Early February & The Squirrel Hill Buck

Early February & The Squirrel Hill Buck

Well, here we go again. As I’ve done in my past two blogs, I’m starting out this one by talking about the weather. This past Tuesday (Feb. 5th) we were the recipients of an 8-inch snowfall. Then yesterday (Feb 7th) we received another 8 to 9-inches of snow. And as I sit here writing my blog this morning the temperature at my place is a “balmy” -10 degrees, with a wind chill factor of -25 degrees. Believe we can now say that winter is officially here.

After our two recent snowstorms and a rash of brutally cold temperatures I’d have to say that winter has finally arrived here in northern Wisconsin.

As you might suspect, there’s not much in the way of outdoor activities that a person can get out and participate in at the present moment. Which means I’ve been spending way too much time indoors. And whenever I’m cooped up for any length of time with not much to do I tend to reminisce about past hunting adventures. It just so happens that my most recent reminiscence involves a certain big buck I arrowed in  the Wisconsin north woods a very long time ago. I’d like to share that story with you.

So for those reading this who aren’t already familiar with my deer hunting bio, I was initially bitten by the trophy whitetail bug way back in 1980. To be more exact, the bug bit me at 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning in late August of that year. I was really into bowhunting for black bears in those days. But because of my job as a concrete finisher, my free time was limited to weekends only. Thankfully, I had a good friend who lived near my cabin in northwest Wisconsin who would check and replenish my baits a few times during the week. I’d then take over the task on weekends.

There was a time many years ago when I was infatuated with bowhunting for black bears, especially do-it-yourself type hunts.

Anyway, part of my trek to one of my favorite bait sites took me down an old logging trail for several hundred yards. At one point the old trail passed through a stretch of low ground. Apparently some time earlier in the year someone had attempted to drive a vehicle through that stretch of low ground. The resulting tire ruts were quite deep and now filled with water. Judging by the number of fresh tracks I could see around the ruts, it was apparent this was a primary watering spot for some local whitetails.

So as I said, it was 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I was walking in to replenish a bear bait when I spotted a deer standing on the logging trail 50 yards ahead. The deer had its head down as it drank from one of the tire ruts. Right off I could see that this was a mature whitetail. And when it final stopped drinking I could see a good sized, velvet covered 8-point rack atop its head. We stared at each other for close to 15 seconds before the buck decided it was time to leave. At that very moment, standing in the middle of an old logging trail holding a bucket of bear bait, is when I made the decision to dedicate all my time to hunting one particular deer.

A chance sighting of a big, velvet antlered 8-point in late August of 1980 completely changed my approach to deer hunting.

I can’t recall exactly how many times I saw the big whitetail over the next six weeks, but it was more often than expected. While the buck’s antlers were certainly larger than average, it was his body size that was most impressive. He was an absolute hog! And as the fall progressed, his body appeared to get even larger. Thinking back on it now, I’m sure the old whitetail was merely going through the natural process of putting on extra weight in preparation for the rut and ensuing winter. Helping him along in that regard is the fact that there was an unbelievable acorn crop in the Wisconsin north woods during the fall of 1980. Which leads me to the most interesting part of this story.

My bear bait was positioned along the edge of a large oak flat that was located atop a fairly high ridge. Somewhere along the line I’d named the spot my “squirrel hill bait”. While sitting on my tree stand during bear season in early September I’d seen dozens of squirrels and a bunch of deer munching acorns on the flat. These sightings included the 8-point and several other good sized bucks. Of course, this made it only logical that I definitely needed to spend some time hunting the oak flat once Wisconsin’s archery deer season opened later in the month.

Along with the big 8-point, I saw several other good bucks feeding in the oaks. But this activity dropped off considerably during the October lull.

But as so often happens, daylight buck activity around the oak flat slowed down dramatically during the first couple weeks of October. I went from seeing several bucks and a bunch of antlerless deer each hunt to seeing only a few does and fawns. Since I really didn’t know all that much about hunting mature bucks I naturally assumed that the big bodied deer I was after had moved elsewhere. Looking back on it now, I realize that it was just the way bucks naturally behave during the infamous October lull.

Thankfully, the fact that I could only hunt weekends kept me from putting too much pressure on the “squirrel hill buck”. And as we eased into the first week of November the big deer suddenly became very visible again. I had an extremely close call with him around 8 o’clock on Saturday morning, November 1st. Then about 15 minutes before dark that evening he once again strolled into view. Initially it appeared the 8-point was going to walk right past the tree where I was perched. But at a range of approximately 60 yards he suddenly stopped and began rubbing his antlers on a small poplar tree. He was still rubbing that tree when darkness fell. I waited until I heard him walk off before climbing down and heading to my truck.

Two very close encounters with the big 8-point on November 1st left me brimming with confidence for the next day’s hunt.

A half-hour before daylight the next morning found me slowly walking the old logging trail headed for my tree stand on the oak flat. As I neared the spot where I’d seen the big 8-point drinking from the ruts in late August I did something I’d never done before. I pulled a bottle of deer urine scent from my pocket and doused the soles and lower portion of my boots with the smelly liquid. I then continued walking to the oak flat by my usual route.

I’d been on my tree stand for two hours that morning when I suddenly heard a very loud and prolonged grunt. Seconds later I heard the unmistakeable sounds of a deer walking noisily through the frosty oak leaves. Judging by the direction the sounds were coming from, I could tell the deer was approaching along the route I’d used earlier to walk to my stand. And then it hit me–he was following my tracks because of the urine I’d poured on my boots!

Any doubts I may have had about my assessment being true were erased a few seconds later when the big bodied 8-point strolled into view some 75 yards away. He had his nose to the ground and was moving along directly on my walking trail. Fully confident that the buck was going to continue along his current path, I quietly got into the proper position for taking my shot. At a range of about 20 yards he passed behind a large oak tree, which gave me the perfect opportunity to draw my bow. I was at full draw as the 8-point walked out from behind the oak…and it’s a darn good thing I was. Because he’d no sooner cleared the oak when he slammed on the brakes and looked right up at me! Luckily, my 20 yard sight pin was already locked on him and a broadhead tipped arrow was on its way before he could react.

I knew immediately after the hit that the big whitetail wasn’t going far.

The follow up tracking job turned out to be relatively easy. A very obvious blood trail left behind by the buck allowed me and a couple hunting partners to follow along at a steady walk. And while I’d known the buck had one of those giant bodies characteristic of a mature north woods whitetail, I was still a bit in awe of how big he really was when we finally walked up on him. Of course, this led us to begin taking guesses at how much the buck actually weighed–which eventually led us to take him to a nearby town to put him on a scale. His field dressed weight came in at a very hefty 217 pounds, while the circumference of his rut swollen neck immediately behind his ears was 30-inches! A true north woods hog!

Here’s the best photo I have of me with the Squirrel Hill Buck, taken at our hunting cabin in Burnett County, Wisconsin. The man I’m talking to is Paul “Gabby” Gumness. A longtime friend and awesome hunting partner.

Its been nearly 40 years since I arrowed the Squirrel Hill Buck. While I’d like to say that I remember it all like it happened yesterday, that wouldn’t be true. Way too much time has passed since that fateful November day. I do, however, remember enough of the details about my hunt to make it worthwhile to recall those memories every now and then. So I’m thankful for that.

And as the years have continued to fly by I’ve also gained a lot more appreciation for what I was able to accomplish during the 1980 Wisconsin archery season. Mostly because I did it without the assistance of some of today’s valuable hunting aids; things like manufactured tree stands (we made our own tree stands and ladders), camouflage clothing, technically superior bows, arrows and broadheads, scouting cameras, Onyx maps, Google Earth, cell phones, the internet, etc. I find that to be pretty darn cool.

More later…