The Hunt For a Trophy Buck

By: “Splitshot”

On this trip, only a trophy buck would suffice.

Five days of getting up at 4 AM was getting a little old, especially since I had not even seen a buck yet. I had to get up that early in order to get set up on the high ridge for what I hoped would be a chance at a trophy buck. I was thinking that I must be nuts as I walked 3/4 of a mile up the tractor trail through the corn field huffing and puffing the whole way. Even the cornfields in this part of the country are planted on inclines. Once at the end of the cornfield, I still had a steep 600+ foot bluff to climb. In order to get there, I had to cut a switchback trail through the blackberry, burdock and other assorted stickers, prickers and junk just to get to my stand. I had cut the trail 5 days ago because it was the only way I would even have a chance of sneaking quietly into the area where the deer were rutting. It took about 4 hours the first day to rough cut it and another 2 hours to pull my stand and equipment to the tree where I had decided to place my stand.

Every morning as I ascended the mountain, I would use my clippers to clear it out even more. I even bought a rake to clear out leaves and other debris so I could make a silent ascent..

I know the deer appreciated it, as there were fresh tracks in my trail every morning. So far I had seen only one doe and it was on the only day I was late getting to my stand. I had just tied my bow on the rope, when I heard a deer approaching. I heard the hard breathing before I actually saw the doe trotting directly at me. I knew I was trapped and the doe did stop until she was 5 feet from me. There was no panic in her eyes when she saw me, she simply turned and went the other way. I quickly untied my bow, and hurried down the trail about 20 yards and waited for the buck I was sure was following. After 20 minutes, I returned to my stand where I spent the rest of another uneventful day.

We had been having very warm weather and on Wednesday it got up in the seventies and turned out to be another 11 hours in my stand without seeing anything. Why would anyone spend that much time in a stand? Good question! The short answer is compulsion! I have never been a trophy hunter, although I have passed my share of small bucks, but this time I wanted to shoot a book buck. I decided that I wanted to shoot at least one in my lifetime.

Without the a “Tree Lounge” my wife bought me two years ago, I would never have been able to have stayed in my stand all day every day for a week. Maybe 20 years ago, but tree stands weren’t even legal back then. The Tree Lounge is heavy, and even with the wheels and as I mentioned earlier, it was still a major task to get it to the

I probably left too much scent in the area setting up the day before I started hunting, but next year it will be easier as most of the work has already been done. Ron Rumpel, my good friend just bought the 140 acre farm this year, and since he was a kid, this is where everyone in the area wanted to hunt the big bucks. It helps that Ron’s brother Dave owns the adjoining 800 or so acres. Dave hadn’t hunted this area for two years and then it was just a walk through. It was Dave that told me about the plateau just below the highest bluff where two big trails crossed. He said he had always planned to hunt there, but never got around to it and he could not think of a better place to hunt. I took his advice seriously, since I saw the three big trophies in his den. Later, his wife told me a friend of his had taken his biggest bucks to display someplace else.

The closest occupied building to where I was hunting is over a mile away.. This land is on the border of Trempleau and Buffalo county in Wisconsin’s big buck country and you would be hard pressed to find any better hunting in the Midwest. It seems like common sense, but if you are after a big buck, you should go where they live. Of the 140 acres that Ron bought, 120 are wooded steep hills and ridges. The biggest oak trees were select cut about 5 or 6 years ago, so the under growth has had a good chance to get a good grip on the land. On top of that, they just took the saw logs and left all the tops where they fell. It is one of the most rugged places I have ever hunted, which is why I had to cut a trail to get in.

The biggest bucks in WI come from Buffalo county, and Dave, Ron and his other brother Don have the racks to prove it. Don lives closer to the Mississippi River and owns three big farms in a row in country with higher bluffs than where I was hunting. They all say the biggest bucks come from Donny’s land. That may be true, but I was more than happy to be hunting where I was, especially since it had hardly been hunted in years.

Jeff Rumpel is Donny’s 33 old son and just getting started as an outfitter. One of my friends from Lansing has a rifle hunt booked with him this year and was very impressed by the pictures and conservation he had with Jeff. Jeff’s dad, says he is the best hunter in the area and no one works harder for his clients. Jeff also guides bow hunters, but just during the rut. This year he only had two bow hunters and he has over 100 different stands in the area on lands he leases.

His clients this year were having the same luck I was, except the last day one of the hunters shot a big 8 point and the other hunter had 4 shots at book bucks the last two days. I had to leave Sunday morning and learned about their deer Monday. I think a 5 day hunt is around $2500.00 which includes food and lodging. I have been on some good guided hunts, but if you want a hunt of a lifetime, contact me and I will get Jeff’s information for you.

Back to my hunt. I woke up Thursday morning and there was frost on my car. Finally the warm weather was gone, at least for a few hours. The 4 AM temperature was 28 degrees. I took my usual shower, put on my just washed hunting clothing and sent lock suite and headed up the trail to my stand. It was still dark when I got set up, and almost immediately I heard a deer coming up one of the trails. He seemed to slow as he approached my stand. He stopped 10 feet from my tree and 40 feet down. He would have only been 20 feet down on the other side of the tree, but like I said, this is steep country.

He hung around about 5 minutes before he moved forward toward where I had crossed the trail. If he was going to scent me it would be there. He stopped and stiffened a little, but did not panic. It was still too dark to shoot, and at this point, all I could tell was that he had horns. I had put out some doe sent around the area, and I think that is what held him there for another 10 minutes. By that time I could see that he was a decent 8 pointer, but my goal was not to shoot a deer smaller than any deer I had shot before and this one was too close to call, so I let him pass.

A half hour later, I heard a grunt just below my tree that caused me to almost jump out of the stand. A white racked 6 pointer had used my trail to sneak up behind me. At that time I wished I had something heavy to drop on his head for scaring me. He stayed for about a minute or so before continuing down the trail. So far, so good, I didn’t leave enough scent to spook these young deer. About 8:30 I caught some movement about 80 yards away in the only spot I could see that far. A deer running was all I could see. I started paying particular attention to that area, and twenty minutes later, I caught movement a short way down the hill from where I had first seen the deer.

I put my glasses on her and could see it was a small deer. Just behind her was another deer, much larger, but I couldn’t see its head. I had my electronic call about 25 yards from my tree, and with my remote control, played a doe grunt. The doe picked up her head and moved about 10 yards toward me and stopped. With my glasses I could see the buck. He had at least an 18 inch spread with a lot of mass and long tines. I never saw the entire rack at one time, but knew this was a shooter.

I stood up, picked up my bow and got ready. I played my doe grunt again, and the doe started to move again in my direction. She hung up about 40 yards out, with the buck following about 20 steps back. After 5 minutes, I grunted again. She came a little closer, but started to look a little nervous. Come on, those other two bucks didn’t mind too much and your just a dumb doe. I tried the doe grunt again, but this time she turned and started to walk away. I quickly switched to a soft fawn call and she turned toward me, took a couple of steps and decided to leave again. The buck started to follow, so I played a buck grunt. The buck stopped immediately and started back, but as soon as the doe moved off, he followed. I played it louder and he stopped and looked back one last time and moved off after the doe.

I sat there another seven and a half hours without seeing another deer or even hearing one. I guess this is part of trophy hunting. As evening neared and I was losing color vision it was time to go. I started to put all my gear back in my backpack when I heard a deer tiptoeing up the trail. I am always amazed that an animal that size can move through brush and leaves without hardly making a sound. I could make out the outline of a big deer, and although I could see it was a buck, I could not be sure about the size of the antlers. I was sure this was my big buck, and I even drew down on him and put my light pin on his heart just like I did a hundred times at home after dark on my target in the back yard.

I knew it was too dark to shoot, and the temptation was almost too much. It might have been my trophy, but without being sure, I decided this was his lucky day and I let my bow down. If it had been 5 minutes earlier, I would have been sure and ,maybe my hunt would have been over. For my kindness, the buck meandered around my stand for the next 2 hour, kind of like he knew what he was keeping me treed.

I have marked my rope so I know exactly how high I’m hunting and every time I get over 8 feet, I get vertigo and when I come down after dark, I have to fight off the panic. Every year I overcome my fear and set up 2 feet higher and I finally worked my way up to 22 feet. My first tree stand was so low, I could stand on the ground and touch the bottom of it, and I was still nervous.

Well anyway, it was now pitched dark and even though I had a light, I seriously considered spending the night sleeping in my stand. I was strapped in the whole time, but when I got ready for my decent, I was so scared, I hardly had enough strength to lift the stand up the first time. I inched my way down the tree and twenty minutes later, I was at the bottom, where I should have been in 2 minutes. All I can say, is the ground beneath my feet sure felt good!

I sprayed everything I was leaving at the tree with scent shield and headed down the trail 3/4 of a mile back to my car. I knew I would be back well before daylight for one more chance at the buck I knew was in the area. I spent the whole next day in my stand without seeing a single deer so I decided to move my stand for my last day of hunting. I set up Saturday morning on the piece of land I purchased from Ron on another one of his farms a couple of years ago. I had shot and wounded a big 10 pointer there last year that jumped a fence just as I released my arrow and I hit him behind the liver, but that’s another story.

I saw nothing again all morning and went back to the farm to pack about 11 AM. Brady, Ron’s 16 year old son, had been seeing deer every day and a couple of decent bucks. Ron has another son Mark who is another hard core hunter. They hunt everything from partridge to coon and almost every chance they get. They are as good as many seasoned hunters I know, but if you knew Ron, and the rest of the family, you would understand why. They hunt almost as good as Ron’s wife Betty cooks. I told her that someday she would make someone a good wife. Go figure! Huh Ron?

Just a note, down the road, one of Ron’s neighbors has four albino deer in a fenced in enclosure. A six point buck had spent many hours walking around the fence for a couple of days, charging it on occasion trying to get in. By the time I saw him, he looked like a one sided spike as he had broken off almost his entire rack. Man does that tell you something or what?

I hunted until dark Saturday night and although I did see one nice eight pointer, he wasn’t the buck I was looking for, so I let him pass too. When I got back to the farm, Ron said he saw the biggest buck he ever saw with a spotlight just minutes before moving right up the valley toward my stand. Timing is everything. Maybe my timing next year will be in my favor when I travel the 550 miles to the west side of Wisconsin for another round with the trophy bucks of Buffalo county.

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