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Believe in the Magic of Public Land

Hunters should rejoice over the vast amount of public land in our great country.

Believe in the Magic of Public Land

(Author photos)

I want to preface this story with a shout-out to public lands. We are all fortunate to have this resource in our great country. I’m also very grateful to private landowners who contribute much to wildlife habitat, but pubic land gives all of us an opportunity to pursue our hunting passion. My favorite days are spent wandering the wooded hills and swampy forests of Northern Wisconsin, a place with so much public land to enjoy exploring.

My bowhunting career started in my early teens, when my brother and I found my dad’s old Bear bow in our basement. The flame was lit immediately, and before long we were both shooting Dad’s bow with borrowed arrows. Amazingly, I remember both of us killing deer our second year into it — I shot a button buck, and my brother shot a doe. Those first deer were real trophies to us, and the meat could not have tasted better!

I am far from a trophy hunter and have always been more than excited to put my tag on the first buck with at least eight points that was unfortunate enough to walk within bow range of my setup. I’ve always enjoyed sharing this bounty with family and friends.

But like most of you, I’ve also in awe of big deer. So, let me tell you the tale of a public-land buck I named “Magic.”

It was late-August, and after a scouting mission that day, something about the upcoming season felt different to me. In fact, I remember telling my wife, Rachael, “I’ve got a good feeling that I’m going to kill a massive buck this year.”

Smiling, my wife jokingly said, “Don’t say that…you probably won’t even fill your tag now.”

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All I could do when I finally found my buck was stand there dumbfounded over his size.

While preseason scouting, I try to force myself to not run the same ridges and bottoms as every other hunter. I believe if you told a hundred people to walk through a forest section and look for deer activity, most would end up leaving a very similar GPS track. I have never run many trail cameras, but rather I rely on finding buck habitat and, more importantly, their bedrooms. On that aforementioned August day, I remember forcing myself to double-back against the natural contour of the public land so I could work my way to a thicket I’d found. Instinct told me that the contour of the land there would afford a bedded buck nearly 360-degree protection from predators via his senses of sight, hearing, and of course, smell — particularly given the predominant west wind in that area.

As I cautiously made my way into this “island,” I soon found a gigantic bed on a tiny rise that commanded authority of everything that surrounded it. Up to that point, I’d seen limited buck sign, but everything around the bed I’d just found was destroyed! Clearly, a buck’s velvet had met its demise on the alders and small saplings surrounding the bed.

Once I found that bed, the challenge was on. Only one problem: I simply couldn’t creep into this location without getting busted.

I planned my first approach on an early October hunt, because the wind was perfect and the ground was wet and quiet from recent rain. I snuck into the bedding area to set up, but my lack of patience got the best of me, and I pushed in too close.

My next approach came a couple weeks later, and my plan was to hunt the southern edge of the buck’s core bedding area. That morning’s hunt was uneventful — not to mention windy. On my way out, my curiosity got the best of me again, and I tried slipping into the bedding area. Big mistake! Based on the fresh, deep tracks I found there, it was obvious that I had busted a truly massive buck and multiple other deer out of their beds.

Fearing that I’d completely blown any chance I may have had at killing the buck my gut told me had made the bed, I left that area alone for a couple weeks. Then, on October 30, the wind was right, and I had the green light to go hunting from both the weatherman and my wonderful wife. It was a gorgeous Saturday morning, and the almost unnoticeable wind was blowing in the right direction.

I got up early and parked nearly a mile from my stand location, looping far around to avoid making my typical approach. I set my stand coming off a doe bedding area and in a corridor that led to the buck’s preferred bedroom.

When the sun came up, I loved the location I’d selected in the dark, but I was a little concerned about the lack of shooting lanes to my left. About 20 minutes after shooting light, I heard something coming from my left. It was a giant buck, and when he finally cleared the ravine, he was a mere 50 yards away!

I immediately told myself to stop staring at the giant rack with split brows! I had little doubt this buck was the owner of the bed I’d found, which was only 150 yards away. The buck slowly approached, clearly on a course he’d traversed before. I’d told myself not to look, but couldn’t help but be in awe of the buck’s size and thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.

The buck walked to within 20 yards on my left, but the brush was too thick for a shot. As the buck navigated the cut in the hillside, he had to hook around a deadfall, and when he did, I was ready and stopped him with a mouth bleat.

I released my arrow, and upon impact the buck mule-kicked and then whirled and took off. He ran up and over the rise, at which point I lost sight of him. Seconds later, I heard what sounded like a tree falling in the direction he’d gone. I fell back onto the seat of my stand and sat there shaking with nervous excitement, like I do every time I release an arrow at an animal.

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I was happy to have my lovely and understanding wife, Rachael, with me as part of my recovery team.

I got out my phone and texted my wife, “I just hit a monster…like, massive!”

Her response was, “Like, 10-point massive, or record-book massive?”

I then realized I didn’t know how big he was, but I did know he was the biggest buck I’d ever seen while hunting. My response was, “I don’t know, but much bigger than 10-point massive.”

We made a plan to have my mom come down and watch our kids, so Rachael could share in the whole exciting experience with me. She’s the one who sacrifices the most for my hunting adventures, and sharing success with your best friend always makes it taste even sweeter. I then texted my brother and asked for help. He said he’d be there after picking up Rachael and borrowing a game cart from a mutual buddy.

During the long wait, I kept glassing the ground from my stand, hoping to spot blood or my arrow, but I couldn’t spot either. About 30 minutes into my wait, a large maple tree mysteriously fell within sight. I guess it finally caved from rot, but why on a dead-calm morning, and why now? Since the felled tree made more noise than anything I could do, I decided to climb down and slowly walk to the impact site. Immediately, I found my arrow — and it was coated with bubbly blood!

I still had to wait for my help, so I continued glassing the surroundings from my seat on the forest floor. From my new location, I could now see over the rise of the ridge. Before long I’d caught sight of what looked like a dead deer about 70 yards away. When my wife and brother arrived, I had them look through my binoculars, and they both confirmed that it was definitely a deer!

So we made our way directly to the giant animal, which had a huge chunk of bark still stuck in the base of his antlers. Apparently, he had slammed full speed into a maple tree, which would explain the loud crash I’d heard!

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Thank goodness my brother, Caleb, was able to borrow our buddy’s game cart.

I was in awe of the behemoth. He was a true warrior that had managed to avoid hunting pressure on public land for many years. Judging from where the buck was bedding, he likely didn’t have the luxury of a diet enriched by agricultural or manicured food plots, but rather he lived his life foraging oak ridges, logging slashes, and whatever else the big contiguous woods of Northern Wisconsin offered on the menu.

The buck ended up weighing-in over 250 pounds, and he green-scored 1967⁄8 Pope and Young-style points. I’m not sure what made the buck more Magic, his managing to grow to that size in the big woods, or the fact that I was able to catch him on his feet. Maybe it’s both!

I’m already looking forward to next season and getting boots on the ground. Maybe I can find another giant. But, I’ll be just as excited to notch my tag on one of the small, basket-racked bucks that are more common on the public ground I choose to roam.

The author is a home-building contractor who lives in Hayward, Wisconsin.

Author’s Note

My equipment on this hunt included a Prime Logic bow outfitted with a Ripcord rest and TightSpot quiver, Easton Axis arrows, Iron Will broadheads, and a Summit climber.

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