Scott Kruse and his brother-in-law had been watching a giant Wisconsin buck for several years. During the 2008 shotgun season, they planned to go all out in an effort to bag him.
My brother-in-law Barry had a dream. It was to own some prime hunting land in an area with outstanding whitetail genetics. The land had to be large enough to manage the deer herd, it had to contain a water source and it had to have tillable ground for food plots.
Scott Kruse proudly poses with the massive Wisconsin buck he had named Daniel after Daniel Boone. The 12-point rack sported 46 inches in mass measurements. The enormous antlers grossed 193 4/8 typical points, but after 13 inches in deductions they netted 180 4/8.
After a couple of years of looking, Barry found his dream property in Pierce County, Wisconsin. The price was right and the 160-acre parcel had great potential. As an added bonus, it also had a great building site for a log cabin with an unbelievable view. The land was in a large quality deer management co-op area that would aid in our goal of harvesting large, mature whitetail bucks.
After a year of planning, we started building the cabin. Since there was no electric power up on the large hill where the cabin would sit, it was built entirely with chainsaws and battery-powered drills. After months of hard work, the cabin turned out to be beautiful.
Over time, it would be the spot where many great memories would be made. It took a couple of years to find the best hunting spots, but after much trial and error, we found many good bowhunting stand sites.
A number of food plots were planted that contained corn, soybeans and Biologic clover.
We even planted a dozen apple trees. In addition to three box blinds and about 20 tree stands, a hunting tower was erected. No matter what the wind direction happened to be, the three of us -- Barry, Barry's son, Mitch, and I -- would always have a spot to hunt.
LET 'EM GO, SO THEY CAN GROW
We started out all passing up all young bucks. At first it is very difficult, but to harvest a mature whitetail you have to let the small ones go so that they can grow to maturity. No matter how hard we tried, though, no one could seem to get that first big buck on the new land. We knew that we had the monkey on our back, but everything changed on Nov. 23, 2002, when Mitch shot a beautiful 136-inch 10-pointer on opening day of shotgun season. The very next day I harvested a big 11-point with heavy mass. We were on a roll and the monkey was gone at last!
Many shoulder mounts would fill the cabin over the next five years, including Barry's 151-inch 8-pointer, taken with a bow, and my son, Isaac's, first buck destined to become a shoulder mount, a great 8-pointer with nice mass.
Like most hunters, we still made mistakes. In early November 2006 while bowhunting, Mitch missed a nice 150-class buck because of arrow deflection, but it was a clean miss and there hopefully would be another chance at this big boy in the future. While hunting the same stand a week later, I could hear the buck just over the ridge tending a doe. He was grunting continuously, and I tried to pull him in closer with my grunt tube, but he wasn't about to leave his girlfriend. He was not seen by anyone for the rest of that season.
A TRUE WALLHANGER
About a year later in 2007, Barry saw a huge buck believed to be the same buck that Mitch and I had encountered the year before. The buck was wide and heavy, and Barry estimated his score to be in the high 170s. Obviously, the buck had made a big jump in rack size from the previous year.
He wasn't seen again that season. In the spring of 2008, Mitch hired Tom Mesnard of Total Land Management to help manage the property. While out scouting in the spring of 2008, the two men found a huge left antler shed from this same deer. We later pulled the tape on the antler and it scored just over 80 inches. We gave him an estimated spread of 20 inches and we knew he was a 180-inch Booner. Needless to say, our hunting party was pumped for the fall hunting season!
Later we received a new surprise. On Aug. 11 at 4:52 a.m., one of our trail cameras captured pictures of a world-class 12-point typical. It was him, and he was alive and well and living on our hunting land! We knew he would easily make the Boone and Crockett record book. We decided that this buck needed a name and I suggested "Daniel," after Daniel Boone. The name stuck.
At our annual fall quality deer management neighborhood meeting held at the cabin, we showed the shed antler and pictures of Daniel to trusted neighbors. They all gasped with excitement -- knowing that the monster buck could be on their land as well. Bow season couldn't arrive soon enough. We believed that he was now 5 1/2, and dreams of harvesting this monarch were on everyone's mind.
Hunting strategies -- how to go about harvesting the giant buck -- were discussed. The final plan was to put very little pressure on Daniel. We knew that we would have to exercise great restraint. Knowing how tough it would be to get this buck out of his nocturnal routine, we planned to give him free reign of the area so that he would become comfortable and hopefully stay on our land and move some during daylight hours.
OPENING DAY 2008
Bow season finally arrived. Barry, Mitch and I took our stands, hoping that Daniel's guard would be down. Many deer were sighted, but the living legend was nowhere to be seen.
Another trail camera picture showed up, verifying that Daniel was still on our hunting land. After all, why wouldn't he stay? He had everything a mature buck could ever want -- food plots, water, good cover, practically no pressure and plenty of potential girlfriends. As planned, we did not hunt him again until late October. As in previous years, we passed up many smaller bucks, waiting for a wallhanger to appear.
On Nov. 1, Barry went to his favorite stand, the "fine china stand." It's an awesome stand location that is hunted only during the rut. It proved to be a day to remember. Barry saw two large shooters, a 150-inch 8-point and a 160-inch 9-pointer that we had named "Crab Claw." Unfortunately, Barry failed to get off a shot at either of these bucks. Then it happened: Out of a thick finger strolled Daniel. The rut had pulled Daniel out of the thick cover and he walked across an open field in broad daylight! Barry tried desperately to grunt him in, but he was too far away to hear the call and he walked over the hill and out of sight.
On a foggy evening one week before shotgun season, Barry had another encounter with the monarch while bowhunting. Daniel and his girlfriend suddenly appeared out of the
mist. He was only 60 yards away, but well out of Barry's comfort zone. Barry tried to lure the pair closer, but they didn't respond. Wisely, he passed on the long shot, and the two deer disappeared into the fog. It had been a very close call, but that's bowhunting!
A COUPLE OF NEAR MISSES
A couple of days later, we heard rumors that Jason, one of our neighbors, had gotten a shot at a massive 12-point buck across the road from our property. The arrow had flown harmlessly over the buck's back. Barry called Jason on the phone to confirm that it was in fact Daniel, and he asked Jason to describe the rack.
"The buck had a wide and heavy 12-point rack that would score at least 180 inches," Jason told him.
Barry knew it was Daniel. We were worried to learn that Daniel's range was growing larger, and we feared that someone else might harvest the giant.
With the 2008 shotgun season approaching, I talked to my good friend Kyle, who owns land just to our north. We always share information about the deer in the area. Kyle told me that he had seen the huge 12-pointer out his window the day before at about 3 p.m. He said that the potential Booner had been with six or seven does. Kyle went on to say that he had tried a quick stalk, but the entire group of deer had found safety in a nearby cornfield.
To add to Kyle's excitement, two days before the gun season opener he got a beautiful trail camera picture of Daniel. Kyle placed the picture on his refrigerator. It was clearly his goal to harvest the buck that he had termed "the magazine buck."
"I think Daniel's days are numbered," I told Barry. "Because he has been seen way too many times in daylight hours."
Barry agreed and we planned our strategy for the shotgun season. There would be five hunters on Barry's land for the shotgun season. Joining Barry, Mitch and me would be my son, Isaac, and Barry's son-in-law, Adam. We all agreed not to shoot any does the first day because we had high hopes of harvesting the giant.
SEARCHING FOR THE KING
Spirits were running high for the gun opener. We truly hoped that maybe one of our five would get a shot at Daniel. It was a restless night in anticipation of opening day and dreams of taking Mr. Big! The alarm sounded at 4 a. m. After breakfast and a hot shower using scent-killer soap, I loaded my Browning 12 gauge with five Winchester partition gold slugs, and the group took to the woods. The plan was to sit all day long so that the deer wouldn't know they were being hunted, and it worked extremely well. Deer passed by all five of us all day long, and they seemed totally unaware of our presence. We passed on many bucks that day, but no Daniel.
On the second day of the gun season I passed on several more deer, including a slick 125-inch 8-pointer that was right under my stand. But I had my heart set on Daniel. Every time a shot rang out in the distance, I wondered if that shot had brought down the King.
With day two over, Daniel had given everyone the slip, and we concluded that he had probably retired to his favorite hiding spot for the rest of the season. We knew that it would now be very difficult to see the huge whitetail, let alone get an ethical shot at him.
On Monday morning Barry and I were the only two hunters left in camp. Mitch and Adam had to go back to work and Isaac was headed back to college. The alarm rang out at 4:30 a.m. Barry had suffered a nagging sore hip and I asked him if he was going hunting. Reasoning that Daniel probably had been pushed into seclusion, he decided to sleep in. That sounded good to me. I had taken the day off from work and I couldn't justify sleeping in.
A GREAT DAY TO BE IN THE WOODS
As I walked away from the cabin early that morning, I was glad that I hadn't slept in. It was a beautiful morning with a comfortable temperature of 22 degrees. A very light breeze favored my intended stand sight, and half-inch of fresh, fluffy snow made for perfect conditions. It was one of those mornings when you could easily sneak in to your stand quietly and unnoticed. Once in the blind, I arranged my gear for easy access and I settled in for the day's hunt.
At first light I could hear a deer approaching from my right. It was moving very slowly in a thicket about 90 yards away. As it got closer, the deer appeared through the brush, and the first thing that stood out was a large, thick neck. I pulled up my Swarovski binoculars and glassed the deer. It was him! My heart was about to explode!
There stood Daniel, 60 yards away and angling my way. It looked like my dream might come true! Don't mess it up! I thought to myself. No sooner had those words gone through my mind when a metal snap on the leg of my insulated bibs raked across a chair leg as I was getting into position for the shot, making a metallic "clink" sound. Daniel stopped for about 15 seconds. Then miraculously, he looked around and continued slowly on his way toward me. Just a few more yards and I'd have a perfect 35-yard broadside shot.
MOMENT OF TRUTH
I was just about to take the shot. But as luck would have it, the King stopped with a large tree in front of his vital zone. By this time, about five minutes had passed since I had first heard him approaching. Daniel stood motionless. The weather was calm and I was certain that the massive buck could hear my loud, uncontrollable breathing. I tried to calm myself down, but it was nearly impossible. I just wanted to do everything right. Suddenly mistakes made in the past raced through my mind.
Don't breathe on your scope and fog it up, I thought. Should I take the shot and try to slip one past the large tree? No! Be patient and wait for a clear shot.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, but in reality was all of about three minutes, Daniel started to walk ahead. I let out a bleat to stop him for a perfect shot, but there was no response. I bleated a second time and again the buck did not respond. I bleated louder the third time and Daniel just kept on walking. The giant was quartering away at about 60 yards and walking. In a split second, that little voice inside told me, "It's now or never!"
With a solid rest, I was confident I could make the shot. I squeezed the trigger on my Browning Gold shotgun.
Like a rearing horse, Daniel rose up on his rear legs in what seemed like slow motion. He lurched forward and crashed in the brush. I thought the hunt was over, but Daniel had other plans. I quickly got out of the blind to see if I could possibly get another round in the buck, but I was too late. While I was getting out of the blind, the King of the woods had gathered himself and run off.
A GUT-WRENCHING WAIT
When I arrived at the impact site, I found good sign. The light fluffy snow had fallen off the leaves where Daniel's hooves had hit the ground, and a great blood trail made for easy tracking. I knew at this point that I should back out and give the animal time to expire, but the temptation was simply too great. Daniel was hit ha
rd and I could easily see in the snow where he had jumped off the bench and gone down into the valley.
I said to myself, "I just have to look over the edge of the bench." I peeked over the edge to see if the Monarch had piled up, but no such luck. I could see the distinct trail in the snow-covered leaves. It went down one side and up the other side onto a bench. Oh no.
This isn't good, I thought.
I decided to leave the trail and give the animal time to expire, so I backed out. I rushed with excitement back to the cabin to tell Barry and Debbie (Barry's wife and my sister) about what happened. As I opened the cabin door, I shouted, "Barry, I think I just shot Daniel!"
"You're kidding me!" Barry responded. He knew this was no joke because of the excitement in my voice and the look on my face. Barry later told me, "I thought you were going to have a heart attack!"
Although I thought the hit was good, we decided to wait before picking up the track.
Barry wanted to wait three hours, but I knew the sun was shining and a three-hour wait might melt the valuable tracking snow. We decided to wait two hours before starting the tracking job. This would give the monster buck enough time to expire, and the valuable tracking snow should still be of help.
TIME TO TAKE UP THE TRACK
It was a long, torturous two hours. The fact that Daniel was heading in the direction of the neighbor's property line, which was only about 200 yards away, weighed heavily on my mind. Also, while relating my story to Barry and Debbie, six shots rang out from the general direction in which the buck had been headed. My mind pictured the monster stumbling past another hunter. This thought only added to the tension of my two-hour vigil.
With a camera, binoculars and gun in hand, Barry, Debbie and I returned to the spot where the Monarch had been hit. The plan was to glass ahead and move very slowly, with me at the ready to quickly shoot Daniel again if needed. The three of us reached the impact site, and Barry was pleased to find a large amount of blood. The blood had tiny bubbles in it, usually indicating a lung shot.
We walked slowly to the edge of the bench where I had earlier left the track. We looked at the tracks going down one side and up the other. I pointed to the bench on the other side of the valley and said, "That's where he went."
Barry glassed the bench with his Swarovski binoculars and yelled out the four most gratifying words that I could ever hope to hear: "He's lying right there!"
I instantly jumped off the bench and headed to the other side in a dead run. Debbie yelled out "Wait!" but there was no stopping me. I was about to set a new personal record for a 50-yard dash! The closer I got, the bigger he got! By the time I reached Daniel's side I was emotionally exhausted. I broke down and collapsed on the giant. Barry soon piled on top of me in celebration! All my emotions of the moment came pouring out. All of the years of hard work and planning had finally paid off!
I knew that Daniel was truly a one-in-a-million whitetail, and my sobs of sheer joy showed it. My great passion for the sport and my respect for the beautiful animal lying next to me came shining through in my tears. Barry and Debbie understood completely.
The pursuit that had begun years earlier was over at last, and my team of hunting partners and I were the victors!
As mentioned, Daniel was believed to have been 5 1/2 years old and he field dressed at 209 pounds. In 2008, 642,419 gun deer licenses were sold in Wisconsin. At 180 4/8 typical B&C points, Daniel was Wisconsin's largest typical gun kill of the season!