April 16, 2021
Joe Pettis and his son Justin live only a few miles from the small town of Osseo in rural Trempealeau County, Wisconsin. For many years, they had permission to hunt deer on the land next to their house. This is an area well known for producing trophy whitetails, but back in 2017 they saw just how special it can be.
After setting out multiple trail cameras, Joe and Justin soon realized they had not one but two exceptional bucks of around 200 inches or even bigger on the property. One of them earned the nickname “The Unicorn,” as he had a distinctive extra point — a spike that looked to be at least seven inches long — rising from his forehead.
That season, the chase would be on. Unfortunately, Joe was unable to hunt much, as he’d already planned an elk hunt with a couple good friends. He hunted the home property a bit in late season but had no encounter with either big buck. Then, shortly before Christmas, Joe and Justin got pictures of both giants not 300 yards from the house. Joe promptly told his friends that he wouldn’t be elk hunting the following fall. Instead, he’d be focusing on the two record-class bucks near home.
In spring ’18, neighbor Tim Wilson and his dog found the sheds from The Unicorn and had them scored at 207 inches with an estimated inside spread based on live photos. That didn’t count the small third antler, which wasn’t found. So the following fall, Joe and Justin weren’t the only ones hunting either buck. Word quickly spread among neighbors that there were two 200-inch deer roaming the property.
Tim spent many summer hours glassing fields for the bucks. That fall, Joe and Justin were checking trail cameras and found more photos of The Unicorn — and saw he’d packed on even more inches of antler.
Around Halloween, Justin finally had the first sighting in the woods. The Unicorn came to within a touch over 20 yards, but the bowhunter was never presented with an ethical shot. To Justin and his dad, the giant that was once a trail camera phantom was now a real possibility to harvest.
Everything Comes Together
It was Monday morning, the third day of Wisconsin’s gun season — but instead of entering the woods, Joe was heading to work. He’d hunted the first two days at his dad’s farm with his extended family, in keeping with an annual tradition.
As the workday progressed, Joe started thinking more about taking off from work and hunting The Unicorn. He jokingly asked his lead at work if he’d cover for him. Without hesitation, and knowing Joe was hunting that deer, the lead said, “Sure! Go get the big one!”
Around 1:00, before he left work, Joe called Justin to ask where he thought he should sit. Justin recommended the west side of the cornfield, about halfway down the edge in some pines. That would give Joe the best chance of seeing across the field and into the woods.
Then life threw a curveball: Joe arrived home to discover there was a leaky pipe in his basement. His early-afternoon hunt would be slightly postponed. He called the plumber — but he wasn’t going to wait around for the repairs to be done. Joe informed his wife, Rae, that the plumber was on his way and that he was going hunting.
Following some back-and-forth on the phone with Rae and the plumber, Joe finally reached his hunting spot around 3:00. Camouflaging himself against the line of pines, he sat and waited for the first sign of action.
About 30 minutes into the hunt, Justin texted to ask if Joe had seen anything. He hadn’t. However, about 15 minutes later two does came into the field. As Joe glassed the woods edge, he saw very big antlers. But almost as soon as the rack came into view, it was gone from sight.
An hour later the big buck appeared again, this time roughly 50 yards from where Joe had seen him. The massive deer walked to the edge of the corn field and stood there, looking at both does. About 200 yards separated him from Joe.
The hunter quickly grabbed his shooting stick and adjusted his rest. He then settled the crosshairs on the buck’s chest and fired his Browning .300 Win. Mag.
Through the scope Joe saw The Unicorn fall — but then the buck popped up and ran back into the woods. Joe fired one more shot as he departed.
Tim Wilson was hunting 400 yards away to the south on a neighboring farm. Hearing the shots, he called Joe to ask if he’d taken one of the “big ones.” Joe responded that he’d knocked one down, so Tim offered to come over to assist.
Joe then called Justin, who said he’d be out in a bit to help. But Joe couldn’t wait any longer and made his way across the field, arriving there about when Tim did.
They found no blood where The Unicorn had been standing. But Joe thought he’d seen him go up the ridge, so he decided to ease up there for a look.
After briefly looking there for sign but still finding none, Joe called Justin again and told him the situation. Justin advised his dad to get out of the area. But as Rae and Justin were on their way to the scene, Tim yelled that he’d found “something.” After a short walk, Joe was standing next to his neighbor and beside The Unicorn.
While family members were making their way to Joe, Tim got a call from a nearby landowner that his party also had found success. In fact, they’d shot the other monster buck originally seen with The Unicorn. This second deer ended up green-scoring 201 gross inches by the Boone & Crockett system. How often have two free-range whitetails of this class been shot on the same day and under 400 yards apart?
After the 60-day drying period, Joe’s buck officially received a gross score of 225 1/8 and a net of 211 4/8. He has a 23 6/8-inch inside spread and 18 scorable points — not including the 7 1/8-inch third point that earned him his nickname. Adding it into the gross score pushed The Unicorn’s total headgear to over 232 inches.
The huge Wisconsin buck was aged at 5 1/2 years old. Joe continues to celebrate this unique whitetail with a full-body mount produced by a local taxidermist.