Bestul: One Man's Booner

My friend Mitch Hagen (pictured) is a hard core deer hunter. I use this as an all-encompassing term than includes whitetail knowledge, hunting skill, shooting ability and a year-round fascination with deer. Mitch balances this passion with a full-time job as a contractor and a strong commitment to his family. I've known some hardcore hunters over the years who let their enthusiasm for hunting compromise their true responsibilities. Not Mitch.

This is all serves as preface to a hunting story that took five years to unfold. That is the history Mitch had with the deer in this picture, a buck that literally lived in his backyard. He first saw the deer as a 2-1/2 year old buck, feeding in a field behind his home. Mitch found the buck's sheds the following spring. "That next fall I saw him one time, when a combine kicked him out of the standing corn and he ran through my front yard, then past one of my stands," Mitch recalled, laughing. "I nicknamed him the Big 8; he had a huge body and nice frame, but wasn't super-impressive. But he was under my skin. I wanted to kill him."

The buck, of course, had other ideas. Over the next two years, Mitch saw him only occasionally. A velvet sighting here, a shed antler there. "When he was 5-1/2 I spotted him at midnight on a full-moon winter night, standing in my yard. He shed both antlers there that night and I found them in the morning." When the buck was 6-1/2, a bowhunter on a neighboring property made a non-lethal hit on the deer. Mitch had seen him once that year.

Last fall, things changed in a big way. "Suddenly, I was seeing him all over," Mitch says. "The last week of November and early December, I set up on him five times and saw him four. I had him at 10 or 12 steps one evening, and was just about to draw. He sensed something wasn't right, looked up in the tree, and nailed me. But I wasn't giving up. I think he was getting old; he'd lost his place in the pecking order, and was desperate to breed. Either that, or he was getting senile! How else do you explain a buck that was totally nocturnal suddenly running all over the place?"

Finally, one afternoon in early December, Mitch decided to sit a ground blind overlooking a field in the Big 8's core area. "He stepped out in the field with a half-hour of shooting light and I just thought 'This is it. I'm finally going to get him,'" Mitch told me. "He finally walked within bow range and I made a perfect shot. I was in auto-pilot then, but when I walked up on him I was overwhelmed. So much time and energy on one deer…It's hard to explain. He scored 142" and hadn't grown four inches of horn in four years. But I didn't care. He was one I wanted badly, and I finally got him. I can't describe that feeling. He is my Booner, and I don't care what the record books say."