December 21, 2022
The hunt for this deer began in 1973, when my Uncle Bob and Aunt Pat purchased an 80-acre parcel of land “up north” in central Wisconsin. Every October, Uncle Bob, along with my dad, grandpa, and other family members and friends would set out in search of a buck they’d call “The Big Kahuna.”
This was back in the days before trail cameras and nicknaming deer. My family wasn’t looking for any deer in particular; they were just looking for a buck to bring home that might earn them top honors as the biggest buck taken that season by participating family members. Some years, it would be a 10-pointer; other years it would be a button buck; and still some years the trophy might go unawarded for lack of shooting a buck altogether.
Not long after “The Farm” was purchased, an annual family reunion was started. Its purpose was to gather all family members who had dispersed across the country a chance to get back together and maybe put in a little treestand time each fall.
Before I had enough muscle to draw a bow capable of killing a deer, I fondly remember anxiously waiting for dark so I could listen to the stories being told by those hunters coming back from the woods. Successful or not, I was jealous of their ability to go out in search of the Big Kahuna, and I dreamed of the day when I’d get to tell my story by the campfire.
Time flies, and before I knew it, I was sitting 20 feet up in a treestand with bow in hand, in pursuit of a trophy of my choosing.
Since I had tagged out on a buck in Missouri on opening day of the 2021 archery season, I was eager to get after rutting Wisconsin bucks the first week of November. I had e-scouted different pieces of public ground with my onX app weeks before the trip and already had a handful of spots near the farm that I wanted to check out.
Arriving at the farm, I spent the next several hours catching up with family over food and football — too many hours in fact, as the result was a late start on the next day’s morning chores, like purchasing a hunting license in town.
Getting back to the farm around noon the next day, my uncle told me that I should go to a spot he had picked out in the far northwest corner of the property. Like all ethical bowhunters should do after lengthy travel, I shot a few arrows just to make sure all was well with my archery setup before heading out for the afternoon’s hunt.
The sandy four-wheeler trail I was using to access my uncle’s suggested hunt area was littered with scrapes and other sign made by rut-crazed bucks in search of receptive does — further adding to my confidence and excitement. Upon reaching my destination, I immediately realized why my uncle wanted me to be there: It was a south-facing hillside thick with seedling oaks, briars, scattered white pines, and other cover, which eventually opened up to a hardwood flat. It was the perfect funnel for a mature buck cruising to find a doe.
After finding a few main trails that connected the open hardwoods to the cover of the thickets on either side, I started searching for the “right tree.” With the majority of the deer travel patterns running east and west, and with a northwest wind, I elected to hunt from a big red maple tree located on the south side of the flat.
I had quite a few deer funnel past me that evening, including a doe that I was fortunate enough to make a good shot on. I called my dad to bring his ATV out to help me recover her, and after we got her loaded, we grabbed the SD cards out of the two trail cameras that my uncle had out.
My uncle said he wouldn’t be hunting the next morning, so fueled by the excitement of the previous night’s success, combined with multiple trail-camera pictures of a mature 11-pointer, I was up well before sunrise the next morning and hiked back out to the same stand. I wasn’t disappointed by my decision.
It was a cold and frosty morning, the kind where the air stings the inside of your nostrils with every breath. It was exactly the kind of weather to get a mature buck on his feet and looking for the first receptive does. Before it was light enough to see, I could hear deep grunts coming through the woods, accompanied by the sound of crunching leaves. I could barely contain my excitement as I anxiously waited for enough light for my eyes to verify what my ears were already telling me was going on.
Eventually, I saw a doe running in from the southeast with a young buck matching her step for step. Behind them were two other bucks that decided to stop and fight each other about 80 yards away.
Around 9 a.m., it started to snow, and about an hour later I heard something walking to the west. Immediately, I recognized the bone-white antlers of the 11-pointer that we had studied pictures of the night before.
The buck was 60 yards away, and he was on a path that would lead him to within 40 yards of me. But as quickly as he came into my life, he was out of it, and I found myself watching the buck slowly slip over the hill and out of sight. I rattled and grunted at him in an attempt to bring him back into my life, but I got no response. I climbed down an hour later and headed back to the house for lunch.
When I got back to the house and shared the morning’s experiences with my dad and uncle, I could see their excitement for me — the same excitement I had for them upon their return from the woods when I was a kid. I tried to get my uncle to go hunt the stand that afternoon, but he gave me too many reasons as to why he was busy and insisted that I go back out there. I have no doubt that he wanted to go, but I could also sense that my killing the buck would mean more to him than his killing the buck...and I can’t thank him enough for that.
Soon after lunch, I found myself back in the same stand. It was still cold, with a light and variable wind, but the barometric pressure was rising, and along with it, so was my confidence.
It wasn’t long before a small eight-pointer approached from the southeast, along with a doe cautiously coming in from the northwest. When the pair got to within 15 yards of my tree, the young buck pinned his ears back and snort-wheezed at the doe, and then promptly chased his unwilling date back in the direction from which she’d come.
It was fairly quiet until sunset, but in typical rut fashion, that quickly changed.
I heard a deer to the northwest of me on the trail that a lot of the previous deer I’d seen had been using. Light was fading, but I could see the deer’s body coming over the hill about 100 yards away and its steps sounded much more confident than those made by the younger bucks that had previously wandered by.
Through my binoculars, I could see the right half of his rack. He had foot-tall, split G-2 and G-3’s on that side. I knew it wasn’t the 11-pointer from the trail cameras, but there was no doubt that he was a shooter.
I immediately reached for my bow and rangefinder. Guessing what trail he would take, I ranged a tree next to it where I would have a shot opportunity and got a reading of 42 yards. I had consistently practiced out to 60 yards and felt extremely confident with that shot distance, but he was moving so fast that instincts took over and I made the typical “meh” sound used by many hunters to stop a moving deer… Except I hadn’t drawn my bow back yet. I froze.
To my relief, the buck dropped his head and continued on the same path. This time, I drew my bow before trying to stop him. It was still well within legal shooting light, with plenty of light for me to see how big his antlers truly were, but I composed myself enough to ignore that fact and instead focused all my attention on the spot behind his shoulder. The buck was just beyond the tree I’d ranged at 42 yards, so I buried my 50-yard pin on that spot and released my arrow.
I watched as the orange glow of my lighted nock hit the buck square in his shoulder and about six inches higher than where I had been aiming…and he dropped!
I’ve never climbed out of a tree so fast in my life. As soon as my feet touched the ground, I took off running toward him. Knowing spine shots usually require a follow-up shot, I promptly sent a second arrow into his chest as quickly as I could.
That’s when my brain let my eyes see what had grown on top of his head. The buck’s massive rack had 14 points and later measured 189 P&Y-style inches. I was awestruck and in total disbelief that I’d had so many encounters the first two days and then ended up killing this giant buck none of us knew existed.
I sat down next to the buck for several minutes, shaking while continuing to try and catch my breath. Then I pulled out my phone and called my dad.
I could hear the excitement in Dad’s voice as he asked for details, but between my inability to think straight and a weak phone signal, I simply told him, “Bring the buggy and get out here as soon as possible!”
I sat and stared at my buck, while also thanking God for the opportunity and my late Uncle Bob for for putting his nephew’s desires before his own and sending this magnificent animal my way. Uncle Bob had passed away 17 years ago, but his ashes were spread along the same hillside where I now sat.
When my dad and Uncle Steve arrived, the celebration really got started. They couldn’t believe their eyes either, as no one who hunted the farm had ever seen a deer of this size. Countless pictures were taken, and again, I could see the same excitement in their eyes for my success as they’d probably seen in mine for theirs over the years.
There was a fire going when we finally got back to the house. We sat around it and told stories while watching the fire’s glow reflect off my buck’s antlers. I now had picture-perfect memories to last a lifetime, and a “Big Kahuna” story of my own that I’ll tell forever!
The author lives in Fulton, Missouri, with his fiancé, Kristen, their two dogs and a cat. He works as an ag sales specialist for Ranch and Farm Ag Services and Whitetail Properties.
My equipment on this hunt included a Mathews V3 bow, Easton 5MM FMJ arrows, NAP broadheads, Nockturnal lighted nocks, Carter release, Summit Viper SD stand, Nose Jammer spray, LaCrosse boots, Realtree camo, Vortex binoculars, Bushnell rangefinder, Primos calls, and knives from Outdoor Edge.