About a half-million hunters every fall don blaze orange or camouflage (or blaze pink — a new option this fall after the Minnesota Legislature legalized it) and take to the fields and woods of Minnesota in search of white-tailed deer. In 2016, those hunters killed more than 173,000 deer, of which nearly 101,000 were bucks. While bucks make up a large percentage of the deer killed in our state each year, the number of animals that sport truly large racks is relatively small.
Still, every year, without fail, a handful of hunters encounter and kill big-racked deer that become the envy of thousands of other deer hunters. In some instances, the trophies mark the culmination of many days or even years of scouting and watching trail cameras, while in other years, hunters simply are in the right spot at the right time — and are prepared to shoot when a big buck shows up.
While none of the deer killed during the 2016 season were large enough to topple any state records, they are massive animals that for most hunters would be their deer of a lifetime. Following are details surrounding three of the biggest bucks killed in Minnesota during the 2016 season.
THE WACKLER BUCK
Jim Wackler, of Howard Lake, has hunted deer for 60 years. And even if he hunted for another six decades, it's possible he'd never again have the opportunity to kill another buck like he did on Nov. 11 near his home in Wright County's Howard Lake. That's the day he harvested the seventh-largest buck ever killed in Minnesota — an animal with a 31-point rack that scored 246 3/8! And, the monster buck weighed 216 pounds field-dressed!
"I've shot them up to about 190 pounds, but this is the first one I've got that was over 200 pounds, and it was by far the biggest rack," he said. "The biggest I ever shot before was 9 points."
For the past couple of seasons, Wackler has hunted close to his home in Howard Lake as a result of leg issues that make it, as he puts it, "tough for me to get into the woods." As a result, he's been hunting on a farm his daughter and son-in-law own that's about a mile north of his hometown. The morning he killed the deer, Wackler asked his son-in-law if any of the corn near the woods on the property had been harvested. It had been, so Wackler drove up to check it out. He found about a 60-foot clearing between the standing corn and the woods. "I thought it was a pretty good spot," Wackler said. "It looked like it, anyway."
Satisfied he'd found a spot to hunt that afternoon, Wackler left, took a nap, and returned about 2:30. He parked his truck in a low spot in the field and walked about 100 yards.
"I took my shotgun — a 20 gauge — my cane, and my lawn chair, and I walked up there," Wackler said. "I found a place to put my lawn chair and sat down."
He sat in his lawn chair for a while, and then switched positions so he was facing north. Wackler spent a half-hour or so relaxing and "watching the blue jays fly back and forth from the woods to the corn," he said. Shortly after 4, he heard a loud commotion in the corn. "It sounded like a freight train coming," Wackler said.
He strained to listen to the noise, which he said would start and stop. "Then about the third or fourth time it stopped, I could see his head sticking out of the last row of corn," said Wackler, who noted the animal was about 35 yards away. "I thought, 'Oh my, that's a big one.'"
At that point, the deer emerged from the corn. "He stepped out and started trotting across the opening," Wackler said. "There was about 60 feet from the edge of the corn to the woods. When he got about halfway across there, I yelled at him — 'Hey' — and he stopped and looked at me. That gave me the second or two I needed to put the silver bead on his chest. I pulled the trigger and his tail went down and he took off."
Less than 10 minutes later, Wackler left his lawn chair and set off to find the deer. He saw blood on a corn stalk and blood on some of the brush leading into the woods. Then he walked into the woods and saw the deer on the ground about 30 yards away. Wackler poked the deer a couple of times to ensure it was dead. After spending 5 or 6 minutes regaining his composure, Wackler started counting the points on the rack — something he made a point of avoiding as he was making the shot.
"I knew he had a big rack on him, but I just concentrated on the shot," Wackler said. "I know if you concentrate on the head, you're going to miss them."
Seth Hubbard, who lives in the city of Becker and hunts deer in Becker County, had quite a start to the 2016 bowhunting season. The second day of the season, his fiancé — who was hunting deer for the first time — arrowed a deer. Hubbard was sitting next to her and captured the whole hunt on video. The next morning was Monday, Sept. 19, and Hubbard had taken the day off work to spend it hunting. There was a bad wind for the stand he wanted to hunt, and the morning hunt was something of a bust.
But the wind switched during the day, and so did Hubbard's fortunes. At about 6:30 p.m., he arrowed the biggest deer of his life — a non-typical 17-pointer that scored 188 2/8. The deer had been well known among hunters in the area, some of whom referred to the animal as Double Down or Can Opener. It isn't uncommon for Hubbard and his hunting party to see 120-inch deer on their property, but deer like the brute he killed that day don't come along very often.
Hubbard had known about the deer for three years. About two weeks before the bow season began, the deer started moving around a fair amount during the day. Hubbard figured he might have a chance at shooting the buck, especially if he could sit in one of the property's best stands, which is between a bedding area and feeding area. Hubbard wanted a northwest wind, and that's what he got that Monday afternoon.
"I was only in the stand for maybe an hour and a half when I heard him stand up," Hubbard said. "There's a bunch of grass down along the creek bottom and the deer bed down there. After he stood up, he was walking around and coming closer and closer. I knew it would be him or another of the bucks on the property. When I realized it was him, I just tried not to look at the rack and instead focus on where I wanted him to stop and where I wanted to shoot."
That was difficult to do, though, in part because of the conditions. "It was partly cloudy, but the sun would poke through the clouds from time to time," Hubbard recalled. "When he came out, the sun was shining through the clouds and it seemed like it was shining right on him. That rack just lit up."
Luckily for Hubbard, the buck made things relatively easy. "He did what mature bucks don't usually do — he came on a dead walk out of the creek bottom and right out onto a four-wheeler trail," he said. "He stopped perfectly right in my first shooting lane. I was a 33-yard shot, and I stuck him right behind the shoulder. He ran about 40 yards and stopped."
One of the best parts about tagging the deer was the way it brought all the other local hunters and landowners together, Hubbard said. "It just brought everyone in the area together and got it so that everyone knows each other. Before, we knew who the neighbors were but didn't really talk to them," he said. "After that deer was shot, it was amazing how many people reached out to me to see the deer or talk about it. We're all good friends now."
Hubbard may never shoot another buck like Double Down, but as long as he can keep heading afield, he'll be happy.
"I've been sitting with my dad in the stand since I was 3 years old, and have been bowhunting since I was 12," he said. "Hunting is my favorite thing in the world to do."
THE HAUSCHILDT BUCK
Three years ago, Heather Hauschildt, who lives in Welch in southeastern Minnesota, shot a white-tailed deer that scored in the 160s — a trophy animal for her and for many other hunters. When she said the next deer she'd shoot would be even bigger, she was only joking. But that's exactly what she did. On Nov. 11, 2016, she killed an 11-point buck with a typical rack that scored 174 2/8. The shotgun kill was one of the biggest bucks harvested in Minnesota last year.
"This is obviously the biggest deer that I've ever taken," Hauschildt said.
She was hunting on her parents' property in Goodhue County. In that part of the state, there's an antler-point restriction and hunters must pass deer unless they have at least 4 points on one side. Although Hauschildt's buck had some sweet antlers, they aren't — and never have been — her focus.
"It's never about the biggest buck. It's about the experience and making those memories," said Hauschildt, who has hunted deer with her dad since before she was a teenager. "It's not all about the rack. I just got lucky by being in the right place at the right time."
That morning, which was sunny with little wind, she was late getting into her stand. She hunts from a ladder stand attached to an oak tree on the side of a hill. It's about 100 yards from a field that was planted with corn. And while she would have preferred to have climbed the ladder even earlier that morning, she didn't have any time to beat herself up for not getting situated as early as she would have liked.
"I was literally sitting on my stand for maybe 25 minutes," she said. "I heard some crunching of leaves, and then I saw a doe. She came right underneath by stand. She was nervous and she looked like she was being chased. She was breathing heavily and kept looking backward. I could hear more sound beyond the doe, and I was trying to look past her to see what was coming. But then the buck came running through the woods like a semi or a 747. He was running and I never even had a chance to stand up. He came in and turned, and I found my spot, shot once at about 45 yards, and he dropped in his tracks. It all happened really quickly."
When she pulled the trigger, she wasn't exactly sure about the animal's size. But she knew his body was big and that he clearly had enough antler points to shoot.
"I was shaking when I walked up to him," Hauschildt said. "Before I made the shot I didn't have any time to get nervous, but I don't really get nervous until after I shoot anyway. When a deer is down — that's when my heart really starts going crazy."
There are other big deer roaming around her parents' property, and other people had seen the deer she eventually shot. "That one was seen multiple times right across from my parents' driveway," she said. "A lot of people had seen him and for whatever reason, he was making himself well known. But up until I shot him, I had no idea he was that big."
So how does she top the monster buck? Hauschildt isn't sure. A big, gnarly non-typical, perhaps, but at this point she's not spending much time thinking about that. Rather, she remains thankful for the deer that fell last fall. "It's feeding our family — that's for sure," she said.