Josh Keiter is a Hampshire County native who currently resides in Capon Bridge. Over the years, I have gotten to know Josh better and better through our love of chasing turkeys and bucks. This past fall, Keiter chased a great eastern Ohio buck for the entire month of October, and did a remarkable job putting the puzzle pieces together in order to get the specific deer within 20-yards.
Since I had little action this past week with my Pennsylvania doe chase, Josh happily agreed to share his story with you guys. Josh did a fantastic job painting the picture of the steps that he took in order to take this great buck on Halloween. I advise you to read carefully, as a lot can be learned from this particular story.
Tales from the Buckeye State
Paul Saffo, a Consulting Professor in the School of Engineering at Stanford University, was quoted saying, “The goal of forecasting is not to predict the future, but to tell you what you need to know to take the meaningful action in the present.” I can’t help but see the truth in this statement when applied to finding and hunting mature bucks. A mature buck (4.5 yrs old or older) is just a different animal. They simply don’t do things like every other deer, which makes it a challenge to pattern their habits and movements, and do all of this without them knowing you’re doing it. No one can predict exactly what a mature buck is going to do at any given time. However, I employ the use of multiple tools that can be extremely helpful in tipping the odds in my favor. Using several data points such as trail camera photos, weather fronts, wind direction, barometric pressure, moon phases, etc. has certainly helped me put a plan together.
In September 2019, I was fortunate enough to pick up a hunting lease in Athens County, Ohio. A local friend told me about this particular property and I was so excited to join the lease that I wrote him a check before we finished our conversation that day. The following weekend, we planned a trip to the farm together to put out some cameras, meet up with the landowner and scout some areas for me to put out some cameras and stands. My friend has had this lease for a number of years so while he checked his stands and did some brush hogging of trails, I was free to do some scouting. I’m not one to just jump onto a piece of property without 1st doing some aerial scouting using Google Earth and apps like HuntWise or onX Hunt. ‘E-Scouting’ a piece of property has always been something I’ve done, and with smartphones and these new apps, more and more people are finding value in this important scouting tool. The week leading up to our trip to the farm, I used these technologies to scout the farm and the surrounding area to find points of interest and places to start.
The farm is around 300 acres and consists of mostly wooded rolling hills, surrounded by some small crop fields that the neighbor has in row crop rotation. There’s 1 larger hay field in the center of the property, with another overgrown horse pasture on the east side of the farm. One draw and southeast facing “ridge” point stuck out to me when I was looking at the aerial maps, so it was the 1st place I scouted and set out a trail camera.
In Ohio, you can legally feed deer year-round, so I put out 150 pounds of corn, along with a mineral block, in front of the camera and eagerly awaited my next visit to see what was going on in that area of the farm. I put out more cameras and checked other areas as well so as to not put all my eggs in one basket. But this spot just spoke to me, with years of buck signs on it close to cover, with easy access to that cover, as well as food and water in the crop fields and a running creek below.
Checking the pictures on my trail cameras is always an exciting time for me. No matter what state I have a camera in, just the anticipation of what I’ll find on the SD card is almost too much to bear. My 1st card pull had some great target bucks that I picked out for that 2019 season, as well as quite a few up and comers I was hoping to lay eyes on. One buck stood out to me as a definite pass. He was a mainframe 8 pointer with a short kicker on his right brow tine, and I guessed him to be 3.5 yrs old, so I wanted to see what he would be the following year. He had a good-looking frame and I guessed him to be around the 125”-130” mark that year.
You can never control what your neighboring hunters do. Deer get hit by cars all the time and disease and/or predation can take an animal without you knowing about it, so I hoped and prayed that this buck would make it through for us to see and hunt in the 2020 season. I saved every trail camera pic of him from that 2019 season and even passed him 3 different times while hunting that spot and another spot on the farm.
Fast forward to the 2020 season. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow us to get up to the farm to start our food plot program, so I used a lot of what I learned from eating a tag in 2019 to make some plans for 2020. I visited the farm on Sept. 19 to check my stands and put out some more cameras, including a new cell camera I purchased to watch this spot I had high hopes for. After getting all my work done that day, I sat beside my landowner’s house next to a large oak tree and just glassed the large hay field in the center of the property. At 7:15 p.m. I laid eyes on a large buck entering from the back corner, which is only 70 or so yards from my treestand. I put my binoculars up and immediately realized what buck this was. It was the frame of that 3.5 yr old I had so many pics of and passed the year before. He was there, in the same spot and much bigger. This year he sported a 10 point frame with that same kicker on his right brow tine. I left the farm that weekend on a high. Knowing that buck was there and getting to see him on the hoof was enough to get me super excited to hunt that 1st cold front of the year.
My cell camera was telling me that bucks were up on their feet during the 1st cold front of the season, which just so happened to be opening weekend in Ohio, so I made the 4 hour trip from my home in Capon Bridge. I have learned over the years, and after making many mistakes, that hunting mornings in the early season does more harm than good. I stay out of the woods in the mornings until closer to the pre-rut phase when bucks are cruising and moving a little more in daylight hours. Early season, most mature bucks are back in their beds before the sun comes up, so there’s really no sense in bumping him or letting him know he’s being hunted so early in the season. Again, mature bucks are just different animals. You cannot make too many mistakes, or the game is over.
On Oct. 2, I snuck into a spot for my evening sit. I had the right wind and my cell cam had shown me that the night before the buck was there in daylight. I saw a group of does and fawns that night, and when they had fed off through the oaks down towards the crop field, I slipped out to the field edge to see what deer were feeding in the field. I glassed up 2 small bucks sparring on the hill to the west and directly in front of me at 125 yards was the buck I was after. He was bedded in the field with another smaller buck he had been running with. I was stuck. I slipped back into the timber and into a ditch and texted my landowner. I asked him to bring his tractor out through the field to spook the deer off so I could easily get out of there.
Moves like this, when possible, can make or break a season. If that buck had seen me walking through the field, he would have known something was different and either changed his patterns, gone completely nocturnal or moved off completely. Moving him off the field with the tractor was the perfect way to bump him into the timber without him knowing I was there. When the tractor bumped him, he made his way directly towards me and entered the timber only 50 yards from where I was watching. I made the decision right there that it was this buck or no other. He was just an awesome deer and trail cam pics didn’t do him justice. I left that weekend with no other sightings of the buck but knew from trail cam pics he was still there as I caught him coming and going from that bedding area just mostly outside of legal shooting time.
While hunting back home here in W. Va. and Va., I continued watching the cameras and planning when my next trip back would be. I continued to review trail cam pics of this buck from the 2019 season, as well seeing where he was and what the weather and the wind direction was when he was there. Patterns from year to year on a buck can be extremely helpful in knowing where he plans to be, so monitoring that data, along with weather fronts and the right wind for your set, can be great for you and deadly for your target buck. In 2019, on Oct. 15, 16 and 17 I had pics of several bucks at my camera site in daylight hours, including this buck I was after. There was a similar weather front coming around that same time this year and it also coincided with the red moon. I felt all the stars were aligning for me to take this buck mid-October, so I was jacked to get up there. Thursday night, Oc. 15, my family and I attended a birthday party for a close friend. I really wanted to be in Ohio at that time, but what was 1 more day, right? Family time is important, so I pushed back my plans by 1 day. While at the party, I looked at my phone and at 6:04 p.m. there stood the buck, right in front my stand with a full hour of daylight left. I couldn’t believe it! Was this my only chance? Did I just blow it? My family is extremely important to me, but I was kicking myself for not getting up there and hunting that night.
I got there Friday around lunch time and immediately got a shower and headed in for my hunt. I just knew he would show up! He didn’t. When I got back to the landowner’s house, I checked my phone and he was there. Thirty minutes after I left the area he was there. I continued to hunt when the wind was right and for a couple days, I just sat and talked with my landowner. I drove 4 hours from home and didn’t hunt because it wasn’t right to be in there hunting him. I did a couple of observation sits in other places on the farm, but I had my sights set on this 1 buck and I wasn’t giving in. In my previous mindset, I would have gone anyway, pushing in and blowing the whole hunt, but not now. I’ve learned too many times that if you want to stay in the game you have to be smart!
There was a wet cold front that moved through on Sunday night, Oct. 18th and into Mon. the 19th. I watched the weather and as soon as it was scheduled to stop raining on Monday, I was going to be there. The weather app called for the rain to quit around 3 p.m., so I was going to be there at 2 p.m.
I jumped in the shower and started getting my things together when I checked my phone. It was 1:22 p.m. and the buck was standing there, in the rain, right at my stand just taunting me! I watched the camera as he moved off towards his bed and I slipped in on the soaking wet leaves. He was certain to come back as he had done the night before in daylight, but he was a no show. This cat and mouse game was starting to get to me. He was winning and I was getting frustrated. Did he know I was hunting him? Has he seen me walking in or out? Has he cut my track or gotten a whiff of me?
All these questions were running through my head, but I remained positive. He was still showing up on my cameras and did not seem to know we were even playing this game.
Another trip to the farm ended up with me going home empty handed. While sometimes hunting can be frustrating, this is the perfect example of how targeting 1 buck, a mature buck at that, can go. They just seem to always have everything in their favor and have that 6th sense, all of us hunters talk about, to help them continue to beat us at this game.
I looked at the weather for the last week of October through the 1st week of November. The last couple days of October were going to be awesome and with bucks laying down more scrapes and rubs, and moving in daylight hours, I knew I had to be there before hot does started taking bucks all over the place or even locked down. My 1st morning hunt of the season was on Oct. 31. It was 27 degrees with a 3-4 mph SSE wind. I got in the stand without spooking anything, and ended up seeing a young 8 point around 8:30 a.m. That was the only deer I saw. I wanted to go check a couple of my non-cell cameras that were out and see what was going on around the farm at a couple of other spots. I got down around 9:45 a.m., checked those cards, ate a sandwich, got a shower again and got right back in the stand. I was back in the treestand by noon.
At 1:15 p.m. I heard some rustling in the leaves behind me and slowly turned my head to only lay my eyes on a fox squirrel that was foraging for the remaining white oak nuts not devoured by the deer and turkey. At 2:45 p.m. I heard something walking behind me again. I slowly turned my head to see a flock of turkeys moving in my direction. I thought to myself, “man I wish that was the buck moving slowly towards this bedding area 80 yards in front of me.” After the turkeys fed off, I settled in again, waiting on the next movement or noise that would set my senses on high alert.
At 3:30 p.m., I heard something again walking behind me and as I slowly turned my head, I thought I would only see more turkeys or another squirrel, but it was the buck I was after. A quick glance at his rack and that sticker on his right brow tine was all I needed to quickly identify him. He was only 18 yards behind me and was steadily walking into a shooting lane I had at 12 yards. There was no time to think, hunter instinct took over. I stopped focusing on his beautiful rack and picked out the spot I would aim for. He moved into the lane, I grunted at him with my mouth to get him to stop and that was it. All the planning, loss of sleep, worrying I messed up, looking at trail cam pics for hours, planning my trips and trying to hunt smart had paid off! The buck ran 50 yards and fell in the fence row he had walked right beside of to enter the field back on Sept. 19 when I 1st laid eyes on him. He was beautiful! He was mine! Then, that bittersweet feeling came over me. The pursuit was over. What deer would I be worried about next? What deer am I going to target next year and work this hard for? What deer will cause me to lose sleep or drive me crazy? It won’t be this one. He’s gone. So many emotions ran through my head in that moment. I sat with the deer and didn’t move him for 10-15 minutes. I thought back on everything I had done, and everything he had done, that put us in this moment. It’s a feeling not many hunters feel or think about, but I personally try to slow down and enjoy that very moment with each harvest. Killing an animal is not something I take lightly. A sacrifice was made and that death will feed my family and other families I share a table with. It’s not just about a trophy, it is more than that to me.
I celebrated with my landowner and couldn’t wait to get home to show my family. After all, they were part of this experience with me. They always are! My dad was hunting in Illinois and I couldn’t wait to call him to give him the news. I had talked quite a bit about this buck with him! After the 60 day drying period, I ended up taping out the buck’s antlers and he scored 150-6/8” without deductions.
A true Ohio giant to me, but it was never about the score to me. It’s more about the challenge: the game we play year in and year out with these amazing creatures! But now the work starts for next year. I’ve already been combing my trail cam photos from 2019 and 2020 to see what pattern I can put together on another target buck. That’s the whole package of hunting to me and something I look forward to every single year. ο