April 15, 2016
Sometimes giant bucks can bring out the worst in people. Friendships have surely been lost over big bucks, and in some cases people have even been harmed, stolen from, threatened or at least intimidated. But you're about to hear the story of a particular big buck that brought a group of hunters closer together.
Landon Kreidermacher and cousin Brian Ruhoff went pheasant hunting on Jan. 1, 2014. They weren't having much success, but as they walked through one small patch of timber, they jumped a massive buck. The deer ran directly away from them, and though they couldn't tell exactly how big the buck was, they knew he was huge.
A couple months later, Landon and brother Layton were back in the area hunting shed antlers. The big buck was in the back of their minds as they searched. There was a lot of snow, and they found distinct trails and a lot of deer beds. Incredibly, despite the deep snow, they found both sides of the rack roughly 200 yards from where the buck had been jumped.
The buck's actual size was then known, earning him the name "Mean Gene." The name was a combination of a reference to his amazing genetics and the fact a man named Gene had first allowed Landon and Layton permission to pheasant hunt that area. "Gene is the nicest guy," Landon states. "He has a real lively personality. The name Mean Gene is sort of like naming a huge guy 'Tiny.'"
The three hunters decided to keep the buck's misnomer of a name — and his very existence, for that matter — a secret. They hunt with a large group and are accustomed to sharing hunting information and properties. But in the case of Mean Gene, they thought the less anyone else knew, the better.
THE SCOUTING BEGINS
Trail cameras were placed strategically in the area, and pictures of the huge buck started rolling in. The hunters were able to fairly accurately track the deer's movements during the summer and early fall, as he spent most of his time on either Whitewater Wildlife Management Area (WMA) or on private land they had permission to hunt.
Whitewater WMA is in the southeastern corner of Minnesota and is made up of 15 properties. These range in size from less than 100 acres to more than 21,000, most of that within a few miles of the Mississippi River. This bluff country is right across the river from some of the best big-buck land in Wisconsin and very near the border of some seriously good northeastern Iowa hunting. The WMA does get a lot of pressure during gun seasons and enough during the bow seasons to keep deer on their toes.
Mean Gene definitely shared in this phantom-like behavior. While the monster showed up on the hunters' cameras with regularity, they never saw him in person again. And when the bow season started, even the game cameras started coming up empty. The hunters figured the buck had relocated due to the rising bowhunting pressure in the area. Regardless of the reason, bow season came and went without any chances at the buck — and then gun season did the same. It was clear Mean Gene hadn't been killed though, because they would have heard about it. Regardless, Mean Gene's specific whereabouts remained a mystery.
Late muzzleloader season changed the course of the Mean Gene story entirely, and this is where Stan Kreidermacher comes into the picture. He knew his relatives were on the trail of a big buck, as he'd picked up bits and pieces of their conversations. But Stan had no idea how big this deer was. More importantly, he was in the dark as to where the buck lived.
"I didn't know any details about the buck at all," he says with a grin. "They had really held out on me. Every time I talk to them now, I find out more and more they knew about the buck. They did a lot of lying to a lot of people to keep that deer a secret."
The Kreidermachers are part of a group of 13 friends and relatives who hunt together. The group has some serious hunting land available to them, including one large property they manage, plus adjoining state land and other private ground they have permission to access. Some members of the group are bowhunters, while some are strictly gun hunters. They've shot some really nice bucks over the years, and Stan usually gets lucky enough to put his tag on a big one about every five to seven years.
The late muzzleloader season was really winding down by Dec. 13. The group had taken a half-dozen nice bucks, as well as several does, but still had a few tags left. In an attempt to fill them, they planned another "drive day." The group planned to split the day into three separate drives, all on public hunting land in Winona County.
During these drives, Stan had no idea that he'd be in the general area in which most of the big buck's photos had been snapped. It also was less than a half-mile from the first sighting of Mean Gene.
For the first two drives, Stan set up on small stands of timber. A couple other party members had agreed he wasn't in the best place to catch deer attempting to escape the drive and suggested he move about 100 yards up the draw. Stan listened. He moved up 100 yards, and leaned against a tree.
The words of Stan's son Ryan were fresh on his mind as he waited for the drive to start. Ryan had told Stan not to be too anxious to shoot the first doe that came through; he should consider waiting for what might be following her.
With the majority of the group strategically placed as "sitters," the "drivers" began to make their way into the block of timber. It wasn't long before a small group of deer began moving. Suddenly, two does and a big buck tried to exit the drive to one side, but a sitter was in the right spot, and the deer saw him. He got off a quick shot before the buck disappeared back into the cover.
(The group would later discover that this man's shot had grazed the back of the elusive Mean Gene. Had his shot been only a few inches lower, today's record books might read a little differently.)
As the drive continued, the buck tried once again to escape the drive from the same side. But another man in the right place at the right time turned him back in — this time by shooting one of the does. That hunter had done exactly what Ryan had warned Stan not to do: He'd shot the doe before he ever had a chance to see what was following her. When the buck finally appeared, the hunter had a doe on the ground and an empty muzzleloader in hand.
By this point the timber was stirring with action, and Stan could finally hear deer headed his way. Stan had heard the shots, so he expected deer would be coming. He leaned steadily against the tree, his senses on high alert.
Just then, Stan caught sight of movement through the timber. He could make out a pair of does and a buck following, but he had no shot. The small group of deer eased through the hardwoods, gradually closing the distance.
By now Stan could tell the buck was a nice one, but he hadn't seen enough of the antlers to know exactly what he was looking at. It was a buck, and the hunter had a buck tag in his pocket. He also knew the season was about over, and he was about to capitalize.
Stan spotted a small opening well ahead of the deer. As they pressed forward, he held his gun on the opening and let the does walk by. Then Stan saw the buck's rack go through his small shooting window. The hunter waited a split-second until he had a clear shot at the body, then touched off the shot.
Initially, Stan had no idea if he'd hit the deer or not. He walked over to where the buck had been standing but still couldn't find any sign of a hit. Some of the guys found a few specks of blood and were about to start trailing the deer.
Stan tried to stop them, as he was still reloading his gun and wanted to leave the deer alone for a while. But four of the guys were already on the trail, and it didn't take them very long before pandemonium broke loose. The giant hadn't gone far.
"I heard Layton screaming like a little girl," Stan says. "It was shocking when I walked up to that buck. The group just stayed there enjoying the moment and taking photographs for a long time. It was two hours before we even moved the deer."
Stan's trophy was a local sensation. The team learned several other hunters in the area also were aware of his existence. Stan's group hung out in the town of Elba for hours as more and more people came by to look at the deer.
"The rack stuck up above the back of the pickup," Stan explains, "so people could see it from the street. Drivers would stomp on their brakes when they saw it!"
Mean Gene was officially scored on Feb. 21, 2015, at 248 5/8 net non-typical inches, beating the previous state record muzzleloader kill by an astounding 22 inches. The deer boasts a 183 3/8 gross typical score with 65 2/8 of non-typical points. There are 14 scorable points on each antler. The deer is the overall No. 6 non-typical ever taken in Minnesota, and he ranks No. 5 taken by a muzzleloader anywhere in North America.
Stan gives all the credit to Landon, Layton and Brian. "I was just the one who pulled the trigger," Stan notes. "There were really 13 people involved in it. If I could, I would have their names in the record book beside mine. I was just the one who made the winning shot!"
In a day when giant bucks are sought after more than ever, jealousy can rear its ugly head and drive a wedge into even solid friendships. Such is not the case in the story of Mean Gene. The three men with the most history and knowledge of this giant seem genuinely thrilled that one of their group was able to wrap a tag around the giant antlers.
"Stan has driven deer for us in the past," Layton notes. "There's no jealousy at all. "I'm just happy to be able to hold the rack instead of never seeing it again. Our hunting party is like a team, and this deer took teamwork. We feel like our team just won the state championship."