The year was 2013 and for the first time since 2010, I had no evidence of a buck we had named “Splitz”. No trail cam pics, no sheds, no sightings, no NOTHING! The consensus was that the old timer had finally passed. The timing of Splitz’s disappearance couldn’t have been worse as I had finally achieved permission to hunt a chunk of land he frequented.
The following blog highlights the five years in which I, along with many others, came to know a local legend by the name of Splitz. Deer, especially bucks, rarely live beyond five years old in the wild. Splitz lived to be 9 or 10 according to my best estimates and was a true giant up until the very end. As a hunter, I may never again have the privilege of pursuing a decade-old booner of which I’ve had so much history with.
Here’s a video showing the legendary buck over the past 6 years. The full story and pictures are below.
Herein lies the timeline of the local legend that was Splitz:
The Initial Pictures
During the summer of 2010, my buddies and I had been proceeding with our normal summer scouting techniques – running trail cameras and shining. Southeastern Wisconsin has never been lacking in the monster buck category, however, trying to find land to hunt where one of these bruisers lives is a different story. What used to be big ol’ dairy farmland, has now been parceled off into giant housed subdivisions and small parcel property owners. To sum it up, if you are lucky enough to have a buck to hunt like this, so do about 15 other hunters.
We had been seeing some good bucks around the neighborhood, but nothing like what we were about to see on our trail cameras from the last week in August. My brother, Nick, called me during work to tell me what he saw. Giddy with excitement, all I could really hear was that a freakin’ giant was on cam. Once I got home, I saw it with my own eyes and the dreams of the upcoming season began.
This is not Splitz, but it was an absolute giant that we got on camera on a different property. Unfortunately, he was killed by a vehicle later that year.
We showed only our closest buddies because word tends to travel fast and there was no need to enthuse the surrounding hunters. Typical ‘cocky-talk’ ensued and our hopes were high! Less than a week after living high on the hog from that photo, my cousin Mitch texted me a picture of a potentially even bigger buck on a nearby property. So began the legend of “Splitz”.
Only one velvet photo was collected of him through the fall. Mitch had been hunting him hard, but unfortunately a smaller buck came in and he had to let an arrow fly (sarcasm – he shot a giant 11 pt.). Once the snow fell, Splitz became a local at my buddy’s back yard feeder and was looking pretty healthy.
Here’s the very first picture we got of Splitz. My cousin was the first to get it on trail camera that year.
Later on that year he showed up on camera in a buddy’s backyard.
During February, he was still holding strong and we waited for the day when he was supposed to show up with no headgear. Instead, he disappeared again… Once the snow melted, we searched high and low for his sheds, but to no avail. This buck had quite the range! From our spotlighting missions to trail camera photos, we knew this guy could be on any of the approximately 25+ properties encompassing his home range.
Summer came and summer went without any sightings of the big old buck. Fittingly enough, up until Halloween Night, Splitz had remained a ghost. The rut finally brought him out of hiding and he showed up in my buddy’s backyard once again.
He was alive and well, and would remain that way through the rest of the hunting season.
Here he is again in the same backyard on Halloween Night the following fall.
Once again, we eagerly searched for Splitz’s sheds during the spring and once again, the results were the same.
Despite not having found his sheds, our hope was restored when he showed back up on camera during July, looking as good as ever. It wasn’t for long though, as this proved to be his only trail camera appearance of the season.
In 2012 he showed up on yet another property.
Shed hunting season was here once again. After an all-day search of the main property yielded one measly chewed up shed, our excitement was pretty low by the time we got to the last field. It wasn’t until our final pass that my buddy Josh found a great looking tall-tined 5-point side, and from there the floodgates opened.
I found a matching 8-point set a minute later and as we were standing around admiring the sudden success, Josh’s brother, Justin, whips up his binos and takes off running! 150+ yards away there was a shiny bright-white object laying in a drainage ditch that seemed out of place. It was one large antler and it once belonged to Splitz!
Knowing he survived the hunting season and the winter, we were anxious to see what he would look like during the upcoming season. Unfortunately for us, Splitz once again avoided all cameras throughout the summer and fall. Was he dead?
All of these sheds were found within 200 yards of each other and within 5 minutes of one another. Splitz is the massive one on the left.
Justin with a side from Splitz. This is about as obvious as a shed gets. It scored 78 inches.
No sheds were found (surprise, surprise). We were now pretty certain that the buck had died sometime during the 2013 season, after all he was an estimated 7+ years old. Just as we wrote him off, he showed back up on trail camera like a ghost from thin air. We were baffled.
From the dust of a small old food plot, the now 8 ½ year old buck reappeared for one single trail camera photo! While he probably scored the most back in 2010, he was certainly no slouch. This buck has turned his split G-1’s, 2’s, and right 3 into main beam mass with a typical 6X6 frame.
He wasn’t nearly as big, but it was undoubtedly him. First in August, then again in September as he was shedding velvet. Could this be the year?
Of course not…once again he vanished. Another hunting season went by without a single sighting, but magically, the old timer proved he was still as smart as ever when he showed up on trail camera during a post season survey.
Here he is in August of 2014. This was the first year I had permission to shoot bucks on this property.
And again in September as he’s shedding velvet.
Shed season was upon us once again and finally we had permission to walk a neighboring farm I suspected Splitz was living. The new property looked promising and sure enough, a half an hour into our search and I was pulling a massive side out of the tangled creek grass. Out came a moss covered beam from what looked to be last year’s shed, it was Splitz! While still carrying quite a bit of mass, it was obvious he was on his downswing.
The spring and summer came and went – more food plots, more trail cameras, and still no sightings. . .
It was more or less a lucky spot as this antler was covered with creek grass.
We found one of his old sheds (from 2013) on a new property that we had a hunch he was frequenting.
Then this happened…
My wife and I were driving home from our honeymoon when my phone buzzed in the center console. I glanced down and saw that my brother had sent me a trail cam photo of some sort. My wife picked up the phone and said, “It looks like a moose!”
Already riding an emotional high from just being married, I now needed to see what this buck looked like. Luckily, we were just pulling into a local winery for a quick tour on the way home when this picture came through and thank goodness we were stopped because this pic would have made any hunter run their truck off the road.
Here is the picture my brother sent me that renewed my dreams of hunting Splitz. Clearly the date and time are off.
Upon first glance my jaw dropped and I thought to myself, “Wow! What lucky hunter gets to chase him?”
I texted my brother back and asked, “Who? And Where?”
It wasn’t until after we got home that he told me who it was. To my disbelief, the photo came from the backyard of a neighboring property I hunt! Now I was interested. What at first was a quick glance and admiration of a great whitetail, now turned to complete zoomed-in dissection of the rack.
Who was this deer with stickers, splits, and a drop tine? Having run multiple cameras for multiple years on the adjacent 350 acres, there’s not many bucks I don’t recognize, and certainly not one of this caliber. The closer I looked the more features I started to recognized – first the bladed left brow, then the split G2, then the 6×6 frame, and finally the overall shape of the rack.
No, it couldn’t be. How in the world would a buck that’s 9 or 10 years old all of a sudden blow up from what he was last year? Maybe it was one of Spitz’s offspring I thought. I looked at the sheds and previous 5 years’ worth of trail cam pics and everything was way too similar to be a different buck.
Each angle he showed us was more impressive than the next!
Indeed, Splitz was back and bigger than ever! Not only was he back, but archery season was just two weeks away.
While the upcoming season was filled with hopeful dreams of encountering “Splitz” for the first time in a treestand, past seasons held my expectations in check. Since 2010, his home range had shrunk dramatically. What once covered seemingly half a town was now down to half a mile of which his western edge barely touched the eastern border of the property I hunted.
Not only did his home range shrink, but his typical pattern had him showing up for week in early September and then not again until late season. With this information, I knew he was going to be nearly impossible to kill.
This is what every hunter dreams of…
After several unsuccessful early season sits and no recent trail cam pics of Splitz, I knew I would have to wait until the rut or even more likely, the late-season before I’d have a chance at seeing him. Fortunately for him, another mature buck consumed my tag before ever laying eyes on him. Could he make it another year?
In ironic fashion, the demise of Splitz came to me the same way in which all my excitement began this past summer . . . via a picture message. The moment I dreaded for the past 5 years had finally come with someone else holding the rack of this legendary whitetail.
Don with the legendary 10 year old buck! The picture doesn’t do it justice as it ended up with a rough gross score of 174.
The “someone else” actually happened to be Don, a family friend and accomplished hunter. For this I am grateful because I got to see the wise old whitetail in person and take the time to reflect on how much he was part of everything I did on that property.
To be honest, I wasn’t upset. Whether it was knowing he was nearly impossible to kill on the property I hunted, or knowing he would have to survive yet another season before getting another chance at him, I was just happy to know how the story finally ended. I mean this buck had been roaming the wild for 10 years! Just think back to what you’ve done in your past 10 years, and all the while this buck was out surviving winter after winter, hunter after hunter, coyote after coyote, and car after car. Truly an unbelievable animal he was.