By Dan Infalt:
It was 2:30 AM, on a sleepless mid-July night. Rather than lie in bed staring at the darkness, I decided to try and locate a shooter buck. I took a ride out to one of my hunting areas and I lit up one of my favorite fields that occasionally produced some nice bucks. I was shocked to have a monster buck standing 20 feet from the truck! One glance was all it took. This buck was what I was looking for.
The rack was massive and had forked tines. His face was gray. I was in awe. This was truly a Monarch of the forest.
I could not get this beast off of my mind. Still to this day, that image is burned in my memory. Over the course of the next weeks and months I concentrated my shining efforts around the farm and swamp, this buck called home. I kept track of him, and finally started to develop a pattern. I took particular interest in where he was coming from in the evenings, and where he was going in the morning. Finally, I figured out where this buck was bedding. It was a small woodlot right next to the road, that everyone (including me) just seemed to overlook. A walk around the woodlot, at a safe distance, revealed the bucks preferred trails to and from the woodlot bedding area. From a distance, I studied the trees and picked out a great one for a stand, in a location I felt I could slip my Lone Wolf stand into quietly when the moment of truth finally arrived.
While out in the muddy fields, I made sure I took the time to closely study and memorize the huge bucks tracks. His right front foot, had a shorter outside toe, and his inside toe hooked inward. This track did not produce the wide splaying you generally notice from a buck of this size, however, his left side did splay widely, and toes were uniform with a slight inward hook. I felt confident I could identify this track, if the need ever arose.
After that walk, I stayed out of the woods on that property, fairly confident in my set up, I waited for the season to open. I also slowed down on the shining, not wanting to spook the buck, or inadvertently educate another hunter to his whereabouts. I only shined him occasionally to make sure he maintained his travel route.
About two weeks before the opening of bow season, the farmer who owned the property, gave hunting permission to two of his workers. They had noticed the big tracks while working in the fields, and followed them back to the woodlot where the buck had been bedding. They must have liked what they saw, because they built permanent wooden stands on each corner of the 1 acre woodlot.
Needless to say, the buck disappeared.
Teased by his scattered tracks, I spent the entire deer season trying to relocate this buck. The only sightings were a couple brief teasers with the spotlight during the rut. I passed on some awesome bucks, most guys would gladly shoot, and waited for my chance. Finally, I decided to take a 130 class ten point the very last day of the bow season.
The season had come and gone, without me getting a chance at the buck. But I did not lose focus, as this just made me even more determined. As soon as the season was over, I was on a mission. January and February found me following the buck’s tracks all over the farm I had permission on and the adjoining public land, seeing exactly how this one deer preferred to traverse each section of the properties. I paid no attention to any of the other deer. Only the track I had learned so well. I followed it to and from the different bedding sites, looking at how he entered the bedding area, and how he left. I kept track of his movements and beds on a map. One of his frequent beds was quite impressive, it was right in the middle of a very open grassy marsh. It was under a fallen limb of a huge willow tree, there was a river on the back side of it blocking any way of sneaking in from downwind. The west side of the bed had the major wind in his favor, not to mention the open terrain made it near impossible for an intruder to to come in from any direction. The tracks entered and exited from several directions, but rarely within range of one of the few trees. When I actually walked right up to the bed that was located on some higher dirt near the base of the tree, I was pleasantly surprised to notice one of the bucks shed antlers sitting right along side of this bed.
“Dan’s wife carol showing off the shed Dan found in the target bucks bed”
After learning the bedding areas and travel routes, I made sure to leave them alone after February. During the summer I only observed the buck a few times while shining, and never saw him at all while glassing in the daylight. I did see a few other bucks with trophy class racks, but by this time I was obsessed with this one buck.
When the fall finally came, I chose my stand sites with careful consideration. I did not want to bump this buck or, educate him. I set up close to the bedding areas that I had found early in the year. I tried to only hunt a spot once or twice, so I would not educate the buck as to avoid certain areas.
It took until mid October before I was rewarded with seeing the Monarch. He had grown. His rack would now gross score in the 180’s and he was using the bed under the willow tree, where I had picked up his shed antler while scouting.
He was extremely nocturnal. He would not exit the willow tree until about 10 minutes of light remained. He would arrive at the bed well before light. Only the sound of footsteps in the marsh water would give him away. He was traveling a treeless, ever changing, route to a vegetable field and feeding there most of the night. He disappeared for a while during the rut, and I was unable to locate him, but he resumed his same old pattern just before Wisconsin’s 9 day gun season.
When the gun season arrived, I hunted north and south of the willow tree bed, hoping he would wander into range, but he always headed west into the wind.
I was really hoping to catch a break and get a wind direction that would give me an advantage. I had a plan. I knew the buck only had the one bed in that location, and that he was only bedding there when there was a west wind. So, I waited patiently for a day that started out with a west wind, but changed during the day. I figured it was too far of a daytime move for this fairly nocturnal buck to move to get to a better bed. I was banking on him staying there during a vulnerable wind.
Thanksgiving morning I awoke to the usual west wind, however mid day as we planned our family Thanksgiving dinner the wind shifted to the east. Its amazing how wives have such a hard time understanding how an east wind can end all plans of a family Thanksgiving!
Well, I made the long hard walk past her with my shotgun and orange vest, and I was headed for the marsh.
I eased up to the barbed wire fence 100 yards west of his bed. The fence divided the marsh from the farm and the field where the buck had been feeding. I remember how quiet it was. Any noise at all and my hunt for that buck would probably be over for the rest of the season. I put the shotgun on my back and wrapped two bungee cords around my self and the shotgun tightly hooking them underneath me, to hold the gun in position.
I slid under the fence and into the ice cold water. I had to sneak on my hands and knees to stay out of view. It was only a few inches deep, but it was extremely cold, and quickly soaked my clothes. I had to keep a very low profile due to the lack of cover and had to move incredibly slow, so as to not move the grass and cattails in an unnatural way within view of the buck. Something should also be said about the difficulty in moving through muck and water without making noise.
I started to second guess my plan, would it be possible to slip into range and get the gun off of my back and shoot before the buck disappeared? Maybe the buck didn’t even bed there today? Maybe he moved bed locations when the wind changed? I tried to keep mentally focused on the plan, but the stinging cold water was getting to me. Confidence and staying focused in my opinion are taken way too lightly by most hunters.
Once I got within 50 yards of the bed, I had to belly crawl. This section was just canary grass and if I stuck up at all, he would surely see me from his slightly elevated bed. I headed strait for a small clump of cattails 10 yards from the bed, keeping it in line with his path of vision. As I entered the shadow of the willow tree, I met an unpleasant surprise. The sun had not yet had its chance to melt a thin layer of ice that covered the water I was crawling through.
This really slowed me down. I contemplated, trying to get the gun off right there and jumping up, hoping to get my chance. It didn’t take much thought, I knew I had to make it to the clump of cover. I told myself to follow the plan.
I was able to slowly push the ice down, quietly breaking off pieces and inching forward, but the cold water was really getting to me.
Finally I reached the brush. I slowly unhooked the bungees and rolled the gun slowly off my side. I got the gun into my hands and slid my knees under my chest.
I rose up with gun drawn, to an upright position standing on my knees.
I was starring right into the eyes of the beast at ten yards. He was exactly where I expected him. For a brief moment I stared in disbelief that I had actually pulled it off.
The gun sounded, and the great bucks head dropped down. He never made it out of his bed, the same bed where I picked up his shed antler earlier that same year. The ten yard shot could have easily been made with my bow. The 180 class buck was mine.
The big buck serial killer