AN OPEN­ING-DAY GI­ANT

Outdoor Life - - DEER OF THE YEAR -

THE LATE-NOVEM­BER firearms sea­son opener in Wis­con­sin al­ways seems to pro­vide chal­leng­ing weather, and last fall it was no dif­fer­ent. The fore­cast was not great—sus­tained 30 mph winds, gust­ing to 45 mph, with rain chang­ing over to snow by morn­ing. For once, though, I was pre­pared, hav­ing bought an en­closed box blind dur­ing the sum­mer. I had a lot of help get­ting it into the proper po­si­tion, but I was ready for an all-day sit. The only thing I was re­ally look­ing for­ward to was spend­ing some qual­ity time in my blind and hop­ing to get a glimpse of a deer.

Big flakes of snow be­gan to fall be­fore day­break and piled up fast. As it be­came light, the only thing fly­ing past my stand was a sheet of white—un­til I looked out my win­dow to the left to see a buck on top of a hill about 120 yards away. At first he stood there stock still, sur­vey­ing the field be­low with his head held high. He was a good buck, and I was try­ing hard not to let my­self get too worked up. But in or­der for me to get a shot, he had to come down off that hill and clear a dis­tant house. Some­how, he got the mes­sage. He trot­ted down the hill in fits and starts while clos­ing to 90 yards— and clear­ing the house. Now, how­ever, he was lined up with a dis­tant hunt­ing camp. No shot. Then he was on the move once more.

Although I haven’t had a great deal of suc­cess with deer scents in the past, I still usu­ally use them. I did that morn­ing as well, spray­ing the out­side of my blind with es­trous scent be­fore set­tling in for the day. I can’t be pos­i­tive if it made a dif­fer­ence, but when the buck got di­rectly down­wind of me, he hit the brakes, sniffed the air, and started to swing his head to look di­rectly at me. That was the hes­i­ta­tion I needed. Be­fore he was able to make an­other move, my first round was on its way. I racked an­other shell in and found him in the scope, but a se­cond shot wouldn’t be nec­es­sary. He went about 40 yards, slowed to a walk, and then tipped over.

It wasn’t more than a minute be­fore my brother-in-law, who had helped me set up the blind, was tex­ting me. A sud­denly shaky hand made it dif­fi­cult to hit the right but­tons to re­ply. Af­ter sev­eral min­utes, I fi­nally man­aged to walk over to check out the buck. He looked huge all over—his body, hooves, and, ob­vi­ously, his antlers. I hadn’t even no­ticed the drop tines. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around what lay in front of me. Score-wise, I had un­der­es­ti­mated him and was in ma­jor de­nial about this be­ing the mon­ster buck most hun­ters dream of. It wasn’t un­til my cousin put a tape mea­sure to the rack that it started to sink in.

Af­ter the dry­ing pe­riod, the 14-point of­fi­cially gross-scored 206 ²∕₈ inches, and ended up net­ting 196 ¹∕₈ inches af­ter de­duc­tions. The buck field dressed at more than 200 pounds.

Heath Ker­sten's open­ing-day Wis­con­sin buck ended up net­ting 196 ¹∕₈ inches. It had 14 scorable points.

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