The next day, Oct. 1, Versland visited the neighboring landowner and secured permission to hunt. Then he went out and bought a new tree stand. "I actually didn't have another one to put up," he says.
The next day, Oct. 1, Versland visited the neighboring landowner and secured permission to hunt. Then he went out and bought a new tree stand. "I actually didn't have another one to put up," he says.
For three years high school biology teacher Michael Versland of Cottage Grove, Minnesota scoured more than two dozen properties to track down two complete and three partial sets of this Minnesota monarch’s shed antlers. He finally laid his hands on the true prize Oct. 2, stopping the massive 14-point nontypical with an arrow at 30 yards less than two hours after hanging his stand. The final encounter unfolded only a few yards from where Versland scooped up the buck’s sheds last spring. The northland bruiser weighed 350 lbs. and boasted an inside spread of 22 4/8 inches. On January 21 Boone & Crockett certified an official net score of 198 4/8. Click through the slides to learn how Versland’s dogged shed hunting helped lead him to the buck of a lifetime.
The story starts in March 2007, when Versland–a passionate shed head shown here with some of his most treasured finds–tracked down his first antler from the buck on land he hunts near Hastings, Minn. That antler, which the buck carried in 2006-’07, is one of two he’s holding in the photo. “I just looked at it like, ‘Are you kidding me? What is this thing?'” Versland says. “I bet I didn’t pick it up for 15 minutes. Then I got a little panicky, because I wanted to find the match so bad.”
That April he asked more than 25 landowners for permission to search for the buck’s remaining antler. Versland, who teaches at Hastings High School, was joined by one of his students, Brandon Dressel (left), who found a shed that the same deer carried in 2005-’06.
Later that month Versland secured permission from yet another farmer to search his land for the buck’s second 2006-’07 antler. Ten minutes later the farmer himself discovered the antler while driving his tractor, and he gave it to Versland. With a complete set of sheds now in hand, Versland went to the North American Shed Hunters Club convention in Wisconsin …
… and took first place. Versland’s matched set topped the nontypical category with a score of 170 5/8.
In March 2008, Versland found one of the buck’s 2007-’08 sheds (on the table, foreground). He was surprised to learn that the deer–a nontypical the year before–now appeared to be sporting a typical rack. Notice the difference in the G2s in the first set that Versland found (the matched 2006-’07 sheds on the table) and the 2008-09 set in Versland’s hands. “I had been hunting the previous November when I saw a huge 180-class 10-pointer run under me one evening when I was trying to get out of my tree. I didn’t think it was him, because I was looking for those distinctive split G2s. But when I found the shed in March, I knew it had been him. And I knew I’d found his core area.”
In June 2008 he got his first trail cam photo of his quarry. Versland had put up the camera near his tree stand the previous summer but got no shots of the buck until the big deer tripped the shutter in this photo. At that time of year, with the antlers not yet fully formed, Versland knew it was too early to know if this buck was the one whose sheds he’d been collecting.
Then a new trail camera photograph in August confirmed that this was indeed the same buck, now a 180-class 13-pointer.
In October 2008, Versland saw the buck at 18 yards, but thick cover prevented a shot. He hunted the stand for the rest of month, and through November but didn’t see him again. In December Versland decided to hunt other areas where he thought the deer might be, and didn’t return until Feb. 8, 2009, to check his trail cam long after the season had ended.
Moving stands had been a big mistake. Versland’s trail cam showed that the buck had returned the very day Versland began hunting elsewhere. After checking his camera, Versland decided to look for sheds in the area. 200 yards from his stand he found one of the buck’s antlers, and two days later he found the matching horn.
By the following fall Versland had gotten no more trail cam photos of the buck. But “I decided to hunt him as if he were still there,” he says. “I figured if he survived to drop his antlers, he was still around.” He rehung his stand in August near where he had picked up the buck’s sheds. Trimming a new shooting lane a week before the September opener, he discovered a massive rub on a 30-inch tree 35 yards from his stand. “I knew it had to be him,” Versland says.
Hot weather forced him to sit out opening week. Then on Sept. 30, his first evening in his stand, Versland spotted the buck. The deer was 200 yards off in a stand of cattails, moving away on a trail that crossed onto a neighboring farm. “I was so excited at that moment,” he recalls. “I felt like I had the final clue. I was so confident that I could kill that buck if I could get over there and into a tree on that trail.”
The next day, Oct. 1, Versland visited the neighboring landowner and secured permission to hunt. Then he went out and bought a new tree stand. “I actually didn’t have another one to put up,” he says.
“Oct. 2 was a Friday, and I was an absolute mess at school,” Versland says. “Because I knew. I was telling people when I left, ‘It’s done.’ I was just that confident based on what I’d seen the day before.”
“I carried in my bow and the new stand,” Versland says. “It was a stand I could have put up in 10 minutes, but it took me 90. I knew I could easily be within 80 yards of the buck, so I took my time setting it up. By 4:50 I was in it. There was a light rain, with a wind blowing about 15 mph, right into my face. Conditions couldn’t have been better.”
At 6:30 two does approached the cattail stand. Versland sent a text message to a buddy: “Does walking in right where I expect the buck to be laying. This could be good.” They took several minutes to wander into the cattails, but when they did the buck stood up, 150 yards from Versland. It was 6:45.
The does bolted, and Versland thought his hunt was done. “I figured he’d follow them and that would be it for tonight.” Instead, the buck walked toward Versland’s old stand. “He stood staring at the tree for a good 5 to 10 minutes. I thought, ‘He must know I sit there.'” Then the buck melted into the cattails. “For 5 minutes I was frantic, scanning for movement with my binoculars. I’d lost track of him. Then I heard a grunt.” The buck was 60 yards away, walking down a trail that would put him right under Versland’s stand.
He grabbed his bow and came to draw. “I put my sight on his shoulder and followed him down the trail. When he got right where I needed him to be, I gave a little ‘braaaap,’ and he stopped. I never saw whether he looked at me; I was focusing on his shoulder. I let the shot go and he dropped to his knees. He ran about 40 yards but I knew he was dead right there.”
“I was such a mess I couldn’t get out of my tree. It was a tree I normally would never consider climbing, but it was all I could find. I had to go 26 feet up just to find a spot where I could sit level. I had to calm down before I climbed down.” That didn’t stop him from calling his wife and parents and texting a fellow teacher and hunter who is also assistant coach of the high school football team. “I sent a text right before the homecoming game saying I’d gotten the buck, and he came out after.” Several of Versland’s students, who had followed every development in the saga since he first discovered the buck, showed up, too.
Versland’s parents were four hours away at their cabin. “I called them first, and as soon as my mom answered the first thing she said was, ‘Did you get it?’ She knew what time it was and where I’d be on a Friday night.” Later he and his parents each drove two hours to meet in the middle so they could share his excitement at the hard-earned trophy.
“I think I’m ten times the hunter since I started shed hunting; it’s amazing what you can learn about deer while doing it,” says Versland, who later discovered that another hunter (whose trail cam photo is shown here) was hunting the same buck. “If I hadn’t found his sheds I’d have never known about this deer, and if I hadn’t kept finding sheds I don’t think I’d have ever gotten close to him.”