By Craig Bobula
You don’t have to hunt for very long to realize that shooting a big buck is no easy task. And if you hunt public land that is available to anyone and that public land consists of big-woods habitat, it only makes the challenge more difficult. Cadott’s Steve Schmitt overcame the challenge of hunting public big-woods habitat when he arrowed a trophy 28-point non-typical buck in Eau Claire County last September.
Schmitt hunts 52,000 acres of Eau Claire County public forest, which adjoins about 133,000 acres of public forest in adjacent Clark County. The habitat Schmitt hunts consists of patches of pine trees, oak hills, swamps, clearcuts, select cutting and river bottoms. Over his 20 years of bowhunting the county forest, Schmitt figures he’s hunted around 100 different stand locations in the area.
Schmitt hunted the public land on Sept. 16, 2003, and left the woods just before dark that night. While driving down the road, Schmitt spotted a buck standing on a nearby hill.
“I stopped and got my camcorder out,” he said. “It was pretty dark out, but the skyline was still light enough to see the deer. When I got the camcorder focused in I could see that it was an awesome buck with lots of points. I could see velvet hanging from his horns. He stood there eating acorns and looking at me for about a minute, and then he turned and I watched him disappear over the hill.”
Based on the sighting, Schmitt’s next hunt found him set up in a stand located in a small strip of white oaks about a mile down the road from where he filmed the buck. Schmitt saw three does and passed on a nice 8-point buck at 15 yards.
The sighting of the big non-typical buck almost two weeks prior definitely was still on Schmitt’s mind when he went back out to the same stand again, this time on the morning of Sept. 28. Schmitt’s wife Tammy was supposed to hunt with him that morning, but prior commitments meant he would be driving the 20 miles to the public land by himself.
With a light wind out of the north, the bowhunter thought the stand would be a good spot since it’s located on the south side of a main deer trail. Schmitt’s brother-in-law Troy and their friend Dave were supposed to be bowhunting nearby that same morning in an area Schmitt and his son Dalton hunted earlier in the season. Schmitt didn’t know for sure if they had made it out, but he hoped they had.
It was 5:45 a.m. when Schmitt settled his climbing stand into the big white oak. The oak tree is located about 50 yards south of an old firebreak road that used to be used as a snowmobile trail but is now gated off and not used. Schmitt tried rattling once after sunrise but hadn’t seen any deer and decided to try it again at 6:50 a.m. The bowhunter scanned the area for several minutes following the rattling but saw nothing. Just as he started to sit back down, Schmitt looked up toward the old firebreak road to the northeast and saw some movement, so he grabbed his camcorder. By the time he got ready to start taping, Schmitt could tell it was a buck. Since he thought the buck might stay on a trail that passed south of his stand and within bow range, Schmitt set the camcorder down and grabbed his bow. As he was getting ready, Schmitt realized the deer was actually heading down the old firebreak road that would keep him 50 yards away, so he quickly hung up his bow and grabbed the camcorder again. As he got the buck in the viewfinder, that’s when Schmitt noticed how big he was.
“I thought at least I would have some video of this awesome animal,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt could see velvet dangling from the buck’s massive antlers as the buck suddenly turned and headed straight for the bowhunter.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Schmitt said. “He turned his head from side to side to get through the small brush. I knew I had to move fast because he was going to be on top of me in seconds.”
Schmitt quickly set the camcorder down, grabbed his bow, hooked his release on the string and drew back as he turned toward the buck.
“He was 20 yards away coming straight at me,” Schmitt said. “I put my pin on the middle of his neck. I knew he had to turn one way or the other or else he would run right into the tree I was standing in.”
At 10 yards, the buck turned sharply to the right and was now completely broadside to the hunter.
“I moved my pin to the top of his back, dropping it about four inches, and released.”
With a loud crack, the hunter could see the arrow penetrate the big buck’s vitals. He watched the buck disappear over a hill 60 yards away.
“Everything in the woods went silent, except for the sound of me starting to shake,” confessed Schmitt. “I knew I had made a good shot and that the arrow had to penetrate his vitals. I picked up my camcorder and taped a re-creation of what just happened. I was shaking like a leaf. Everything happened so fast, and I’m glad it did. I clenched my fist and whispered a big ‘yeahhh.’ “
The excited hunter replayed the events in his mind for several minutes and then called his wife on his cell phone to tell her what just happened. Schmitt waited for what seemed like forever but was actually only an hour.
“I couldn’t wait any longer, so I climbed down,” said Schmitt. “I walked to the spot where I shot the buck and looked for my arrow, but it was nowhere to be found. I looked for blood and there was none. I started to wonder that maybe I didn’t make such a good shot. I walked toward the hill where I last saw the buck and looked for any sign of blood along the way, but I couldn’t find anything.”
Schmitt walked down the hill and found nothing. Figuring he needed to go get Troy and Dave for help, Schmitt turned around. As he turned, he scanned the area and couldn’t believe what he saw.
“I could see a deer with his head tipped back and his nose sticking straight up in the air,” said Schmitt. “All right, there he is! I turned the camcorder on and started walking up to him. The closer I got, the bigger he got. What a rush!”
After he had a chance to settle down and admire the buck, Schmitt went to see if he could find where Troy and Dave were supposed to be hunting. They were there and helped the hunter drag the buck out and get him loaded into the truck.
on this big buck had 16 points on the right antler and 12 on the left. The inside spread measured 21 4/8 inches. One of the most striking things when you look at this buck’s rack is the size of the bases. In fact, 14 of the buck’s 18 non-typical points grew off the buck’s bases and brow tines. The circumference measurements on the buck’s bases measure 6 inches! The final score was 200 5/8 non-typical inches.
That score makes the buck the largest non-typical ever killed in Eau Claire County and the No. 20 non-typical ever taken with a bow in Wisconsin.
“The last thing you hear on the tape is me hollering out, ‘Yes!’ ” Schmitt said when describing the filming of him finding the buck. In fact, Troy and Dave could hear the excited hunter celebrating as they sat in their stands.
“That was the best morning of bowhunting I ever had,” said Schmitt. “It was the buck of a lifetime, and I will never forget it.”
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