Paul Keller Buck: The 231-Inch Wisconsin Wonder
May 24, 2013
As I nocked an arrow, I sat back and started to reminisce a little bit about the "good old days" of my hunting career. I thought back to my days of cutting truck loads of firewood as a boy to earn enough money to make the trip to Hansen's archery and purchase a dozen aluminum arrows and some Bear broadheads for the upcoming season. Of course, I would always have to spend a little time looking at the new compound bows'¦
I can still remember the grief that I got from the old-timers for "selling out" when I bought my first compound, and for years before I could drive, I would plead with my dad for hours until he would agree to take me to the local hunting meetings and sport shows, where local guys like Floyd Pluger and Jack Bazile would talk about a "new" concept called Quality Deer Management (QDM). Sometimes, back then, it didn't go over real well, but these guys were practicing it long before it was the cool thing to do.
I had to laugh a little when I thought back to my early archery seasons and how it took me a couple of years to finally score on my first buck — a spike — and how my 10-year-old son, on a mentor hunt with me, had just shot a 13-point, 156-inch buck, his first with the bow, just a few days ago on opening weekend. How times change'¦
'Really Good Bucks'
The flick of a deer tail brought me back to reality, I chastised myself for letting my mind wander, but, hey, that's what memories are for, right? I thought to myself, You'd better pay attention. There are some really good bucks roaming these ridges.
We had been getting some great trail camera photos of a handful of bucks that would span from the 150s to 170s and one in particular that would probably go well into the 200s. The neighbors and I had been getting trail camera photos of him all summer, and I was hoping to be in the right place at the right time when the opener rolled around.
I had been practicing some form of QDM on this property since the early 90s. I've found that, for me, the key to being successful is hunting high and trying to be as scent-free as possible. I use the property very little, if at all, during the off-season. Shed hunting is the only time that I actually walk the entire piece of property. I try not to put any pressure on the local deer herd. I guess I call it the "Less is More" theory.
My strategy is to do most of my scouting with trail cameras, and I check them at most once a week. You can get a pretty good idea of where a certain buck is traveling by monitoring your trail camera photos. Then, all you have to do is connect the dots to get a travel pattern set up for him. If I have a buck using the property on two days out of seven, I will only go after him on the days that he should be there, hunting only the right wind.
If the wind is wrong, I stay off of the property, because sometimes you only have one chance at a buck. Pressure him and he's gone. Obviously, this is nothing that you haven't heard before, but I truly believe this is one of the big keys to my success.
Saturday, the opening day of bow season in Wisconsin, brought with it a south wind, the absolute worst for trying to get close to such a seasoned deer in the area he was using on my property. I elected to take my son to a different stand to try to get him on his first buck. We didn't have any chances for a shot the first night. Sunday arrived with another poor wind ranging from south to straight west.
I so wanted to try for the big buck, but I decided to hunt with my son again, and it was the right decision. At 5 p.m., he arrowed a nice deer, and at 7 p.m., we were hugging and exchanging "high fives" over his first buck. I've had the chance to do some really cool things in the outdoors, but watching my son take his first buck far surpassed anything that I have accomplished in my time afield.
On Tuesday morning, I checked the weather for our area: a north-northeast wind was expected, just what I needed. I headed for home, excited by thoughts of the hunt and a possible encounter with the big buck swirling in my head.
As I turned onto my road, I was greeted with the sight of the farmer who rents my cropland chopping the corn off of the field that butts right up to the woods and small food plot where I had been getting most of the trail camera photos of the giant buck for the last three weeks. The sight of this shocked me enough that I almost drove into the ditch!
Our area gets pressured very heavily by "shiners" — people who cruise the back roads with a spotlight, searching for deer in open fields. The previous spring, when I saw the local farmer was planting about 90 percent corn in the fields surrounding my property, I was overjoyed. This would give the deer some much-needed cover to conduct their daily routines without being bothered by spotlights.
I had originally wanted to hunt the buck from a ground blind on the edge of a food plot where I had been getting most of the trail camera photos of him. Now, I had a full-scale corn harvesting operation just a few yards from the food plot where I wanted to sit. I thought to myself, If he comes down to the field and sees that his sanctuary is gone, it will be a death sentence for any chance of getting close to this buck. I knew that once he realized the standing corn was gone, he would drastically change his travel patterns.
On the Fly
It was time to devise a new plan. I went back over my trail camera photos of the deer. When he came into the small food plot and I would get photos of him, he was usually headed northwest. This meant that he was using one of three trails leading into the small food plot coming in from a bedding area about 20 acres away. I had a Shadow Hunter enclosed blind about halfway between the bedding area and the small food plot.
It was in an area of overgrown pasture, with extremely thick cover around the blind and just four shooting lanes carved out of the brush and planted with clover. With the north wind, two of the three trails that led to the food plot were on the upwind side of the stand within 35 yards, but one of the trails was about 20 yards downwind of the blind. I thought to myself, If the corn was still there, I wouldn't chance it, but with the harvesting underway, I have to try it. It might be my one and only chance at the buck.
I went through my usual ritual of showering and spraying down and slowly slipped into the Shadow Hunter. I only opened three of the eleven windows in the blind, one overlooking each trail that the buck could possibly take to the food plot. For fear of deer getting downwind and busting me, I left the clear windows up to reduce my scent. It would be tough to get the windows down for a quick shot, but my main concern was not alerting any deer to my presence.
Around 4:30 that afternoon, I finally got a break. The farmer quit chopping corn, and shortly thereafter the deer started moving. A little after 6 p.m., I spotted a 9-point buck with a forked G-2 that was in the same bachelor group as the big buck.
They often showed up on the same trail camera photos together. He came in on one of the upwind trails north of the stand and started to browse on some of the clover planted in the shooting lane. Thinking that the big buck might be with him, I slowly slid the window down and ranged him at 32 yards. I attached my release on the string and waited. The 9-pointer fed for a few minutes, looked back a couple of times and then continued toward the food plot.
I waited at the ready for another 20 minutes, to no avail. I took my release off of the string and slowly slid the window back up. A few minutes later, I noticed a couple of does feeding in the shooting lane to my east, I glanced out of the window on the downwind side to the south and noticed a small 6-pointer making his way down the ridge to the food plot.
He walked into the downwind shooting lane at 20 yards and stopped. Initially he seemed undisturbed until he threw his head up and stared in my direction. After a few seconds he turned and nervously walked back up the ridge on the same trail that he had come in on. How could he have smelled me? I looked out my east window at the does and they were still feeding undisturbed. After watching the does for a few seconds, I glanced out of my north window to where the 9-pointer had passed 30 minutes ago, and there he stood.
The 200-inch non-typical had his head down, feeding on the clover. The small 6-pointer downwind of me must have caught a glimpse of the big buck or scented him. Wanting no part of the older, bigger buck, the 6-pointer turned and retreated back up the ridge.
I slowly reached up and slid the clear window down, the blustery north wind masking any sounds I might have made. As I slowly lifted the bow for the shot, the buck's head was still down. I drew and anchored in that old familiar place on my cheek. I looked through the peep and put the sight pin on the deer.
The whole shot process seemed to last an eternity, but in reality it probably only took a few seconds. I settled the pin behind the buck's shoulder, but just as I was getting ready to release the arrow, the massive buck lifted his head and looked right at me. That sight will be with me forever.
I slowly started to put pressure on the release while holding the pin steady behind his front shoulder. The shot surprised me a little, but the arrow was on its way. A split second later, it buried itself in the buck's vitals right where the sight pin had been. The buck whirled and was gone.
As I sat back in my chair, the gravity of the situation started to sink in and the nerves started to hit me. Over the next several minutes I replayed the shot in my head a few of times. Did the arrow deflect? Did I get enough penetration? I gave the buck a few minutes to exit the area, and I slowly crawled down and slipped out of the woods, headed back to the house.
When I walked into the house, my wife, Tammy, and our son, Seth, greeted me with huge smiles on their faces because, over the years, me coming in early from hunting could only mean one thing. After sharing the story with them, I called a few close friends to help track. After a couple of hours we assembled at the site of the shot, and the reassuring shout "I've got blood" started us on a 75-yard blood trail that ended with that old familiar, "There he is!"
We knew from the trail camera photos that the buck was a giant, but nothing can prepare you for the moment when you finally get to lay your hands on him. It was a very special night, not only because of the hunt but because of special people who shared in it. I am truly blessed to have grown up and live in an area like this. To my friends and neighbors, it takes a community to grow a deer like this, not just one person. If you've seen this deer on your property, have trail camera photos or have found his sheds over the years, you had a hand in making this deer what he was.
(Editor's Note: After the mandatory 60-day drying period, Paul Keller's Waupaca County non-typical was scored by a panel of measurers, tallying a net non-typical score of 231 4/8, which ranks it as the No. 4 non-typical bowkill in Wisconsin history.)