By Mark Kenyon
Three years ago I met Josh Nehmelman, and eventually that meeting led to an opportunity for me to head down and hunt on some of his properties in Central Illinois. Leading up to that trip, Josh had shared with me a trail camera picture of an absolute giant buck with a drop tine, which I ended up sharing here on Wired To Hunt in the article titled “Illinois Drop Tine Giant On Trail Camera“. If you’ve been following along with the blog for awhile now, you might also remember that this same buck popped up a year later and we posted new pictures here on Wired To Hunt, with the goal of having you the readers help Josh come up with a name for the buck. “The Illinois Drop Tine Giant Returns – Name Ideas Needed.” One of the reader submitted names stuck, and the drop tine giant was dubbed “Switch Hitter”.
Since then, Josh has been tirelessly pursuing this deer and finally in 2012 he was able to write the final chapter in the hunt for this incredible buck. It’s been a treat to be able to follow along with Josh’s hunt for this deer over the past few years, and I’m excited that Josh has decided to share his story with the Wired To Hunt Nation today! But before we jump into that, don’t forget that Josh also was able to kill a 190″ giant earlier in 2012 as well! This story is told in our article, “The 190″ Lone Ranger Falls To Josh Nehmelman“. Talk about an incredible season! So read on to catch up on the quest for “Switch Hitter”, and be sure to visit Josh’s website Oak Tree Outfitters of Illinois if you’d like to head down and hunt with Josh some day in the future!
“When I saw the picture the above, my attention had definitely been caught.This would be the beginning of my three season obsession with a deer that was named by the Wired to Hunt Nation, Switch Hitter.
The first year I started getting pictures of him I thought he would go somewhere around 175 to 180 inches. I had a lot of pictures of him in the summer but once velvet shed he just disappeared. I never saw him during the bow season hunting and I just figured he had moved to a different area. But the day after gun season that year I captured a photo of him in the draw where he lived that summer. Other than that, I never saw him again that year and had no luck finding his sheds that winter and spring.
The next summer came and by early July he was showing back up in the same draw that he was living in the summer before. I was now realizing that this was one of those bucks that had a very small core area that he lived in for most the year. I knew for this reason that I had a decent chance of killing him. At this point I decided that this was the only deer I was after. I had his bedding area narrowed down very close, and I decided to hang stands around every edge of this area. I had three stands that were very close to his home, so needless to say I was very excited to get in there. On top of all this, to add to the drama, based on trail cam photos it looked like he had put on another 20 to 30 inches that year. I was now hunting my first 200 inch deer!
I got pictures of him that year all the way up until early October and then he disappeared off the cams. I figured he was still there by all the monster rubs he had left in the vicinity. I wanted to hunt him early, around some oaks, but it got really hot early that year and I didn’t want to take the chance of screwing the area up for later.
Fast forward to later that year in mid November, and I finally had my first encounter with him out of the stand. I was hunting the edge of his bed and I had already seen nine bucks that morning. It was about 9:30 AM and I saw a deer come from his bedding area. My first thought was “wow, thats a dandy.” Then he turned and I saw the tell tale sign of the drop-tine off the right side hanging down! (He was named Switch Hitter because the year before his drop was on his left side). He was walking away and I tried grunting and snort wheezing but he would have nothing to do with it. I was now pumped and bummed at the same time, when about an hour later I heard something behind me. Underneath of me stands a nice doe and at 22 yards there he stands! He was just looking at the doe. Needless to say I was in awe and handcuffed at the same time!
I tried to grab my bow off the hanger, but the doe saw something she didn’t like and she turned and headed by him and up the hill. He followed and disappeared into the brush he called home. Talk about disappointed, to have him that close and yet not kill him! A few weeks went by and I had no pictures or sightings to speak of. Then one morning, hunting a stand just to the East, I had him coming on the trail of a hot doe. She came right by me and down into the bottom but he stopped 40 yards out in brush and waited for awhile then darted into the bottom after her not coming on the trail. Wow, I thought to myself will I ever get a shot at this animal!
The shotgun seasons came and went with only one sighting by the neighbors. They ran him and another stud out pushing a draw and saw him running back towards the draw he called home. They then saw a truck with out of state plates stop and guys jump out and start throwing lead at him from hundreds of yards. Talk about some mad hunters after seeing and hearing about this! The rest of the season came and went with no more sightings on my part, but a friend of mine saw him in late December so we knew he had made it. This same friend found his right side antler in late February where he hunts. We spent countless hours looking for the other side to no avail. Then one day I get a text from my brother in law with a pic of the other side, saying he found me another one! (Gotta love farmers who dont care for antlers in the fields). You guessed it it was the other side we had been looking for! We rough scored the sheds at 193″ and that was with 2 broke tines on his left side! He definitely would score around 200!
Fast forward again to this past summer. I started getting pics of him in early June this year. You guessed it the same draw! I had pics of him all the way up until Oct 4th or so. He added some tines and a lil mass but his tines were definitely shrinking. I still thought he would maybe make the 200 mark but knew he was 7 or 8 years old and he would be going downhill from here on out. I hunted him a little early with no luck. But I did see him once walking out of the woods one morning, where he was bedded in a point along the field. I got to watch him run away and back into the draw he called home! I still had all the stands around his bedding area this year and had moved and tweaked a few of them the spring before so I didnt have to booger the area in late Summer. Now to November.
The first sighting I had of him was on the back side of his bed area. I had him at 60 yards but he had no interest in anything that day not even the does that were close. A week later the day of reckoning would arrive. The night before a big cold front had come through and it was breezy and cold that morning. The wind was perfect for a bedding area stand where I had him at 40 yards the year before. I saw a very nice buck, maybe a 160 class with a doe early and a nice 2 year old. The 160 left the doe and she came up and bedded just to the left of me. Then here came a nice lil 125 inch buck up and he bedded right in my lane at 15 yards. I then heard a ATV fire up way to the west. Not long after it was gone here came three deer up the draw. I could tell a doe was in the lead then a buck then another doe. He got to the base of the ridge below me and looked up the hill and saw the buck and the doe bedded by me. Then I saw the drop.
I knew what he was going to do so I was ready when he came marching right up the hill to kick some tail and separate that buck from the doe. He came up to 12 yards facing me in my lane. The doe was to my left in brush and I knew he was going to go after her and I would have to get him stopped when he turned to go after her. Next thing I know, he turned and walked briskly all in one motion. I drew as he turned and grunted at the same time. He wouldn’t stop, so I grunted louder and he still wouldn’t stop!
Finally he paused and I had an opening I that I thought would be sufficient. I let it fly!
To my dismay I hit a branch and the arrow hit him a little high and way back. He ran off hunched up but still following the doe. I was now beside myself, thinking I blew my chance at the greatest whitetail I have ever hunted. I usually hold myself together well during and after the shot on big deer but the after on this one was a different story. I vomited from the stand and had to wait a half hour to get down and out of there. I went home and hung out with the wife and daughter and told them the story. A buddy and I decided to give it most of the day and then go look and see what we had. I thought it may have got gut but wasn’t sure. We figured the arrow would tell us the story. We finally did find the arrow 10 yards after the shot and there was only blood 6 inches up the shaft. My heart sank.
There were no gut particles on it, and just some dark red blood. I now was now figuring it didn’t penetrate because of the hit branch and probably just gave him an ouchie in the front part of his hind quarter. That said, we figured that we might as well trail him and see if I got lucky and hit the artery. We trailed him 75 yards or so and its evident the artery was not hit. We lost blood right as he was heading towards his bed area. Needless to say this was the lowest low of my hunting career. The next day I looked a lil bit the direction he was headed with no sign found.
Moving forward, I hunted him for another few weeks with no sightings and heard of no one sighting him in either gun seasons. I had no pics either. I was starting to get nervous and think maybe he was gut shot and laying dead somewhere instead of just an ouchie in his hind quarter. I spent two more days searching for him close to a month later. I covered everything in the direction he was headed. The only thing I didnt hit was from the stand back East. I found no sign.
The next weekend a friend’s son was doing some squirrel hunting with his cousin. I got a pic from him right before work that night. I knew what it was going to be before I opened it!
They had found him within 75 yards of my stand tucked behind a multiflora rose tangle! They got his head and the boy knew I had hit him so within a day he had decided he was going to let me have him. I went the next day to look at the carcass to see if I thought he died from my shot. The head and neck were still in tact but all that was left after that was a ribcage,bones and a hide. It was fairly evident that he had been there not long after I hit him. We think that he went up the draw with the doe that day and then later that night or the next day he backtracked and got sick and died right there where they found him.
Needless to say this was not your normal or average ending! But when I think about it to myself, there was never anything normal or average about this wonderful animal. It was for sure not how I would have liked the ending to go down, but it all worked out in the end. Hunting is hunting and sometimes things dont go as planned or how we want.
I would like to thank a few people for making this saga complete for me. I want to thank the young men who found the deer. If they didn’t, I probably wouldnt have for another month or two, or maybe never. They also knew my story with this guy and that I had hit him and how much time I spent after him. Thanks very much for allowing me to finish my story!
I also want to thank my wife and daughter for listening to me go on about this deer for 3 years! Without their understanding I would have never been able to put in the time it takes to kill a deer of this magnitude and age! I would also like to thank my close friends who gave me a lot of advice, help and encouragement. It is so hard to hunt a deer for 3 years, it takes alot of discipline. I would like to thank ole Switch Hitter himself for giving me such a thrill for all these years of hunting him too. He was everything a hunter could ask for. Smart and lucky, yet visible! I also would like to thank the good Lord above for allowing me to pursue deer of this quality and putting animals like this here for us to hunt! Lastly I would like to thank all the people who allow me to hunt. Without a place to go, you cant harvest deer, let alone big ones!”
– Josh Nehmelman
To learn more about Josh Nehmelman or Oak Tree Outfitters, visit Oak Tree Outfitters of Illinois. Josh and business are top rate, you won’t be disappointed working with them!