If you we were talking to Thomas Mlsna two years ago at this time, he may have told you about an incredible young buck that he was tracking through the season. He would have loved to cross paths with this buck, while at the same time hoping the buck would survive a couple more years to express his full potential. In fact, if you would have talked to Thomas last year, he would have told you the same thing; though, he wasn’t sure how a free-range whitetail could possibly get any bigger!
Thomas started tracking this particular deer back in 2014 when he received a single sequence of trail camera images one night in early July. At the time, the buck was a developing main-frame 8 pointer with an extra set of eye-guards between his G1 and G2 on each side. A year later, around the same time, the buck showed up on the same camera sporting a more exciting set of antlers. When he faced the camera, his notable brow tines took on the shape of candy canes and a unique nickname was born: “Candy Man”.
Candy Man – 2014 & 2015
Over the course of that year, Thomas watched Candy Man grow into a 170-class stud with all the physical traits of a 3-½-year-old deer. Luckily, Thomas was focused on a 5-½-year-old buck in a different area, so Candy Man was free to wander in front of someone else’s treestand…but he didn’t. Throughout the season, Candy Man came and went, until the orange army did its tour and retreated back to a slumber. Upon this time, he found comfort in the valley where Thomas left a few acres of standing corn and bulbous brassicas. As a thank you for the winter buffet, Candy Man graciously left both of his sheds where Thomas was able to get his hands on them.
Trail cam sequence of Candy Man during February 2016
Candy Man’s sheds after the local rodent population found them first.
As the summer of 2016 blossomed, so did Candy Man. Not sure if he was more excited to hunt this deer, or simply watch him explode into a 200-class Medusa of the whitetail world, Thomas waited patiently. It was hard for him to believe that a deer could ever get that big on an all-natural diet in the “if it’s brown, it’s down” neighborhood he hunts in. It’s even harder to believe that he was one of only a few people that knew this buck existed.
Candy Man in the summer of 2016
Thomas wanted to share this deer with the world, but knew what kind of shenanigans could erupt if word got out. So he quietly observed, soaking in every bit of information he could, sharing only within his most trusted circle, hoping to formulate a plan. Just when his anticipation hit a peak, Candy Man vanished. Hundreds of velvet pictures throughout the summer, one set with a semi-bloody rack in August, then sudden radio silence. Not so much as a blurry “maybe” picture to give Thomas hope.
Thomas patiently waited until October 31st then moved on to his #2 buck, a 5-½-year-old bully buck nicknamed “Jaws”. He had his suspicion that Jaws’ aggressive, dominant behavior may have been responsible for Candy Man’s hiatus. Jaws was an older deer, sporting the scars of many battles, so shifting gears to him seemed like the right decision at the time. It wasn’t long before Thomas wrapped his only buck tag around Jaws, and resolved his season with a smile.
Thomas with the bully-buck he called Jaws
Shortly thereafter, the orange army marched through again, and Thomas looked away as he listened for rumors of a giant buck being taken in the area. Still, nothing.
Finally, a substantial snowfall, volleyed with a seasonal drop in temperature, mixed in with more standing grain and purple-top-turnipsicles… and he was back. Candy Man, in broad daylight… on the food that Thomas planted. Every magnificent inch of antler still intact after a season of who knows what and where. Unfortunately, before the winter ran out of snow and cold, Thomas’ food plots ran dry and that valley ran out of deer. A month later, Candy Man returned without his headgear.
Candy Man in the winter of 2016
Thomas was left to wonder where Candy Man could have dropped those giant sheds, but after miles and miles of searching, he had to assume they would fall victim to the local rodent population. Nevertheless, Thomas was excited to see him grow again that summer, only Candy Man didn’t feel the same way.
An increase of human activity at the nearby dairy farm seemed to be the tipping point for this pressure-sensitive king of the forest, so he retreated to a much quieter place. The hundreds of pictures Thomas averaged over the previous two years turned into only a handful of random captures this past summer. He focused on the only consistent part of Candy Man’s annual routine and planted as much winter food as he could while dreaming of the king emerging through the snow on a cold December day.
When opening weekend approached and the forecast predicted a weather change, Thomas decided to take advantage of the opportunity and slip into the only area that he knew Candy Man was spending time. The wind was out of the south for a few days, then switched out of the northwest and dropped the temp by a solid 10 degrees. If Candy Man was bedding where Thomas suspected, and all the other stars aligned, then that specific wind shift was perfect for this location.
Thomas heading in for his evening hunt
Thomas slipped into the area with a climbing treestand while checking a Reconyx camera on his way. No evidence of Candy Man for a month, nor a deer picture for days. He was hesitant, but already there. After a brief text exchange with his wife, Thomas decided to go with his gut feeling and hunt. 20 minutes later, without ever sitting down in the treestand, he found himself 15 yards away from the very ghost he had been chasing since the last winter Olympics, and with a similar amount of anticipation.
Trail cam pic from August 2017
Within seconds of spotting the massive main beam from his elevated position, Thomas was at full draw with his pin in-line with Candy Man’s backside shoulder. A moment later, the window closed and Candy Man vanished behind some foliage. Afraid of spooking a smaller buck below him, Thomas maintained his ready position and waited for another opportunity. He held and held, trying to limit his movements while visualizing a shot; searching for small lanes and judging shot distances to where the beast might end up. Then, just as he was beginning to wonder how long he could keep that up, Candy Man turned and headed back into view. Thomas immediately lined up his sight and prepared to take aim, following the buck with one eye and keeping the other on the lane he planned to stop him in. As soon as Candy Man hit a small gap between trees, Thomas let out a subtle noise and stopped him. He put every last ounce of effort into making the best shot he could, focusing on a precise spot behind the deer’s shoulder, while the world outside of his sight housing choked down to black. Thomas fought hard to bring his pin up the last inch, and as soon as he did, the arrow was on its way and the curtain dropped. Thomas was focusing so hard that he forgot to breathe, and as he watched the illuminated nock trace the path of his 540-grain meat-seeking missile, he blacked out.
Thomas heard a “pop” overlapped with a “crack”, as he drew air back into his lungs. Oxygen hit his brain and brought his vision back just in time to see the giant buck trot off, and the arrow sticking out of a tree where he once stood. Thomas admits that he was very nervous about the shot at first, but 90 minutes and 200 yards later, he came upon the warrior that he had dealt a quick, clean death by way of a double-lung heart shot.
“Candy Man” – 18 scorable points, 22-inch inside spread, 210 lbs dressed.
Candy Man- a 214 2/8 inch Wisconsin Giant
“I am incredibly honored to be able to share the story of this magnificent animal with my fellow hunters, and forever grateful and humbled by the opportunity that I was given to pursue a moment like this.”
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