Shawn Evangelista had more than 100 pictures of a real ghost, a monster buck that he and his hunting friends had captured on trail cameras a multitude of times, but one that was keenly adept at making itself invisible when hunters were in the woods.
So for more than three years, the former high school wrestling champion combed the landscape around Harpersfield Township in Ashtabula County, chasing a phantom and trying to delve inside its thought processes.
Evangelista likely spent thousands of hours walking the woods while scouting, seeking permission to work additional tracts of land, mounting, checking, and moving trail cameras, looking for shed antlers, and logging reports on the movements and activities of a huge deer that had spooked a few drivers as it crossed the backroads at night.
“I’m a one-deer hunter, and this was the deer I was locked in on,” said Evangelista. “If I get him, I get him. If I don’t, I don’t.”
So the pursuit of this deer became essentially a military exercise. Evangelista and his core group of hunting companions shared information, compared notes, and continued to profile the movements of the big buck.
The trail camera photos from three years ago showed a very healthy, robust 16-pointer. Last year’s images captured an 18-pointer that was obviously still young, strong, and growing. And still out there, somewhere.
“We were putting the spokes together on the wheel, mapping out his patterns, and trying to find him,” Evangelista said. “Then from about last Thanksgiving on, I dedicated all of my free time to figuring out this one buck.”
With a stack of new permission slips, Evangelista checked properties adjacent to the areas the big fella had been frequenting, then set up on a tract that had been logged more than a year ago — it was littered with snags of discarded treetops. There was a food source nearby, and a trail that deer had worn through the woods. There was hope, but no promise whatsoever.
“You do all the homework, scout all the time, and fully commit yourself to the hunt, but you never know if you will get the opportunity,” Evangelista said.
On a 55-degree day in November, when he expected very little activity before dark, Evangelista was in his tree stand one afternoon when he heard a twig snap and spun around to meet the ghost.
“In all of my time spent in the woods, I had never seen him during hunting hours — until then,” he said. “Then I looked up and all I saw were horns.”
At about 40 yards away, the deer was weaving through the downed tree tops. Evangelista put an arrow on target. The big buck took a couple hops, walked about another 30 yards, and dropped.
It is a massive 24-pointer, with a remarkable set of antlers. The deer has not been scored yet, but it will no doubt end up in the land of mythical giants — trophy deer that take on a persona, a nom de guerre. “The Evangelista Buck” was born.
In a manner that is characteristic of many religious hunters, Evangelista credited his hunting partners for their roles in the cooperative approach to locating this deer, and even thanked his boss for giving him the flexible schedule so he could hit the peak hunting hours.
He also stressed the role that technology — trail cameras — played in this methodical, tactical hunt.
“As hunters, we can only hunt for a few hours a day, but trail cameras have changed things,” Evangelista said. “With trail cameras, your eyes are out there 24-7. I don’t think we find this deer or figure out his movements without trail cameras.”
TROPHY TIME: Grant Belcher will likely be spending the next 50 or 60 years trying to match the beautiful trophy he harvested as his first deer.
The 9-year-old was hunting with his dad on the morning of the final day of the recent gun season when they heard activity behind their ground blind, which was set up in a woods on private property in Sandusky County.
After about half an hour, Grant’s dad Kelly used a call to try and bring in any bucks in the area, and a short time later they got a partially obstructed view of a deer about 35 yards away. Grant could see the neck and shoulder area clearly, so — anchoring his 12 gauge like a veteran hunter — he took the shot.
Father and son waited about 15 minutes, and then some 50 yards away they found this unique 10-pointer with long, double drop tines and a massive 28-inch outside spread.
Father and son shared a high five and a hug, and a story that will be part of their bond forever. Now Grant, a fourth-grader at St. Joan of Arc, will have to explain to everyone during the holidays how he got his “buck-of-a-lifetime” at the age of 9.
Take a look at Grant’s unusual buck on The Blade Outdoors blog: http://toledoblade.typepad.com/bladeoutdoors
GOOD ADVICE: Northview freshman Tyler Holben was hunting near Ida during the Michigan gun season when a sound piece of advice from his dad paid immediate dividends.
Tyler had been watching a group of does work around a cluster of trees, and when the opportunity presented itself, he steadied himself against a tree and took aim with his Remmington 870 shotgun. “Put the crosshairs on the shoulder” were the words his dad had spoken, and Tyler listened.
He squeezed the trigger, and then next thing he heard from his dad was: “You got her.” Tyler’s shot from about 65 yards was perfect, and he had a 150-pound deer for his first whitetail.
Tyler, who turned 15 a few days after he shot the doe, said the meat will be put to good use. His next challenge is to work on matching the 14-point buck his dad harvested in 2010.
Take a look at Tyler and his Michigan doe on The Blade Outdoors blog: http://toledoblade.typepad.com/bladeoutdoors
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.