LIBERTY CENTER — Ohio’s firearm season for white-tailed deer opened at 13 minutes after seven on Monday morning, and for the hunters in Henry County, there was a bit of bad news.
It seems there was one less trophy buck on the loose in the woodlots, agricultural fields, and brushy creek bottom lands in the northwest corner of the state, thanks to the skill and patience of a 78-year-old hunter.
A certain husky 10-pointer found out one recent afternoon that it was neither the oldest, nor the wisest, creature roaming around the rich farmland west of Toledo that produces robust crops, and big deer.
Russell Strayer had 60 years of hunting experience working for him as he covered the edge of a field of standing corn that was in the process of being harvested. Strayer took up a position at the base of a big tree, near the end of an adjacent fence row.
hen the noisy combine had just a few rows of corn left to work, Strayer saw the big buck emerge, and the hunter took advantage of a very brief opportunity to make a broadside shot with his crossbow.
“My dad has always told me that the key to deer hunting is to make the first shot count,” Russell’s son, Ted Strayer, said. “And that is exactly what he did. When that buck stopped for a second, dad had his one chance for a good, clean shot, and he made it count. He practiced just what he has been preaching for so long.”
The elder Strayer has had many opportunities to put that hunting approach to use. Born in Neapolis, he has lived his entire life in this part of Ohio and has hunted Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wyoming, and Colorado, as well as Ohio, harvesting mule deer in the Rockies, and likely more than 100 whitetails throughout his six decades on the hunt.
Russell was a process technologist at the Waterville operation of Johns Manville, a large manufacturer of insulation and roofing materials, and retired about 15 years ago after 45 years on the job. That allowed more time for deer hunting, and some wild turkey hunting. Once Russell went to the crossbow for whitetails, the equipment and the technique have stayed the same —Horton crossbow, Muzzy four-blade broadheads, and plenty of patience.
“For as long as he’s been hunting, my dad has always believed that deer can’t see you, unless you move,” Ted Strayer said. “What they see is movement, so he’ll lean against a tree or just sit down on a bucket and wait. It’s all about being patient and being as still as you can be.”
Russell, who still hunts a lot by himself, has taken a couple of eight-point bucks with the crossbow, but they were easily trumped by his recent 10-pointer, which weighed about 225 pounds. When Ted’s phone rang one evening and his father was on the line, the son knew something significant had taken place.
“There was a lot of excitement in my dad’s voice, and then he said he had just shot the biggest deer he had ever taken, so I ran over there the next day to get a look,” the younger Strayer said. When Ted Strayer arrived at the farm where his dad had been hunting, Ted learned that tears were running down his dad’s cheeks when he first saw the buck up close.
“He’s usually pretty calm, and I’ve never seen him get buck fever, so this was different. I’m really happy for him, and the fact that at his age he can still get out and take a nice buck like this one,” said Ted Strayer, who is 51.
“It means a lot more to me to see my dad or one of my kids get a nice deer, than it is for me to do it. I just hope that when I’m 78, I can still hunt like he does. He’s a heck of a shot, and getting outdoors and hunting — it keeps him young.”
As for the big buck his father bagged, Ted Strayer said it had gone undetected until his dad put it in his crossbow sights. “We hadn’t seen this one before,” Ted Strayer said. “So I guess it was just that perfect moment, when he was there and ready, and that big buck gave him a chance. My dad’s a heck of a shot, so I’m not surprised at all that he made the most of this opportunity.”
Russell had heart surgery a couple of years ago and missed some of the hunting season prior to that, but he recovered and got back to the business of deer hunting. He will hunt the current firearm season, but with his one permissible antlered deer already tagged, Russell will focus on putting a nice doe in the freezer, if the opportunity presents itself.
“And if not, he’ll be fine with that too,” Ted Strayer said. “He just enjoys the hunt.”
OPENING DAY: Ohio wildlife officials expect about 420,000 hunters to take part in this week’s firearm season for deer, which opened before dawn on Monday and runs through Sunday. Hunters are expected to harvest between 80,000 and 90,000 deer during the seven-day gun season, similar to last year’s harvest of about 87,000 during the week-long firearm season. The state has sold close to 380,000 hunting licenses in 2013, for all species, not just deer. Hunters must also purchase a deer permit to hunt white-tailed deer in Ohio, and they can purchase multiple permits, limited by the county and the specific regulations and bag limits established for that county.
For the 2013 deer season, hunting is permitted from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. During the deer firearm season, deer can be hunted with a plugged shotgun capable of holding no more than three slugs, a muzzleloader that’s .38 caliber or larger, a handgun that is .357 caliber or larger, and bows.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.