Brady Conner | Mossy Oak ProStaff
This story begins in late March. As I’ve taken several Pope and Young bucks over the years, one of which is almost a gross booner, I’ve grown accustomed to the hassle of waking up extra early to accommodate the drive time to our leases and gotten used to making special out-of-the-way trips to scout and check cameras. But in March, I had a customer and friend of mine make me an offer to rent his house and gain exclusive rights to hunt and play on the attached 130 acres. Although it is incredibly odd to go from owning a home back to renting one, living on the land I would be hunting, is an opportunity I’ve always wanted but never had. That being said, we packed up our family and moved from rural Muscoda to the even more rural outskirts of Blue River, Wisconsin.
After an uneventful turkey season but an incredible morel mushroom harvest, we began to hang cameras and turn our full attention to whitetail deer. I soon introduced myself to all of the neighbors, for two reasons:
- I believe that a good relationship goes along ways in the woods.
- I believe bowhunting is a sport, and all sports have defense and offense.
So I quickly gauge the hunting pressure placed on the land by each individual neighbor and make a mental note of their access routes, stand placements, and harvest goals. With this information, I decided to make my access on the northeast property line, as it already had incredibly high human traffic, and then place my Mossy Oak BioLogic food plots on the unpressured adjoining land. One half-acre plot straight north and two quarter-acre plots as far west as I could go with trail cameras, tree stands and ground blinds scattered between.
By mid-August, I began to sow my seed and the deer grew accustomed to me and my ATV, as all spring and summer I have was not only disking plots and trails, but also living on the property. I decided that taking a tour of my property four times a week with my dog Clyde would be beneficial in a hunting aspect. Normally on all of my leases, it was foot travel only, which I do believe was the best. However, I think that you can hunt a property two ways, either you are never on the property and make no disturbances while there or you can be on the property making disturbances so much that the deer get so used to you, they simply disregard you - similar to farm equipment and tasks.
September rolled into town and my cameras and food plots were abundant with deer. Opening day soon approached and I began to hunt hard and methodically. I’ve always been more of a weekend warrior, as my line of work keeps me pretty tied up during the week and most Saturdays too, so Sundays easily became my favorite day of the week and really the only days I can count on hunting. I harvested a few does, and then on Halloween I checked my cameras and had an explosion of activity on my north food plot, so I raced up there with some torques, my drill, and a big cedar branch. I started a mock scrape in the center of this plot using my boots to kick the ground and my own urine. Saturday morning, the wind was perfect for this stand and I made a stealthy entrance. By 7:15 a.m. I had four bucks hit this scrape and then the fifth one showed up, a 133-inch 9-point. He raked the limb hard and would not stop grunting as he pawed the dirt. Kind of crazy, but I had to draw on this buck four times. My peep sight was turned the wrong way, so I’d draw, then let down and twist the string…then draw again and again. Eventually, I got it “shootable" and punched right through his heart. He raced 30 yards away and expired right there. No track job needed.
As the rut progressed and my tag was filled, I was able to watch from both the house and my cameras, but one afternoon I pulled in the driveway just in time to see two does barrel out of our woods. Being the time of year it was, I raced to the house to grab my binos. Sure enough, just as I got to the window, I saw a giant ball of antler and the notorious white flag leech into the standing corn. Having not gun hunted since 2014, simply because I don’t enjoy it, this deer made me change my mind. Gun or bow, I wanted him on the wall.
Weeks passed and the Wisconsin gun opener struck (November 23). I was all geared up and ready to slap down a slob. No such luck. Kind of funny how hunters are the most optimistic people on earth or crazy. Who else repeatedly sits in the wind, rain and cold thinking “today’s the day” only to be let down…but do it again the next day? Eventually, Thanksgiving arrived and I decided to go hunt that morning, as I rarely get to during the week. I almost didn’t go because I was obligated to bid a job with my uncle and business partner at 9:30 a.m., and then, of course, I would have the traditional family meal soon after, but I went anyways because you never know. That morning, out of pure happenstance, I had my GearHead bow sitting on the kitchen table from simply dinking around with it the previous day. So I set the 30.06 aside and latched on my release.
In my stand, I heard corn rustling right at first light with the occasional soft grunt. An hour later, I heard it again but louder and closer. I turned my head and saw him standing at 90 yards. At this point, I began to doubt myself hard. Why did I bring my bow?! But luck prevailed and the wind just barely missed his nose. He cautiously crossed the picked bean field and entered the woods into a small cedar thicket. Having watched a dozen other deer walk this same path, I knew right where he’d step out. Antlers appeared and soon his broadside shoulder. I drew my bow, but wearing my puffy orange jacket and it being dead silent, he heard a rustle and snapped his head and body right around. Within seconds, he had me pegged to a tee up in my tree stand. Me near 20 feet off the ground and him standing uphill, we were nearly level. Never in my life had I felt more like a cowboy. Eye to eye at full draw, both of us waiting for the next move. He stomped his foot and at that moment, I knew he wasn’t going to turn slowly allowing me to slip a broadside chip shot. So I quickly made the decision to release for his chest. As the lumenok lit up, he immediately turned causing my centered brisket shot into an off-center, high-front shoulder hit.
As he disappeared over the ridge top, I reached for my phone to call my Dad. Nearly ten minutes passed before he could understand that I wasn’t hurt but that I had just arrowed a buck of a lifetime, because I was so wound up from the adrenalin. Shortly after he arrived to help track, we found decent blood and my broken off arrow revealing a cause for concern. So for lack of time and lack of penetration, we decided it’d be best to back out.
That afternoon, I had my old roommate and his dog, my dad and my shed dog Clyde headed to the woods. We swept the entire hillside and only found a speck of blood where he had bedded down. Running out of daylight, we once again decided to pull out. I was hoping to spend all day Friday looking but got hammered with emergency service calls for our plumbing shop. Friday night, I was lucky enough to have a band of guys come with flashlights and body search in the dark. We swept another hillside only to find a speck of blood between the woods and a standing cornfield. We spread out and made several passes up and down the 20-acre field only to wind up more distraught over the possibilities of where he may have gone. We pulled the SD cards out in hopes for a clue as to which direction he might have taken. Nothing was revealed by the thousands of deer pictures, so I placed a few phone calls into the adjoining landowners and gained permission to search their properties Saturday morning.
Being figuratively sick to my stomach from this buck soon turned to a reality. I’d have to assume that being out in the cold and wet for hours while perspiring from climbing up and down hills would be the cause. All of Friday night and all of Saturday I spent the on the couch with my son Cashton vomiting every hour on the hour.
As Sunday began, I started to feel slightly better, well good enough to go look again. My Dad was out doing his final sit of the year and when he was done, he checked into the house to chitchat. Shortly after he left and wished me good luck, I went to the kitchen and from the same window I originally laid eyes on this buck, I saw three hawks circling a runoff marsh. Instantaneously my heart sank, as I got my hopes up and then began to doubt it all. I slipped on my boots, hopped on my ATV with Clyde in tow and we made our way down the creek. I went as far west as I could go and soon realized Clyde was missing. I turned the ATV around and headed east. I could then see a dog body through the tall fescue. As I got closer, I saw his orange collar. Closer and I could see he wasn’t leaving his location. I pulled up and shut the ATV off, almost afraid to step off, as this was the last straw for me and I would have to be done. I didn’t know how much longer I could deal with the not knowing of this deer. I slowly crept down the creek bank with my head down. I took a deep breath and five more steps and then it hit me - the great white belly. Two more steps and the ball of muddy antlers was popping out of the ground. I then took the next 10 minutes to bask in the moment. So many mixed emotions of relief and gratitude, but also a little sympathy for making a bad shot. I just took it all in and really lived in the moment. After I stopped tearing up and said my “thank yous” to our Lord, I picked my buck and myself up and ended this season with one hell of a dose of closure.
This has been and will be my favorite hunt. It’s almost been reversed from when a typical giant buck is harvested. So many people have years and years of pics and videos, I have almost no history with this deer or even really this property. But it’s been cool. As my story gets out, I find out more and more about this deer and how he blew up to be a 7-year-old 195-inch wonder. My friends and neighbors, the Hoium family, have a shed from him as a 5-year-old, we believe, and recently another neighbor dropped off a shed from him as a 3-year-old and is working on getting me trail cam pictures.
Ultimately, the story just shows that if you put in the work and always keep your faith, great things can happen.