Monmouth County taxidermist Carl Osterlund finally put a tag on the trophy whitetail of his dreams during a New Jersey winter archery season. He downed a whitetail that would have ranked No. 3 in the bow record books for the Garden State. But don’t look for his name in Pope and Young (P&Y) or in the state’s record deer category. Why, you ask? Read on!
Bowhunter Carl Osterlund has taken his share of deer during his archery career, which spans just one year shy of three decades. In fact, to date, he has downed 166 bucks, many of which were near records while others, though not necessarily records, were well within the so-called trophy class. Osterlund, an avid bowhunter who hunts exclusively with the bow and arrow as opposed to firearms, has also felled trophy-class elk, one of which is in the P&Y record books.
But what happened to Osterlund and his quest for a record deer during the winter archery season involved a remarkable and unfortunate turn of events. As it turns out, this magnificent 10-point main frame, non-typical rack with a total of 17 scorable points will not qualify for any ranking at all.
Osterlund told Mid-Atlantic Game & Fish that he’d been scouting this particular buck for two seasons. His friend, Brian Perry, even has this buck on film from last season. But those seasons were interrupted when the land upon which Osterlund was hunting changed ownership and the new owners just didn’t allow hunting. But early last year, these particular owners sold the house and the accompanying land, and the present owners were more than happy to accommodate Osterlund, allowing him to hunt on their property.
“They were more than cooperative. They even gave me a written permission note and before giving it to me, they went to the trouble of having it (the note) laminated. I was in,” Osterlund said.
Carl Osterlund owns a sizable chunk of land himself, since his wife trains and rides horses. The land on which the elusive buck spent most of its time is in Zone 51. Nevertheless, with laminated permission slip in hand, Osterlund hunted the property hard. He set his tree stand just where he thought he could intercept the buck, and hunted from that stand every Saturday since November without fail from sunup to sundown.
Then came that fateful day, Saturday, Jan. 3, and it dawned damp and chilly.
“It was foggy and misty when I went to my stand,” Osterlund said. “The going was quiet because the ground and leaves were wet, so I had no problem getting to my stand without chasing every critter away for miles around. But the silent footing also meant I was going to have a difficult time hearing any deer approach. I was going to have to depend almost entirely on eyesight, rather than a combination of hearing and sight. The temperature was a bit on the mild side for a January day, perhaps in the middle to high 30s.”
Osterlund said he spotted a couple of deer almost as soon as he arrived in his stand, but couldn’t tell whether either was a doe or buck.
“All I could see was the white of their rumps. They were in the underbrush and certainly not close enough for a killing shot. Still, today, I wonder whether one of them was the buck I was hunting,” Osterlund said.
Nevertheless, the duo of deer never stopped or gave Osterlund a chance to see them well enough to determine what (sex) they were.
By now, Osterlund had been on stand for several hours. He’d laid some cover scent prior to getting in his stand, but since the early-morning sighting of the two deer, nothing much moved. In fact, he began to almost discount the hunt, now going into midday.
“I kicked back and relaxed, breaking out three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and some milk I’d taken with me to wash them down. It was about 11:30 a.m., and I was happily dealing with my PB&Js, when I heard something snap behind me. It sounded like a small branch or twig snapping,” Osterlund said.
If you’re a bowhunter, you can tell anyone who is willing to listen that when dealing with deer, nothing ever goes as planned. Osterlund can tell you the same thing. Always expect the unexpected.
“When I turned to look in the direction of the noise, I saw two deer; one was a doe and the other was the buck I had been hunting since Nov. 29. But here’s the kicker. The doe walked almost directly under my stand and, of course, my attention was on the buck.
“That’s when he did exactly what I would never have predicted. He bedded down. The doe was near my stand, and any errant move would have sent her scurrying and alarmed the buck,” Osterlund said. “But the buck just laid down in heavy brush, which, in turn, precluded a shot, and started cleaning itself, licking at this spot or that. It was as relaxed as I’ve ever seen a deer that was unaware of a hunter. I couldn’t believe it.”
When things go wrong, as they most often will – ask any bowhunter – they go wrong in bunches. Osterlund will gladly tell you the same thing.
When the doe finally decided she had sufficiently investigated the scents Osterlund had placed on the ground near his stand, she wandered off into the brush. Happily, the doe would no longer be a factor in the possibility of spooking his leisure-time buck. Osterlund breathed a sigh of relief.
Perhaps the buck grew restless knowing the doe had wandered off. Nonetheless, when the doe wandered off, the buck finally got up from its bed.
“The way my stand was situated placed the buck behind me. Consequently, I had to peer around the tree to see what it was doing, and sure enough, it was headed right toward my stand, taking much the same trail the doe had been walking,” Osterlund said. But here is where things got, well, hairy, to say the least.
Osterlund said the buck took “its good old time,” but finally walked directly toward his stand. The buck sauntered over to Osterlund’s stand, and was spitting distance away. In fact, it may have been too close, according to Osterlund.
“The buck was so close that I had no other choice but to take a straight down shot. Naturally, I was concerned about any movement or noise I may make while drawi
ng the arrow, but there was this large-racked buck, right under me. I had to take that shot, or no shot,” Osterlund said.
No sooner had Osterlund started to draw his arrow when he found out he couldn’t take the shot. And all of this was happening while the buck was beneath his stand and Osterlund was holding his breath for fear the buck might “hear” him breathe.
“Because the shot was almost exactly straight down, I had to bend at the waist to properly hold (and aim) the bow. I was worried about whether the arrow would come off its rest, or worse, bang against the bow if it did come off the rest,” Osterlund said. “But when I bent over to make the shot and in drawing the arrow back, the lower limb of the bow hit my stand seat. I couldn’t bring the bow to full draw.”
Now things were really getting hairy. With as little movement as possible, he completely relaxed his draw and had to re-nock the arrow. Osterlund balanced himself on one foot, and with the upper portion of his other leg, ever so gently and ever so slowly, nudged the seat upward into a folded position. All of this while a trophy buck stood directly below him. Had the seat squeaked with only the most minimal of sounds, it would have been all over for Osterlund and his potential record buck.
But the deer gods were smiling on Osterlund at that particular time of the hunt. Finally, and to his credit, he managed to nudge the seat into its folded position and was now in position for a shot. He took it and the arrow sailed true.
“The arrow struck the buck high in the back, toward the rear of the shoulder blades, then continued completely through. Later, we found it had gone through its liver, lungs and out of its chest, slightly angled to the right,” Osterlund said.
“Unlike other times, especially when you watch some of those outdoor TV shows in which the buck jumps wildly into the air and flails with its legs before running off, this buck took a small jump forward, then walked about three steps and stood there looking around,” Osterlund said.
“I could see the blood coming from the exit wound and it was flowing freely, leaving a substantial puddle of blood where the buck was standing. But then the buck became wobbly and walked off, out of sight,” he said.
Understanding full well that pushing a wounded deer could result in a lost deer, Osterlund said he kicked back in his stand and just waited. Then he made a decision.
“I went home. I didn’t want to push the buck, so I decided to wait until my hunting buddy, Rich Novotny, arrived home from work. I called him, told him what had happened and requested his assistance in locating the buck,” Osterlund said.
It was around 5 p.m. when Osterlund and Novotny arrived at the spot where the blood trail began. Despite promising blood sign as observed by Osterlund when he first arrowed the deer, things suddenly took a turn for the worse.
“We had no difficulty at all locating the original blood trail, the point at which I sat and observed the deer bleeding out. But as we progressed, the blood trail became faint. Remember, it was January, and daylight is short. I figured that something, perhaps some tissue, might have helped clog the exit hole from the arrow. We found ourselves, literally, on our hands and knees, with small penlight-style flashlights held in our mouths. Our heads were only inches from the ground, searching for small droplets of blood not much larger than a typical match head,” Osterlund said.
“Rich finally said, ‘Here he is.’ He’d found the buck, and I was only a few yards from where he was pointing and still couldn’t see it. Daylight was nominal at best, and from where I was standing, the buck had settled in a spot where its antlers blended almost perfectly with small saplings and brush. Rich kept pointing to a spot, saying ‘It’s right here,’ and I kept looking but still couldn’t see it,” Osterlund said, noting they’d followed the blood trail “quite a distance,” to the extent he began to worry about whether his deer may have gotten away.
Osterlund and Novotny kneeled, admiring the buck. It had a minimum of 17 scorable points, with an inside spread of 15 6/8-plus inches. It was obviously a potential record-book buck. They began the long drag home, with Novotny grabbing the right antler and Osterlund the left. That’s when the deer gods stopped smiling.
“As we progressed dragging the deer toward my home, the left antler, the one I had hold of, came off,” said an exasperated Osterlund.
Well, Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett have rules, and those rules are never compromised. Osterlund has a thriving taxidermist business and I’ve seen his work. It is flawless. But as a taxidermist, Osterlund also knows the rules and New Jersey’s Division of Fish and Wildlife uses those rules to score bucks that may be records. Once the antler came off, it must be considered a “dropped antler” and cannot be officially entered into the record books.
In any event, once the buck was back home, and after the proper drying period, Osterlund had the buck “officially/unofficially” scored and aged, despite the fact that it could never become a record. The buck was about 6 1/2 years of age. It dressed out at 158 pounds. Had the antler not fallen off, the rack would have been ranked third in the all-category, non-typical whitetail racks in New Jersey
The rack taped 15 6/8 inches, inside spread, and the base circumference of each antler taped 6 2/8 inches. The main beam hosted brow tines that measured 8 1/8 inches, and combined, the two main beams had a total of 17 scorable points as well as other points that didn’t quite make the scorable stage. The outside spread is 18 4/8 inches with a fine final score of 179 5/8.
Osterlund used a Mathews 70-pound-pull bow to take his (almost) record buck complimented by ICS carbon Hunter arrows fitted with 100-grain, three-bladed Rocky Premier broadheads.
Despite the disappointment of missing a record due to a “dropped antler,” Osterlund’s buck is still one of those once-in-a-lifetime deer – or are there other monster racks roaming the farmlands and woodlands of that area of Monmouth County?
For openers, Monmouth County hunters are not shy about getting their names entered into New Jersey’s record book. For instance, Bill Brown of Wall harvested a fine 18-point non-typical during the 2002 firearms season. His trophy buck scored a whopping 191 1/8 points as a non-typical.
During the 2002 season, Ed McCay of Allaire downed a Monmouth County buck that scored 161 4/8 in the non-typical bow category. Lest we forget, Scott Borden of Belmar took the 12-point state-record bow-killed buck from Monmouth County. His buck scored a remarkable 189 4/8 as a typical! That buck, taken during the 1995 archery season, is also listed in the B&C’s “top 50″ of all time. And Joe Meglio arrowed a fine 16-pointer in November 1999, which scored a head-turning 192 2/8 in the non-typical bow category.
Osterlund attributes the growth in body size, as well as antlers of bucks in Monmouth County, to soil conditions and the crops upon which many of these deer feed.
“I hunt deer management zones 50, 51 and 16 almost exclusively. We have unique soil conditions here, and the ground offers a great many nutrients. In addition, the crops upon which most of these deer feed are also rich in nutrients, such as iron and calcium,” Osterlund said.
It was a shame that the antler from Osterlund’s deer came off during the drag, but I had a feeling while speaking to Osterlund at his home, that his pursuit of another high-scoring buck is far from finished.
While sitting at his kitchen table discussing the potential record deer, I asked whether he had any other bucks scouted such as the one that missed the all-category, third-place spot. He looked at me for a while, looked down at the table, then back at me, and said, “No comment.”
I’ve met many archers in my days of writing as well as afield, and most are avid bowhunters with a passion for what they do. Osterlund is no exception. Based on his “no comment,” and the feeling of passion he gave for bowhunting, I have a visceral feeling that we – or the keepers of the hallowed records – haven’t heard the last of Carl Osterlund.