The 2003 season was filled with great bucks, but few of them can match this one's historical impact. Here's how a dedicated bowhunter arrowed the world's top velvet buck by bow!
According to Pope & Young records, Jim Kostroski's monster 17-pointer from Minnesota is the archery world's highest-scoring velvet whitetail of all time. Photo by Pat Reeve.
By Scott Bestul
For whitetail fanatics, 2003 might well go down as the "Year of the World Record." The most obvious reason for such a designation is, of course, the famous non-typical that young Tony Lovstuen shot in southern Iowa with his muzzleloader last September. That monster is apparently the world's top hunter-killed non-typical ever; in fact, as this issue goes to press, his 319 4/8-inch entry score is being checked by a panel of Boone and Crockett measurers.
The Lovstuen buck is one of the all-time greats, regardless of his exact score. But over two weeks before Tony downed that giant, another world-record whitetail was tagged in the Midwest.
The hunt for this Minnesota buck, which now reigns as the largest non-typical velvet whitetail ever shot by a bowhunter, shares many similarities with the Lovstuen buck: a multi-year quest; some close calls and near misses; a teamwork approach to unraveling the buck's pattern; and, in the end, an emotional roller-coaster ride for the lucky hunter.
Should Rochester's Jim Kostroski ever sit down and chat with Tony, the pair of lucky hunters would likely be nodding in agreement and finishing each other's sentences.
Jim didn't know it at the time, but opening day of the 2001 bow season would begin a two-year saga that would eventually cement his name in the whitetail record books. Jim, who bowhunts several small properties on Rochester's south side, decided to start the season by hunting a small wood lot near home.
"It was actually an undeveloped house lot owned by a friend," he says. "The woods on it were a good travel area for deer."
Like many other archery openers, the 2001 hunt began on a warm, pleasant Saturday in early September. "I settled into my stand about 4:40 that afternoon and wasn't expecting to see any deer for quite a while," Jim recalls. "But within a few minutes I looked up, and here was this beautiful buck -- a perfect 10-point I thought would score in the 150s -- coming toward me from 35 yards out.
"I was totally unprepared," Jim admits. "I was sitting down, my bow was still hanging up . . . I was just not ready. And when I tried to stand slowly to prepare for the shot, the buck caught that movement and was gone."
Though Jim hunted hard for the buck the remainder of the season, he only saw him once more from a stand, as the buck chased a doe during the rut. "I had chances at other good bucks, but I knew that was the one I wanted," the archer says. The season ended with the high-racked buck still alive.
Jim set his sights on shooting the buck the next fall. He knew he faced a steep challenge, however. For starters, other archers were hunting the buck, too. The wood lots around Rochester are small, and resident deer -- especially nice bucks -- are often known to many residents.
Also, while many hunters recognize the trophy potential of suburbia, few acknowledge the challenge of hunting such sophisticated deer. "It's easy to think that, because they're around people all the time, they're naive -- and that's just not true," Jim says. "They know what normal behavior for people is, and a blob 20 feet up a tree isn't normal. Plus, I've learned never to underestimate a big buck, no matter where he lives. They are just cautious, cautious animals."
Jim was reminded of that the following fall. Despite scouting and hunting with Jim Hanson -- a highly successful Rochester-area trophy hunter and one of his best friends -- Jim struggled to even find the huge buck that year.
"Jim and I saw him, and even videotaped him, a couple of times that summer," he says. "But we just couldn't spot him from a tree stand. We traded off hunting him for the entire month of October (they videotape each other, swapping positions as cameraman and hunter), and he just never appeared.
"In fact, we'd even begun to think he was dead or gone until we saw him one rainy evening. He was bedded with some does in a field during a downpour. His rack had really grown, too; we figured he was about a 180-class buck that fall."
But the 2002 season ended with the big buck again besting the 15-plus local bowhunters who knew of him.
"The next summer, we knew he was going to be 5 1/2 years old and, of course, much smarter," Jim says. "He was living in about a 2-square-mile area that was just small wood lots and overgrown fields. But that summer I received permission to hunt another spot within the buck's home range; it was actually across a fairly large highway from my previous spot. We didn't really know he'd been hanging in there until that summer. That's where Jim and I saw him twice -- once in late July and once in August.
"Plus, my friend Corey spotted him on the adjacent property one evening," Jim continues. "He'd really grown! His antlers were tall and wide, and we could see he was growing some non-typical points on his right side."
Long before the season opener, Jim had placed a stand on the new property. "It's only 11 acres of woods that's surrounded by grassy fields on two sides," he says. "I set the stand on the backside of the wood lot, where I could see both fields.
"After a summer of shooting 3-D and knowing the buck was still around, I couldn't wait for the season to open," Jim says. "In fact, one night a bunch of friends and I were shooting our bows, and Dennis Williams (another successful trophy hunter from Rochester) and I made a bet. I said to him, 'Dennis, I bet fifty bucks that I'll shoot a bigger buck than you will this fall.'
"It was a crazy thing to say," Jim notes, "because Dennis is an excellent deer hunter and has shot a lot of big ones. But he took the bet!"
Despite his excitement, Jim was still scrambling to prepare when opening day arrived last Sept. 13.
"I'd worked all day with my father on a project, and when it got to be late afternoon, I said, 'Dad, we've gotta go.' He wanted to keep at it and finish up, but I insisted. When I got home, I realized I didn't have broadheads on my arrows; they were all over at Jimmy's house. So I flew over there to get my gear."
Jim wanted his friend to shoot video for him that after
noon, but Jimmy wasn't nearly as enthused. "You aren't gonna see that big one tonight," he said.
"Okay, but I'm going anyway," Jim announced. Then he rushed home, showered, got his gear ready and headed out.
It was warm and windless when Jim reached his stand about 4:30. There was no hint of what was about to transpire.
"I'd only been in the stand a few minutes," Jim recalls. "I had my hat off and was fanning my head with it. I was still hot from walking in and climbing up the tree. But when I looked up, I saw this deer walking along the edge of the field to my left. All I could see were big, tall antlers, and I thought, 'Oh my God, it's him.'
"I remember thinking I saw velvet on his rack, but as soon as I knew which deer it was, I didn't look at his horns again. And I didn't think about it until later, but that deer got up to move within a couple of minutes of the same time I'd seen him two years (prior) on opening night. He was just an early-moving buck, I guess."
Jim stood slowly and grabbed his bow as the buck walked the edge of the CRP field. "At that point it didn't seem like he was going to come within bow range," the hunter says. "So when he was about 50 yards out and facing away, I grunted at him. He immediately turned his head and started walking toward me.
"When he got to within 35 yards and stopped, I drew and put the pin on him," Jim says. "But he was facing me, and I wasn't comfortable with the shot, so I let down. And then he moved again. I drew again, but he'd stopped behind some brush, so I had to let down again. He started to make another move, so I drew a third time. But he still wasn't clear, and I let down once more. I didn't think I'd ever get a shot!"
But Jim soon got some unexpected help. "A squirrel had started barking nearby, and I could see the buck was looking at that squirrel," he says with a laugh. "And when he took a couple of steps toward it, suddenly his body was clear, and I knew I could shoot. So I drew the bow for the fourth time, put the pin on his heart, and shot.
"I heard a big 'crack!' and he crashed off through the brush and ran into a thick area full of grass, marsh and brush. I could tell the hit was perfect for left and right, but high. It was so quiet that he'd heard the bow and jumped the string!"
After watching the buck run off, Jim felt the pressure of the past two years of his quest settle on his shoulders. "I was beside myself," he recalls. "I think I put my feet on the first two steps to climb down, and I jumped the rest of the way! I was pretty excited!"
When Jim reached his truck, he immediately called Jimmy. "I told him, 'I shot that deer!' and he didn't believe me," Jim remembers. "So I decided to drive to my house. My dad was standing there when I pulled up, and when I told him, I just broke down, bawling like a baby. It was like it was all hitting me at once. And then I drove over to Jimmy's house, and when I saw him I just ran up and bear-hugged him and started crying all over again. I was just a mess!"
Unfortunately, Jim would have to wait a little while before he could truly celebrate. "When I told Jimmy where I'd hit the buck, he told me, 'That settles it. We're waiting until tomorrow to track him.' But I wouldn't listen. I was so excited to get the buck that I called my friend Corey and told him I was going to look for the buck that night.
"So he came along -- and wouldn't you know it, we jumped the deer out of its bed!" Jim says. "I was just sick, but thank goodness Corey was there, because he runs about as fast as a deer. He took off with the buck, trying to see where it would go. He watched the buck run toward a major highway, make it across and go into a huge CRP field there. Then we decided to leave it overnight."
Overnight, Jim assembled more friends, and at first light they began searching the huge field where Corey had last seen the buck. The emotional roller-coaster ride began again.
"There was no blood at all, and that field is so thick we couldn't see 10 yards in front of us," Jim says. "We just lined up and started combing the field. We'd been at it close to four hours when we jumped a beautiful buck -- a 160-class 10-point -- from its bed. Jimmy Hanson and our friend Mitch Hagen, another experienced bowhunter, saw it run off and could tell it wasn't hurt at all.
"They were standing there, talking about that buck, and I realized that they thought it was the deer I'd hit," Jim says. "I walked up to them and said, 'Guys, that was not the buck I shot.' I'm not sure they believed me, but we were getting discouraged; we'd been looking all morning.
"Suddenly, we heard Corey yell out, 'Hey, he's lying right here!' We all ran over there, and sure enough, there lay the buck. He'd just plowed a path through the grass as he'd made his death run, and he'd just buried his antlers in the grass.
"Jimmy dove in there, and he was just pulling all the grass from the antlers," Jim recalls, "and everyone was going nuts. I was getting bear-hugged and tackled and thrown to the ground. We knew it was a top-notch deer, and every guy there was a bowhunter who knew how hard those bucks are to get. And I just kept thinking how close I'd come to losing it. Heck, we'd walked within 30 yards of the buck at least twice as we searched that morning!"
Before long, Jim knew how much he had to celebrate. After several photo sessions, Jimmy Hanson produced a tape and rough-scored the buck. "He came up with 195 inches and change," Jim says. "Then we took the buck down to Magnum Sports (an archery shop in nearby Chatfield), and Dave Boland (a measurer for B&C and P&Y) showed up. We asked him what he thought the buck would score, and he eyed it up and said, 'I'd guess 190 or so.' Jimmy told him it would be higher."
As it turned out, all of those early scoring estimates were quite conservative. When Dave finished tallying measurements on the monster non-typical, the score was well above 200 net. And after the requisite 60-day drying period (or in this case, freeze-drying period; velvet-covered antlers are today preserved in that way), the official net P&Y score would be 214 0/8. That was enough to beat P&Y's world-record non-typical velvet mark (a 1996 Texas deer scoring 196 3/8) by nearly 18 inches!
The Kostroski buck sports 17 points, a 22-inch inside spread, and beam measurements of 28 1/8 and 29 0/8 inches. In addition to the rack, the Minnesota buck weighed a hefty 205 pounds field-dressed, impressive for so early in the season.
Jim, who's bowhunted since he was 12, says the buck helped him experience a lifetime's worth of emotions. "Not just being lucky enough to tag him, but experiencing the entire process," he says. "It was so satisfying to be able to know about a spec
ific deer, target him and then shoot him. It's not easy to pull off around here."
Anyone who shoots a record deer these days is likely to be the subject of wild rumors after the fact, and Jim notes that he's no exception. However, he's also been the beneficiary of random acts of kindness by strangers.
"I was at a deer show this winter with the head and a guy walked up to me with this shed in his hand," Jim recalls. "It was an antler off my buck when it was a 4 1/2 year old. He gave the horn to me to keep. He'd been hunting the buck too, but he just wanted me to have the antler to display with the mount. And later, another guy gave me a shed from the buck as a 2 1/2-year-old.
"Those kind of things made my day," Jim points out. "Rumors and jealousy are parts of deer hunting that don't seem to go away. But there are a lot of good people in the sport, too. They were happy I'd had the chance to shoot this deer . . . just as I'd be happy if they'd had the chance!"