January 25, 2017
John Kassera held his bow at full draw trying to steady the 20-yard sight pin on the shoulder of the giant buck in front of him. His focus for 30 seconds, the entire time the buck was within view, was to concentrate on a small spot behind the buck's shoulder. Fortunately, the giant whitetail never gave John time to get excited. The buck had appeared suddenly at 75 yards around the edge of a ridge before making his way to the right of John's stand. The ghostly appearance of such a large buck had actually stunned the hunter, but only temporarily. John knew within a split second exactly what he was looking at.
"There was no mistaking this one," says John. "I certainly didn't have to second guess or wonder how big he was. There was no hesitation; I knew right away this was a buck I wanted to shoot."
The buck acted as if he were on a mission. He seemed oblivious to his surroundings and was walking briskly towards whatever destination he had in mind. There was little time for John to react. He immediately grabbed his bow and stood to prepare himself for what he hoped would be the chance of his lifetime.
"I knew I had to focus on my target or I would probably mess it up, so I just looked at a very small spot right behind his shoulder," the hunter remembers.
The buck wasn't following any trail. Instead, he was walking between two trails. One trail was below the deer and passed downwind of John's stand. The other ran above the deer and upwind of the tree stand. The buck chose to parallel the upwind trail.
Having bowhunted for nearly half a century, John was surprised to find himself in an unfamiliar situation. Never in his hunting career had he taken aim at a world-class whitetail. Regardless, his experience served him well as he readied himself for the kill. With the calmness of a veteran and the steadiness of a surgeon, he released an arrow at the biggest buck he'd ever seen.
John and his wife, Colleen, own and live on 40 acres in La Crosse County, Wisconsin, near the town of Rockland. Their land consists mostly of coulees and ridges within some of Wisconsin's richest wildlife habitat. John was born and raised in the area, and he grew up hunting and fishing.
"If we weren't hunting then we were fishing," explains John. "It's all I remember doing as a kid. I bought my first archery license when I was 15 years old. I'm now 62 and have yet to miss a season."
The husband and wife team have hunted together for many years. Between the two of them, they have always secured a winter's supply of venison. Taking mostly does and the occasional buck, neither will confess to being trophy hunters. John claims that the largest buck he'd taken prior to the 2015 season would probably be in the 125-inch range.
For several years, though, the couple has been practicing restraint when it comes to young bucks. "Let 'em go and let 'em grow" has become the motto used by friends and neighboring landowners. But despite their recent efforts, John still didn't hold any high expectations for the 2015 season.
"We don't use trail cameras, so we don't really know what's out there," explains John. "I appreciate the surprise factor. I think a person can get too caught up in expectations after a trail camera shows you what's there. Those expectations can also lead to disappointment. So we decided not to use any cameras last fall."
Most hunters today would probably disagree with John's philosophy, but he's a little old-school.
John started the morning of Nov. 5 in a ladder stand before daylight. Around 9 a.m., four does appeared around the corner of the ridge. The does were nervous and fidgety, and they kept looking behind them. John thought for sure there would be a buck following them, but it wasn't meant to be. The does milled around upwind of his stand before eventually disappearing over the ridge to a large cornfield. Around 11 a.m., John decided to slip away from the stand and head to the house for a bite to eat.
It wasn't long before John returned to his stand, and he was pleased to find the wind was perfect. His 12-foot ladder stand was strapped against a maple tree located roughly a third of the way up the ridge. This site was chosen because of the two trails that ran parallel with the ridge. More importantly, the stand also sat within a saddle between two ridges, making it an ideal travel corridor for any deer wanting to travel from the cornfield above to the alfalfa field below. John couldn't have chosen a better location.
At approximately 3 p.m., the silence of the woods was broken by the loud smack of an arrow hitting its target. Upon impact, the huge buck wheeled and ran downhill, running directly underneath the ladder stand where John was perched.
"I knew right away it was a good hit," says John. "It was a perfect shot."
The buck continued running downhill for approximately 50 yards before turning and bolting around the ridge out of sight.
"I didn't wait very long before getting down and finding him," John admits.
After asking him how long he had waited, John replied: "Not near as long as they recommend."
I pressed a little more and asked again. This time he was a little more open and answered: "I practically beat him down the hill!"
Who could blame John? The buck had only gone 75-80 yards before piling up at the base of the ridge. By the time John arrived, the huge deer had already expired.
"That's when the shock of it all started to settle in," explains John. "I couldn't believe the size of his antlers! I knew I had just killed the biggest deer I will probably ever get."
His first thought was to call Colleen, but she didn't answer her phone. John didn't know it at the time, but Colleen was in a work meeting. So when she didn't answer, he left her a simple voice message. At the beep, John relayed the words: "I got myself a monster!"
He then turned his attention to dressing the buck. His sense of urgency was sharp because of the 60-degree temperature; he didn't want to risk having the deer spoil. As the field dressing commenced, John was shocked by his next surprise. Suddenly, Colleen was by his side!
"I hardly had my phone put away and she was there," says John, smiling. "It seemed as if it only took her two minutes to get there."
John wouldn't have wanted it any other way. The two admired the giant buck together, each realizing that a moment like this would probably never happen for them again.
"It meant the world to me for Colleen to be there," John says in a soft voice. "I wouldn't have wanted anyone else there at that moment. That made it all perfect."
That evening the Kassera garage was filled with excited family, friends and neighbors. Everyone wanted to see the giant buck. One neighboring landowner showed John a couple of trail camera photos he had recently gotten of the buck. It wasn't until later that evening that anyone mentioned measuring the antlers.
"I hadn't even considered it being a record," explains John. "But as we started looking a little closer and taking some measurements I realized it might be awful close."
After waiting 61 days for the drying period to end, local resident Jeff Feckner — who is both a Boone & Crockett and Wisconsin Buck & Bear club measurer — headed a panel scoring consisting of six participants. The panel confirmed John's buck as a new Wisconsin archery typical state record. The buck's gross typical score of 201 5/8 is huge, as is his net score of 193 4/8. That score is bolstered by 30-inch main beams, 42 inches of mass and five points over 11 inches tall.
If you study record book whitetails then you know that Wisconsin has long been a hotbed for giant bucks. In fact, the state continues to be one of the top B&C-deer-producing states in North America. What you may not be aware of is the fact that the Wisconsin archery typical record has now been broken three times in the past four seasons! In 2012 Dusty Gerrits took a Fond du Lac County bruiser that officially scored 187 7/8, becoming a new state record. That buck was beaten in 2014 by a 191 6/8-inch Dodge County deer killed by Brian Hupf. Then John Kassera topped them all once again in 2015. As incredible as it sounds, four of the top five ranking bucks have been taken since 2008! Obviously, things are working pretty well in Wisconsin.
John is a very humble man, and he knows that someday his record will be broken. He's perfectly fine with that, because he has the memories to share with those that are most important to him. There's no one and no deer that can ever take that away from him.
We live in a world dependent on instant gratification, where hunters can wear devices on their wrist that show computer weather models, wind direction and rut forecasts. For some hunters, the biggest challenge is deciding what food plot to sit over or what deluxe box blind to sit in. But for some, old habits die hard. And it's good to hear there are still a few old-school hunters around. Those hunters still rely on just being present in the woods; they don't worry about what may or may not show up. They're just grateful for the opportunity, and they're thankful for the true blessings in life. John Kassera is most definitely that type of hunter.