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Public rite: for Jesse Maruschak, the harvest of a record-bookwhitetail was an intensely spiritual event. That it took place on public ground only sweetened the story.

I HAVE hunted public land all of my life. I grew up in Pennsylvania surrounded by public land, and no matter how far we drove on gravel roads during the first few days of rifle season, it seemed we were always surrounded by the orange army.

I moved to Missouri in the summer of 2009. Without knowing anyone in the state, I relied on Internet forums to learn about the public land hunting opportunities in this new state. Thanks to the advice of hunters I met on Web sites like Archery Talk. com, Missouri and, oddly enough, Texas-Bowhunter. com, I started to narrow my search to a select number of public-land hunting areas known in Missouri as "conservation areas."

I scouted each targeted CA for hours using Google Earth, Google Maps and Mapquest, and I figured out locations for potential stands. But in most cases, when I actually arrived at these areas to hunt, I found more hunters than deer! As a result, I began venturing farther and farther from the roads and crowds of hunters. By late October 2009, I had begun to focus my attention on a remote section of a Missouri Conservation Area that had more deer trails, scrapes, rubs and beds than it did boot prints. I was hooked.

That season, I had close encounters with bucks that would have easily topped my biggest kill, but I simply couldn't get them within bow range. Finally, I closed the deal on a doe just two days before Christmas in 2009. I had achieved archery success on public land!

As the 2010 archery season approached, my best friend, Eric, and I spent hours studying aerial photos every Thursday morning over coffee. Unfortunately, bow season came and went with only one small deer between Eric and me. Our sightings were few, and we missed a few opportunities



Deer sightings had been slim, we had blown a few opportunities, and we even had a trail camera, treestand and climbing sticks stolen. It was shaping up to be a long season. We had been hunting one or two days per week at Bonanza Conservation Area, a public area that required a 90-minute drive each way and a 30-minute walk into and out of the woods. The season was becoming a drain on us and on our families.

When rifle season arrived, Eric convinced me to dust off my Browning.308 lever action (Model '81 BLR). We bought extra antlerless-only tags and agreed to tent camp at Bonanza CA with some friends. Although we knew we couldn't use the antlerless tags at this CA, there was another CA about 45 minutes east that we could run to as a back up plan.


Our camping experience was miserable, with blowing downpours and temperatures hovering just above freezing. Our 4:30 a.m. wake up call didn't come quickly enough. And when it did, the gravel parking lot we called home--the same parking lot that had been vacant for the past two years of bow hunting--looked more like pit row at Daytona! No fewer than nine vehicles pulled in and either parked or turned around before we could get out of the tent. We geared up, brewed hot coffee for the thermoses, and the seven of us stood in a circle to pray. The prayer I remember the most was, "God, do something today that is so amazing that there is no doubt you are behind it."

In my stand 30 minutes before shooting light, the anticipation was high. I was sitting over a monster rub and had seen evidence of deer using this area throughout bow season.

Then, just 10 minutes into shooting light, I saw him. Walking slowly along the bottom of the hollow, right where I expected a deer would slip past, was a hunter. I watched in amazement as he got situated not 40 yards in front of me. Despite the fact that I was wearing Wool-rich hunting gear and blaze orange, he never saw me.

Eric was no better off. He was sitting in a tree that he had dreamed of rifle hunting out of all archery season with his brand new Marlin MXLR.308 lever action. He, too, was watching a parade of orange walking across the field in front of him. By 9:30 a.m., we text messaged each other and decided to bail out and head east to Bunch Hollow Conservation Area with our antlerless tags in hopes of filling the coolers with venison for our families.

On the way there, Eric pulled out the Google Earth aerial photos and we planned our strategy on the fly. We wanted to hunt areas where guys who were walking out for lunch could push deer to us. As we approached the large CA, we found not just a few trucks in each parking lot but RVs, tents and campers! We wouldn't have been surprised to see a breakfast truck making rounds! We quickly decided our first goal was to find a parking lot with no more than two trucks in it.

By 11:30 a.m., we found a lot with a single truck and only one tent. We looked at the aerials one last time and shoved down some lunch. The plan was to set up along some of the steep wooded hollows and ambush deer as they used the hollows for escape routes to the adjacent private farms.

We worked our way around the fingers of a large hollow and passed one hunter on his way back to his truck for lunch. We felt our plan to be in the woods during lunchtime might work. We kept going and finally found a spot where I ducked down the woods to the edge of the hollow and Eric kept walking around the edge of the woods in search of a place a couple hundreds yards away on another finger.

By 12:15 p.m., I had found a place to sit in the roots of a fallen tree looking down a steep hollow. It was like sitting on a shooting bench. It wasn't treestand hunting like I had done for the past two years overlooking fields, food plots and trails. It was "old school," referring to my hunting roots back in Pennsylvania.


I text messaged Eric at 12:16 p.m. that I was "settled in and I liked the spot." I put my phone down on my backpack, and when I looked back up, here they came!

Two deer were scrambling through the hollow and up the other side. One was a doe but the other had horns. I pulled my Browning up and with my Bushnell scope still on 2.5x power, and I quickly found the buck running up the other side, quartering away. When the crosshairs passed over his chest, I touched off a Federal Premium 165-grain bullet.

Where did he go? I quickly scanned the side hill and saw him standing still. He was still quartering away and all I could see was his chest. Trees obstructed the view of his head and his butt. I had a small opening, so I touched off another round.

Now he was walking from my right to my left on the same contour. I scanned ahead of him for an opening and when I found it, I held on that spot. When the buck appeared, he waked right into the center of my crosshairs.

Boom! My bullet made good contact and the buck let loose a tremendous mule kick and took off for the opposite side of the draw. I lost sight of the buck, but within seconds, I heard the telltale noise of a buck crashing in the woods.

I was able to find him in the scope as he struggled to get up. I had no shot other than a belly shot, so I just watched.

When he stopped moving, I knew I had to get to him. I wasn't on private property where I could let a deer lay for 30 minuets or more. Who knew how many guys were coming to investigate the shots. I had to get over to him and put my tag on him before someone else did. I didn't know if he was an 8-pointer or a 10-pointer, but I did know he was bigger than any Pennsylvania buck I had ever shot and no other tag was going on him but mine.

I scrambled down my side of the draw, then up the other side of the muddy, slippery, leaf-covered hollow. I couldn't get up that hill fast enough.

As I neared the area where he crashed, I caught a glimpse of what looked like antlers caught up in a sapling. In a few more steps I realized that it wasn't a sapling I was looking at, but the buck's tremendous antlers! For the next five minutes, the only words out of my mouth were, "Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord!"

I must have stared at the buck for five minutes with my mouth wide open. He was huge! I counted over and over again--14 points,16 points,15 points. I was so excited that I could hardly count all of the points.

We had no cell phone coverage, so it took Eric several minutes to find me. Given that we had planned to shoot does, Eric wasn't expecting to find antlers when he arrived. By the time he got to the bottom of the deep hollow, he signaled to me as if to ask, "What did you kill?"

I responded by raising my fists in the air, and I watched as Eric continued to struggle up the muddy, leaf-covered hillside. When he finally made it up the hillside, Eric was stunned. "Is that a rack?" he asked in amazement.

For the next several minutes we celebrated, examining the awesome rack in detail. The buck had 13-inch split G2s, a 5-inch sticker off the right base and G3s that were just as impressive as the G2s.

We took pictures, we prayed and we even cried. We thanked Jesus for answering our early-morning prayer request to receive a blessing so powerful that no one could doubt that it came from God.

The deer grossed 193 6/8 inches as a nontypical, despite having broken his left Gl and left G4. Missouri records do not differentiate bucks killed on public land from bucks killed on private land, but my buck ranks first in Carroll County and 62nd all-time in the state of Missouri as a non-typical.

Needless to say, trophy deer are possible on heavily pressured public lands. Just remember, when the public land pressure has deer scrambling, think about where they will be scrambling to and try to ambush them. If an opportunity presents itself, take it. And last but not least, praise God for giving you such an amazing playground in which to enjoy His creation.

Scorable points       15 (8R, 7L)    Total length
Tip-to-tip spread           2 7/8    of abnormal
Greatest spread            23 5/8    points: 26 2/8
Inside spread              15 5/8

Areas Measured     Right      left      Difference

Main Beam         25 0/8    24 5/8           3/8

1st point (G-1)    9 3/8     4 3/8         5 0/8

2nd point (G-2)   12 7/8    13 0/8           1/8

3rd point (G-3)   12 0/8    12 3/8           3/8

4th point (G-4)    6 5/8       --        6 5/8

1st circ. (H-1)    4 3/8     4 3/8            --

2nd circ. (H-2)    4 1/8     4 0/8           1/8

3rd circ. (H-3)    3 7/8     3 7/8            --

4th circ. (H-4)    3 4/8     3 5/8           1/8

Totals            81 6/8    70 2/8        12 6/8

Gross typical score                      167 5/8

Subtract side-to-side differences        -12 6/8

add abnormal points                      +26 2/8

FINAL NET NON-TYPICAL SCORE              181 1/8

Taken by: Jesse Maruschak
Date: Nov. 13,2010
Location: Bunch Hollow CA, Carroll Co., Missouri
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Publication:North American Whitetail
Geographic Code:1U4MO
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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