When a world-class whitetail hits the dirt in a deer-deranged state like Wisconsin, it can be easy to lose your cool, to begin tossing around phrases like “state-record” and dreaming about the next Boone & Crockett Biennial Awards Banquet.
But what tends to get lost in the mad rush to rewrite the record books are the roots of the story, the meat ‘n potatoes that make the hunt so worthy of recognition.
Having chased whitetails in Wisconsin since 1978, Marion bowhunter Paul Keller is no stranger to monster bucks and rocking-chair racks, and as of September 18, he’s no stranger to the frenzy that surrounds a hunter who’s killed a mega-giant.
On that evening, Keller let fly a well-placed arrow through the lungs of a buck that, with a net non-typical green score of 229 2/8 inches, will likely rank among the top five non-typicals ever killed in Wisconsin. The deer’s rack awaits an official score after the 60-day drying period expires, and though it’s unlikely to challenge Wayne Schumacher’s standing non-typical record of 243 6/8 inches, the Keller buck is certainly in the right company.
For Keller though, the real story is not relegated to his buck’s record-book implications or even the single evening sit that saw its demise. Rather, the story is one of a lifetime spent in the woods learning the intricate ways of mature whitetails, of putting hard-earned knowledge into play and of passing those lessons on to his 10-year-old son, Seth.
Keller’s 26-point giant and the story of the hunt that brought him down are perfect examples of exactly that. This buck was no stranger in Waupaca County, and, according to Keller, a number of neighbors had seen and even photographed the buck feeding in surrounding fields.
“I had heard plenty of buzz from neighbors that there was a large buck in the area, and my neighbor to the north actually had the buck on camera,” Keller said. “He was a very well photographed deer… It takes a neighborhood to grow a deer like this. Anybody who scouted this deer or had photos or shed antlers from him had a hand in it.”
At the end of the story, the buck felt comfortable on Keller’s 80-acre tract, which he has owned and hunted for decades. Through a combination of low-impact scouting and last-minute adjustments, Keller patterned the massive-framed buck and waited for the perfect time to make his move.
The buck had been feeding in a neighboring farmer’s alfalfa field and a soybean field less than 1/2 a mile away, and he was using a timbered ridge and a 40-acre standing cornfield on Keller’s property to move between the two.
“The deer was actually feeding in both the alfalfa and the beans, and he was using my standing corn as security cover or a sanctuary,” Keller said. “The security provided by the corn was a big reason why he was there.
But as Keller arrived at his property in the mid-afternoon shadows of September 18, he discovered an unsettling scene.
“I passed by the cornfield on my way in, and the farmer that had leased the field was chopping the corn,” Keller said. “I about drove into a ditch. I knew it was a death sentence. My best stands were right on the edge of that field, and without the standing corn, the buck wouldn’t have the security he needed to stay there.”
For the exclusive, inside story on how Keller adjusted his strategy on the fly and brought down one of Wisconsin’s biggest whitetails ever, check out the July 2013 issue of North American Whitetail.