Bill Stickelmaeir 190-Inch Record Buck: World's New No. 5 Muzzleloader
March 19, 2014
For many sportsmen, the best thing about gun hunting for whitetails is that it typically turns into an annual family gathering.
The scenario that plays out across many states actually starts the night before opening day. Members of the hunting party gather at the hunting ground, which is frequently the old family farm. And then the plotting and scheming begin. The map of the area is laid out, marked with Uncle Jerry's stand here and Dad's stand there, and possibly a new setup no one has yet hunted.
The discussion usually begins with, "What's the weather forecast for tomorrow?" Then comes, "Which way is the wind going to be blowing in the morning?" After that, here come the trail camera photos, hopefully with enough nice bucks caught on camera to ratchet up anticipation of the next morning.
Going into the 2012 Illinois gun season, Bill Stickelmaier had been to the 300-acre family farm numerous times during the spring and summer. A typical weekend trip to the Fulton County property included working on a list of about 100 items he needed to get done in two days: mowing, cleaning up fallen trees, planting food plots, etc.
As the season approached, Bill's attention turned to setting up deer stands, trimming shooting lanes and making sure everything was ready. He typically starts the season doing some bowhunting, and during the first few weeks of the 2012 season he passed up a few young bucks. He also set out three trail cameras, and by late October he had several photos of respectable deer, though no really great ones.
With mid-November's first gun season rapidly approaching, Bill still had all of his buck tags in his pocket. But the rut was cranking up, and he was looking forward to getting into the woods with his Savage muzzleloader.
The day before gun season, several family members arrived at the family farm to check out their guns and get ready for the following morning. All of the hunters looked at the recent trail camera photos, which included several small bucks and a couple of mid-range shooters — one of which was a pretty nice non-typical. But there were still no photos of real giants.
With each hunter having come up with an opening-morning plan based on wind direction, they all left the trailer well before daylight. "I really like to get set up in the dark, at least 30-45 minutes before legal shooting time," Bill says. He points out that by getting into the stand that early, any disturbance of the area subsides long before shooting light.
After climbing the 20 feet into his tree stand, Bill sat quietly, waiting for daybreak. It was that magical time of morning when in the dim light your mind tries to play games with you, turning every bush into a deer.
Just as it grew light enough to see, Bill picked up movement 120 yards away and realized it was a doe moving toward him through the woods. Keep a close eye out for what might be following her, the hunter reminded himself.
When the doe got to within 60-70 yards, Bill saw movement behind her. Through his binoculars, he immediately realized the trailing buck was a shooter.
The doe kept moving toward the stand and finally stopped near the small creek, putting her only 40 yards from the waiting hunter. She then stood in the same spot for at least five minutes. Bill, meanwhile, focused on getting his muzzleloader ready for a possible shot at the buck without spooking her.
The buck, which naturally was keeping track of the doe, stopped and turned broadside at 80 yards. Then he again began to move slowly through the woods. Bill desperately looked for a shooting lane and finally saw an opening 10 yards in front of the buck. As the huge whitetail stepped into the opening, the hunter squeezed off his shot.
The buck instantly threw up his tail and ran 30-40 yards, stopped briefly and took off running again — now uphill. Such behavior is hardly what a hunter typically wants to see after a shot, and it did nothing to boost Bill's confidence.
I'm not sure I hit him, he thought. The bullet might have hit a small tree and deflected.
Bill forced himself to wait 15 minutes before getting out of the stand. While waiting, he used his binoculars to pick out landmarks where the buck had disappeared. He also reloaded his muzzleloader, in case another shot were needed.
Once the agonizing wait was over, the hunter quietly got out of the stand and went to where the buck had stopped after the shot. There was a lot of blood. With that much blood loss the buck can't still be alive, Bill told himself.
He began to slowly follow the blood trail, glassing ahead as he went. "I was very confident the buck was down, based on the consistent blood trail," Bill says. He eased over the top of the hill and quickly saw antlers on the ground only 25 yards away. The great buck was dead.
Now, for the first time, Bill got a good look at the body and antlers of his deer. He'd known it was a "good" buck, but at first the true size didn't really register with him. He tagged the buck and took a couple of minutes to savor the experience, then sent a text to his wife and a cousin who was also hunting the property.
"Shot a pretty nice buck just before 7:00" was the information Bill provided with the photo. When his wife, Kelly, got the text, she decided it was a bit of an understatement.
"I got his text, and when I looked at the picture, the buck just kept getting bigger and bigger," she recalls.
While field dressing his buck, Bill watched a curious 6-pointer walk up and just stand there for several seconds. Bill's uncle (also named Bill) ended up shooting that buck later in the morning. And that wasn't the end of their success. Two more family members also took whitetails before lunch.
The hunters took an ATV to retrieve Bill's giant typical. And they needed the horsepower.
"It was a good thing we could reach the buck with the 4-wheeler, because the body was huge," Bill notes. Sure enough, the beast weighed 235 pounds field dressed.
As for the rack, all Bill and his relatives knew was that it was his biggest. But at the time, no one fully realized it was much more than that. Then Bill took it to Dave Emken's taxidermy studio in Yates City. When Bill saw the look on Dave's face, he started to realize the buck was something special.
After the 60-day drying period, Boone & Crockett measurer Tim Walmsley met Bill at the taxidermy shop and officially scored the buck.
"I never guess the size of a deer before I measure it, but I knew it was a giant buck that would make Boone & Crockett," Tim says. Dave, who's also an official B&C measurer, assisted with the process. When they saw some of the numbers — starting with almost a 24-inch inside spread — they knew the score was going to be impressive.
The G-2s are right at 11 inches, and the G-3s are even longer, at 12 0/8 and 13 2/8.The G-4s also are great, at 8 3/8 and 9 2/8. All of the circumferences are over 4 4/8 inches, with three over 5 and one just shy of that mark.
The gross typical score comes to 194 5/8 inches, with only 4 2/8 inches of deductions for asymmetry. That puts the final net typical score at a stunning 190 3/8. That's a giant of a typical, especially for a 5x5. In fact, at that score, the buck would be the world's new No. 5 muzzleloader typical ever. (David Wilson's 193 2/8, taken in Saskatchewan years ago, is the world record in the category.)
Bill Stickelmaier puts in his time, both as a hunter during the season and in the off-season as a land manager. He credits his dad, Jim, for instilling in him a lifelong love of the outdoors. Through it all, Bill's whitetail goals have remained squarely focused on the people involved.
"Seeing the whole family enjoy themselves is the best part of the whole hunting experience," he says. "And that's what it's all about. Once in a while you even get the extra benefit of taking an exceptional buck."