By Ed Waite
Long after most of Ohio’s deer hunters had either tagged out or quit because of the bone-chilling cold, 33-year-old Jim Cogar of Powell was still climbing into stands, hoping to see the rambling buck he’d been after since October.
It was almost as if he couldn’t live with the thought of the deer walking past his empty stand.
When the 2012-13 season opened, the family had already identified several good shooter bucks through trail camera photographs positioned within the Delaware County farms they hunt. By Nov. 7, three of those deer were tagged.
“My father and brother-in-law shot 146-inch bucks, and a friend took one that stretched to 153,” Jim said. “The only big one remaining – the biggest – was one my father and I nicknamed Conan, who first stepped in front of a camera on Oct. 22 about 8 a.m. He also mugged for it on the 26th.”
Those were the only two photographs they retrieved of Conan, which made Jim wonder if it was merely passing through as opposed to living on the farm.
Regardless, he devoted the season to hunting that deer.
“I kept my photos to myself,” he said. “I didn’t want others to know I had recorded this buck in my woods. I didn’t want the competition.”
Even so, many of his friends suspected Jim must’ve seen something substantial to keep him returning to the same parcel, day after day.
When November passed without a single sighting, the only thing that kept Jim in the hunt, so to speak, was that he hadn’t heard of anyone else shooting the behemoth or hitting it with a car, which would’ve had tongues wagging all over the county.
He was certain the deer was alive, but he had no idea where it was spending its time.
“Lots of activity at home and work kept me out of the woods for a couple of weeks,” Jim said. “When I finally got some time, rather than hunt, I decided to scout the property and move trail cameras.
“By then, I was no longer concerned with rubs and scrapes. The rut was long finished. So, instead, I focused on heavy traffic areas between potential bedding areas and food sources,” he continued.
“I left the cameras alone for a week. When I went back in late December, the first two cameras showed nothing. The third unit was far beyond where I usually hunted – still on the same farm, but maybe three-quarters of a mile from where Conan was originally photographed.
“He was on it!” he added.
“I immediately started strategizing,” Jim said. “I dumped corn in the area, set up a stand, and kept watching the trail cameras.”
The deer’s visits were sporadic. When a week passed without a picture, Jim naturally assumed he’d somehow spooked the animal.
But then it returned, still passing through at night.
“Just when I felt everything was coming together, I got a phone call from one of my good buddies who farms and hunts right across the road from my farm. He said ‘Jim, you’ve got to stop over here at the office. You’re not going to believe the size of the deer we have on camera.’
“When I walked into his office and he pulled pictures up on his computer, my jaw dropped clear to the floor. My secret was out, and the buck was now on his farm, a full 1 1/2 miles from my camera to his,” he added.
Jim was stunned at Conan’s wanderlust. By early January, most bucks are so worn down from rutting that they concentrate on feeding and recuperating. This guy was traveling back and forth, going from farm to farm, every few days.
To further complicate things and to befuddle Jim even more, Conan began mugging for yet another hunter’s camera. That meant three men were hunting him.
“It was as if he had us patterned,” Jim said.
The good news was that the buck was on his feet during daylight hours, including on Jan. 18, when Jim’s telephone rang.
“I received a call informing me that one of my friends had shot Conan that evening,” Jim said. “My heart stopped. I waited anxiously for more information and pictures of the recovered deer, but when morning came and there was no text, I had to call. They had not found him.
“The blood trail was weak, and then it had stopped,” he said. “They had scoured the woods all night to no avail. I was pretty sure I’d never see that deer again.
“Five days later, though, guess who decided to show up on MY trail camera, which was more than 1 1/2 miles from where he was shot,” he continued. “The pictures were so clear that I could actually see the entry and exit holes where the other hunter’s arrow had passed through his body just below the spine, where it apparently did no significant, and certainly no fatal damage.”
Jim resumed hunting forthwith.
“I was always super stealthy going to and from my stand, by dropping down a steep embankment and then walking a creek to the base of my 15-foot ladder,” he said. “I hunted as often as my schedule allowed. During all of my times in that stand, never once did I ever get busted going in or coming out.”
Jim got his first daylight photo of Conan on Feb. 1 – which he didn’t realize until the following day. He’d planned to be in his stand on the afternoon of the 1st, but his son got sick at school, and he had to collect him.
“When I checked the camera on the 2nd, a Saturday, I thought I had blown my chance by not being out there Friday,” he said. “Still, I was very excited to see daytime activity.”
When he climbed the ladder that Saturday, Jim saw every deer he’d seen or photographed during the previous five months, except for Conan. He figured the wounded bull of the woods had eaten his fill on Friday.
Hope still sprang eternal.
“I had a premonition that Feb. 3 would be the day, so I opted out of all the Super Bowl Sunday festivities most of my friends and family would be enjoying. I was even in high spirits as I left the house that afternoon,” he said.
He hadn’t reached his stand when his mother-in-law called to wish him luck.
“I was dumbstruck,” he said. “In the 13 years I’d known her, she had never called to wish me good luck. Was it an omen? A blessing? I don’t know, but my outlook seemed to brighten just a bit more.
“I had a big smile on as I climbed into my stand,” he continued. “This had to be the day. I’d barely settled in when the deer started pouring into the area from all directions.
“The wind was swirling around the creek bottom, but the deer didn’t seem to be spooked by my presence. My being very scent-conscious paid off, no doubt.
“About 4:00, I spied Conan on top of the hill, the first time I’d actually seen him in person. ‘Would you look at that,’ I said to myself. It was if someone had placed a statue atop that hill.
“I slowly stood and lifted my bow as I watched him begin to make his way toward me. I couldn’t believe it was happening.
“Suddenly, however, a small buck burst out of a thicket halfway between us. The little guy jumped the fence and got between Conan and me, and then it came downhill and started eating corn, while Conan stopped to watch,” Jim said.
The 1 1/2-year-old became nervous. It began rubber-necking, stomped its feet, and then bolted. Conan left, too.
“My heart sank,” Jim said. “That little buck totally screwed up my hunt. I sat thinking about what had transpired. I was at a loss as to what went wrong.
“I finally chalked it up to my never having stood in my stand before,” he continued. “I had changed my profile, and perhaps the small buck had sensed it.
“There was still plenty of shooting light, so I sat back down with my legs dangling off the side so that I draw and shoot in that direction if Conan returned,” he added. “It was uncomfortable, but bearable for the time remaining.”
Forty-five minutes later, Jim saw three bucks on the hill. The last in line was Conan.
“It was like they all were walking in slow motion,” Jim said. “It was tearing me up inside.”
The first two deer came to the corn, while Conan hung back, moving closer, but very cautiously. Jim was a wreck.
Conan hit 50, 40 yards, and then, for no apparent reason, he broke into a run. The others took off, too.
Conan passed within 25 yards of Jim’s tree, but too quickly, and then he was back out at 40. For several minutes, he stood there with his back end to Jim, looking over his shoulder, almost willing the hunter to move and confirm suspicions.
“I was frozen in place, not even breathing. Just waiting,” Jim said. “And then he turned and started walking back toward me, stopping at 25 yards to do the head-bob thing. He was facing me straight on, and then he did an about face and dashed off into the timber, out to 80 yards.”
About that time, the little 1 1/2-year-old buck reappeared at the corn pile. Jim wasn’t even aware that it had come back, at first. When he did look over and see it, he hoped Conan wouldn’t tolerate a youngster so brazenly eating his food.
“I sat tight, and, once again, Conan started downhill. When he was close (but behind a tree), he began stomping, snorting and bobbing his head.
“Thankfully, something made a noise in the distance, which got his attention long enough for me to draw my bow. When he finally took two steps into the open, I had a perfect quartering-away target, and my arrow was gone!
“The sound of the impact was enough for me to know the shot was fatal – through the ribs and into lungs. His tail was tucked when he sped away, and the arrow was sticking in the ground.
“His final run took him 70 yards uphill to where I’d first seen him that evening, which is where he fell,” he added.
Mentally exhausted, Jim hung up his bow, flopped back against the tree and emptied his eyes.