Bad Boy From The Badlands

Bagging a huge North Dakota non-typical buck was a unbeatable end to a late-season bowhunt. That it's big enough to set a new state record is just icing on the cake! (December 2007)

With its Pope & Young score of 216 1/8, Jim Casto's giant non-typical from Dunn County could set a new state record for bow bucks.
Photo by Jerry Defoe.

On the evening of Dec. 2, 2006, three avid bowhunters met at the airport in Bismarck, N.D., to embark on a much-anticipated deer hunt in the Badlands.

One of them, Jim Casto Jr., has been an avid bowhunter for the roughly 45 years since he was 8, when his father presented him with his first lemonwood recurve. Jim was to hunt with lifelong friend and fellow West Virginian Frank Boggess, of Ripley, W.Va., who has bowhunted for over 40 years as well. Dale Casto of Bentonville Ark., Jim's cousin, was the third member of the team.

For Jim, bowhunting is not only a pastime, but also part of who he is -- as he's put it on more than one occasion, "I don't use firearms, I don't fish and I don't golf . . . I'm a bowhunter" -- and he tries to shoot at least a few arrows every day. He loves to hunt with a recurve, but like a lot of avid shooters, he suffers bouts of target panic from time to time, and so carries a compound bow as a backup.

The expedition would afford Dale, who'd only been bowhunting for a few years, mostly for whitetails, his first Western hunt; indeed, the trip would be his first outside either his native Arkansas or West Virginia.

All three men were filled with excited anticipation by their coming hunt -- but no one could possibly have imagined what lay in store for them during the next five days.

AN ENDLESS ADVENTURE

Both Jim and Frank had hunted in the Badlands before, and they'd fallen in love with the region's rugged beauty. This would be their fourth trip to the area hunting with me, a licensed guide and outfitter, and owner and operator of Dakota Adventures out of Watford City.

On previous trips, Jim had been fortunate enough to arrow two mule deer and a whitetail. Frank had glimpsed many bucks, but hadn't yet scored -- but he knew that it was only a matter of time.

The group's destination was Dunn County and the Trail End Ranch, owned by Ernie Hellickson. The three men, who had booked the hunt for the week of Dec. 4-8 a year in advance, arrived in camp on the afternoon of Dec. 3. After stowing their gear, it was time to share some familiar hunting tales and then to settle in to prepare for the big adventure.

On Monday, the first day of the hunt, the morning temperature was in the mid-20s, and things were unusually calm for this area. That night, the three hunters' relation of the day's experiences was enough to cause quite a stir around the campfire.

Jim had seen 15 whitetails from his stand during the afternoon, one an exceptional 4x4 that he estimated would score in the mid-140s. The buck was at least 20 inches wide, with 11-inch G-2s and 10-inch G-3s; its main beams would run near to 22 inches. He drew his recurve and sent an arrow on its way, but no damage was done -- except to his ego.

Frank had seen 25 mule deer, including six bucks. One was a big, heavy 8x8. All he would say was: "What happens on stand stays on stand . . . end of story!"

As beginner's luck would have it, Dale made a perfect double-lung shot on a nice 3x3 mulie; on his first big-country hunt, he'd downed his first mule deer.

A DIFFERENT BALL GAME

The second day of the hunt, Tuesday Dec. 5, began much differently. The weather wasn't as cooperative, with skies overcast, the temperature standing near zero, and typical North Dakota winds blowing at 30 miles per hour. Jim and Frank decided to endure the elements and go hunting, knowing that their chances were 100 percent better in a stand than in camp.

Surprisingly, it turned out to be an exceptional day. Jim saw 56 deer, eight of which were bucks. He took a shot at a 150-class 5x5 mule deer at 22 yards, but the arrow flew a foot under its target. A little buck fever, perhaps -- or maybe that dreaded target panic?

Frank saw more than 20 mule deer. Dale had filled his deer tag, so he spent the day chasing Merriam's turkeys, but had no luck. In camp that night, Jim decided to make a change in equipment. After two shots with his recurve had failed to connect with two nice bucks, his confidence, understandably, had taken a hit, so for the hunt's third day, he planned to use his backup compound.

The morning of Wednesday, Dec. 6, found the temperature hovering at minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit. Jim had been in his stand for about three and a half hours, and had seen a number of deer, including four bucks. He was actually debating about whether to shoot one of them when, suddenly, all four deer went on high alert and looked to their left. Jim sat quietly to see what caused the stir -- and there at 50 yards was a magnificent non-typical buck: the largest whitetail he'd ever seen.

A TRUE BADLANDS BAD BOY

Suddenly it began: the worst case of buck fever that Jim had ever experienced. When he turned to survey the area, he discovered that the other deer had disappeared; the woods were quiet.

"It was so quiet, you could hear what the coyotes were thinking," he later remarked.

When he turned back toward the big non-typical, his heart sank; it too had vanished. What seemed like an eternity passed -- probably no more than 15 minutes. Then the Badlands bad boy suddenly appeared to Jim's right, standing at 15 yards, quartering away at a sharp angle.

As Jim began to draw, he realized that he was shaking uncontrollably. When he reached full draw, he remembered, he was talking to himself, and asking the Lord to help him with his shakes. He calmed down almost instantly, and the bow felt as if it were locked in a vise.

Jim settled the pin just in front of the deer's left rear flank and squeezed the trigger of his release. The arrow was off to a perfect impact. It sailed through the liver, into the right lung, and buried in the right shoulder. The buck of several lifetimes was his!

With darkness closing in fast, and knowing that he'd made a mortal shot, Jim took up the search immediately. As he followed the easy trail, he soon found his buck lying motionless near the backwaters of the Little Missouri River. Since the shot had missed the left lung, the deer had traveled about 350 yards before going down.

A BADLANDS SENS

ATION

Suddenly a strange, bittersweet feeling came over Jim. He felt greatly humbled at being blessed with such a magnificent animal. When Jerry arrived to pick up the hunter, Jim was just returning to his stand. Jerry knew he'd been successful, and asked him what he'd shot. Jim told him he had killed a main-framed 5x5 with some stickers.

With flashlights in hand, they followed Jim's tracks to the deer. When Jerry's light hit the antlers, he couldn't believe the sight that his eyes were feasting upon!

"Unbelievable!" he blurted. "Absolutely unbelievable!"

For the next few days, people came from all over Dunn and McKenzie counties to see the buck; our telephone rang continuously. It was a circus atmosphere.

After the story was published in the Bismarck Tribune, I received a call from another outfitter, Bill Jorgenson of Deep Creek Outfitters, an operation several miles from our property. Bill informed me that four of his hunters had been trying to kill Jim's buck for six weeks. On the evening of Dec. 2, 2006, just four days before Jim let his arrow fly, one of Bill's hunters became ill and left his stand at 3:50 p.m. At 4:15 p.m., a game camera mounted to the stand took a picture of Jim's buck; it took a second picture at 7:30 a.m. the following morning.

North Dakota's current state record for bow-killed non-typicals was set in Barnes County in 1961 by William Cruff, whose buck scored 188 1/8 P&Y. Jim's incredible Dunn County 34-pointer -- potentially a new record -- scored a whopping 216 1/8. That's almost 30 points higher!

POSTSCRIPT

What about Frank? Well, he spent three full days waiting in his stand for the monster 8x8 mule deer to come back, but unfortunately, that buck didn't cooperate. Happily, Frank's patience was rewarded on the last day of the hunt with a good shot on a very nice 4x4 mulie. The three bowhunters had taken three deer, with one being a Badlands bad boy. That buck will always be the buck of several lifetimes for Jim Casto Jr.!

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

For information about hunting with Jerry Defoe and North Dakota Adventures call (701) 842-3415, or email gadefoe@ruggedwest.com

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