November 23, 2021
By Lynn Burkhead
Most of us like to think of ourselves as serious deer hunters. After all, we think about deer hunting year round, practice with our bows and crossbows, invest in new gear and clothing, and study trail camera photos in our spare time.
But for 31-year-old Kevin Miller, an Air Force veteran who lives in the Ohio, chasing deer is something much more serious than the weekend warrior approach mentioned above.
After all, how else do you explain the serious effort and money required to put out more than a half-dozen mineral sites on a friend’s small farm and on a newly acquired 400-acre parcel nearby, along with 38 game cameras set to record countless photos in the months leading up to deer season?
Yup, you read that right — 38 trail cameras on 440-acres of ground! Ultimately, those cell camera units proved to be well worth the time and effort, since they produced thousands of photos over the last couple of years and helped Miller eventually tag the huge multi-tined non-typical buck of his dreams.
Miller’s deer hunting tale actually started in 2020 while the rest of the world was occupied with daily headlines about the COVID-19 pandemic as it swept the globe. But it didn’t take long for the Buckeye State hunter to find himself pre-occupied with something other than news headlines when he became aware of a huge buck with distinctive G-1 brow tines.
“I gained permission to a friend’s farm,” Miller explained. “I began putting out mineral sites and a few trail cameras on his property which was all planted in soy beans last year. It wasn’t long until I started getting early velvet pictures of a giant typical 10-point that was showing up. The look of his big, bladed brow tines made me come with the name “Blades” for him.”
That led to a serious hunting quest from Miller during the fall of 2020.
“As the summer went on (last year) I was still picking him up daily on the 40 acres, but I started realizing he was not a fan of the cameras,” noted Miller. “Once he shedded his velvet, he stopped showing up on the original cameras, so I moved a few (to another) area and picked him back up. (That’s when) I realized once he knew where a camera was or saw it, he would not go by the area again.
“In fact, the original spots I got (photos of him) at, he would never show there again, but would bump it by 50-60 yards,” Miller continued.
That led to a shift in strategy for Miller, who hung one of the cell cameras taking the game camera market by storm in recent years. But still, the huge buck was quickly on to what was happening in the woods around him.
“I hung a cell camera on (a field) edge (a few) days before the season started,” said the Ohio hunter. “(But) he saw the camera and would never hit that scrape again, so I decided to carry a screw in with me and stand on it and hang a camera as high as I can reach on the tree over a new scrape I found on the back field edge.”
After that, it was time for Miller to sit back and wait and see what might happen. But initially, it wasn’t much.
“(The) season opened, but not with any sightings and with no pictures of anything until the period of Oct. 7th through 9th, when he showed up at night on the scrape I had hung the camera over, high up in the tree,” he said.
Miller hunted over that scrape with no luck, then again a few days later. But after October 15, he had no more photos of the buck for the remainder of the 2020 season.
That led to an off-season of hunter’s soul searching for Miller as he tried to figure out what to do next in his pursuit of “Blades,” as well as how to finally let an arrow fly from his TenPoint Vapor 470 crossbow.
One step involved getting access to some new hunting ground in the area.
“There is a very large 400-acre farm close by, one that I had a good feeling that is where he went to and or was spending time,” said Miller. “I eventually gained permission (to hunt that farm) in December.”
The next step involved trying to determine how the buck was moving about between the two farms.
“I moved some cell cameras onto the new property and the third day (they were out), I got a picture of him at 10:40 a.m. on a field edge,” said Miller. “I was already tagged out by then, so I spent my time moving (onto the property) and learning (all I could about) him for the 2021 season.”
So serious was Miller in his pursuit of Blades that he went the extra mile and began keeping detailed notes on the buck.
“I started writing on a calendar all the days I would get pictures of him, and at what location and what the wind direction was at that time, because I felt that was the only way I would find some type of pattern on him,” said Miller. “I was never able to find his sheds from 2020 and I lost track of him after February of 2021.”
Still, with no reports in the area of anyone taking about Blades and with no viral social media posts, it stood to reason that the old bruiser was still roaming around in the Ohio deer woods.
That led Miller to continue his quest, as well as a commitment to further his own whitetail education in the off-season months.
“Over the winter and spring, I watched every video and listened to every podcast I could to gain information I could use,” he said. “One of the main pieces of information I became a believer in was a video with Don Higgins about a mature buck being in the same areas on the same dates from the years (in the) past.”
By mid-year, Miller was also upping his commitment level on the buck, putting in a number of game cameras that most hunters can only dream of. But given the size of the buck, the fact that other hunters might be chasing him, and the layout of the two farms he was hunting, it was a vital step in the process of eventually arrowing Blades.
“So, starting in March between the original 40-acre farm and the new 400-acre farm, I set out seven different mineral stations and 38 cell cameras and I started picking him up early in June this year on the original 40-acres,” said Miller. “Now this year, that farm is corn and a large farm behind there is corn with the crop rotation (in place), so his summer range was mainly on 200 acres of the 400-acre farm and mainly on the 40-acre original farm.”
As fall approached, the big deer started reacting to Miller’s Intel gathering techniques once again.
“As velvet season approached and going into the time for him to shed velvet, he started showing up less and was doing the same thing he had done the (previous) year on roughly the same days he had done them the year prior,” he said. “So, I came up with the idea to keep the cameras that he knew were there last year in the same spots. And then I moved all the new ones into (other) areas, but way up in a tree where he was comfortable and knew there wasn’t any cameras there.
“But little did he know, there (were cameras there), just 9/10 feet up in the air.”
That careful sleuthing helped Miller fine tune his hunting strategy for Blades as the 2021 season approached. And despite the PhD level moves by the buck — Dr. Blades, anyone? — the crossbow hunter finally gained the upper hand. Soon, it would time for a “Checkmate!” move on the woodsy board, but not just yet.
“As the season opened, I took the approach of only hunting an area where he was the year prior and on winds that he (was moving on) in that (same) area from looking back on the calendars I had (written my notes) on,” said Miller.
Even with such a careful approach to chasing Blades this fall, Miller still had to be patient.
“As the days were going by, I would get pictures of him here and there, but I only found one thing that was somewhat patternable, (and that was) the one scrape he was hitting last year that I put a camera on, the one high up in the tree.”
Miller was figuring out that Blades would hit that same scrape every 5 to 7 days, another piece to the careful puzzle he was putting together.
“So, every time I was going into hunt by this scrape, I would rotate a Black Widow lure, between the Dominator and the Scrape Master (lures) to make it seem like different bucks and does hitting the scape, (all) to make him more mad when he would come back.”
Early in the morning of October 13, 2021, Blades hit that scrape and it set the stage for Miller to finally make his winning move.
“Going into the weekend, we had a drop in temperature and the perfect wind for this scrape,” said Miller. “I hunted on Friday night and Saturday night, only seeing a few does. Sunday evening, I went and got set up early, about 2 p.m. But before I got in the stand and (used my climber to go up), I freshened the scrape with Black Widow’s Scrape Master.”
After months of playing this game out in his mind, Miller’s quest was almost over.
“Right away, I had a bunch of turkeys come in and hang around for an hour and half and then a small 8-point buck,” he said. “About 5 o’clock, they finally started working away from me, so I stood up because I couldn’t move for a few hours.
“As I’m standing up there about 5:20 p.m., I noticed branches moving on the scrape, but couldn’t see what deer it was due to a large tree being there. But once he put his head down, I realized it was Blades and I almost went into shock and felt like I was having a heart attack.”
But there was no need for dialing 9-1-1 as the buck worked to open the scrape up again, then briefly bedded down in front of the scrape, and then stood up to hit the scrape once more.
“After almost 15 minutes of being in front of me, I knew he was getting (ready) to move, so I was ready,” said Miller. “But instead of walking into the wind like I thought he would, he turned hard, quartering away, and started walking away the same exact way he came in (as he) headed back into the corn.”
That left Miller desperately searching for an opening to let an arrow fly through.
“There was one spot where I could shoot and it was 45 yards to the front and 48 yards to the back and he was working into the back, so I got set, and once he got into the clearing, I started squeezing the trigger on my TenPoint crossbow.”
Thankfully, the shot was true and then some.
“I know my dad was looking over me and helped me make the shot because I was shaking so bad I don’t know how it happened,” said Miller. “I heart shot him and it was over quick.”
Because the buck ran onto a neighboring property, Miller asked his friend (whose family farm he was hunting on) to get in touch with the neighboring property owner and make sure a recovery effort was ok.
“He said of course, and Tyler drove his truck down to the neighbors field, and we dragged him and loaded him up.”
Only then did Miller really begin to appreciate what he had done — taking one of the season’s best crossbow bucks in the midwest — and how large the whitetail actually was in terms of antlers and nearly 300 pounds of body weight!
“It was an emotional roller coaster for me, even after he was down. I could (barely) talk clearly for nearly 20-30 minutes (afterwards), just because of the amount of time, the hard work between scouting, planting food for him, etc.
“He was by far the biggest deer of my life and in (a very heavily) hunted area, which made it that much more challenging,” added Miller. “I’m waiting on his official age, but I believe he was 7.5 years old.”
Scored by Buckmasters as a semi-irregular buck, the buck has a BTR number of 203 3/8 inches. And after the 60-day drying period is complete, the Miller buck could score above the 195-inch mark necessary for the deer to make it into the Boone and Crockett Club’s record book.
While the Miller buck’s final B&C number likely won’t displace the Buckeye State’s current crossbow state record of 201 1/8-inches — a big deer taken by Brad Jerman back in 2004 — it’s still the buck of a lifetime and one that Miller won’t soon forget as he looks at big mass, good tine length, great main beams, and an inside spread of 23 4/8 inches.
After all, there’s no real ground shrinkage on this great Ohio buck!
“I thought he was mid to upper 180’s, but his body size made it very hard to gauge,” said Miller.
In the end, as Thanksgiving Day 2021 approaches, Miller is a grateful hunter enjoying the huge blessing of a giant buck taken after a long and rewarding quest. Not to mention that he and his wife Kate and son Levi will have some fresh backstrap on the Turkey Day table!
“I can’t thank my buddy Tyler and his parents enough for letting me hunt their property and the owner of the 400 acres for giving me permission (to hunt) as well,” said Miller. “It was a gift to even be able to hunt a deer like this, let alone harvest him. Also, (thanks to) my family for supporting me and letting me spend hundreds of hours away hunting and scouting and the few dollars that were involved as well."
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to top Blades, but if I don’t, that is ok with me because it was one heck of a ride.”
While Miller might not top Blades, he’s sure going to be out there trying though in the years to come.
“I’ve already been scouting and watching bucks that I will go after in 2022,” he said. “The season never truly ends, it’s 365 days a year.”
Especially when you’ve got three-dozen plus game cameras in the field, always taking inventory of the next bruiser bucks to wander by!