by Scott Bestul
I always enjoy a deer story that involves a hunter who has a history with the buck he shoots. My friend Josh Swenson told me just such a tale last week; and the buck–a giant he’d named “Stickler”–threw in enough twists that it made the story downright bizarre.
Swenson had known Stickler over the last couple of seasons. He had many trail cam photos, but this fall the Wisconsin monster was pretty elusive. Josh had some photos from the summer, when Stickler not only took a big leap in antler growth. He also sported an odd, volleyball-sized lump growing between his front legs. Stickler disappeared for several weeks during the fall, and Josh wondered if the deer had been shot or otherwise met his maker; either from the lump, a vehicle, or some other accident.
Finally, during the state’s recent late muzzleloader season, Josh’s camera captured Stickler again. The buck appeared to have an injury to his back leg, and the chest lump was larger. But Swenson was excited to see Stickler again and decided to hunt that area two days later.
Sure enough, Stickler walked from the timber into a picked cornfield on that first evening…and Josh was shocked to see he was missing an antler! Stickler was limping badly, and Josh figured he’d shed one side of his rack due to stress from the injury. When the wounded warrior finally fed into range, Josh decided to shoot the buck.
The smoke plume screened Josh from verifying that his shot was true, and a brief search revealed no blood.
Swenson returned at first light, however, and quickly found Stickler laying just inside the timber…with one half of his rack lying right next to him! Josh assumed that since Stickler was stressed enough to shed one antler from simply falling down, the other half might be lying somewhere nearby. And sure enough, after some hard searching, Josh found a well-worn bed that Stickler had been using, and not far away, his recently shed antler!
Stickler was not only a dandy old buck (he gross-scored 163-3/8″), he provided Josh with some great memories, as well as one of the most odd and memorable hunts ever!