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The hoosier ghost: after watching this Indiana buck transform into a super-giant, Rich Eldridge sealed the deal during the 2016 gun season.

Indiana has a reputation for being something of a sleeper state for big whitetails. Although its number of true top-end bucks doesn't match that of, say, Illinois, Iowa or Kansas, the Hoosier State still churns out plenty of huge deer--and each year it has a chance of producing a mega-giant. After all, back in 2012 Tim Beck shot a 305 7/8-inch non-typical in Huntington County, and that deer ranks among the world's best ever taken by a hunter.

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Miami County is approximately 30 miles west of Huntington County, in an area dominated by large agricultural fields with small woodlots. Situated in the north-central part of the state, Miami's topography includes some river bottoms and slightly rolling terrain with longer stretches of timber. While southern Indiana is rugged and heavily forested, the northern third of the state more closely resembles southern Michigan. It was here, in Miami County, that Rich Eldridge took a giant 262 0/8-inch non-typical during the 2016 gun season. The 37-pointer was one of the largest harvested anywhere in the world last year. His score catapulted him into a very rare group of elite whitetails, regardless of location.

Rich and one of his hunting partners first became aware of the buck in 2014. At the time the buck's age was guessed to be no more than 3 1/2, and the men estimated he'd score 165. (They probably had trail camera photos of the buck from the year prior, but there had been no way to distinguish him from other young bucks on the property.)

As the buck now had multiple brow tines and showed a lot of potential, the mutual decision was made to pass him if he presented a shot opportunity. Young bucks of that size don't come around too often, so the men wanted to let him grow. They could only hope that someone on a neighboring property wouldn't kill the buck before that happened.

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As it turned out, the men never saw the buck on the hoof during the 2014 season. Before the following season arrived, Rich secured a new lease by happenstance. After completing some HVAC work for a nearby farmer. Rich was excited when the man offered hunting rights to a relative's property in exchange for some of the repair costs. The offered land happened to lay adjacent to where Rich already hunted, and it was where the big whitetail liked to hang out, so the offer was gladly accepted.

What Rich didn't know at the time, however, was that other hunters had previously been given permission to hunt that property, and they were being displaced by this new agreement. You can imagine that the deal created some ill feelings toward Rich. Nevertheless, he tried to maintain a positive relationship with them as best he could.

Rich placed several trail cameras on the new property, hoping to get pictures of the buck. When he checked the cameras for the first time, Rich nearly soiled his bibs, he was so shocked at the tremendous size of the buck. What had been a dandy 3 1/2-year-old the year prior had exploded into a massive non-typical over 200 inches.

Of course, Rich was anxious to get an opportunity at the giant. But shortly after hunting season began, the farmer picked all the crops and plowed everything under. With all the property's food sources gone, the deer simply quit using the area. In hopes of keeping the buck around, Rich didn't focus on hunting him too hard that year. He instead opted to just keep tabs on the buck.

Characteristic of many properties in this region of Indiana, the one Rich was hunting is relatively narrow in shape and about 80 acres in size. Roughly 90 percent of the ground is devoted to crop fields. Rich had seen that once the crops were gone, the deer were also. So before the 2016 harvest occurred, he paid the farmer to leave some standing beans in the field as a "food plot."

A few months before the season rolled around, Rich started to hear rumors that the buck had relocated and was living on another property about a mile from where Rich had permission to hunt. Having not captured the buck on trail camera that summer, Rich feared the rumors were true.

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As it turned out, the buck was quite visible to people. Several locals had spotted him feeding in a bean field nearly every evening that summer. Rich was trying to theorize what had pushed the buck a mile away from where his core area was the year before, especially since he had photos of him all the way through February of that year. The buck had hung tight to Rich's hunting ground until he shed his antlers, and then vanished. But as we know all too well, sometimes it's impossible to predict where a mature whitetail is going to be.

Once September arrived, though, Rich didn't have to scratch his head anymore. When the buck began to regularly appear back on camera, Rich couldn't believe the mammoth size of his rack. Astounded by the buck's tremendous antler growth, Rich could only hope he'd stick around. The hunter kept getting pictures of the buck, even after the archery season opened in October. Rich actually saw the behemoth buck a couple times while bowhunting, but he couldn't seal the deal.

After witnessing two seasons of reclusive, nocturnal behavior, Rich wondered if the buck would once again start moving only at night. In years prior, once the buck had abandoned his summer pattern, he'd totally quit moving in daylight. In fact, during the 2015 season, the hunter hadn't captured a single trail camera photo of the deer during daylight. For this reason, Rich had dubbed him the "Ghost Buck."

Amazingly, though, the giant seemed to be slipping up. As noted, more than once he showed himself to Rich during the day in early bow season. This uncharacteristic pattern put him dangerously close to hitting the dirt, but each time he escaped.

Opening weekend of Indiana's general firearms season also found the buck a bit lackadaisical. Rich spotted him as guns clicked off on surrounding properties--but again, even cradling a firearm, Rich couldn't quite capitalize. The buck was on his feet, but he wasn't coming close enough for a shot.

A few days later, though, things changed. While women can no doubt enhance a man's life in every aspect, in the whitetail world, a doe can spell disaster for her counterpart. This was true for the Ghost Buck.

On the afternoon of Nov. 18, as Rich made his way to a ground blind, he kicked the giant buck and a doe out of their beds! Both deer jumped to their feet when they heard Rich. Luckily, though, neither animal seemed badly spooked.

"I don't think they saw me, and I had the wind in my favor," Rich explains. "I think they more or less just heard me, so they weren't really sure what I was."

Rich chose not to risk walking all the way to the blind. Instead, he headed for the nearest tree and hunkered down, hoping the pair might circle back before legal shooting light ended.

Approximately 45 minutes later, a small buck walked past Rich and into the standing bean field to feed. Rich was watching him enter the field when he heard a grunt from the timber. The hunter then spied a doe walking through the woods. Knowing the doe might have a buck following her. Rich started to get ready.

Lo and behold, the Ghost Buck was right behind her. Rich raised and steadied his rifle, and at roughly 5:30 p.m. touched off a long-awaited shot on the non-typical. The bullet connected with the buck at only 45 yards just as he entered the food plot.

Although Rich felt quite comfortable with the shot he'd made with the .243 Win. (Indiana legalized this and some other rifle cartridges in 2016), the buck ran in the direction of some distant buildings and farm structures. Rich wasn't going to risk anyone's safety or property trying to make a follow-up shot. Instead, he watched as the injured buck continued chasing. Driven by the desire to breed, the rutting buck had seemingly ignored the wound and stayed on the trail of the "hot" doe. Rich could only hope the shot was good enough to be fatal.

Of course, it was a restless night for Rich. But the next morning, Nov. 19, a hunter on the neighboring property came across the buck. The hunter called Rich, who was relieved to know the buck was down and that those on the neighboring property had been gracious enough to notify him about it. It turned out that the shot had been a touch far back, but the bullet still had clipped a lung.

Once Rich had recovered the buck, things started to get sticky. As is all too often the case, once the word got out that the monster buck had fallen, rumors started to fly. The fact the buck had been visible around the area surely didn't help to settle the controversy, either. From hunters on nearby properties claiming Rich had simply found the buck dead to claims that the buck was an escapee from a nearby deer farm, Rich and his buck came under serious scrutiny after the harvest.

Thankfully, as this issue is being prepared to go to press, the unfounded claims have started to subside. Magnum bucks always garner a lot of public attention, and unfortunately many onlookers presumptuously assume or wish the worst on the lucky hunter who fills a tag with such a whitetail. While it's natural for us all to wish we'd be so fortunate to harvest a trophy like this one, it's always better to offer congratulations to the one who did. After all, the Eldridge buck is yet another awesome reminder of how it's still possible for a die-hard hunter to make that trophy dream come true. It's always wonderful to hear that someone was lucky enough to enjoy the rewards of all their hard work and time.

This buck's massive 7x6 typical frame grosses 209 4/8 inches. He loses 11 4/8 inches for asymmetry, but 64 0/8 inches of non-typical growth raise the 37-pointer's net score to 262 0/8.

BY JOE MARTINO

FYI | CENTER FIRE CONUNDRUM |

In 2016, the Indiana General Assembly passed House Enrolled Act 1231, allowing the use of specific centerfire rifle cartridges for deer hunting on private land. While several popular cartridges have been deemed legal, many others have not. To see if your rifle qualifies, visit: www.in.gov/dnr.
RICH ELDRIDGE BUCK

Scorable points     37 (20R, 17L)   Total length
Tip-to-tip spread   18 2/8          of abnormal
Greatest spread     24 0/8          points: 64 0/8
Inside spread       21 4/8

Areas Measured      Right           Left          Difference

Main Beam           29 1/8          28 4/8           5/8
1st point (G-1)      7 6/8           8 6/8         1 0/8
2nd point (G-2)      7 1/8           7 6/8           5/8
3rd point (G-3)      8 4/8          10 5/8         2 1/8
4th point (G-4)      9 4/8           8 7/8           5/8
5th point (G-5)      7 1/8           5 0/8         2 1/8
6th point (G-6)      3 4/8              --         3 4/8
1st circ. (H-1)      6 6/8           6 7/8           1/8
2nd circ. (H-2)      5 3/8           5 3/8            --
3rd circ. (H-3)      5 6/8           5 3/8           3/8
4th circ. (H-4)      5 3/8           5 0/8           3/8
Totals              95 7/8          92 1/8        11 4/8

Gross typical score                 209 4/8
Subtract side-to-side differences   -11 4/8
Add abnormal points                 +64 0/8
FINAL NET NON-TYPICAL SCORE         262 0/8

Rich's 37-point Indiana trophy has a huge typical frame and a lot of
non-typical antler to go with it.
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Author:Martino, Joe
Publication:North American Whitetail
Geographic Code:1U3IN
Date:Sep 1, 2017
Words:2000
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