Wisconsin is no stranger to the world of trophy-class whitetails. For decades now, hunters have produced deer in and above the 200 class with almost routine regularity.
If there was anything unusual about the Badger State’s 2017 deer season, it is that two of the top non-typicals taken by bowhunters fell in September — one of them a tremendous buck that scored 196 2/8.
Archery is fast becoming the tactic of choice among hunters throughout the country, and Wisconsin is no exception, largely because it allows sportsmen to get an earlier start on their season and a chance to hunt outrageously big bucks before they go into the rut. Conditions in September favor the hunter with comfortable temperatures and a deer herd that, behaviorally, is still in late-summer mode. Plus, the days are longer, and there are statistically more deer available because the annual harvest is just beginning.
All in all, a September bowhunt is the logical choice for trophy-minded hunters, as the following hunter profiles clearly show. Lovers of whitetail statistics take note: The two largest non-typical archery bucks tagged in Wisconsin in 2017 were taken on the same day!
With all this in mind, here’s a look at three of Wisconsin’s top whitetail bucks taken during the 2017 season.
THOMAS MLSNA BUCK
Thomas Mlsna (pronounced “Melsna”) started tracking his incredible 2017 trophy back in July 2014 via trail camera images. At the time, the buck was a developing main-frame 8-pointer with an extra set of eye guards between his G1 and G2 on each side. A year later, around the same time, the buck showed up on the same camera sporting a more exciting set of antlers. When he faced the camera, his notable brow tines took on the shape of candy canes and a unique nickname was born: “Candy Man.”
As the summer of 2016 blossomed, so did Candy Man. The deer quickly grew into a 200-class giant. Mlsna found it hard to believe that a deer could ever get that big on an all-natural diet, especially in the, “If it’s brown, it’s down,” neighborhood he hunts in. It was even harder to believe that only a few people knew that this buck existed.
When opening weekend approached and the forecast predicted a weather change, Mlsna decided to take advantage of the opportunity. If Candy Man was bedding where Mlsna suspected and all the other stars aligned, that specific wind shift was perfect for this location.
Mlsna slipped into the area on Sept. 17 carrying his climbing treestand, even though there had been no evidence of Candy Man for a month. Mlsna was hesitant, but because he was already there, he decided to go with his gut feeling and hunt. Just 20 minutes later, without ever sitting down in the treestand, he found himself 15 yards away from the very ghost he had been chasing since last winter.
Within seconds of spotting the massive main beam from his elevated position, Thomas was at full draw with his pin in line with Candy Man’s backside shoulder. A moment later, Candy Man vanished behind some foliage. Afraid of spooking a smaller buck below him, Thomas maintained his ready position and waited for another opportunity. He held and held, trying to limit his movements while visualizing a shot; searching for small lanes and judging shot distances to where the beast might end up.
Just as he was beginning to wonder how long he could keep that up, Candy Man turned and headed back into view. Mlsna immediately lined up his sight and prepared to take aim, following the buck with one eye and keeping the other on the lane he planned to stop him in. As soon as Candy Man hit a small gap between the trees, Mlsna uttered a subtle noise and stopped the buck. Mlsna put every last ounce of effort into making the best shot he could, focusing on a precise spot behind the deer’s shoulder.
Mlsna fought hard to bring his pin up one last inch, and as soon as he did, the arrow was on its way.
Just that fast, the curtain dropped. Mlsna had focused so intently that he forgot to breathe, and as he watched the illuminated nock trace a path to the buck he momentarily blacked out!
The hunter heard a “pop” and a “crack” as he drew air back into his lungs. Oxygen hit his brain and brought his vision back just in time to see the giant buck trot off.
Mlsna admits that he was very nervous about the shot at first, but 90 minutes and 200 yards later the buck lay dead with a double-lung/heart shot.
One of the most remarkable bucks taken in the U.S. last year, Mlsna’s non-typical monster scored 205 6/8. It had main beams over 25 inches long, and its G2s measured 10 4/8 and 9 7/8.
KEEGAN R. SCHMITT BUCK
Keegan Schmitt, 21, from Beaver Dam has been bowhunting since he was 13 years old. He’d seen lots of mature bucks but nothing the size of his 2017 trophy.
“I got a few trail camera pictures of this deer in velvet in 2016, but when the season rolled around, he had disappeared,” Schmitt said.
On August 7, 2017, Schmitt finally got a picture of the biggest deer he’d ever encountered.
“I counted 16 points, so I named him ‘Sweet 16’,” Schmitt said, adding, “from that moment on, I knew I needed to be smart. I practiced scent prevention, limited my frequency of entering the woods to check cameras and did all I could to pattern this deer.” Based on trail cameras, the big buck would come through between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. or 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. — no specific pattern.
Schmitt’s first hunt of the 2017 season was Sunday, Sept. 17, from a treestand on private property.
“It was one of the longest sits of my life,” Schmitt admitted, “but ‘Sweet 16’ never showed up. The next day (Monday) I left work early, rushed home and was in my stand by 3:15 p.m.
“It was about 75 degrees with a slight wind out of the north, just what I needed to hunt this stand,” Schmitt recalled. “With about 20 minutes of shooting time left, I decided to stand up for the rest of the hunt.
“Within 15 seconds of standing up, I looked straight ahead of me, and there he was, standing 20 yards away with just his head poking out of a thicket. My heart really started to pump! I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard him coming.” Schmitt marveled.
“The buck started walking very slowly down the trail, stopping about every three yards, looking cautiously in all directions, almost as if he could sense something wasn’t right,” Schmitt said. “After the longest two minutes of my life, he was at 10 yards standing broadside.
“My heart was beating so hard it seemed about to blow out of my chest,” Schmitt recalled. “He turned his head away, and I drew. At full draw, my right elbow was hitting the tree I was sitting in, so I had to turn my body slightly and lean forward which made for an uncomfortable shot. I lined everything up and let the arrow fly.
“I couldn’t tell exactly where I hit, but I was pretty sure my arrow struck a little far back,” Schmitt said. “I practiced all spring for this! I couldn’t believe I had made a bad shot on a huge buck at 10 yards!
“I called my brother and two friends to help track the buck. We found drops of blood about every 5 yards. Before we knew it, we were on our hands and knees searching for minute specks of blood.
“We found another smear of blood on some marsh grass. We waited for Trevor to come up and mark the blood with an arrow and then continued the search.
“Trevor took one step into the marsh and yelled, ‘There he is!’ The buck was lying dead just 5 yards to our left.
“I felt so relieved,” Schmitt recalled. “Elation overtook all of us. I was so excited to finally put my hands on this deer. We spent 2 1/2 hours tracking the deer, which ran about 200 yards after the shot, which ended up being high and back.”
Schmitt’s Dodge County monster had 17 scoreable points with two kickers rendering a gross score of 197 5/8. His final score was 196 2/8.
THE FORREST SCHNEIDER BUCK
The last of our three giant non-typicals taken by bow in 2017 is Forrest Schneider’s amazing 203 7/8 gross Pepin County monster, one of those “mystery bucks” no one sees until he shows up unexpectedly during the peak of the rut.
Forrest Schneider of Spring Valley has been bowhunting since 2004, but even in that short time, he has managed to kill a 138, a 140 and, in 2017 during gun season, he brought home a buck that scored 158! Schneider’s biggest deer to date, however, was a monster bowkill that far outscored any of his previous bucks.
“I spend a lot of time in the woods, hunting three to five days per week,” Schneider said. “Even so, there were no trail cam shots of the buck, and no one had seen him prior to my hunt.”
Schneider noted, however, that sheds from the two previous years had been found nearby.
“From the time he was 3 1/2 to 4 1/2, he had put on more than 40 inches of antler,” Schneider said.
Schneider’s big opportunity came on Nov. 2. He left work early and headed for the Pepin County farm he hunts, about 35 minutes away from home.
“This left me about two hours to hunt, but it was the peak of the rut in my area,” Schneider said. “I rattled in a 1 1/2-year-old and a bigger 2 1/2-year-old, but then things died down for a while.
“With just one-half hour of legal shooting time left, I decided to try a more aggressive rattling sequence,” Schneider said. “I first saw the big buck at about 150 yards. It all happened so fast I had no time to get the jitters. I didn’t even know for sure how big this buck was till we found him an hour later.”
Schneider grunted but the monster ignored him. In fact, the deer turned away as if he were about to leave the area.
“I grunted hard again, and he ignored that as well,” Schneider said. “I decided to try something different and snort-wheezed at him. He came running right at me as if he were looking for a fight.”
At 30 yards, the buck stepped into one of Schneider’s pre-established shooting lanes.
“He was quartering toward me, so I shot a little high above the shoulders,” Schneider said. “I later discovered that I’d hit part of a lung and the liver, and the arrow finally lodged in his hip.”
The entire scenario took only a minute according to Schneider.
“Tracking him was even more nerve-wracking,” Schneider admitted. “There was plenty of good blood, but I was on edge every step of the way till we finally found him about an hour later.”
Schneider’s tracking partner poked fun at him for not realizing how big the buck actually was, but, as Schneider pointed out, everything happened so fast he did not have time to examine or assess the buck till the hunt was over.
As icing on the cake, 17 days later Schneider shot another nice buck, which scored 158, during the gun season.
Schneider’s amazing Pepin County bow buck gross scored 203 7/8. After deductions, the deer scored 191 7/8. All of the deer’s G2s and G3s were over 11 inches long, and the G2 on the left antler measured 13 2/8. The widest spread was just over 26 inches, a phenomenal buck by any standard!
FIND YOUR “X”
Finding a place to hunt can be challenging. Although much of Wisconsin’s fantastic deer hunting happens on private land, there are also public land opportunities, and private land options for those able to obtain permission.
The onX hunt app transforms your phone into a handheld GPS unit that illustrates public land boundaries and private land ownership; provides powerful tracking tools; offers the ability to drop and share custom waypoints; and allows hunters to save and use these maps offline.
The app has layers for public and private lands; possible access lands for Forest Legacy Program lands; Voluntary Public Access hunting leases; and lands that the state manages for dove, grouse/woodcock and stocked pheasant. It also has a layer for Wisconsin hunt zones, with sub-layers for most large game species, as well as a separate layer for the Clam Lake Elk Range.
Additionally, the app has nationwide layers. One of the more interesting for Wisconsin is the QDMA CWD Distribution layer, which details where Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been documented.