Three-Year Quest for a Wisconsin Ghost
September 22, 2010
Larry Kline invested hundreds of hours chasing this huge non-typical. On opening morning of the 2004 archery season, everything came together!
An elated Larry Kline proudly shows off his "ghost" buck. It easily should exceed 200 non-typical B&C points. Photo by Pat Reeve.
By Greg Miller
Wisconsin bowhunter Larry Kline was brimming with anticipation as he headed toward his stand on opening morning of the 2004 season. But as he admitted later, he wasn't anticipating an encounter with a certain monster buck he'd been chasing hard for a couple of years. It was more a case of having those familiar anticipatory feelings many of us experience when we head out into the woods for our first hunt of the season. We really never know what might happen.
Granted, Larry did harbor thoughts of the monster non-typical every time he walked in to his hunting area. But his quest for the trophy buck was now stretching into its third season. And to this point, he had yet to lay eyes on the huge whitetail while the season was open. Still, just knowing that the monarch occasionally roamed these very woods was enough to keep Larry's adrenaline flowing. The way he saw it, the many hours he'd logged in pursuit of the deer was time well spent. For there was no denying that the infamous "ghost buck" definitely was a true world-class animal.
Larry had first become aware of the deer three years earlier.
"I'm pretty sure I got a picture of him with one of my scouting cameras when he was 1 1/2 years old," Larry said. "The young buck in that picture was starting to develop forks on his G-2s. He also had some very distinct markings on his coat. I'm almost positive that it was the same deer."
It was no accident that the buck had taken up residence on Larry's northern Wisconsin hunting property. During the late 1980s, the Solon Springs native went to great pains to ensure that he'd have quality deer hunting on his land in future seasons. Larry started clearing small chunks of forest and planting the first of what would eventually be some 23 food plots on his property.
"Initially I would look for frost pockets and other low areas that seemed to hold moisture better than the surrounding ground," he stated. "For the most part, the soil in that country is fairly sandy and not real conducive for growing the types of food that whitetails desire. But I continued to search out spots that I figured were better than normal. And I fertilized those spots especially heavy in an attempt to give the soil a boost. I also dumped a lot of mineral supplements specifically formulated for antler development."
In this regard, Larry has to be considered a true pioneer in the practice of developing food plots specifically for attracting whitetails - especially where he hunts in Wisconsin. As far as I know, he was one of the first hunters, if not the very first hunter, to actually clear chunks of northern forestland and put in supplemental food plots.
Early on, Larry took another important step toward ensuring that big whitetails would not only be attracted to the food on his property, but might take up residency there as well.
"I set aside approximately 60 acres as being off limits to me and my hunting partners," he explained. "The only time we ever set foot inside that chunk of ground was if we had to trail a wounded deer onto it. Otherwise we left it alone."
The drawing power of Larry's many food plots, coupled with the security of the sanctuary he'd established, eventually had the desired effects. Just prior to the opening of gun season in November 2002, a scouting camera he'd put out snapped a photo of a huge non-typical buck. But despite the fact that Larry and his six gun-hunting partners pounded the woods hard during the nine-day season, none of them caught so much as a glimpse of the monster deer.
Not surprisingly, Larry was concerned that someone else might have bagged the big non-typical during the 2002 gun season. His concerns prompted him to check out a number of rumors of non-typical bucks that supposedly had been taken. He was relieved to discover that none of those rumors involved the "ghost buck."
Any further concerns Larry might have had about the big deer's wellbeing were put to rest for good several months later.
"I got another photo of the buck with my scouting camera in January '03," he recalled. "And then in March I got a photo of him after he'd shed his antlers. So I knew he'd survived both the '02 gun season and the winter. But try as I might, I couldn't find his sheds."
It wasn't until late July of 2003 that Larry got his first honest-to-goodness look at the deer of his dreams. On a steamy evening he spotted the big non-typical feeding with several other huge bucks near his property.
"My brother-in-law was with me that evening," he said. "I know it sounds hokey, but two of the bucks running with the big non-typical were typicals that had to be pushing 170 inches. But my brother-in-law and I hardly took a second look at those two bucks. The non-typical was just so much more impressive that it was almost unbelievable. Neither one of us will ever forget that sight."
Larry's suspicions that the ghost buck possibly might have relocated were further fueled by the final results of his '03 hunting season.
"I put in hundreds of hours that season," he said. "Counting both bow and gun seasons, I passed up 43 legitimate opportunities at bucks. Some of the bucks I passed up were small, some were so-so, and some were downright impressive. But I was determined to hold out for the ghost."
Like the previous year, Larry checked out rumors concerning non-typical whitetails that had been killed in the area. Once again, he was relieved to find that none of those rumors involved the ghost buck.
The spring and early summer months of 2004 found Larry spending plenty of time at his hunting cabin. During the summer, Larry learned that one of his neighbors had gotten a photo of the ghost buck with a scouting camera. Then, just about the time that Larry was starting to believe that the buck indeed might have relocated, he got the surprise of his life.
"I had a roll of film from one of my scouting cameras developed, and the ghost buck appeared in one of the photos dated July 22," he stated. "I couldn't believe it. Now I knew for sure that he was spending at least some time on my property!"
The photo showed Larry something else as well.
"I could tell from the photo that the buck appeared to be a bit spooked from the f
lash of the camera," he said. "I didn't want to take any chances, so I immediately removed the camera from that spot. That same day, I put up my portable stand in the very same tree where the camera had been. I figured if the buck had walked through that spot once, he'd probably walk through there again."
Larry didn't venture anywhere close to his stand site for the rest of the summer. Finally, opening morning of the 2004 archery season rolled around on Sept. 18. A check of the wind direction showed that it would be ideal to hunt the stand he'd put up back in early August.
The stand site, which was located in a strip of timber between two food plots, was easily accessible. Per his plan of attack, Larry was situated in the portable stand a little before daylight. Around 7 a.m., he spotted his first deer of the day. The animal was standing with its head down approximately 75 yards away.
"I watched the deer for a few seconds, and then it suddenly raised its head," Larry recalled. "I could tell immediately that it was him - the ghost buck! I have to admit that I started shaking almost uncontrollably. The buck took a few steps in my direction, but then he disappeared in the thick underbrush. I'm glad things happened the way they did because it gave me time to regain control."
Nearly 10 minutes passed before Larry finally spotted the monster buck again. The big deer simply appeared a mere 20 yards from his stand. The excited bowhunter managed to reach full draw undetected. Picking a spot behind the buck's shoulder, Larry forced himself to concentrate on making a good shot. A second later, the Muzzy-tipped arrow was speeding from his Mathews Outback toward its intended target.
The hit appeared to be picture perfect. Larry listened as the deer crashed off. Then he sat down and replayed the encounter in his mind. He knew he'd made a good hit. He also knew he was going to play this one by the book.
"As hard as it was to do, I stayed put on my stand for a full hour," he said. "I just didn't want to take any chances. After what seemed like an eternity, I climbed down and walked to the spot where the buck had been standing when I shot. I found my arrow almost right away. The blood sign on it looked real good."
Rather than taking up the trail at that moment, Larry backed out of the area and went to get his dad, who was hunting another part of the property. Of course, his dad wanted to know why he'd quit hunting so early.
"I got him, Dad," Larry replied. "I got the ghost buck!"
Larry's dad was fully aware of the time and effort his son had invested in pursuit of this trophy whitetail over the past few years. He had even remarked to mutual friends that he thought Larry had become obsessed with the buck. But he viewed it as a healthy obsession. He immediately started climbing down from his tree stand, anxious to join his son.
"We walked back to the cabin, and were just about to go after the buck when my brother-in-law and nephew showed up," Larry said. "The four of us went back to the spot where I'd found my arrow and started searching for blood. It took us a while to figure out which direction the buck had run, but we eventually picked up a fairly heavy blood trail."
The four hunters had traveled less than 60 yards when they lost the trail.
As Larry recalled, "We were spread out trying to find the trail when my dad suddenly hollered, 'Look at that!' At first I thought he had found some blood. But then he added that he'd spotted the buck. I quickly made my way to him and saw the ghost lying there, obviously dead. I have to tell you, it was quite a sight. I felt a huge flood of emotion."
Larry accepted congratulations and high-fives from his three partners. A preliminary inspection of the antlers showed that the monster whitetail sported at least 23 points. After getting the buck out of the woods and back to the cabin, Larry placed a call from his cell phone to his wife, Amy, who was at home in Solon Springs.
"I got him - I got the ghost buck," he told her.
Larry went on to tell Amy all the details of his opening-morning hunt. He then spoke with his daughter and told her the good news. She told her dad that she had dreamed he had finally taken the ghost buck.
Years of quality management on Larry's property no doubt contributed to the incredible antler mass his ghost buck displays. The awesome rack boasts a 6x6 typical frame with several split tines and kickers. Photo by Pat Reeve.
"I knew my family would be excited about me taking the ghost," Larry stated. "But I had no idea they would be as excited as they were. A half-hour after I called home, my cell phone rang. It was Amy. She told me I either had to bring the buck home right away or they were driving out to the cabin to see it. I told her to stay put and I'd take the buck home."
At this writing, the antlers from the "ghost buck" have not yet been officially scored. But given the rack's huge 6x6 typical frame that gross-scores close to 190 points, along with deep forks on both the G-2 and G-3 tines and numerous "sticker" points, I think it's safe to say that the rack easily will attain a net non-typical score of well over 200 points.
As our interview for this story wound up, I asked Larry what he's going to do now that the ghost buck is no longer out there.
"That's interesting, because my wife asked me the very same question," Larry replied. "I have to admit that it's going to be strange not having the ghost buck to chase anymore. But I know for a fact that there are a couple of other very big bucks in the area. I'm sure I'll find a way to keep myself entertained in the future."
During our conversation, Larry stressed the fact that he feels his food plots played an important part in his success story. He told me that he honestly believes he helped "grow" the huge non-typical buck. I agree with him wholeheartedly on the matter. I'm very familiar with the area where Larry took his record-book deer. It's not what you would consider the ideal environment for growing monster whitetails. Generally speaking, a lack of nutritious foods combined with harsh winter weather makes it hard for bucks to achieve maximum growth potential in the area.
Providing deer with a variety of nutritious foods they normally would not get and giving them year-around access to mineral supplements can help the overall quality of the herd immensely. And Larry Kline has been doing that on his hunting lands for nearly 20 years now!
In closing, Larry told me a story that may be an interesting sideline to his quest for a record buck. In the fall of '04, he got a photo of a 1 1/2-year-old buc
k from one of his scouting cameras.
"The young buck is a dead ringer for the ghost buck when he was that same age," Larry told me excitedly. "Of course, I realize that a lot of factors have to be in place for that deer to grow into a big non-typical, but stranger things have happened. In the meantime, I'm going to keep doing exactly what I've done in the past. I'm going to provide the deer on my property with lots of nutritious food, plenty of minerals and a sanctuary where they can get away from hunting pressure."
Larry Kline has already proved that he's found a winning formula. I can't help but think that we'll be hearing from him again in the future!