Minnesota has long been on the short list of states routinely producing record-class whitetail bucks, with plenty of top-ranking specimens registered in every category. Boasting a proven combination of excellent habitat, abundant forage and a gene pool that is second to none, it’s no wonder that the Gopher State’s annual harvest contains dozens of record-book bucks, including many in the 180- to 200-class.
One common thread among our selection of outstanding Minnesota trophies is that the hunters had never seen their bucks prior to hunting them and that, in two cases, the deer were taken on public land. In fact, one hunter was in direct competition with 1,300 other permit-holders for a two-day hunt, yet only he ended up taking a 180-class buck out of that huge crowd of eager archers. Another lucky hunter had to deal not only with the usual public-land competition but also had two stands and two trail cameras stolen in the process! She persevered, however, and continued to hunt hard until her dedication and persistence paid off in a big way.
With all this in mind, the stage is set — here is a sampling of three impressive archery and muzzleloader bucks taken in Minnesota in 2017.
GREG KORTUEM BUCK
Hutchinson bowhunter Greg Kortuem has spent the last 20 years deer hunting with gun and bow and has nearly 30 deer to his credit, including some 18 does and nine bucks.
“I am awfully proud of all those deer,” Kortuem said. “Every one of them means something to me.”
In 2017, Kortuem was lucky enough to draw a permit for a limited hunt on Camp Ripley, a 53,000-acre military reservation in Morrison County where upwards of 1,300 hunters were drawn.
“We arrived early but hung back and relaxed during the long check-in process. It took several hours to run everyone through, but we expected that,” he said.
Kortuem’s group was one of the last ones to be processed.
“We passed the time looking at satellite images of the area in order to find a good place to hunt,” Kortuem said. “We don’t like to encroach on other hunters, so we tried to find a secluded area to hunt.”
Kortuem’s group set up the next morning following a storm that blanketed the ground with heavy, wet snow.
“The deer were herding into an off-limits impact area,” Kortuem said. “There were tracks, rubs and scrapes everywhere. I finally got into my tree at about 9 a.m. and started tuning up my grunt call.”
Almost immediately a 4-point buck came in but did not offer a shot. Kortuem continued to grunt every three to four minutes. After 45 minutes, another, much larger buck with dark, chocolate-colored antlers came in fast and stopped directly under the treestand.
“The buck ran off about 25 yards and stood broadside,” Kortuem said. “I shot, but my arrow hit a branch and then dug into the dirt. The buck took off, and I got down to check for blood but found nothing.
“I got back in my stand and sat there for a few hours as the temperature started to get up around the freezing mark,” Kortuem said. “The snow started falling off the trees, and there was movement everywhere.
“Around 1:30 p.m., I was leaning against the tree on my right shoulder and noticed a deer coming in from my left about 20 yards away,” Kortuem said. “I was frantically trying to figure out how to get a shot without spooking the animal. I finally got my bow off its hook and drew. Meanwhile, the buck had walked about seven steps into a nearby thicket where there was just a pop-can-sized hole in the brush. I knew I couldn’t make that shot, so I leaned over and found an opening about the size of a paper plate. I knew I could make that shot so I took aim and let fly.
Kortuem heard a loud “thwack,” and the buck trotted off.
“I sat there for a while wondering what happened, and then I got down to find out,” Kortuem recalled. “I found my arrow stuck in a tree where he stood. The mechanical broadhead had failed but there was still a good blood trail. I thought he was a good buck when I shot, and I can happily say that when I got to him there was no ‘ground shrinkage.’ The thing was huge!”
Kortuem decided to drag the deer the half-mile back to his truck on his own so as not to bother his hunting buddies, one of which had also shot a spike buck, which was dwarfed by Kortuem’s monster.
Kortuem’s Camp Ripley non-typical had 12 points with an inside spread of 18 2/8 inches. It gross scored 182 4/8, making it one of the top non-typical archery kills in Minnesota in 2017.
LYNN WEISS BUCK
If awards were given out for deer-hunting enthusiasm, Wabasha hunter Lynn Weiss would win every time. Weiss got into hunting just four years ago when her daughter wanted to learn to hunt, but all of the men in the family were too busy to take her out.
“I shot my first buck, a 7-pointer, with a borrowed bow,” Weiss said, “and I thought, ‘Boy, this is fun.’ I bought my own bow and started spending a lot of time hunting.”
Weiss, a nurse at nearby Mayo Clinic, works three long days per week which gives her four days off in a row to hunt. In 2016, she killed a 9-point buck during the shotgun season.
“I carry lightweight steps that tie onto a tree and use a hang-on stand. I’ve just learned how to hunt by trial and error,” she said.
One thing Weiss learned very quickly was that hunting on public land can present some challenges. She’s had two trail cameras and two treestands stolen even though they were all cable-locked to sturdy trees.
“I can’t imagine why anyone would want to steal my stand and cameras,” Weiss mused. “They weren’t the most expensive models, and it looked to me like the thieves had to carry them a long way out of the woods. I may consider putting in computer chips, so I can at least recover my gear, but it’s a shame to have to go through all that.”
Undaunted, Weiss set up another trail camera that eventually pointed precisely to the spot where her 2017 trophy showed up, but it had malfunctioned. She had never seen the deer before they met unexpectedly late in the day on Oct. 26.
“I’d been out looking around and found his rub line and several scrapes,” Weiss said. “I made a couple of mock scrapes and rubs but really didn’t expect much to come from that.”
Weiss hunted from 10 a.m. till noon, went home for lunch, and then came back for the remainder of the day. Near dusk she decided to give it up for the day when she saw the buck headed her way.
“He was 100 yards away and was checking out my mock rubs and scrapes. It was very interesting and fun to see him rubbing on the trees and limbs I had set up,” Weiss said.
“I could see that he was going to come right down the trail where I expected him to go,” she recalled. “He went behind a tree and that’s when I came to full draw, and when he went behind another tree, I swung toward him and aimed. He ended up right in front of me just 10 yards away and was pawing the ground when I shot.”
Weiss was sure she’d made a good shot, but she could see that her arrow had broken off as the buck twisted, turned and ran.
“I called my husband and told him I’d just shot the biggest buck of my life,” Weiss said. “He considered leaving the tracking job till later but then decided to come right out. We found my buck laying in a brush pile about 50 yards away.”
Weiss’ 14-point buck had an impressive 30-inch spread with a gross score of 166. The deer weighed 195 pounds field dressed, a beast of a buck by anyone’s standards.
“It was a fun experience,” the 50-something nurse said. “It’s definitely something to tell the grandchildren about!”
Weiss is far from done hunting. In fact, she’s already making plans for next season.
“Next, I want to find a nice drop-tine buck,” Weiss said.
Does anyone care to bet against her?
MICHAEL PECK BUCK
Austin muzzleloader hunter Michael Peck will never forget his exceptional Wabasha County buck, although the memory of his hunt will be forever bittersweet.
Peck has over 20 years of deer-hunting experience and had taken bucks in the 130, 150 and near-160 class before his 2017 experience.
“We practice deer management techniques on my Uncle Jim’s 160-acre property, which borders the 28,000-acre Whitewater Public Hunting Area,” Peck noted. “We’re mostly interested in bucks over 130.”
Peck first noticed the big 7x6 typical buck in trail camera images in 2016. His aunt nicknamed the buck “Thumper.”
Although there were more sightings and images of the buck in 2017, he was doing an excellent job of playing hide-and-seek with the hunters, Peck said.
“My Uncle Jim hunted hard with a crossbow but didn’t see him, and I hunted several days with no luck,” Peck recalled. “I saw some does, a small spike and an 8 while hunting out of my uncle’s stand.”
Peck decided to hunt the other side of his uncle’s property after seeing some trail cam images of the big buck on Nov. 1.
“On Nov. 6, I went in with my muzzleloader but saw nothing in the morning,” Peck said. “I went back out that afternoon and jumped what I thought was a buck near the stand but didn’t get a good look at it.
“It was quiet most of the afternoon, but around 4:30 p.m. I saw a doe and immediately looked behind her in case a buck was chasing her. I noticed another deer, bigger and much darker, back where she had been,” said Peck. “I saw antlers when the deer went through a small opening, and I knew it was Thumper.”
The cover was thick, but the deer moved slowly through several small openings. Peck finally decided this was the deer he wanted to take.
The deer took a few more steps, and Peck mouth-grunted to stop him, but the deer kept moving. Peck grunted again, and the great buck finally stood still, giving him the opportunity that he wanted.
“When I shot, all I could see was smoke, but I heard a lot of crashing,” Peck said. “I was confident that I’d made a good hit but had to wait till the smoke cleared before I got down to start tracking him.”
By now, it was 5 p.m. and getting dark. Plus, Peck’s stand was in a thickly wooded valley, which meant it was darker still. Peck got out of his stand and started searching for blood but couldn’t find any.
“I kept telling myself, ‘I got him! I got him!’ but I still hadn’t found any blood,” Peck said. “I started back toward home to get Uncle Jim and finally found some spots of blood. I followed the sign for about 60 yards and found him lying dead in the trail.”
Peck kneeled for a moment, putting his hand on the big buck’s head and giving thanks for this tremendous trophy. Later, Uncle Jim came out to help Peck bring the deer back to the truck, and the hunt for Thumper was over. Uncle Jim was very proud of Peck and spread the word far and wide about the huge deer his nephew had shot.
Peck’s Wabasha County 13-pointer gross scored 182 and net scored 171 7/8. The tall rack had a 16-inch inside spread, and the split tine off the main beam was over 13 inches long. The deer stands at No. 2 in Minnesota’s 2017 muzzleloader category.
v Peck’s hunt was memorable in many ways, but it will stand out as extra special because Uncle Jim passed away just a few days later.