When it comes to deer hunting, brothers Steve and Scott Esker are “all in,” both figuratively and literally.
The twins from Ohio have put more than 2,310 inches of antler in the record book during the last decade — 11 kills, two pickups and a pair of shed antlers, several of which have appeared within these pages, if not on the magazine’s cover.
Scott took the largest cover buck in 2008, a whitetail that tallies nearly 212 inches even without benefit of spread. Steve has tagged four with composite scores exceeding 200 inches, the most recent in 2012.
That’s the one that caused Scott to push all his chips to the center of the poker table, for which Steve is eternally grateful.
But I digress.
The Eskers have lots of ground to hunt, and they’re able to pick and choose which bucks to target by patterning them throughout the summer. Last year, both had eyes for a whitetail with exceptional brow tines, a deer Steve first saw in 2011.
“Year before last, it was a perfect 10-pointer,” he said. “We got six trail camera photographs of it. But it was young and needed another year or two to reach its potential.”
And it surely did.
“The first week of May in 2012, Scott and I, along with our sorta-kinda brother, Travis Vollmar, put out trail cameras. On June 5 and 6, we pulled photos of the (eye guard) buck. Its antlers were only half developed, but the brow tines were already huge,” Steve said. “After that, it disappeared.
“We were worried for a while that the buck might’ve been among the casualties of EHD, but the photos resumed in September,” he continued. “From that point forward, the buck was seen regularly on both our property and on the land across the road.”
The Eskers and Travis own the property where the buck was photographed. Rather than draw straws to see who would hunt the buck when the season opened, they decided to alternate days in the blind.
Steve was penciled in for Oct. 18. He’d actually hunted the 17th as well, since neither Travis nor Scott could go, but he didn’t see a deer.
“My friend, Ronnie Stevens, was hunting the same buck on the other side of the road that day,” Steve said.
“Unbeknownst to me, he actually saw it chasing a doe around 6 p.m. It was broad daylight, and the deer ran past his parked truck. Later, the pair ran past him in the woods, but he was unable to do anything but watch.”
Steve often films his hunts, though he’s not one to pass up an opportunity if the waning sunlight or circumstances conspire against it.
“About 6:50, I realized it was getting too dark to do any more self-filming, so I put the camera away,” he said. “But there was still 20 minutes of legal shooting light remaining, so I stayed put.
“A beautiful 125-inch 8-pointer was in the food plot with a doe. That buck was a frequent visitor, and I knew that as long as it was out there, I was probably safe from being detected,” Steve continued.
He kept an eye on the 4x4, his canary in a coal mine, mostly because it kept looking toward a nearby park.
The buck seemed more curious than nervous, so Steve dismissed his initial fear that a hiker had veered — or trespassed — onto his property.
To be sure, he dropped the back window of the blind and looked out toward the 2.5-acre pond behind him. Nothing was out there.
“When I looked back at the food plot, the 8-pointer was contentedly grazing,” he said. “But a couple of minutes later, it suddenly perked up and started walking toward the pond.”
Steve followed the deer’s gaze, but still saw nothing.
“When I looked back out the side window, I saw the 4x4 coming straight toward me. At that point, a doe emerged from my blind spot, headed for the tree line, and then another doe blasted past.
“The second one ran out a ways, and then turned to my right,” he said. “The buck with the giant brow tines came out then, head down, moving too quickly for me to get off shot before it disappeared in some weeds.”
Steve was caught completely off guard.
“I quickly dropped the side window and started frantically scanning the field and a mowed lane,” he said.
“When the doe stepped into the lane, I knew her suitor would be next.”
Sure enough ...
When it cleared the weeds, the buck was initially running toward the perfect spot for Steve, but it put on the brakes and did a 180, like it suddenly realized it was running into a trap.
Steve had to swing his crossbow to another window before squeezing the trigger.
“When the (heart-shot) buck sped back into the weeds, I had to calm down, cool off and regain my composure,” he said. “I gathered my gear and tried to call Scott, who was playing in a poker tournament, but my cell phone was dead.”
Steve walked to his truck, plugged his phone into the jack, and sent Scott a one-word text: SMOKED.
“He called me right away to say he was winning and couldn’t leave right then,” Steve said. “It was funny … As I headed for home, I got a text, ‘All in,’ and then another, the same, a little later. He just kept winning.
“He finally told the guys that he had a crappy hand and that someone needed to call him,” he continued. “They did, and he finally lost it all!”
The brothers were looking for Steve’s buck by 9 p.m., about the time a light rain started falling. They couldn’t find a single drop of blood on the ground, though the bolt was painted red.
They walked up and down every mowed lane, looking for sign, until Steve decided it was pointless to wander around in the dark.
“I was about to head back to the truck when Scott yelled out, ‘There’s blood.’ It was just one drop on a large broad leaf, but it was blood!” he said.
“Then Scott yelled ‘Here’s more!’ … and again, ‘Here’s more!’ And before I could get over to him, Scott was pointing his flashlight ahead and hollering: ‘Here he is. Here he is!’” Steve continued.
“I’m yelling at that point, too: ‘Where? I can’t see anything!’
“Scott finally told me to look UNDER the beam of light, and there it was. Because of the way the buck was positioned, I wondered if it was still alive, but Scott leaned over and grabbed the antlers.
“It’s really exciting to have my brother with me at times like that. We have the usual sibling rivalry, but we’ll also do whatever it takes to help each other.”
All in, in other words. And one or the other usually wins.
Hunter: Steve Esker
BTR Score: 201 1/8
– Photos Courtesy of Steve Esker
This article was published in the November 2013 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
• Doppelganger Gets ‘Er Done: Robert Weaver’s 2012 buck is a mainframe 5x5 with 11 irregular points that contribute 21 1/8 inches to its score. Mass accounts for another 44 1/8 inches.
• But Can I Hunt? Ken Carnes, still wearing an ankle brace, was determined not to be sidelined for the 2012 rifle season. His father and brother made sure that didn’t happen, and look what ran into his bullet!
• When Dylin Calls: Dylin Kennedy hadn’t even seen the 9-inch drop tine when he decided ‘the shooter’ surpassed the family’s high bar.