Decker offers views on trophy whitetails

Eau Claire, Wis. – It wasn’t a story with twists and turns and
drama. In fact, Bob Decker says, it was “kind of a boring hunting
story.”

But at the end of the story that wasn’t, was a white-tailed
buck, the antlers of which could challenge some records in the
world of bowhunting.

Decker, 41, of Eau Claire, shot the deer the morning of Nov. 1
in Buffalo County, an area known for its ability to produce deer in
great numbers and of great size. The long story of the 16-point
buck – which likely was the trophy featured in a Field and Stream
web site video – was about the same as the short version: “I saw
him when he was about 40 yards away and he was closing quickly,”
Decker said. As he readied his gear, he glanced at the deer, not
realizing it might’ve been the movie-star buck.

Decker nocked an arrow and spent the moments leading up to the
shot squinting through his peep sight. While he admits it may have
been a bit unnerving had he actually gotten a better look at the
rack, he’s taken big deer in the past, including three Pope and
Young Club bucks.

“I’ve taken a lot of deer, but I’ve also screwed up a lot,” he
said. The past three years, Decker added, he’s been working on his
shooting, more so than in the past. While that might seem unusual
for a seasoned archer, Decker said missing deer in the past serves
as inspiration for becoming a better shot, and not forgetting the
details when the action is real. In fact, he’s written the word
“spot” on the back of his bow, to remind him to put the sight pin
on the area for which he’s aiming on the deer.

The buck, which Decker’s taxidermist Jack Dodge has said could
score in the 200 range (typical); the record is Mel Johnson’s 1965
Ohio buck that scored 2046/8) when the mandatory 60-day drying
period expires. The rack has several tines more than a foot
long.

Decker said he killed the deer at about 9:30 a.m.; he’d been in
his stand about three hours when the deer approached, downwind.

While he doesn’t wear “scent-eliminating” clothing, Decker said
he does take other precautions. He showers before hunting; keeps
his hunting clothes in a tub with leaves and/or pine needles until
he puts them on for the hunt; wears gloves, so he doesn’t leave
scent on his treestand steps; and rotates between stands
regularly.

He also hunts high off the ground, but is quick to add that
high-up hunting might not be for everyone, that such a tactic
requires extremes caution. If you’re going to hunt that way, you
need to practice that way, as firing an arrow at such an angle
requires practice. When he and his hunting partners hang stands,
they use ropes and harness systems so they’re always snug to the
tree.

Exposure

Decker said he and hunting friend Bob Olson were aware that the
deer that appeared in the Field and Stream video (that was
apparently sent to the magazine by a local outfitter) was in the
vicinity. “Paul looked at it and recognized some of the trees and
other features in the area,” said Decker, who’s been hunting that
particular Buffalo County land since 1993.

Decker had invited Eau Claire Telegram-Leader reporter Julian
Emerson to hunt with him that Saturday, to write about the video
buck being in the area, but Emerson had other engagements. Decker
shot the buck that day.

“I told him, ‘you’ll have to find something else to write about,
because I ruined your column,’ ” Decker said. Emerson did write
about the buck, and once he did, “it spread like wildfire,” Decker
said.

Calls came in, from major deer-hunting publications and other
outlets. “It was overwhelming,” Decker said.

It was gratifying to have shot the impressive deer, he said, but
also “I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity.”

But, while stories were told about the offerings of money and
otherwise for the deer rack or endorsement of products, Decker said
they were almost entirely unfounded.

“I didn’t receive a single endorsement call,” he said. “And I
was not offered money.”

No company came forward to offer him equipment, either, he
added.

“Some guy called saying that he sells minerals, and all the
landowners around were using (the minerals) and that’s why the deer
was that big, but I know most of the landowners, and they’re not
using the minerals,” Decker said.

He also received a call from a magazine interested in writing
about the rack, but Decker declined.

While he and most members of his hunting party strive to shoot
mature bucks on the 100 acres they lease in Buffalo County, he said
he was hesitant to even score the animal, given his aversion to the
big buck craze.

“I don’t like what all the trophy hunting has done to the sport
… but I feel I owe it to the deer (to score its rack),” he
said.

“I have nothing against trophies … we shoot mature bucks. But
what drives me nuts is when you have a lease (of several acres of
land) and you have just two guys hunting there.

“I don’t think it needs to be a source of anger between
landowners; it’s brought out the worst in some people,” he
said.

For Decker, a focus on trophies is a diversion from what hunting
should be about – a chance to spend time with friends and family in
the outdoors. This year, as the gun season rolled around, Decker
expected to be hunting with several of both, including hunting
partner Olson’s physically disabled niece and nephew.

Decker said things have “returned to normal,” though that might
change again when the rack is scored, likely by a panel of scorers
rather than an individual.

It could be scored as a typical rack, or it could be scored in
the nontypical category.

“It could be a typical with major deductions,” he said. “Who
knows … I don’t care.”

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