Driving 25 hours is a small price to pay for a hunt where giant deer can’t control their raging hormones.
Ten days into their 12-day Minnesota hunt in 2010, Gary Holland was the only Texan who hadn’t burned his nonresident tag.
The group had enjoyed a great time to that point. On the ninth day, Gary’s brother, David, bagged the biggest buck of the trip, a huge 12-pointer. Earlier in the week, members of the hunting party had returned to camp with 8- and 10-pointers.
Gary hunted hard every day, and he had no intention of throwing in the towel before they departed for the 25-hour drive back to Texas.
On the morning of Day No. 11, snow was falling and the temperature was dropping steadily. The rest of the gang planned to go out for breakfast to celebrate the great week, and they gently prodded Gary to join them rather than freeze his butt off in a deer stand.
The prospect of restaurant plates loaded with bacon and eggs, hash browns and toast wasn’t enough for Gary to forsake his dream of bagging a huge Minnesota whitetail.
You’d think a Texas rancher would have little reason to leave his home state to hunt for a big deer, but once he’d experienced the hunt Minnesota-style, he was hooked.
“It’s a true hunt; the real deal,” Gary said. “You’re cold the whole time, and sometimes you think you’re actually, REALLY freezing … down to your core. You are hunting deer in their environment, and it’s not an easy hunt. Everything is on the deer’s terms.
“But the best part about it is experiencing the rut. There’s no doubt. No trickle. When they’re in rut, you know it for certain,” he continued. “It’s a long way to travel for such a short season, but when the rut is on, there’s nothing like it. They chase. They’re on the move. They actually stink.
“It’s better than any place I’ve ever been,” he added.
Gary and his hunting friends have been traveling to Minnesota to hunt for about seven years. They stay in a little cabin made of telephone poles. His brother and the Minnesota landowner met through a work association in the cattle business.
The Hollands buy cattle from Wayne Wilde Angus Farm in Shevlin, Minnesota, a town of 176 named in the 19th century for lumber baron Thomas Shevlin.
The hamlet still hosts the annual Minnesota Logging Championships.
The Wildes — Wayne and Debbie — established their cattle ranch in 1972. In addition to breeding Angus cattle with impressive credentials, they also breed well-pedigreed cutting horses.
Wayne is an avid hunter. In addition to pursuing whitetails in his home state, he’s hunted in Russia, New Zealand and Africa.
Once the Wildes and the Hollands met, the business association turned to friendship due to mutual respect in the business world and their shared love of hunting big game.
“We had the cattle business in common and the love for hunting,” Gary said. “It is a long drive, but we don’t care. We look forward to it every year.
“It’s really wooded in that part of Minnesota, very dense forest, but there is some agriculture — corn, alfalfa and hay for the cattle — in the area,” Gary said. “There are thousands of acres of state land to hunt there, too.”
Wilde owns huge tracts of land, but Gary and his friends do a lot of their hunting on state ground.
On Nov. 18, the day his buddies decided to go out for breakfast, Gary dressed in layers. The wind was howling outside, and snow pelted the windows.
Neither would stop the full-swing rut, Gary figured.
“Since it was snowing and very cold, I thought I’d go to a stand on state land that was close to the cabin,” he said. “It’s an open stand, and I got there in the dark.”
Gary hunkered down against the weather conditions as he waited for dawn. Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait for very long.
“Just after daylight, I saw a big buck chasing a doe about 200 yards away. They were running in and out of thick pines. I looked at the buck in the scope and made the split-second decision to shoot. There was no doubt; no thinking about it at all.
“The deer fell immediately, and I got down and headed right over to it,” he continued.
Although Gary and his buddies are well aware of how big Minnesota bucks and does can grow, walking up to one on the ground often leaves them speechless.
“There’s always a getting-stopped-in-your-tracks moment when you come up to one you’ve shot,” he said. “This one was huge. Exceptionally huge.
“The deer there … You don’t pick them up by yourself and get them in a truck,” he continued. “They eat all that corn and alfalfa, and there’s an inch of fat everywhere on their bodies.
“This one was maybe the heaviest I’d ever seen,” he added. “It weighed 287 pounds, field-dressed, so its live weight had to be well over 300 pounds.”
No one had seen the buck before that day, and it was undoubtedly the biggest shot in the area.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Gary said when he called his brother and friends, who quickly finished their breakfast and joined him.
Gary downplays his perseverance and his ability to make his shot count during brutal weather conditions.
“I was just in the right place at the right time,” he shrugged.
This article was published in the October 2017 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
• How’s This for a First? After taking a nearly 20-year hiatus from hunting, this Ohio man returns to the woods and brings home more than sausage.
• Deer with Six Names: Local legend’s demise sends ripples from Ohio to Maine.