the woods about 75 yards from Ryan, but the granddaddy bringing up the rear came a little bit closer.
Ryan had carried only three 12-gauge slugs with him that morning, and he sent all three at the big buck. He was stunned when the deer didn’t fall. It simply turned and walked into the woods.
He realized afterward what might have cost him his first Ohio buck. (His previous year’s tags had been attached to does.)
Ryan had been sitting when he shot, and he’d failed to see the network of small branches between his Remington 870’s muzzle and the deer he so desperately wanted. The shattered ends of those twigs told the story.
After staring at those frayed ends and thinking about the buck for more than an hour, Ryan went back to his truck to retrieve more shotgun shells. There was no reason to hurry, since he wasn’t going to shoot at anything else before verifying either hit or miss.
When he returned to the cornfield, gun re-stoked, he could find no sign of a hit. But not long after stepping into the woods, he saw the dead buck lying behind an oak. It had died 40 yards inside the tree line, leaving no blood in its wake even though one of the three slugs had torn through both lungs.
“I had to have hit that deer with the first shot,” Ryan said, “because that’s the only time the buck was standing broadside to me. While looking at the bullet hole, I remembered the deer turning after the initial shot. It shook its head and started twitching its tail real fast before walking into the woods. I’d forgotten that part until I was kneeling beside it.”
He’s glad the lack of a blood trail didn’t discourage him from walking into the woods that day. He’ll cherish the memory and the mount forever, even if it’s the last buck he might shoot.
“My wife, Coral, went with me last year,” he said. “I’d told her that if I happened to get a 170-inch buck, I’d quit for good.
“When she saw this one, she said, ‘Well, I guess you’re done now,’” he added.
Friends suspect that agreement will be renegotiated.
Meanwhile, the promise of deer hunting abstinence didn’t stop Ryan from doing a little shopping at the Buckmasters Expo last summer. Finding a better deal than Ohio’s $164 nonresident buck-and-doe tag, however, is a tall order.
Hunter: Ryan Bearden
Official Score: 193 5/8
Composite Score: 215 4/8
— Photos by Mike Handley
This article was published in the Winter 2011 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home.
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