By Mark Demko
“And this is where it kind of gets a little interesting!”
When you hear lines like that, you know you’re in for an incredible story, and the tale of the Proctorville Legend — a giant buck roaming the Lawrence County area of southern Ohio — is absolutely that. From start to finish, it’s a yarn that’s nothing short of amazing!
Known throughout the local region, the massive nontypical captivated both hunters and area residents for several years, not only for the size of its antlers but also for the fact that it was often visible during daylight. Amazingly, the buck was able to elude hunters come deer season, seemingly vanishing in thin air. That is until this past November, when he crossed paths with bowhunter Jamie Ferguson.
The Story Begins
Ferguson, a resident of Barboursville, W.Va., says the Proctorville-area buck is a local legend, with numerous people from throughout the immediate Tri-State area of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia familiar with the deer. In fact, individuals from as far away as North Carolina and South Carolina have visited the area with the hope of laying eyes on or taking photographs of the buck.
Unlike many mature whitetail bucks that have survived several hunting seasons, the Proctorville Legend wasn’t totally nocturnal or a ‘ghost’ that only showed up on the rare occasion during the rut. In fact, the deer would often been seen in the summer and early fall feeding or walking in daylight, with onlookers pulling over their cars and trucks to watch it. Ferguson initially took interest in targeting the big buck in 2020, and he saw the deer in person for the first time when he and a friend were scouting the area in July of this year.
“Everyone knew of him and he was not camera shy at all,” Ferguson said. “Once the season came in, I don’t know how, but he seemed to elude everyone.
“If you talked to anyone, especially anyone who hunted the area, they couldn’t believe the deer was still alive (after all these years). I guess he had, from what I’ve been told, a pretty good travel size area — people would see him all over.”
In addition to the property he hunted last year in an attempt to tag the deer, Ferguson gained access to a new parcel this year — one that he thought would give him a better chance to target the buck. In late summer, he placed trail cameras out on the new property and soon found the deer was a frequent visitor.
“I had trail cams scattered around this new piece of property that I felt was his bedroom and we picked him up pretty immediately on the trail cam,” Ferguson said. “He was very visible during daylight hours. There was a certain date where I had him five different times on trail camera in the daylight. And it was that way for probably a month.”
Then, in mid-September, the deer disappeared from the cameras as it altered its patterns. Ferguson didn’t pick up a single photo of it again until mid-October, and when the deer did make an appearance, it was intermittent.
“I knew once that pattern started, he was kind of leaving his home area, maybe searching for does,” Ferguson said. “So, I knew at that point if he showed back up again, my window was going to be a 2- or 3-day window to have an opportunity to harvest him.”
The Fateful Day
On Nov. 15, the Proctorville Legend did, indeed, appear on one of Ferguson’s trail cams, giving the bowhunter the spark he needed to take a shot at the bruiser. After hunting that evening without any luck, Ferguson decided he would return the next morning. However, he could only sit until 10 a.m. due to a previously scheduled appointment.
When Ferguson arrived at his hunting parcel on Nov. 16, the wind wasn’t exactly right, so he pondered going to his other hunting property because there was another very good buck in that area that he would have been happy to take. Upon checking the most recent photos from his cellular camera on that property, however, he determined the alternate spot might be unproductive. The property owners had donkeys, and apparently the animals were frequenting the area near his stand.
“When I went to look at my trail camera at the other spot, the donkeys were on it,” Ferguson said. “I thought, ‘Well, shoot, I’m not going to that one. I’m going to go to my other treestand.’”
Despite his anticipation, the morning’s hunt turned out to be very quiet. Around 9:55 a.m., Ferguson was actually texting a friend, telling him that he hadn’t seen much and was getting ready to leave, when he heard a twig snap. Scanning his surroundings, Ferguson spotted the big buck approaching his stand and he immediately but carefully maneuvered his PSE Archery Fang HD and Rage Trypan-tipped bolt into position for a possible shot.
“He came in directly downwind from me. I was using Ozonics — I’m a firm believer in those now,” Ferguson said. “He was probably 35 or 40 yards (out) when I first saw him and he was closing the distance. He was just kind of out cruising and I shot him at about 18 yards.”
Following the shot, the deer ran a short distance and stopped. Ferguson says it stood motionless about 45 yards away, then began walking and disappeared into a thicket located on an adjacent property.
“I watched him through the binoculars. He was walking really, really slow,” Ferguson said. “It was having a hard time; you could tell the deer was hurt really bad. He went about 75 yards into the thicket and I lost him. I just couldn’t see him anymore.”
After waiting two hours to ensure the deer had expired, Ferguson began the tracking process. He found his bolt and good blood immediately, leading him to believe he’d made a solid hit. While he had been waiting, he contacted the local Ohio Department of Natural Resources wildlife officer to let him know he had hit the deer and would need to track it onto a neighboring property. He then contacted the neighboring landowner to gain permission to enter his land and go after the buck. Not only did the property owner give Ferguson permission, he joined him to help locate the deer.
Almost immediately after they began their search, the pair jumped the buck and sent it fleeing from its bed. As a result, they decided to back out of the area and return later to resume the pursuit.
An Incredible Tale
“And this is where it kind of gets a little interesting,” Ferguson said.
According to Ferguson, the pair went back in the afternoon — about four hours later — and as they began following the blood trail, they bumped the buck again after only 60 yards. Along the way, they also noticed other beds, all filled with blood.
“I thought, ‘What in the world is going on.’ And the whole time, he wouldn’t go 15 or 20 yards before he’d stop and get down again,” Ferguson said. “He was hurt really bad; he just couldn’t move really well.”
Not sure of the next steps since he’d already rousted the buck twice, Ferguson decided to pull out and come back in the evening. When he returned after dark, this time with a larger group, more than eight hours had passed since the shot.
As he was following the blood trail, Ferguson caught a glimpse of the deer in his headlamp. The buck was laying on its side, and he was instantly overcome with excitement, thinking the deer was dead. Calling to the others, Ferguson took a few steps toward the buck, bent over and attempted to pick up the deer’s rack. Without warning, the animal shot up and bolted!
“He was laying there on his side, belly up,” Ferguson said. “I could see the white belly; I could see his head laying on his side, like he was dead. I went to grab him and he jumped up. And my heart dropped.”
In an effort to avoid losing the buck for good, the group halted the search until the next morning, when they could resume in daylight. However, after searching most of the day on Nov. 17, they were unable to locate the deer and Ferguson called in a tracker and tracking dog to assist. After three hours of searching with the dog the results were the same, as they were unable to find the deer.
“At that point, I determined that the crows or buzzards were going to be my best friends from here on out,” Ferguson said.
Lost, Then Found
At this point, Ferguson was understandably extremely disheartened, almost certain that he had lost the buck of a lifetime. The following afternoon, however, as he was driving home from work, he got a call from the landowner who had initially helped him track the deer.
“He asked me, ‘Do you want your deer? We found it,’” Ferguson said. “That was probably one of the best phone calls I ever received.”
Amazingly, after traveling more than 275 yards, the buck had ended up circling back to the area where Ferguson had shot it, with the deer expiring only 75 yards or so from Ferguson’s stand. The landowner discovered the deer on Nov. 18 — more than 48 hours after the shot — after going out one, last time to see if he could find it.
Ferguson says he is incredibly grateful that the landowner allowed him to not only enter his property but also to help him look for the deer. Like many people in the area, the property owner was familiar with the big buck and would have been more than elated to place his own tag on the animal.
“(The family) had hunted the deer for years,” Ferguson said. “He said they’d been hunting the buck for five years, so they were extremely generous (to me).”
The Final Chapter
The Proctorville Legend ended up grossing 228 4/8 when initially scored by an official Boone & Crockett Club scorer, with the giant non-typical having 25 scoreable points, a 21 7/8 inside spread and an outside spread of 29 7/8 at its widest point. Ferguson said the buck would likely have scored even higher, but it had damaged a tine earlier in fall.
“Somewhere around the first of November he’d broken a G4 off,” Ferguson said,” and he lost probably another 6 to 7 inches from that.”
In the days after the Proctorville Legend was recovered, Ferguson learned how truly well-known the buck was in the region. When he posted his deer on Facebook, a number of people noted they had seen or had photos of the buck. In fact, one local resident shared an image of the buck that she had taken on her cell phone just 25 minutes before he shot the deer.
“That was pretty cool to see her picture taken with her phone of the deer crossing the road minutes before I shot it,” Ferguson said.
Even as he was searching for the deer, Ferguson was learning how popular the buck had become, at least with hunters.
“One kind of crazy thing I noticed when we were tracking the deer was the number of cameras and treestands we saw (from) other people hunting the deer,” he said. “It was quite insane.”
As for the next steps, Ferguson says he plans to have the deer officially measured for the Boone & Crockett books once the mandatory, 60-day drying period has passed, and he’ll also have the buck mounted at a local taxidermist. The longtime hunter is incredibly humble about the experience, and he’s extremely thankful that he was able to get a shot at and ultimately recover the buck.
“It was nothing that was played out on camera or anything like that….,” Ferguson said. “It was just a guy doing what he loves, hunting one deer, and things worked out in my favor that he walked through that morning.”