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Published: Sunday, 11/25/2012

It's open season for white-tail tales

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

Ohio’s gun season for white-tailed deer opens Monday, and with that start will come a flood of deer tales — some true, some embellished, some whimsical, and some downright fabricated.

There will be sad stories of hunters who pushed too hard without adequate training and suffered a health crisis in the woods. A few of those end tragically every year.

There will be chronicles of triumph, of hunters who beat the odds and a cagey old buck to bag a trophy of distinction. There will be fables spun by those who are prone to exaggeration, and too many accounts of those who disregard the rules.

But a few dandy, verified accounts of whitetail encounters have already emerged, one fresh just a few days before the gun season opener, and one that took more than half a year to play out.

Jerry Metcalf of Waterville was traveling along U.S. 23/I-475 west of Toledo, making the rounds on the job just a few days ago, when some activity in a recently harvested soybean field grabbed his attention.

It drew a wide-eyed double-take, and Metcalf quickly pulled off the highway and jumped out of his truck for a closer look.

Metcalf, who has hunted deer in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for 40 years, had never witnessed this kind of whitetail activity.

He saw two massive 10-point bucks engaged in a fierce battle that was apparently a chivalrous bout for the attention of a harem of does standing nearby.

“They had to be 200 pounds or better each, and they were really going at it,” Metcalf said about the two bucks. “This is the middle of the morning, with traffic flying by and activity all around, and these two couldn’t care less. They were only interested in fighting.”

Metcalf said the big bucks were already tangling when he approached the location, with their antlers cracking and scraping as they jousted. One of the bucks was bleeding around the mouth.

Dale Hardesty of Toledo came upon the same show after first seeing four does near the edge of a pond along the busy four-lane highway. He pulled over and walked up to the fence where Metcalf was standing.

“Those bucks were locked together, in the heat of battle, twisting and pushing on each other,” Hardesty said. “They were both 10-pointers, but one was maybe a hair smaller than the other one. You could tell this was serious, because they paid absolutely no attention to us, the traffic, or anything.”

After one of the bucks rolled the other onto the ground, they separated and did more posturing, and then the clash was over. The bucks walked off in different directions.

“I’d like to think the big guy won, because he headed in the direction of the does,” Hardesty said. “He walked a short distance, stopped and sniffed the air, then marched toward the does on the other side of a small woods.”

While making the rounds a few days later, Hardesty saw the larger 10-pointer in the same area, and again around the middle of the day when bucks of that size are usually hidden deep in the cover. The obvious exceptions to that rule take place when a buck is defending his territory and his harem.

Hardesty, who planned to leave on Saturday to be in central Ohio to hunt the opening day of the deer gun season on Monday, said he sees plenty of deer in this part of the state, but many are in areas where hunting won’t take place.

“I get around quite a bit, and I’m always looking. I see deer in a lot of places inside the city limits,” he said. “These big bucks seem to know just where to go.”

About a year ago, a wildlife officer working in Richland County received a report that a bow hunter had returned to the site where he had shot a large buck the previous day, and found the animal but with its head and antlers removed.

After he put an arrow in the big whitetail, the hunter said he had tracked the deer until 3 a.m., and while he was at work the following day, his father went to the site and continued to look for the deer, finding the full animal near the bank of the Clear Fork River, close to where his son had given up the search.

The dad took some pictures of the deer with the arrow still in it, but left the animal for his son to retrieve after work, since the father did not want to remove an untagged deer, in violation of the law.

When the son went to the site after work, he found the deer with its head removed and the arrow missing. He took pictures, and contacted wildlife officer Greg Wasilewski.

The hunter tagged and removed the headless deer at Wasilweski’s direction, and some slick detective work ensued. Clues from the scene, plus some help from witnesses who noticed activity in the area about the time of the incident, put Wasilewski on the trail of the thief.

With an assist from another officer, and the photos of the deer in hand, with its rack, and the carbon-shafted arrow with its unique fletching, Wasilewski was able to track down the individual who had removed the buck’s head and antlers, and turn the case over to local prosecutors.

The wheels of justice continued to grind on, but the perpetrator had his day in court and posted bond on a charge of possessing a dead deer or deer parts without an accompanying valid tag or certificate of ownership. A judge in Mansfield Municipal Court ordered that the arrow and antlers be returned to the hunter who had originally shot the deer.

So in early June, more than seven months after he had downed the big buck with a well-placed arrow, the bow hunter met with officer Wasilewski, who returned the antlers and arrow.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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