Smoke And Snow

Smoke And Snow

Chuck Fenger was hunting the last snowbound days of Minnesota's 2008 smokepole season when the buck of a lifetime appeared, ghostlike, among the cedars. (December 2009)

Chuck Fenger's giant muzzleloader kill tallied a gross score of 176 4/8 inches and netted 165 2/8.

Photo courtesy of Hugh Price.

Chuck Fenger was watching a group of 10 does and fawns about 30 yards in front of his tree stand. It was late in the muzzleloader season, with snow on the ground and an intermittent, swirling wind. He felt the wind hitting the back of his neck, and watched as the deer looked up, wheeled around and ran across the field.

I better get out of here, Fenger thought. I'm ruining my spot with this whirling wind. I'm educating all of these deer.

As he started to climb down from his stand, Fenger heard a deer coming from his right. He looked and saw deer feet under the cedar trees. A few seconds later, he saw the deer's body. It was a buck -- and it was a shooter. There was a small opening in the brush that the deer would reach in moments. Fenger raised his muzzleloader.

Chuck Fenger is a lifelong deer hunter. He hunts with a bow during the archery season and with rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader or whatever is legal during the long Minnesota deer season that stretches from September to December. He's out there hunting deer from the heat and bugs of the early season to the cold, snow and brutal wind of December. During the 2006 muzzleloader season, he noticed a lot of deer activity on a nearby farm. Using his binoculars, he could see that not only were there a lot of deer on that farm, there were also some big bucks on the property.

A couple of brothers farmed the property, and Fenger was anxious to get permission to hunt it. "I asked if I could bowhunt in there after the muzzleloader season," he said. "At first, they told me they didn't let anyone hunt in there, not even family. I kind of knew the one guy and I did some real talking, and he finally gave me permission to bowhunt only. So, I bowhunted the area in 2007, but I didn't get a shot that season."

Fenger thanked the brothers for letting him hunt the area and gave them a bag of seed corn to replace some of the corn they leave for the deer and other wildlife every year. The brothers gave him permission to bowhunt again after the 2008 muzzleloader season. "After the 2008 rifle season, I went back into the property and set up my tree stand for bowhunting," Fenger said, "and then I got out of there and stayed out. I just watched the area from the road with my binoculars."

The wooded area is along a river, and once the river freezes up, the deer start coming across to feed in fields on the farm. The woods act as a funnel through which the deer pass when they come across the frozen river. Fenger's tree stand is set up in those woods.

Fenger continued: "Anyway, it was muzzleloader season and I had all of my gear for muzzleloader hunting in the car. I'm hunting some different property but keeping a watch on deer movement on this farm. So, I go down there one evening and check for tracks and see that nothing has been coming across the river. The next night I go back and check for tracks, and again there are no tracks. The (third) day I go back down to the farm again and check for tracks, and it's like a highway.

The deer had moved through there big-time. All I had with me was my muzzleloader hunting gear. I went up to the farmhouse to see if they would give me permission to hunt with my muzzleloader, but no one was around. I knew the other brother had another place nearby, so I called him and talked to him about letting me hunt with my muzzleloader. He told me 40 does and fawns crossed through there shortly after I left that second night around 4:30. He said he didn't see any bucks in the bunch that went through. And he said I could go ahead and hunt with my muzzleloader."

Fenger went back to the farm and made a loop around the property so he could come in the back way. He was hoping to be able to get to his stand without spooking any deer on the way in. He was trying to keep his footprints in the area to a minimum. He got up in his stand and settled in. It was cold, and there were 6 to 8 inches of snow on the ground. The wind was blowing strong and variable.

"I'd been sitting there about 15 minutes when I heard something coming in behind me and to my left," Fenger recalled. "I looked back and could make out a deer coming through the brush. After a few minutes, I could see that it was a buck and I estimated he'd (measure) about 130 inches or better. After watching him for a few minutes, I felt the wind hitting the right side of my face and I knew he'd smell me in a minute. He did and he took off back the way he came.

I sat there for about another five to 10 minutes and then I heard something coming from my right. I watched that area, and in a few minutes, a doe and two fawns came out into the cut bean field about 30 yards out in front of my stand. In a few minutes, another group of does and fawns came out into the bean field to my left. Now there were 10 deer about 30 yards out in front of me. A short time later, I felt the wind hitting the back of my neck. The deer all looked up in my direction, then ran across the field and crossed the road. When those deer ran off, another six came up out of a gravel pit off to my right front, and they ran off in the same direction as the first group."

Fenger decided he should get down and leave since the wind was whirling around so much. He was worried about ruining his spot by spooking so many deer. He'd worked hard at keeping any human scent or presence out of the area so the deer would continue to use it as a travel corridor. As he was about to climb down from his tree stand, he heard another deer coming from the right.

"I looked in that direction and I could see deer feet under the cedar trees and coming my way," Fenger said. "I didn't know if it was a buck or a doe but thought I should get ready in case it was a shooter buck. The deer suddenly appeared in a thin spot in the cedars. I couldn't see much detail, but he looked like a shooter.

There was another little opening where I would have a shot, and he would pass it in seconds. I put the sights of my muzzleloader in that spot and shot as soon as he appeared. He ran around behind me and ran towards a big ravine that came up behind my stand. I was hoping he wouldn't go too far down that ravine, as it would be hard to get him out. I reloaded my muzzleloader and got down and followed his tracks. He'd only made it about 25 yards down behind me. When I got to him, I got my first real look at his rack and I was amazed. He was a big, beautiful, typical 8-pointer with a very open and symmetrical rack."

After admiring the buck for a few minutes, Fenger

walked back up to the farmhouse to see if he could get some help dragging the buck out. One of the brothers was home and he'd heard the shot. "You must not have shot a fawn cause you're not dragging it," he said. "Do you need the Bobcat to get it out?"

"I just shot a monster," Fenger replied. "It's a huge buck."

The farmer was a little skeptical at first, but Fenger finally convinced him to come and help get the deer out.

Fenger stopped and registered the deer on his way home and called his wife to tell her that he'd shot the biggest buck of his life. He described the size of the buck and the antlers, and his wife got almost as excited as he was. After they hung up, Fenger's wife called all of their relatives and friends, and when her husband arrived home, there were more than 20 people waiting to see the giant buck. It turned out to be quite the impromptu party. As word of the giant buck spread, people visited throughout the next day as well.

The buck's gross score was 176 4/8 and netted 165 2/8. It is Fenger's biggest deer to date. The deer field-dressed at 185 pounds. When Fenger shot him, he was following the trail of a doe. Fenger does his own butchering and he recalled when he skinned the deer: "He was skinny and was so run down from the rut that his ribs and backbone were sticking out. I had Jeff Olson in Redwood Falls do a shoulder mount for me, and he sure looks good on my wall."

Fenger attends the Minnesota Deer Classic every year but has never taken a deer to the show -- until this year. Fenger's buck was the No. 1 typical muzzleloader kill recorded for the 2008 Minnesota deer season.

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