When Jonathan Schmucker of Peebles, Ohio, slipped away to go hunting the afternoon of Sept. 30, 2006, he had no idea he was about to make whitetail history.
During that memorable day, the 2006 Ohio archery opener, Jonathan crossed paths with a huge nontypical buck he knew well. He’d seen the big deer often in a large bean field behind his house. In fact, he’d spent many afternoons in late August and early September sitting on the roof of his carriage house in his back yard watching the unbelievable buck through binoculars.
“I saw him almost every night when he’d come out into that bean field in late summer,” Jonathan said. “During some weeks, I’d see him five out of seven afternoons. Usually, it was just before dark so I’d only be able to watch him for a few minutes before it was too dark to see.”
Jonathan had known about the buck since Summer 2004, when he first spotted the big deer in a hay field not far from his home. He’d entertained thoughts of shooting the trophy whitetail, but so did several fellow deer hunters and neighbors in Jonathan’s Amish community on Wheat Ridge in Adams County.
Many people were aware of the well-known buck, and more than one hoped to kill it with an arrow or shotgun slug. However, as is typical of giant bucks everywhere, the deer always seemed to pull a disappearing act in fall when archery season opened.
Just to Sit in the Woods
Jonathan had no real expectations that fateful September afternoon. He would have been thrilled to shoot any buck — even a spike — but providence had other plans. Although he had spent most of that rainy Saturday morning and early afternoon teaching a young horse to pull a carriage, he was determined to get in the woods for a brief reprieve, if only for the final hour or so of that glorious autumn afternoon.
Knowing exactly where he wanted to hunt, Jonathan grabbed his crossbow and a climbing stand and left the house about 3:30 p.m. He settled in his tree stand in the edge of the woods near the bean field where he’d seen the monster nontypical so many times during summer. A 6-pointer entered the field about 5 p.m., and then a young 8-pointer appeared. Both bucks were about 100 yards away.
Suddenly, a much smaller buck — a yearling 3-pointer — jumped the fence and entered the field. Jonathan knew the deer well, as it had always been with the big boy. The moment he saw the familiar young buck, everything changed, and he immediately knew something special was about to happen. An ordinary afternoon was about to become one of the most extraordinary days Jonathan would ever experience.
“Back in the summer, when I saw them together so often, the small 3-pointer would always come out first,” Jonathan said. “The big boy would follow about five minutes later.”
Sure enough, the giant soon jumped the fence from an adjacent corn field and entered the bean field right on schedule. He immediately went after the 8-pointer. All the bucks were still well out of range, and Jonathan was not optimistic about his chances of getting a shot with his crossbow. The excited hunter spent a nerve-wracking 30 minutes watching and hoping.
“Suddenly, the big boy made a threatening lunge at the 8-pointer and 6-pointer,” Jonathan said. “The 8-pointer eventually came over into the woods and walked right behind my tree. By now, the two smaller bucks were out in the field about 35 yards from my stand, and the big boy was about 10 yards behind them. All at once, I had a feeling that things were going to work out. I started getting myself into position for taking the shot.”
Jonathan had to be extremely careful because the 8-pointer was still standing just behind his tree. The deer in the field slowly worked closer toward the 8-pointer and the waiting hunter.
“When the big boy first came out, I was a little nervous,” he said. “But after watching him for nearly 30 minutes, I had calmed down quite a bit. Now I was ready to take the shot.”
As soon as the huge buck stepped into a shooting lane Jonathan had trimmed out just before climbing his tree, Jonathan centered the buck’s shoulder in the cross-hairs of his scope and squeezed the trigger. The big deer turned and bolted back across the bean field. A tree blocked his view, and it was beginning to get dark, so Jonathan could not see where the deer went. However, the smaller bucks were standing in the edge of the woods, snorting and stamping their feet.
Jonathan climbed down after a brief wait and walked to where the buck had been standing. There he found his blood-covered arrow sticking in the ground, confirming he had made a good shot. He grabbed his gear and headed home in the growing darkness. He called his brother-in-law Gary Miller, who came over. Accompanied by a close neighbor and his son, Jonathan and Gary then walked to the bean field to search for the deer with flashlights.
“We followed the blood trail and found my buck piled up about 80 yards from where I had shot him,” Jonathan said. “We were all just about speechless.”
A National Sensation
After returning home from the check station, Jonathan was surprised to see a large crowd of people had gathered at his house. It was 11:30 p.m. before Jonathan could finally skin out his deer and care for the meat. By the next morning, Jonathan’s 36-point megabuck had become a national sensation. Photos of the deer circulated world-wide via the Internet. Jonathan could not be in any of the photos because of his Amish faith, and that created quite a bit of confusion. Rumors about who had actually killed the buck were rampant.
Because Jonathan could not be photographed with the deer, getting good field photos had not been a priority. Being editor of a prominent whitetail hunting magazine at the time, I contacted my good friend Tom Cross of Winchester, Ohio, the morning after the deer was killed, and asked him to write a story and get photos of the buck. At the time, Tom was out of town on business for about a week. Being good friends with Jonathan, he contacted Jonathan by phone and asked him to freeze the deer’s head until he returned. Because the deer had already been skinned out, the head and cape had been put aside for the taxidermist. Tom realized that the head was all he had to work with, and some quick thinking saved the day.
When Tom got home, he and Jonathan thawed the deer head, and Tom took a series of carefully posed photos that turned out to be amazing considering the circumstances. In most of the photos, you cannot tell that the deer had already been caped out. One photo of the deer’s head in the back of an Amish cart appeared on the cover of North American Whitetail, and readers thought the entire body of the deer was in the cart. That photo somehow got on the internet and was pirated by several other magazines. Because no one knew that Tom’s photos did not include the deer’s body, one pirated photo in a major magazine carried a caption saying that Jonathan had transported his trophy home in a traditional Amish cart. We got a big laugh out of that. (Little do people know what writers and photographers sometimes must endure to get the real story and photos.)
The Best of the Best
Although it was still early in the season, Jonathan’s Amish Lucky Buck turned out to be the largest nontypical whitetail taken in North America in 2006. In May 2007, at the Boone and Crockett Club’s 26th Big Game Awards celebration in Fort Worth, Texas, a judge’s panel declared the final all-time score of the buck to be 2953/8 nontypical inches.
Jonathan’s achievement put him in a very elite club. Only a handful of whitetail hunters have ever taken a buck approaching or exceeding the 300-inch mark.
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