Keys to the Hunt: Swampland Success

AJ Gall

It’s every whitetail hunter’s dream to wrap their tag around an antler of a Pope & Young class buck during opening weekend of archery season.  But then again, what would you do for the rest of the season? Since I can’t answer that question personally, let’s just ask Nick Latzl of southeastern Wisconsin who tagged this 165 inch whopper during the second day of the season.

Keys to the Hunt | Legendary WhitetailsNick’s buck scored 165 inches (unofficially) and his brow tines measured 8.5 and 9.75 inches.

Nick headed out Sunday morning for an early season sit in the swamp. Little did he know this would be his last sit of the season … at least with a bow in his hand.  As an avid hunter, I always want to learn something new with every big buck story I hear. I want to know the details.  I feel as if every story of a mature buck hitting the ground has some piece of info that helps explain the “hows” and “whys” of what made the hunt successful. 

As I talked with Nick over the phone, the first thing we discussed was the location and habitat type he was hunting.  Nick was sitting along an edge of a thick swamp which transitioned into a small hardwood lot full of acorns.  The edge was littered with fresh rubs and the swamp was the go-to bedding area for the deer that frequented this small acreage parcel.     

Mapping Whitetails #04 | Finding and Analyzing Rub Lines

Nick is no dummy when it comes to whitetails. He’s as serious a hunter as they come.  He doesn’t just shower scent-free the day of the hunt. Instead, he’s been showering scent-free for a full month before the season – that’s dedication.  In addition to daily scent-free showers, he goes through the all-important scent control procedure before every hunt: shower, wash clothes and keep in a scent-free container, get dressed outside, spray down, don’t eat stinky foods, and most importantly only hunts when the wind is right.

It’s not every September opener in Wisconsin that you get cool temperatures paired with a northerly wind to help aid deer movement, but this year had just that.  Perfect whitetail weather was in-store as Nick waited for deer to start making their way back towards the swamp to bed for the day.  It wasn’t long after daybreak when Nick caught the movement of a buck walking through the swamp.  Despite catching movement, the tall grass and thick brush prevented a decent look at the animal.  Right after the first buck disappeared into the swamp, another one came out behind Nick’s stand in the opposite direction.  It was a good looking eight pointer, but not exactly what he was after.  Nick stood there watching the buck behind him, when all of a sudden he was caught off-guard by mucky footsteps coming towards him through the swamp.   Nick turned his head to see if he could pair the sight with the sound of hooves suctioning through the swamp. Lo and behold, the first buck reappeared and this time Nick got a jaw-dropping look at him. 

Keys to the Hunt | Legendary WhitetailsNick with his giant brow-tined buck on the edge of the swamp.

As intense as the moment was, Nick was stuck in an awkward position.  His body was turned towards the smaller buck, and in order to get a shot at the bruiser behind him, he would need to spin 180 degrees.  The swamp buck continued to close the distance while Nick slowly grabbed his bow, brought it over his body, and turned to assume his shooting position – a risky maneuver that he’s still unsure how he was able to pull off in the midst of a silent forest.  Nonetheless, the buck came to a shooting lane and paused to the sound of a mouth grunt Nick had let out.  While the buck paused, it was only a brief pause.   Just as Nick squeezed the trigger on his release, the buck took a step forward resulting in a hit slightly further back than intended.  Anyone who has hunted long enough knows that gut wrenching feeling that follows a less-than-perfect shot. 

The worst part is the wait.  A time in which the shot is replayed over and over in your head as you pray for a hopeful recovery.  After several hours, Nick, along with his dad, Tom, and buddies, John and Brad went out to track the giant buck.   They also brought the help of a strong sniffing lab named Cassie, a decision that would become well worth its weight in gold.  Although Cassie had never blood-trailed before, she was good shed antler dog and the guys knew her nose could be of value.  A nice long blood trail in the beginning had put Cassie on the right scent.  A few treats along the way had her looking like an experienced blood hound.  It was a good thing she was a fast learner because this buck had tried every trick in the book including doubling back on his own trail.  There was a moment of doubt when they circled back onto the same blood trail they were just at 30 minutes ago, but upon further observation they noticed the blood was splattered in a different direction, indicating the buck had doubled back.  Once again, trust was restored in the dog.   Soon the blood disappeared all-together and the hearts of the trackers began to sink.  Nick hung back with John and his dad trying to find any speck of blood that would reignite a flickering flame of hope.  Meanwhile, Brad marched forward with Cassie unsure of what was to lie ahead.

Keys to the Hunt | Legendary WhitetailsA happy crew after a successful recovery – John, Brad, Cassie the dog, Nick, and his father, Tom.

Minutes turned to hours, and hope turned to disappointment.  As much as Nick and the gang didn’t want to give up, they were running out of options.  It was time for one last pass before they called it quits on this buck of a lifetime.  What started out as a chapter from a thrilling novel had now become anything but a storybook ending.  Or so they thought…

The guys made one final push through the swamp while Brad took Cassie to circle a protruding hardwood point.  It was now or never, one last ditch effort.  Ten minutes into the final pass, Brad found himself staring down at the giant buck as Cassie growled!  Finally, the words Nick had been waiting to hear all day rang through the thick swampland, “Here he is!  I’m staring down at him right now!”

There it was, a storybook ending after all.

Keys to the Hunt

  • Set up on the edge of a bedding area near an oak flat (acorns) – an ideal morning set-up

  • Had the right wind

  • Scent Free

  • Rub line present along swamp edge

  • Used dog to help track

  • Determination

A word from Nick –

“Not sure what to say….but I wanna thank God first and foremost for this deer. I want to thank my dad for instilling the love of the outdoors with a fiery passion. I want to thank my wife for letting me chase my passions. I also want to thank John, Brad and Cassie the dog for all the help blood trailing. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for such a great experience.”

Legendary Whitetails | Fan Shop

About The Author
From Woods to Table

AJ Gall

AJ Gall's prior hunting and wildlife experiences began long ago and make him the perfect contributing deer hunting guru.  As a habitat consultant under Dr. Grant Woods, AJ has worked on properties in 13 different states, amassing over 25,000 acres of quality deer management. He now uses that knowledge to help clients find their dream hunting properties as a licensed real estate agent in Wisconsin.  


Hunt us down