Story of "The Tree Buck"

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Ohio hunter Kaitlyn Warner shot this Buckeye State Booner on opening day with a crossbow

Rack Report Details
Buck: 180-inch (gross) non-typical
Time of Year: Sept. 26, 2020
Place: Pickaway County, Ohio
Weapon: Crossbow

Kaitlyn Warner dubbed this Ohio bruiser "The Tree Buck," and she bagged him on opening day with her crossbow.

The story of “The Tree Buck” began in the summer of 2019, when Ohio deer hunter Kaitlyn Warner first received trail-camera photos of him.

“I sent a picture to a good friend in Florida, and he stated that it looked like a tree was growing on top of his head,” Warner says. “So, I deemed him ‘The Tree Buck.’”

Last October, the buck presented her with a 57-yard shot opportunity, but due to the distance, she wisely passed. Unfortunately, after that encounter, the deer disappeared. She feared he had been killed by another hunter.

He wasn’t dead, though. This June, The Tree Buck showed back up on camera, and he had grown … a lot, and even added a few branches. He was now a 5 1/2-year-old giant. Warner knew she’d focus all her attention on this huge deer.

Warner located the buck’s core area within a large woodlot surrounded by cornfields and patterned the buck throughout summer. The buck commonly exited his bedding area in a bottom, then walked up a ridge, and to an oak flat. A small pinch point connected the dots, making an excellent spot to intercept him.

As deer season neared, the buck didn’t change his pattern. He stuck to the same bedding area and trails. Lucky for Warner, she had a plan for that. But even if the buck were to shift, she knew the place pretty well.

“I am blessed to hunt on my 330-acre family farm,” Warner says. “It has been in my family for many generations and has so much meaning to me. It is made up of ag fields, hardwoods, and CRP land. It’s one of my favorite places on Earth.”

On Sept. 26 — opening day of Ohio deer season — she stuck to her game plan and moved in to hunt The Tree Buck. Easing into the woodlot he called home, she made her way toward a group of large oak trees. The corn that surrounded the timber was still standing, which can make deer hunting difficult when whitetails stay in it. But she was confident her target buck wasn’t doing that. He lived in the timber.

Warner chanced a sit close to the big deer's bedding area, and it paid off.

“This area provides gorgeous views of the Appalachian foothills,” Warner says. “The only negative is that it is deep in the woods. I’m nervous every time I sneak in to check a camera. I could bump deer and potentially ruin the area.” That didn’t happen, though. She made it all the way to her stand location without spooking anything. It was a killer spot, too, overlooking the northern side of an oak flat. Several ridges led up to it, creating an area filled with deer movement.

Settled into her perch, she began scanning for the stud she was after. To the right, the ridge dropped off, leading to a dry creek bottom that was normally flooded. To the left was a shallow creek. To her rear was another slope descending toward a creek and eventually into a cornfield.

While the setup was great, the weather wasn’t cooperating. The mercury rose well into the 80s. Fortunately, a consistent southwest wind carried unwanted scent straight down the hill behind her. All in all, it was a peaceful sit.

“There was a calming smell of fall, mixed with natural earth scent wafers and cover spray,” Warner says. “Gentle wind rustled through the trees. I could hear acorns dropping with each gust. Squirrels were running about, chasing each other. Another moment that stands out — a fuzzy, yellow caterpillar dangling to my side, going up and down like a yo-yo.”

The first deer movement occurred around 5 p.m. A doe and a fawn walked up the hill behind her. Luckily, they didn’t smell anything, despite being downwind. Twenty minutes later, a small buck appeared from the same direction. He didn’t spook, either.

She tried not to think about the giant deer, which had been hitting her trail camera in daylight. Warner knew the odds of an encounter were pretty good, and she tried to control her nerves. A few minutes passed, then another small buck walked up to the oak flat, browsing on acorns and woody forage.

“Knowing it would be getting dark [soon], I started thinking about my strategy to exit the stand without spooking deer,” Warner says. “Being deep in the timber, I was getting anxious, knowing that one wrong move could ruin the chances of seeing a mature buck from this stand. My hopes of seeing The Tree Buck were getting slimmer and slimmer.”

Then, it happened. She was looking at her phone when a twig snapped directly in front of her. She slowly looked up and came face-to-face with The Tree Buck.

“The cover was so thick that I didn’t see or hear him coming up the side of the ridge,” Warner says. “By the time I saw him, he was at 40 yards. My heart began beating faster, but I kept my composure. Thankfully, he stopped to feed along the flat and I was able to grab my bow and prepare for the shot.”

Within seconds, the buck presented a slightly quartering-away opportunity. She took the 30-yard shot and sent a broadhead straight through the vitals. The deer mule-kicked, ran about 30 yards, and fell over.

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“I knew the shot placement was good, but while field-dressing him, we discovered that I shot him in the heart,” Warner says. “This gave me comfort knowing that I took this animal’s life quickly and ethically.”

She attributes her success to finding the buck’s bedding area, learning his preferred food sources, connecting the dots, and leaving certain areas of the farm alone as sanctuaries. Also, not being afraid to hunt close to a known buck bedding area when the wind was right.

“I wanted to prove to myself and other people how hard I’ve been working to create better habitat and the chance for more encounters,” Warner says. “We worked harder than ever this summer on planting and adding new food plots. We also made sure all of our stands were ready and shooting lanes were cut early in the summer. My husband, family, and friends were pumped.”

Still, she was in shock that it all came together. Warner says it was the culmination of spending hours in a treestand, making tons of mistakes, and trying to learn from them. Now, she has a great memory and 180 inches of antler on the wall to show for it.

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