It was August 2010, and as usual, my friend Kurt and I were out at one of my hunting properties located in central Wisconsin checking trail cameras for the first time that summer. We often times leave our cameras out for several months at a time without disturbing them to minimize pressure and scent. As we began to scroll through the pictures, we couldn’t help but notice a stand-out 8 pointer that appeared to be around 3 years old at first glance. The buck had incredible G2’s and G3’s, good mass and showed the potential to hit 150” or more within the next few years. Kurt and I agreed to give him a free pass that fall and keep an eye on him in the coming seasons. Nothing is more gratifying for us as Sportsmen than to watch a buck grow over several years, mature and reach its overall potential before pursuing the animal.
The following season, fall of 2011, the buck continued to show up on our trail cameras, and to our surprise was moving a lot during daylight hours. Kurt and I spent a lot of time studying the photos, although the buck had grown quite a bit from the previous year, we again decided to give the buck a free pass. We just knew this buck had still not reached his full potential, plus we had several other bucks on the property that had made the hit list that fall.
It was during that season that this story really begins to take shape. I will never forget it. It was a Wednesday evening, November 9, 2011. I was at home, back in Webster, WI that evening when I received the phone call. It was one of my neighbors from the hunting property in central Wisconsin. He had been bowhunting that evening and shot a nice buck. He felt confident he had made a lethal shot and was calling for permission to track the animal which had made its way onto my property. I told him I had appreciated the call and told him that he could certainly enter my property to track and recover the animal. The neighbor never called back and we assumed he had found the buck and all was good.
A few weeks later, Kurt went out to check trail cameras after gun season had ended to take inventory on what bucks had made it through the firestorm. He couldn’t believe what he found. The 8 pointer that we had been watching for the last 2 years had passed in front of two separate trail cameras on November 10, the day after the neighbor had shot him with the arrow still in him.
Kurt also had photos of the neighbor passing by tracking the buck on the same two cameras. Six days later, the photos showed the arrow removed and the buck still alive and walking around. We couldn’t believe it, this was one “Lucky” buck, and from then on…the name just stuck, he would forever be known as “Lucky”. That winter, Kurt was also “Lucky” enough to find both sides of his sheds.
During 2012, the buck was able to completely recover from his injury and to our surprise, developed a full, healthy rack. That fall he officially made the hit list. One of my close childhood friends, Joe Peterson, would join Kurt and I that bow season on the hunt for “Lucky”. We were getting several trail cam photos of “Lucky” but all of them were in the middle of the night.
He had become very nocturnal and all but a ghost in the woods. Our hopes of seeing him that fall were dwindling.
During the peak of the rut that season, Joe decided to give it a go and headed out to an area that “Lucky” had frequented. He began his sit that evening by picking several trails, trees and brush piles in open shooting lanes to range in advance to ready himself for a quick encounter, knowing all too well that the rut is typically filled with high speed encounters as bucks chase hot does through the area.
As many would expect while reading this, indeed “Lucky” would make an appearance. Joe first noticed a buck enter the area from the top of a ridge to his west about 150-200 yards away. As the buck made his way down the trail at a fast pace, Joe anticipated which shooting lane the buck would pass through. As the buck closed the gap quickly, Joe waited patiently. As the buck came within shooting range, Joe immediately recognized the buck as “Lucky”, snapped to full draw, stopped the buck in the perfect opening and let the arrow fly. The arrow passed over the bucks back, a clean miss. As the buck ran off, Joe could not understand what went wrong; I think we’ve all been there with the same feeling of disbelief. He had put his pin at 35 yards, exactly the distance he had ranged a few hours before, was it just buck fever? He grabbed his range finder again, lifted it to his eye and ranged the trail again. 25 yards. Sure enough he had confused the trail distance with another location in his set during the heat of the moment. After sharing his story of his encounter that evening with Kurt and I, we all made plans to give the property a rest for a few months and come back in January for another try during the Holiday hunt.
The wait was long, but January rolled around and the Holiday Hunt finally came. This time we would be filming the hunts with Lake Country Whitetails, everyone was filled with anticipation, would “Lucky” make another appearance? We were hunting that evening with firearms; Joe, Kurt and I in different stand sets, all within a few hundred yards of each other. We were hunting between the cedar swamp, where the herd would bed, and their food source, the standing corn fields. A few hours before dusk, the herd began their daily migration through the mature hardwoods toward our positions, deer after deer passing under our stands, no sign of “Lucky”. All at once, I hear a shot from Kurt’s location, the deer were everywhere and upon hearing the shot, started to swarm the area. My eyes were peeled, watching intently on the deer as they passed us heading back into the swamp. Off in the distance, there he was, “Lucky” was on the run and hobbling as if he was injured. I took aim in my scope and waited for him to stop or slow down… he came to a slow trot and I pulled the trigger. After the shot, I lost him in the scope and could not tell exactly what had happened. Moments later, I received a text from Kurt, he had seen “Lucky” and shot him. He was confident he had made a great shot, perfectly placed in the heart. I texted him back that I had also seen “Lucky” running back into the swamp and could tell he had been hit good. Kurt had heard my shot and was hoping I had news of putting the finishing shot on him.
After reviewing the footage that both cameramen had captured, we were all confident that Kurt had shot him in the lower chest area, very close to the heart, and my shot had hit the buck somewhere in the neck, but we could not quite tell where. “Lucky’s” story had come to an end. We found an incredible blood trail and started to follow it. As we started to enter the swamp, the trail continued, and continued and continued. The blood started to slow in the snow and eventually after about 400-500 yards, came to a trickle. We decided to call off the recovery until the following day. The last thing we wanted to do was push “Lucky” out of the swamp.
Kurt returned the next day and began tracking “Lucky” from last blood the evening before. He came across several beds the buck had laid in that evening and decided to call off the recover after 3 hours of tracking the buck. Kurt couldn’t believe it. How could this buck have lived through two solid shots from two separate .300 Win short mag rifles? Did he lie down and die somewhere? Would we ever find him? Kurt regrettably stopped tracking the buck that day and knew only time would tell. We both felt sick. There is no feeling worse than wounding such a majestic animal, you feel overrun with a sense of despair.
After several weeks passed, Kurt again went out to the property to check trail cameras, shed hunt and take another look around for “Lucky”. He couldn’t believe it. The buck had shown up on several trail cameras, revealing the precise locations of our shots to the lower chest and base of his neck. “Lucky” was still alive. The more incredible thing about the trail cam photos was that the stress from the two gunshots had made him shed early. One trail cam photo shows him walking by the camera on January 20, 2013,
and two days later, “Lucky” would walk by the same camera after shedding his antlers. The wounds looked like they were festering and getting infected. Would he make it?
The next fall our questions were answered. Not only did “Lucky” survive the winter, he again fully recovered and grew an incredible rack and seemed very healthy. This buck was now a Legend in our eyes, a true testament for the Whitetail deer and their amazing will to survive. And the story doesn’t end here.
This last fall, during the 2013 bowhunting season, I took a shot at a very nice mid 150’s 8-pointer (not “Lucky”) with a split G2.
My arrow hit a branch during its flight and hit just above its intended mark. I gave the buck a few hours to expire before I started tracking him. In an effort to travel light while tracking, I only took one arrow and left my quiver at the tree. I began to follow the blood trail at a very slow pace as to be very quiet in case the buck was bedded in front of me somewhere down the trail. After following the blood trail for about 100 yards, I saw a deer bedded about 25 yards in front of me behind a fallen tree cluttered with branches looking right at me. I could only see its ears poised in my direction, and there was a small 2 foot window in the brush exposing its vitals. It must be my buck; it was looking right at me and not wanting to make a move. After waiting for about five minutes and considering my options, I decided to use my last arrow and finish him off. I snapped to full draw, steadied on his vitals and released the arrow. This time my arrow hit its mark perfectly. The deer jumped up and ran; I immediately noticed it was not my buck, but instead a doe! As soon as the doe had jumped up, another deer came crashing out of the brush pile behind it…it was “Lucky”! The two were bedded together and were most likely actively breeding or getting ready to that same day. The doe stopped after bounding away about 20 yards, stood there for about 30 seconds and fell. “Lucky” stood just behind her, and while standing broadside to me, just looked back at me for what seemed to be forever. Here I was, face-to-face with “Lucky”, the Legend himself. We had watched him grow and mature for over 4 years. We had unfortunately missed him and wounded him during several encounters. This animal had persevered through all of that and stood proudly in front of me. The moment was almost surreal and something I will soon not forget as the Legend of “Lucky” continues.