A Big Bow Buck from Buffalo County
September 30, 2010
Stuart Hagen arrowed one of the highest-scoring bucks in Wisconsin last fall. Time in the woods paid off for this dedicated hunter.
By Scott Bestul
It was the third Sunday in October and Stuart Hagen knew three things: he had been too busy to hunt much, the Packer game wasn't nearly entertaining enough, and he wanted to spend some time with his son.
"I just wanted to go hunting," Hagen recalls. "I didn't even care where I sat. I just wanted to see some deer. So as my son Gunnar and I were watching the Packer game I said, 'Let's turn the TV off and head for the woods.' "
One thing Hagen did not know was that evening he would arrow one of the biggest bucks taken in Wisconsin with a bow last fall. Hagen - a real estate broker and successful trophy hunter from Modena in Buffalo County - has shot many fine whitetails, but nothing to match the giant non-typical he would encounter that evening.
Oct. 20 is not typically the best date for killing a giant buck in Wisconsin. The frantic chasing of the pre-rut is often a week away and the prime time of early November even more distant.
"Usually, our bucks are pretty nocturnal then," Hagen says. "Actually, I like to plan out-of-state trips about that time. I go to South Dakota for pheasants. But I'd canceled that trip due to some access problems. Between early bowhunts for elk and pronghorn, then an extended visit from family members, I'd only bowhunted once since the opener. I was just anxious to get out and see what was moving."
Hagen headed to a remote food plot he had planted with Imperial Whitetail Clover.
Stuart Hagen's buck has a final score of 189 3/8 non-typical inches. Photo courtesy of Stuart Hagen
"I put it in a couple of years ago and it had taken me awhile to get it established," Hagen said. "But once it took off, the deer just hammered it. I only had to mow it once all year - the deer kept it clipped off on their own!"
When Hagen reached the food plot, which was surrounded by woods on three sides and a fenceline on the fourth, he decided to sit in a stand he had hung a couple of seasons ago.
"It was in a box elder tree right on the fenceline," he said. "When I got up in the stand I knew I had no cover and I was silhouetted really badly. I have over 70 stands hung on our property and I kept thinking, 'Of all the places to sit, you picked this one?' "
But Hagen wasn't in the stand very long when a large doe fed into the field.
"Just like I'd feared, she busted me almost immediately," Hagen laughed. "I had the right wind, but I just stuck out too badly in that skinny tree. I considered getting down, but just then another doe entered the field. It wasn't long and she'd busted me too! Now I was really disgusted. It was just getting to be prime time and I figured I could still get out of there without doing any more damage.
"Of course, right about then another group of does and a couple of bucks came into the far side of the field," he continued. "They were feeding pretty contentedly, so I decided I better just hang in there."
Indeed, as the other deer fed, some of the does had worked downwind of Hagen's stand and not winded him. The devout user of Scent Lok clothing had just seen one of his best tools work for him again! As Hagen watched the feeding deer, he noticed another animal enter the field.
"I could see a big forked G-2 on his rack and I thought he might be one of two really big bucks we'd been watching," he says. "But all I knew right then was that he was definitely big enough to shoot."
Once Hagen made this decision, he didn't have long to wait for the action to heat up.
"The buck came into the field very quickly and never even looked my way," said Hagen. "He was trotting around, checking out those does and letting those younger bucks know he was there. I barely had time to get ready and he was already in bow range! As the buck approached, I got the bow drawn and put the pin on his shoulder as he walked past me at 18 steps. I was just about to shoot when my arm hit a tree limb. So I had to let down, move around the limb, then draw again. The buck was so fixed on those other deer that he never saw any of this."
With the buck still well within bow range but severely quartering away, Hagen focused on the sight pin and squeezed the release. The broadhead went deep into the buck's vitals.
"He bucked and just tore off into the brush," Hagen says. "He made a terrible crashing. I figured I had hit him pretty well, but I also knew that, because of the severe angle, I might have hit him a little far back. So while I sat there and waited for Gunnar to pick me up, I decided we'd wait until morning to track him. I wasn't taking any chances!"
However, after Gunnar appeared and as the two shared their stories - Gunnar had a huge 10-pointer run right under his stand but was unable to get a shot - a wet, thick snow began to fall.
"I couldn't believe the luck!" Hagen says. "So that changed our plans immediately. We decided we better try to follow whatever blood trail we could before the snow buried it completely. It turned out to be a good decision. We had tremendous blood right from the start and we found the buck piled up not 100 yards from where I shot him."
Once the father-son team had recovered the mammoth non-typical, they realized it was a deer they knew very well.
"I had actually filmed the deer several times in each of the last two summers," Hagen recalls. "I hunted the heck out of him the fall before, and I think I saw him just one time. I was actually hunting the same food plot that I shot him in. He came out within bow range of my stand, but it was too dark to shoot. So I let him walk and I never saw him again that fall. Then I filmed him in velvet again this past summer, and I even got a Cam-Tracker photo of him shortly after he shed his velvet. We figured him to be at least 5 1/2 years old."
As Stuart and Gunnar admired the buck's antlers, they remembered that their neighbor and hunting partner Dave Lindsey had found a shed antler from the buck.
"Just the week before, Dave had been combining beans and saw a big shed in the field," Hagen says. "He showed it to me, and I knew it was from one of the big ones we'd been watching. So when I drove into Dave's yard the next day, I said, 'Dave, what are the chances of finding a buck's shed one week and then killing him the next?' He just laughed, and then I showed him the buck. He couldn't
But Hagen wasn't done teasing his friend.
"When we were field dressing the buck, Gunnar was holding onto the antlers and felt something strange," said Hagen. "He looked down by his hand and there was a broadhead stuck dead-center in the left main beam! It was from this season, and since Gunnar hadn't shot at this deer, the only person I could think of was Dave. So before I showed him the deer, I asked, 'Did you shoot at a big buck this fall?' He kind of looked funny at me, and then he admitted he'd had a shot at a nice one early in the season. He had heard a loud crack when the arrow hit, but he couldn't find any blood or evidence of a hit. So he was kind of embarrassed. He knew he'd gotten too excited and blown the shot. He wasn't planning to tell anyone about it. We had a pretty good laugh about that. Who says you can't 'catch and release' deer!"
The numbers on the Hagen buck are no laughing matter, however. The giant whitetail field dressed at 225 pounds. The antlers have 18 scoreable points and were officially measured at 193 2/8 non-typical inches gross and 189 3/8 net. That makes it No. 31 in Wisconsin for all-time non-typical bow bucks.
But the buck will not be the last trophy whitetail ever taken by Hagen. The amiable 58-year-old is a skilled hunter who puts in tremendous amounts of time in a tree stand each fall. He has taken over a dozen Pope & Young-class animals and will no doubt harvest more.
But Hagen is as quick to credit his hunting area as his skill. Hagen has hunted in Buffalo County for the last 14 seasons and has lived on a gorgeous farm outside Modena for the last eight years. After forming hunting "partnerships" (where several hunters pool their assets to purchase hunting land) with his son Gunnar, neighbor Dave Lindsey and several friends, he's enjoyed the best deer hunting of his life.
"Between us we have over 1,700 acres in 'quality deer management,' " he says. "There's no secret to making it work. Around here the bucks have everything they need. All you have to do is let them grow up. And with the growth of QDM in this area, Buffalo County is only going to get better."
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