By Bob Decker
My 2008 hunting season started as soon as Wisconsin’s ’07 season ended. My hunting partner, Paul Olson, and I made numerous trips from Eau Claire to our hunting lease in Buffalo County in January and February to check trail cameras and fine-tune stand locations.
Trail cameras revealed that several good bucks had survived the hunting season, including one that appeared to be in the 150-class. Paul and I have leased this same 200-acre parcel — half wooded, the rest pasture — since 2003.
Even without crops or food plots, our lease holds a lot of deer. There are numerous thick bedding areas on the property that become hot spots during the rut.
I harvested a mature irregular-antlered buck the first day Paul and I hunted our lease. The following season, I took a heavy beamed 8-pointer. From 2004 through 2008, however, I shot only does there.
Paul, our good friend, Mark Hoehne, and I spent several weekends in July and August ’08 hanging stands. We set up no less than 20, all equipped with bow and pack hooks, pull-up and safety ropes.
Half the stands were in new locations; the next were situated over proven hot spots. One stand we’ve hung every year since 2003 is called "The Pulpit." In 2004, Mark shot a big 11-pointer from it. At the time, he was attending seminary to become a pastor, and he was studying the Bible when the buck approached.
In early September, a friend e-mailed me the link to a video posted on Field & Stream magazine’s website. The video showed a giant buck in velvet browsing along a field edge. The website and its magazine speculated that the buck was the potential walking world record typical (by any scoring system).
The video was reportedly filmed in Buffalo County, Wis. Paul and I watched the video in awe, but we had no idea where in the county the buck had been seen. In the following weeks, we began to hear rumors that the video was made in our general area.
Just prior to the start of the archery season, Paul was able to pinpoint the exact location where the video was taken, based on terrain features, foliage and some electrical lines in the background.
Even though we knew the buck was roaming very close to our lease, neither of us seriously thought we had a much chance of even seeing, much less harvesting it.
Even with the "Field & Stream Buck" roaming near my hunting area, work and family commitments kept me from getting out much during the first part of the bow season. I am married with four children, and my job as the manager of a paper mill is very demanding. Free time for me is scarce, especially in the fall.
I made several trips to the woods to sit with my son, Joe, who was bowhunting for the first time, but hunted only once by myself prior to November. Since I do not get as much time in the woods as I would like, I try to focus on the rut. I had planned on hunting the entire first week of November or until I harvested a buck.
Mark was scheduled to join Paul and me later in the week, so I was excited about spending a week in the woods with my good friends.
On Saturday morning, Paul and I met at our usual spot in Eau Claire to ride together to our lease. On the way, we talked about which stands would be good with the east wind. We joked around about holding out for the Field & Stream Buck, but we both knew we’d take the first good one that came along.
Paul knew where he wanted to sit, but I was undecided. I was leaning toward a stand we call the "Garbage Dump," but changed my mind at the last minute and decided to go to The Pulpit because I was tired and it is a very easy stand to access.
I climbed into the stand just as it was getting daylight. I spent my morning watching squirrels while enjoying the thought that I would spend the next week in the woods. Several rattling sequences elicited no response.
I didn’t see a single deer until about 9:30. I’d stood and was digging around in my backpack for a candy bar when I heard a deer approaching.
I was facing the tree at the time and looked up to see a definite shooter about 50 yards away, heading directly toward me with its head down. At the time, I had no idea the buck was the one that had generated so much publicity.
I really didn’t have much time to look it over because I had to twist 180 degrees to grab my bow, which was hanging from a tree-mounted bow holder.
Once I had my bow in hand, I pivoted into position and immediately drew it. The buck had stopped about 5 yards from the base of my tree, quartering toward me. I could have taken a shot at that point, but I didn’t like the angle. After about 15 seconds, the buck started walking again and passed behind the tree.
I had to let down my draw so I could reposition to shoot on the other side. My safety strap was hindering my movement, so I unclipped my release from my bowstring and adjusted the strap. The buck stopped 7 yards from my tree, quartering away — the perfect angle for a boiler-room shot.
After the thwack, the buck ran about 50 yards, stopped and then fell. It got back up and staggered another 50 yards or so downhill. And then all went quiet.
To play it safe, I went to find Paul. When I found him in the stand, I told him I’d shot a big one … but not the Field & Stream Buck. Paul congratulated me and offered to get down and help me recover it. We took our time and decided to move a trail camera prior to looking for my buck.
We were able to drive a logging road fairly close to where I’d last seen the deer. It hadn’t moved.
As we approached the downed buck, Paul and I both stared in disbelief. Paul immediately recognized it.
After some hugs and high-fives, we took photos, tagged and field-dressed the deer, and then loaded it into my truck. The arrow had entered the buck’s ribcage and angled up into the sternum, resulting in a perfect heart shot.
People have said I must’ve had nerves of steel to pull off the shot after having the buck so close, but the truth is that I did not realize the buck was as big as it was, or I probably would’ve lost my composure. Thank god I was hungry and looking for a candy bar, or I might’ve seen the buck from farther away, had a chance to look it over better and get nervous.
The media circus that followed my harvest was a bit overwhelming, at first, but I am now enjoying the moment. I’m still anxious to get back in the woods, even though I know I’ll probably never see another buck of this caliber.
Harvesting big bucks is only one of the reasons I love to hunt, and it’s not even the most important one.
Editor’s Note: Replicas of the Decker Buck are available through Artistic Antlers (www.artisticantlers.com).