Botkins, Ohio — Justin Wagner is almost certain that the massive buck he harvested in late 2022 was first the victim of one of his crossbow bolts a year earlier.
Wagner, of Botkins, killed a 220-inch non-typical buck last November on his parent’s farm in Shelby County. The buck has 22 scoreable points, although there are an actual 26 points on the buck “that you could hang a ring over,” Wagner said. In fact, Wagner’s kids refer to the buck as “26.”
“That’s what we called him after I got the first trail camera pictures of him,” said Wagner. “Every time I went hunting, (the kids) asked me if I saw ‘The 26.’”
The buck has a tall main beam with a “bunch of trash” surrounding it, according to Wagner.
“It’s a pretty unique buck,” he said. “A lot of people were after him.”
Back to the beginning, Wagner said “I’m 99% sure I shot him last year. After I shot him, he walked in front of my trail camera and he wasn’t near as big, but he was still a nice buck. He had the stickers off to the side, so that’s why I think it was him. I think I hit him a little bit too far back.”
Flash forward to 2022 and on Oct. 2 Wagner got another trail camera picture of “The 26.”
“I got the picture at something like 11:30 at night,” he said. “But, I woke up my dad and sent a text saying ‘this thing is massively huge.’
“So, he was the one I thought I’d go after this year,” Wagner said. “I never really thought I’d have a chance at him in daylight hours.”
In early November of 2022, Wagner got another trail cam photo of the buck during daylight hours in just the right spot.
“Basically, I should have been in my tree stand (that day),” he said. “I was off work, drinking coffee on my couch and he walks in front of my tree stand. That was a week before I shot him.”
Wagner had a personal encounter with the buck that very next weekend.
“I saw him and grunted at him,” he said. “He was out in the middle of a field and he didn’t pay any attention to my grunt call. There was a field full of deer.”
The next week found Wagner take off work a bit earlier than his normal quitting time in order to hunt. He again laid eyes on “The 26.”
“I was walking back to my tree stand when I saw him out in the field with a doe,” he said. “I snuck down into the edge of a ditch crossing and he was right at the edge of the field. There’s a brushy fencerow there and I kind of made my way along that real slow. I got to about 35 yards away from him and I heard him come into the woods. He came in quartering away, I grunted at him (and took the shot). I heard a hollow thump and normally that’s pretty good.”
Wagner could see the lighted nock and watched as the buck slowly walked toward the back of the woodlot and disappeared.
“I found my nock and there was blood everywhere,” he said. “I waited a little bit and texted my dad. I followed (the blood trail) to the edge of the woods and it appeared that he was spraying blood.”
By this time, the wounded buck had crossed over property lines into a leased plot next door. Wagner phoned the neighbor who leases that property and they both went in search of the deer.
“We followed the blood across an open field,” Wagner said. “And because I really didn’t see the arrow go in and I wasn’t sure (of a clean shot), he kind of suggested to call in a deer dog.”
And, this is where the story gets real interesting.
Wagner had never used a dog to track a wounded deer, so he went online and found one near him on an Ohio deer tracker website. Jared Lyndsay was in Sidney, not far away from Wagner’s location.
“I sent him pictures of the arrow and he thought we would find him,” Wagner said. “He said he could come out the next morning.”
The next morning, Lyndsay put the dog on “first blood” and he followed the trail from there.
“There was more blood than we had actually seen (the day prior),” Wagner said. “We got to the edge of a woods and we kind of stayed back while the dog went in. I’d say within five to 10 minutes, I saw the tracker point toward the ground, which meant he was down. My neighbor who has the lease and myself ran up there, probably faster than we should have because we were so excited.”
And there in the woods lay “The 26,” no worse for the wear although coyotes had started chewing on his back end, Wagner said.
The deer tracker estimated that the buck had traveled an incredible 500 yards after he was shot by Wagner’s crossbow bolt.
“The adrenaline didn’t actually kick in until I had recovered him,” he said.
The deer is “a tank of a buck,” according to Piqua taxidermist Rick Busse, who is handling the mount of Wagner’s incredible deer.
Buckmasters scored “The 26” at 220 inches.