Last fall, Wisconsin hunter Kurt Hurlburt filled his archery tag for the first time ever with a 190-class whitetail. It sounds like a stroke of wild luck, right? But this was no lightning strike. Hurlburt, who works for St. Croix County as his day job and grows corn and soybeans on his family’s farm in Buffalo County in his spare time, has hunted deer during the gun seasons since he was a boy. Until recently, his demanding schedule hasn’t left much time for bowhunting, but his whitetail-fanatic son, Hunter, was determined to get his dad into a bow stand last fall. And on a perfect Saturday afternoon last September, he did just that—and his dad made it pay off big.
Here’s the story of their early-season hunt for a savvy, old whitetail—plus the lessons you can take away and put to use on your own bow hunts in just a couple months from now.
The Hunt for a 190-Class 11-Pointer
Kurt Hurlburt had enjoyed many seasons of rifle and muzzleloader hunting on the family’s property in northern Buffalo County. But his son has taken things to a whole new level. “I was right in naming him Hunter,” Hurlburt tells F&S. “He took to it as a youngster, and by the time he was 12, he’d probably shot more does than most guys have by their 40s.”
Like a lot of deer nuts, Hunter quickly took up bowhunting and then started running trail cameras, hunting for sheds in the spring, and scouting year-round. Last summer, as the early bow opener approached, Hunter was watching a number of good bucks on the farm, but the one that really stood out was a giant 6X5 that, in velvet at least, seemed to threaten the elusive 200-inch mark. “He was just a giant deer, and of course he looked even bigger in velvet,” Hunter says. “I was actually a little worried about him, because I wasn’t the only person watching him. One of his hangouts was near a road, and people would go up there to see if they could spot him. I’m sure most of these people just wanted to see a great big deer, but you always worry about poachers or that the buck could get hit by a vehicle. Deer that hang out around roads are always just a jump or two from being someone’s hood ornament.”
Hunter also knew the buck from two previous years of encounters. “The first year I noticed him was 2019, when he was 3½ years old,” he says. “He wasn’t very wide but had great height and was starting to put on mass. I looked for his sheds the next spring but had no luck. The next fall, 2020, he really took a jump, both in height and mass. He’d also grown a fork on his right G2.” In addition to a bunch of trail-cam pics, Hunter had a couple of encounters with the buck during the 2020 season. “Probably the closest was during late bow season, when I was hunting from a ground blind. He was at about 80 yards away, and I could really tell how huge he’d become. I found one of his sheds—the side with the forked tine, which was actually his weaker side—the next spring. I looked all over for the other but had no luck.”
When the summer of 2021 arrived, Hunter found the buck in one of his favorite summer haunts and quickly realized that the deer had grown into something very special. “He’d gotten even taller and more massive, and for some reason he dropped the fork on his right side,” he says. “The buck was hanging out in a spot that always seems to hold good bucks—where two bedding points are separated by a road, with a pond in between them. “We had a big bean field below one of the bedding points, and I had pics of him there. So I felt like that spot would be the best chance at a shot.”
While Hunter had his sights set firmly on chasing the buck, his dad had not even bought a tag yet. “I actually hadn’t bought a bow tag in 7 or 8 years,” Kurt says. “I’ve just been so busy between work and farming that I rarely have time. But last year my brother-in-law Jim died unexpectedly from heart failure. We were pretty close, and afterward my sister Karin (Jim’s wife) gave me his CenterPoint crossbow. So I guess that planted a seed. Anyway, I was sitting in a local restaurant watching the Badgers football game when Hunter texted me and said, ‘I think you need to go hunting tonight.’ So I bought my tag right there, and went home.”
Kurt had some work to do, as he didn’t have any camo clothing and had never shot the crossbow. “It was kind of a scramble,” he admits. “We got the bow going, and I took a few practice shots. I felt comfortable with it, but I decided I wasn’t taking any shot past 25 yards. I borrowed some camo from Hunter and got ready to go.”
Excited that his dad was joining him, Hunter directed Kurt toward a tripod stand on the edge of the big bean field that they knew the buck was using. “I went to a spot on the other side of the field, where I had a stand by the pond,” Hunter says. “It wasn’t a super-warm night, but it was in the 70s, and I thought maybe that big buck would grab a drink before hitting the beans. I didn’t guess entirely wrong; I did have a nice buck work into the pond and walk within bow range. But it wasn’t the big one we were looking for.”
The big one, of course, was busy feeding its way toward Kurt’s stand. “He popped out in the field about 200 yards off, and I could tell in a hurry this was one big deer,” he says. “I texted Hunter that I’d a nice one by me, and he sent me a trail-cam pic of the buck. ‘This one?’ he texted, and I texted back ‘Yup.’ I was shaking pretty badly, but fortunately the buck took his time feeding, or I might not have been able to pull it together. The wind was perfect; I was on the east side of the field, and the wind was from the west, so blowing back into the woods. Once the buck got into the field, I knew he couldn’t get me.”
There were other challenges, however. “While the buck fed, other deer were entering the field,” Kurt says. “At one time, I had 10 different deer within 30 yards of me, and by then the buck had worked within range, and I had settled down some. Finally he turned broadside at 20 yards, and he was actually looking my way when I lined up and took the shot. He reacted immediately, mule-kicking and running out of the field, dragging his front shoulder. I watched him disappear into a patch of tall, thick grass, and the next thing I knew I was texting Hunter that I’d hit the buck and thought I’d made a good shot.”
There was still plenty of legal shooting light, but Hunter wasn’t about to spend it in his stand. “I was so excited for Dad that I piled out of my stand and ran right across the beanfield toward him,” he says. Kurt had even more support; his girlfriend, Jen, had been watching the field through binoculars from a truck and was soon texting as well. “She wrote, ‘Why are all the deer running off the field? Did you fall out of the stand?’” says Kurt. “I told her to come on out because we needed all the eyes we could to look for blood.”
A search of the beanfield where the buck had stood revealed no sign, however. “I’d watched him run into the tall grass, so we found the spot where he entered and just decided to back out,” he says. “When we got back to the house, we talked it over, and Hunter was in touch with one of his friends who has a blood-trailing dog; that guy said to wait until morning, that it was probably a liver hit. But I’ve shot a lot of deer, and I thought the buck looked like he was in a lot of trouble as he ran off the field. We have a bunch of coyotes around here, and I didn’t like the thought of losing the meat, so we decided to go to that grass patch and look a bit. Plus, by then, my sister Karin was there, and she is an absolute bloodhound when it comes to finding deer.”
When the group reached the grass patch, Karin found blood immediately. “Then we found a little more, and then a whole lot,” Kurt says. “Finally, we found the buck not very far into the grass. He really hadn’t traveled far at all, maybe 50 yards. But the grass was so tall and thick, it just swallowed him up.” The celebration began, and the buck was more than worthy of it. The huge 6X5 had 30-4/8-inch main beams, a 21-1/8-inch spread, and super-tall tines, including a 13-2/8-inch G3 and three other tines over 12 inches. The 5½-year-old Wisconsin giant grossed 192 inches even.
Lessons Learned from Tagging a Buck of Lifetime
Maybe the easiest lesson to take away from the Hurlburts’ hunt is simply to give a great buck time to grow. While this one was a gorgeous whitetail at 3-1/2 years old, Hunter knew the deer had the potential to become something special. “We have the luxury of having some ground that bucks already like, and we control the hunting pressure, at least in some spots,” he say. “There are pockets that always seem to hold good deer, and this buck was spending a lot of time in one of them. While he definitely visited our neighbor’s farm, you just have to hold your breath and hope they make it one more year.” That policy certainly paid off with this buck.
While Hunter’s strategy to sit the pond that night seemed to make perfect sense, he now thinks he knows what drew the big buck to his dad’s stand instead. “We were hunting the same big bean field that evening, and I thought getting near the pond on a warm afternoon would be the perfect combination of food and water the buck would want,” he says. “But the beans near me were turning yellow already, and they were still green by dad’s stand. The soil is a little heavier there, and that side of the field doesn’t get as much sun, so the beans mature a little slower. What I learned that night, at least on that deer, is that eating green beans was a lot more appealing than eating yellow beans, even if they were near water. That’s something to remember for future hunts.”
Tactically, another big lesson here is about teaming up on a great early-season buck. This time of year, even the best bucks tend to live in fairly small core areas and visit prime food sources predictably. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a nice early-bow buck routinely waltz into the same field or plot with daylight to spare. It makes for great bowhunting—except that these bucks also tend to have multiple entry points to the grub, which can make it difficult to choose exactly where to sit on any given night. However, if you have more than one stand that works with a given wind, then you can team up on a buck, like the Hurlburts did. By sitting in different places on the same hot food source, they effectively doubled their odds of success on their target buck.
Finally, this buck serves as a reminder to never give up on asking someone to go afield with you. Hunter kept after his dad to join him on an early-season archery hunt, and it not only resulted in tagging a great whitetail, but it has also made a bowhunter out of a guy who couldn’t find time in his schedule before. “I’m totally hooked now,” Kurt says. “Sure the big deer was nice, but it was more than that; it was a pretty, peaceful night, and I was out with my son. There were plenty of deer to watch. I just enjoyed it. I’m helping plant wildlife plots now and really looking forward to this fall.”