Allenton, Wis. — When Ben Zuern, of West Bend, saw a photo of a monster buck on his trail camera from Sept. 21, he knew it would be an all-or-nothing bow season. He decided he would either tag that buck, or his tag would go unfilled.
That decision eventually earned Zuern the honor of killing the highest-scoring typical archery buck ever from Washington County, according to Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club records. After a 60-day drying period, and the buck is officially scored, it might be the highest-scoring typical buck shot by any means in Washington County.
Zuern, 29, has been hunting on his grandfather’s land near Allenton since he was 12 years old. It’s typical Washington County farmland with small woodlots connected by tree-lined fences.
When he pulled the card from his camera in late September, it had a photo that looked like it came from an outdoor calendar of a huge buck leaping toward a soybean field. The buck had a heavy, wide rack with a least one forked tine.
Zuern’s camera was mounted on the same tree that held his stand.
His girlfriend had a 16- by 24-inch print made of that photo. Zuern framed it to serve as daily inspiration to persevere in his quest to tag the buck.
Zuern persuaded the person who farms the land to leave a section of soybeans unharvested in front of his stand. He hoped that would bring some does in range and that they, in turn, might attract the big buck.
On Nov. 5, the last field of corn in the area was cut and Zuern hoped eliminating that cover would bring the buck into the open during shooting hours. The next day his hunch was confirmed.
Zuern was in a stand along a fence line Nov. 6 when he saw the buck for the first time at 4:15 p.m. It crossed a road near a house and was checking scrapes along the fence line where Zuern was perched. The buck eventually angled through a field toward Zuern’s soybean-field stand and his trail camera. Zuern said he kicked himself for not being there to intercept the brute.
That encounter prompted Zuern to pull the card from his trail camera, and he saw that since Nov. 2, the buck had gone past his stand several times.
On Nov. 8, a northwest wind provided perfect conditions for Zuern’s soybean stand. A couple of other bucks came within range that afternoon, but Zuern was holding out for the buck in his framed picture. His strategy to leave some beans in the field was paying off.
The next day, Zuern hunted the stand again and said he saw several deer, but not the buck for which he was waiting. The stand was easy to get into and out of for afternoon hunts, but Zuern was reluctant to hunt it in the morning because he feared he might spook the buck and it would move to adjacent properties where other hunters had stands. A trail camera image of the buck in the soybeans at 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 9 confirmed he had made the right choice in avoiding morning hunts there because he would have bumped the buck.
On Nov. 10, the wind shifted to the southeast, so Zuern decided to work late instead of going hunting. The next day, a cold front blew in with a favorable wind. Zuern climbed into his stand with great anticipation because he had not heard of anyone shooting a big buck in the area. He was confident the buck was still alive.
A lot of deer moved that night, but they were skittish in the high winds. The big buck never made an appearance.
On Nov. 12, Zuern scanned the remaining soybeans from his stand. Few were left, and he hoped the remaining beans would be enough to attract a doe or two that might bring the big buck within range. A fresh, massive scrape 20 yards from his stand gave him hope.
At 2:45 p.m., a couple of deer came out of the woods and moved into the soybean patch. As the afternoon waned, several other does and a couple of small bucks were on the move. It was entertaining to watch the young bucks chase does, he said. At 4:10 p.m., the buck he was waiting for emerged from the woods, about 150 yards from his stand.
The buck made a scrape, fed near two does, and started to follow them. Zuern said his heart pounded and he could feel adrenaline rushing through his body as he wondered, “Could this be the night?”
Zuern’s hopes dimmed when the does moved away from him and the big buck followed. After 20 minutes, the does moved back toward Zuern with the buck close behind.
As the deer got closer, Zuern turned so his left side was facing a shooting lane. A check with his rangefinder showed the buck was 31 yards away. Zuern adjusted the lever on his single-pin sight and got ready to shoot. The buck kept walking and finally stopped at 25 yards. Zuern made a final adjustment to the sight before releasing the arrow.
“I knew I hit the deer somewhere mid-body,” Zuern said. “I do not like to aim too close to the shoulder blade. I usually go for a lung shot. It ended up being a liver shot.”
The big buck ran 100 yards through the field and then it stopped. Zuern watched through his binoculars as the buck took four more steps and collapsed. He then focused on the rack for 10 minutes, and it never moved.
At dark, Zuern phoned his friend and hunting mentor, Dave Strupp, of Slinger, for advice. Strupp said the buck was probably dead, but to be safe he advised Zuern to leave and they would return in an hour.
The pair returned and found the deer in the spot where it dropped.
“It was a feeling of excitement and relief at the same time,” Zuern said.
The buck had 13 points with an inside spread of 22 inches. They did not weigh the buck, but Strupp estimated the dressed weight at between 185 to 200 pounds.
Strupp has been a member of the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club for 15 years. He is not an official scorer, but has scored many deer racks. Strupp’s gross green score of the buck came to 1924⁄8. He calculated 177⁄8 inches of deductions, which gave the rack a net green score of 1745⁄8.
“The mass and spread of the buck stood out,” Strupp said. “It is really unique in the height of the tines.”
The G2 tines were 12 inches long. One G3 was 11 inches, and the other was 121⁄2 inches. The brow tines were 63⁄8 inches. The mass measurements, circumference of the main beams, were greater than 5 inches at every point.
Strupp said the G2 tine on the rack’s left side is split, and there is another tine on the right side that comes off the G2 rather than coming off the main beam. Those tines account for most of the deductions. If a panel score done by three individuals decides the tine on the right side comes off the main beam, the rack will have a net score in the 180s.
If the 1745⁄8 score holds up after a 60-day drying period, it will be recognized as the record typical buck killed with a bow in Washington County. The current record is held by Ellen Stapleton with a 13-point buck from 2012 that scored 1706⁄8.
If Zuern’s buck ultimately scores a little higher, it could overtake Mark Falkner’s 11-point Washington County buck shot with a gun in 2010 that scored 1756⁄8 to become the biggest verified typical buck ever shot in the county.
The state record bow-killed typical buck listed on the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club website was shot by William Gerrits in Fond du lac County in 2012. That 14-point scored 1897⁄8. A typical buck shot this year by Adam Hupf is reported to have a net green score of 202. After a 60-day drying period, it might have a net score – with deductions – higher than Gerrits’ buck.
As the story of Zuern’s buck made the rounds, several area hunters lost their lockjaw and told stories of close encounters they had with the record-book buck. One hunter said he took a long shot at the buck and missed, another had a close encounter with the buck from a ground stand.
“It’s the biggest deer I ever had the opportunity to hunt, much less harvest,” Zuern said. “I’m thankful I made a quick, clean kill. That adds to the meaning of the hunt.”