In December of 2007, I started to plan for a guided whitetail hunt, a gift from my wife for my 40th birthday. This was going to be my first guided hunt. I have been hunting whitetail deer in New York for close to 20 years with three of my good friends. We decided to forgo our annual trip in order to plan this once in a lifetime hunt. Lots of questions soon arose. Where to go? With who? And when?
After researching on the internet, watching hunting shows and reading magazine articles, we narrowed down where to go. We decided upon Buffalo County Wisconsin because it leads the country in Pope and Young deer. Also, the climate and terrain is just like what we were used to in the Catskill Mountain region of New York.
The next question to be answered was with who? Well, if you’ve ever researched an outfitter online, you know they all seem to look great. Every outfitter has photo galleries of past hunts with successful, smiling hunters. I was hoping to become one of them. I knew if I contacted the outfitters directly, they would surely attest to the great hunt I would have as would any of their listed references. Because I wanted an unbiased opinion, I considered contacting local taxidermists, archery shops and hunting clubs. But what I was really hoping for was to know someone from that area who could point me in the right direction. As a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union #3 in New York City, I realized that Buffalo County Wisconsin had to fall under an IBEW jurisdiction. A quick search online revealed thatLocal Union #14 in West-Central Wisconsin covered that area. So, I contacted them and was referred to IBEW member Dave Fredrickson who runs Dave Fredrickson Outfitting.
Now that we settled on where and who, all we needed to choose was the when. Dave suggested we join him on a rut hunt which fell on the last week in October. We were unable to secure a hunting position for 2008 because Dave keeps the hunting pressure on his properties low and does not overbook hunters. However, we were pleased to learn that 2009 was open.
The extra time to prepare for this hunt worked out great for us. I retired my recurve bow and purchased a new compound bow for this hunt. I practiced, practiced, practiced until I was confident in my ability and the performance of the bow.
Two years flew by and before we knew it, we were arriving at Dave’s working farm. After introductions were made, Dave took us into a cabin decorated with trophy whitetail deer mounts harvested from his property. He explained the hunt we would participate in and gave us lessons in field judging mature deer. He described the different deer stands placed on his properties; discussed wind direction and scent control; and showed us what a 140-inch deer should look like since that was the minimum size you’re allowed to harvest.
At that point, I realized how little I knew about whitetail deer hunting. I was in the presence of a man whose life was trophy whitetail deer hunting. He protected the quality of the deer on his leases and limited the number of hunters to reduce pressure. It was apparent with Dave Fredrickson, money was not his motivation. It’s all about the quality of the hunt and the pursuit of mature whitetail deer.
My first day of the hunt started two and a half hours before sunrise. Dave checked wind direction, chose which hunters would hunt in which stands and off we went. Sitting in a tree stand in complete darkness, waiting for sunrise, my mind was racing and my heart pumping in anticipation of what the day would bring. As the sun rose and the grays and blacks of the woods began to clarify, every bush was the next world record deer in my head. I had to calm myself down, breathe slowly and prepare for any possible encounters.
About an hour after sunrise, I saw my first deer. It was a buck but not a shooter. Soon after, in the distance, a couple of does appeared. My heart was pumping, and it was a great morning to start my week long hunt.
Dave contacted me around lunch time to relocate us to new stands according to the wind directions. He placed me in a ground blind overlooking a small CRP field that was bordered by standing corn. Man, this spot looked great. In my mind, trophy bucks were entering that field from every direction. But after several hours, nothing had appeared. Still, what a great first day it was. I was pumped! The other members of my hunting party had similar experiences with some seeing shooter bucks, just not in range.
The next day, I was placed in a tree stand overlooking a water hole on the edge of standing corn. I could not have been in a more beautiful place. Soon a lone coyote walked under my stand and stuck around for a while. I then knew my scent was concealed. I have to admit; I was tempted to shoot the coyote but I didn’t travel to Buffalo County to kill a dog. Dave contacted me prior to lunch to see if I wanted to be relocated, but this spot looked and felt so good, I opted to stay. I didn’t see a single deer that day, but I enjoyed watching a flock of turkey and the coyote that later returned to taunt me before the day ended.
On the third day of the hunt, Dave selected a tree stand on a dairy farm for me. I was eager to see what the day would bring. Shortly after sunrise, I saw a buck. He was heading my way, and he looked big. My heart raced as I looked him over. As he got closer, I was thinking he was a shooter but not 100 % certain. He was a beautiful buck, but I was hesitant. Then, I remembered what Dave said during our orientation – “If you’re not sure, he’s probably not big enough.” Just as I decided to pass, the buck turned broadside and presented a perfect shot. Still, I held out. Then, he started trotting away, and there’s just something about a big buck leaving that makes you want to shoot! Temptation was getting a hold of me, but finally, I resisted all urges.
During the next hour, I saw several more does and bucks but no shooters. I started doubting my decision of letting that earlier buck go. Then, in the distance, another deer appeared. It was a buck, and he was quartering to me. He was huge, and I instantly knew he was a shooter. At this point, I prayed to God to please let the buck get into range. I picked a small thicket between myself and the deer and decided that when he was behind the thicket, I would draw back my bow. Once there, I drew back my bow and… nothing.
The buck seemed to vanish. I was at full draw and wondering where he went. Apparently, the buck stopped behind the thicket but slowly began to reappear. So, I placed my pin on his shoulder and released. He took two steps and stopped. Did I miss? What happened? This deer was not acting like he was hit. As he walked toward me and behind my stand, I tried to draw again but he caught my movement and took off!
I sat back down and tried to sort out what just happened. I thought I saw blood but couldn’t be sure. I grabbed my binoculars and checked the area he had been standing. I soon located my arrow, and it was painted red. I was relieved but still not sure what happened. I figured I’d wait for Dave to contact me, and we would recover the deer. It was 9 a.m., so I stayed in the tree stand and waited until I couldn’t take it any longer. At about 9:05 a.m., I called Dave. He told me to sit tight, and he would come soon. Minutes felt like hours as I kept replaying the day’s events in my head.
While I waited for Dave, the early morning buck had reappeared. Seeing him again, I knew passing on him was the right decision. Does began to show up around my stand, and two were bedding directly below me. I decided that I still had a doe tag and Wisconsin has an Earn a Buck program, although not in effect during that year. If I harvested a doe, it would qualify for the following year. After carefully selecting a doe, I drew back my bow and released an arrow that found its mark. The doe trotted ten yards and dropped. I asked myself, why couldn’t the largest buck of my life have done the same?
Dave arrived around lunch, and I showed him the location of the arrow. After analyzing it, we saw the blood trail. It appeared as if it was left with a paint brush. Easy recovery, I thought. I was super excited figuring this buck was hit hard, and we’d find him in no time. Dave slowly examined the trail as we crept along. The whole time I just wanted to run!
We found a spot where the buck had bedded down. Dave checked the bed, and I could see his concern. He suggested we pull-out and give the deer more time. So, we had lunch, and Dave explained his thoughts to me. He felt I placed the shot behind the deer but was optimistic we’d find him.
After several hours, we went back into the woods. Dave brought along Randy Tomlinson, a local taxidermist and avid hunter, to assist in the recovery. We got back on the blood trail but it wasn’t as easy to follow as before. Dave was finding drops of blood on the leaves but the distance between drops was increasing, and my deer was heading uphill. Watching Dave and Randy track this deer was an experience I will never forget.
After several hours, Dave turned to me and said the deer was probably not mortally wounded and would likely recover. My heart sank, and a lump burned my throat. I couldn’t believe it. We decided to return to the original stand and recover the doe.
On the way back to the stand, Dave cut across another blood trail that intersected the trail we were previously following. Somehow, we had been following the wrong trail. Dave liked what he saw on the new trail, and we followed it slowly. After creeping along for about 150 yards, Dave abruptly stopped and pointed forward. He indicated my buck was just 20 yards ahead, still alive and alert!
Although the deer was just 20 yards away, I couldn’t see it. I was looking for a whole deer while Dave only saw the tips of two antlers sticking above a fallen tree. When I finally saw what he was seeing, he advised me to knock an arrow while he studied the best shot to take. He found it, but still, I couldn’t see the body or the position of my deer.
Dave located three leaves and asked if I could place an arrow through them. While looking at a forest filled with leaves, I hesitantly said yes. Dave sensed I was clueless as to what leaves he meant so he walked me through- first showing me the tree, then the branch and then the leaves. Now I knew which leaves he was referring to.
I released my arrow, and the deer jumped up. And, oh my god, what a deer! I couldn’t believe my eyes. He ran 30 yards, jumped a barbed wire fence and expired in a field of clover; the Irish must have been lending us a little luck. I couldn’t believe my hunt was over. I was humbled and honored to harvest such a magnificent animal… a true monarch of the woods. My deer weighed 228 pounds dressed with a live weight estimated at about 300 pounds. His antlers rough scored 152 2/8, and after deductions, the official Pope and Young score was 147 2/8.
Without the expert tracking of Dave and Randy, this trophy would have been lost. After hunting for over two decades, I thought I knew a thing or two about it. Past experience has taught me that on every hunt, there is an opportunity to learn – whether it is successful or not. On this hunt, I was clearly the student and Dave my instructor. It was like no other and will forever relive itself each time I gaze at the wonderful mount Randy prepared for me. My once in lifetime guided hunt ended with my group booking again for the upcoming season.