It was as if the ground opened up and swallowed Kevin Fitch’s buck. One minute, it was on the receiving end of a shotgun slug (he hoped). The next, it was gone.
Not fall-down-dead gone. Not running-with-the-wind-and-leaving-a-blood-trail gone.
Just gone, leaving the hunter from Norwalk, Ohio, with Rodney Dangerfield eyes and a mouth full of bile.
Seconds earlier, Kevin had finally seen antlers atop one of the 20 or so deer zigzagging in the brush ahead of him. He didn’t have much of a window, but he thought the shot was doable.
“I was scanning heads, and, suddenly, I saw antlers. When they passed through an opening, followed by the head and neck of their wearer -- other than that, all I could see was the top of its back -- I slipped off the safety and squeezed the trigger,” he said. “After the shot, the buck simply vanished. It didn’t run off, and I didn’t actually see it fall.
“It just disappeared,” he added.
That was the first decent buck Kevin had seen in 2010, and now he wasn’t seeing it.
“The archery season had been a bust for me,” he said. “I never saw a buck I wanted to shoot. Actually, I was more interested in helping my 12-year-old son, Kyle, get a deer. We accomplished that task when he shot a very nice 130-inch buck from my favorite bow setup during the youth gun hunt.”
Mission accomplished, Kevin was able to return his attention to his own tag, although work kept interfering. He pinned his hopes on the first day of Ohio’s gun season, when he and some friends were going to Egypt Valley.
“But I never saw a deer the whole day,” he said, “and I didn’t get any more time in the woods the rest of the gun season.”
Two weeks later, Ohio offered a bonus weekend for hunters who still had unfilled tags. Kevin, his son, Cody, and friend Dave and his dad qualified.
They had permission to hunt a 35-acre farm in Lorain County, not far from Kevin’s home. The farm was virtually surrounded by CRP land, so it was like a haven for deer.
Kevin and Cody shared one ground blind, while Dave and his dad went to another. They’d set up the blinds the previous day, and were huddled inside on Saturday, Dec. 18, thankful for the thin barrier against the 13-degree cold.
“There was about three inches of snow on the ground, so getting in was a bit crunchy,” Kevin said. “Cody and I hunkered down for the morning, but it wasn’t long after daylight when my legs told me it was time to get up and start walking. I’m pretty tall and being crouched down in the crowded blind was hurting big time!
“The blind was set up on a low ridge overlooking a river bottom surrounded by thicket. Because the wind was driving straight north, I decided to loop around through the brush to see if I could jumps some deer,” he continued.
“Not long after I’d turned to get the wind in my face, I saw several does moving back and forth about 70 to 80 yards in front of me. I continued still-hunting through the briars and grapevines, and then I saw more lots more deer!
“I think the few had run right into the bedding area and disturbed everyone,” Kevin added.
“I was scanning heads in every direction, looking for bucks, when I saw a glint of antler. It was in heavy cover, but I was sure it was antler so I keyed on that one deer.
“I tried not to lose sight of it as it moved among the trees and the other deer. Eventually, the buck began moving away from me, and I started looking for a shooting lane,” he said.
Kevin found one opening and used a nearby cherry tree for a rest. When the deer stepped into it, he shot.
And that’s when it disappeared.
While Kevin crept forward, he heard Cody shoot. Had he not heard strange whooshing sounds in front of him, he might’ve thought his son had shot at the same buck.
“The noise was coming from behind a blowdown with a large root system exposed,” he said. “When I rounded the roots, I saw the spine-hit buck. It had fallen into and was trying to get out of the hole left by the roots. The hole was easily 10 feet across and half filled with frozen water.
“I had to do something. All I could think about was the deer breaking those huge antlers,” he continued. “Finally, I got an angle and shot up through the vitals. Unfortunately, although it was a good shot, it only slowed the deer.
“My mind racing, I just grabbed the deer’s head and pinned it to the ground. Ten minutes later, I let go and climbed out of the hole.
“Since I couldn’t drag it out of there, I decided to count points. I came up with like 30, at first. It was the biggest rack I had ever seen in the woods,” he said.
Kevin was thoroughly juiced. He ran around in circles. And by the time he realized he should go for the four-wheeler in his truck, he had no idea in which direction to walk.
“I had gotten myself so excited and turned around, I didn’t know which way to go,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave the deer, but I couldn’t move it. Nor could I even tell anyone where I was at that point.”
Kevin took off his gloves and cap and hung them on the antlers before seeking higher ground. About the time he saw his truck, Dave called to see what all the fuss was about.
“He knew I was only going to shoot a buck, so he figured I had shot and missed because he’d heard three shots,” Kevin said. “He also told me that the biggest deer in the woods had just fled the scene, so there wasn’t much use in continuing the hunt.
“I told him the biggest deer had not left the woods,” he added.
Dave had indeed seen a very large buck. It had run out with some does, and his gun misfired. He watched the whole bunch cross a mile of CRP.
Kevin met Dave at the truck. They unloaded the ATV and drove in to pull his buck out of the hole.
“As we struggled to get the buck on the trailer, the landowner’s daughter-in-law came out and took several pictures. She sent them to a few friends, many of whom came to look at it,” he said.
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Hunter: Kevin Fitch
BTR Official Score: 217 5/8
BTR Composite Score: 238 7/8
Location: Lorain County, Ohio
Date: December 18, 2010