When Brian Stephens brought in the buck that he shot on opening day of the deer gun season last week (Nov. 30), Busse figured it would be just another nice buck to mount. And then he saw it.
"It's the biggest thing to come through my door since the Beatty Buck, and that was nine years ago," Busse said.
The buck that is likely to have the name Stephens Buck is a huge 18-pointer with one main beam of its rack possibly the largest for any whitetail ever recorded - 35 inches. And once the antlers are officially scored, it is likely to be an Ohio record for a nontypical deer killed by a muzzleloader.
The rack will be green scored by Boone & Crocket scorer Mike Wendel of Botkins today, Dec. 9. Once it has dried, 60 days from now, it will be officially scored. There's a good chance it will measure out with a net score of about 235 inches.
"The main beams - as far as my research has been able to come up with - are the longest main beams ever recorded on any deer in history," Busse said.
"Seeing a deer with main beams over 30 inches is rare. And I think the record is 33½. These are both over 34½."
Stephens, 39, lives in Clayton and works in software development for CS Stars. Having hunted every year since he was 12, he has become an experienced hunter and has seen plenty of deer. But he's never seen another deer like this one and, in fact, it took some time to sink in once he downed the buck with his 50-cal. muzzleloader.
Hunting in a group of six family and friends on his family's farm in Highland County, Stephens climbed into his tree stand just before dawn. Not long after first light, he saw a doe followed by a buck with huge antlers walking toward him.
"But I could never get a clear shot," Stephens recalled. "They were walking slowly around in an area covered with trees. They were only about 50 yards away from my stand, but I never had a clear shot."
Stephens watched the doe and buck for most of the morning, hoping to get an opportunity that never came. Finally, they wandered off and Stephens decided to take a lunch break at their farm house. He ate quickly and then returned to his stand, hoping to get another glimpse at the monster buck. After seeing several deer, that chance came again.
Just after 4 p.m. he saw the buck again, this time about 250 yards away and headed straight for him. When it reached a fence row about 80 yards away, it turned broadside to Stephens and his Thompson/Center muzzleloader. Stephens took his shot.
"When the smoke cleared, I couldn't see him, so I thought I had missed him,"
Stephens said. "Then I saw it running and fall. I took a drink of water and collected myself. It was probably a half an hour before I got to the deer.
When I saw the rack, I couldn't believe it. I knew it was big, but I never imagined it would be like this."
The deer, estimated by Busse to be 5 ½ to 6 ½ years old, weighed 215 pounds after field dressing. It drew a big crowd when Stephens checked it in at the Rocky Fork Truck Stop.
"It's amazing how quickly word gets around. We were only there a few minutes. I even parked toward the back, out of the way, and people still crowded around it," Stephens said.
If the Stephens Buck turns out anything like the Beatty Buck, people will be crowding around for a look at those antlers for many years to come.