The buck surpassed by nearly two inches the typical mark set by Brian Inda in 2010 (pictured here). Inda’s 5 X 7 scored 187 5/8, topping by only 3/8 of an inch the previous record set in 2006 by Barry Rose, a former wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills.
What’s also remarkable is that Gerrits’ buck came from Fond du Lac County. That’s the same county that in 2009 produced the state-record archery nontypical “Lucky Buck” shot by Wayne Schumacher. That 30-pointer scored 243 6/8 nontypical. “Everybody talks about Buffalo County,” Gerrits says, “but I think Fond du Lac may be on the map now for whitetails.”
For the past 20 years Gerrits and six hunting buddies have been working to improve deer habitat on the 180 acres they own north of Waupun. “We all pitch in to do what we can, whether it’s planting or mowing food plots or hanging stands and trimming trees,” Gerrits says. “We all enjoy just being in the outdoors and we get along great. We’ve got a good thing going.” Gerrits and his partners first encountered Big Surprise when a neighbor showed them trail cam photos of the buck. It was the first sighting in the immediate area of a deer that, they later learned, already had quite a following a few miles down the road near a little community called Alto. “A lot of people called it the Alto Ghost,” Gerrits says. “We named it Big Surprise because that’s the first thing we said when he showed up on our neighbor’s trail cam: We hadn’t seen him at all, and we were surprised to know such a big deer was in the area.”
The buck showed up once on a trail cam on the gang’s property (top) in 2011, then disappeared. A friend saw the deer in his back yard after the season closed, so hunters knew the local legend had made it through the season. (Note the drop tine, which did not grow back in 2012.) But when the 2012 season rolled around, Gerrits’ trail cameras turned up no sign of Big Surprise, and the buck was far from his mind as the season progressed. (He would later learn that other trail cameras in the area did capture photos of the big buck, including this one.) Instead, Gerrits had his sights set on a 140- to 150-class buck called Tiny. “We had a lot of history with Tiny over the years, and we decided that if somebody got a chance he should take it,” Gerrits says.
After hunting three or four days straight, Gerrits figured he’d better take some time on Election Day to vote and catch up on work. But on Nov. 5 one of his buddies pulled a card from a trail cam set up on a scrape near a stand that had proven productive in the past. “There was lots of activity, a doe and several bucks, and one of them was Tiny,” Gerrits recalls. The weather forecast that night sealed the deal. “There was going to be rain the next morning and it looked like the front would come through mid- to late-morning. I told my wife, ‘Boy, that’s a prime opportunity. Deer will probably be moving. I should get my butt out there and hunt.'”
Gerrits was in his stand before dawn. A pair of bucks hit the scrape at first light, and a small 8-pointer hung around. The little buck put on a show, pawing the ground and raking branches with its antlers, while Gerrits recorded the action with his smartphone. At one point he glanced up and saw what looked to be “a pretty decent rack” in some thick brush south of his stand. “I said to myself, ‘There’s Tiny. Come on down.'”
“Lo and behold, the big deer started walking down the hill toward me, and I realized it wasn’t Tiny. This was a buck I hadn’t seen before. I knew instantly it was one heck of a buck, my biggest ever. I put away my phone and got ready.” Gerrits watched the big whitetail face off against the 8-pointer. “He walked in with his ears flat, legs stiff. He was not happy another buck was in the area and on the scrape, and he started moving him off the scrape.” The smaller buck would back down when the big buck approached, but it would not leave the area entirely. The constant movement of both deer frustrated Gerrits’ attempts to get a shot.
“At one point I got my bow drawn but he was facing me. I was waiting for him to walk through an opening, but he didn’t, and I had to let down. I remember thinking to myself, ‘How am I going to get away with this? It’s tough enough getting pulled back with one set of eyes on you, but now I have to let down with two bucks watching.’ I don’t know how, but I did it.” Gerrits’ heart dropped as he watched the bucks move out of bow range. “My initial thought was I just had a buck of a lifetime walk away,” he recalls. “I was praying the big deer would circle back and hit the scrape.”
It worked out almost like he’d hoped. The big buck did circle back, but the little buck was still with him. “I was wondering, ‘What is this little buck doing? He’s going to get his butt kicked.’ I remember wishing the 8-pointer didn’t have to be there, but he ended up leading Big Surprise right back to me.” Five minutes after Gerrits had first spotted the big rack in the brush, the buck stood 22 yards away. For a third time he had to move carefully, but he was able to come to full draw without alerting either of the deer, which were focused on each other. When the big 14-pointer stepped into an opening, Gerrits was drawn and ready. After the shot the buck ran back into the thick brush where Gerrits had first spotted its rack. He thought he heard a crash but couldn’t be sure if the deer had, in fact, gone down. Doubt started to creep in. Calls to his hunting partners went unanswered. After calling one of his employees to let him know he wouldn’t be coming to work that day, Gerrits settled down to give the deer some time to expire. Gerrits lost a brother to brain cancer in 2010. “He was a big hunter,” Gerrits says, “so I shot a little prayer up to him. I said, ‘Beezer, I know you are with me this morning because I shot my biggest buck. Now I need your help finding this thing.'” Then he climbed down to trail his trophy.
He quickly found blood, then recovered the arrow 25 yards from his stand. It was another 50 yards or so to where he’d heard the crash. “If I didn’t find the buck where I heard the crash, I was ready to back out and get help to find it,” Gerrits says, “but oh my gosh, there he lay. I kneeled down and gave a little prayer of thanks. I know my brother was with me that day, no doubt about it.”
Gerrits wasn’t immediately aware that he’d shot a local legend, and he certainly had no idea that the buck was a potential state record. “It never occurred to me that it could be Big Surprise–the buck others called the Alto Ghost,” he says. “We figured his core area was over a mile west, and we’d had no trail cam photos of him on our property in 2012.” As it turns out, he did have a photo of the buck on his property: This shot, taken about a half hour before Gerrits killed the buck, was discovered a couple of weeks later. (The time stamp is off by an hour; the photograph was snapped at 6:22 a.m.)
Not until Gerrits registered the deer and showed it to a couple of buddies did the buck’s true identity become clear. “They said, ‘You just shot the Alto Ghost.’ I said no. But after they showed me the trail cam photos again, I knew it was him.” The buck Gerrits and his buddies called Big Surprise lived up to his name in the end. After taking time to vote, Gerrits spent the rest of the day celebrating with friends and family while his phone blew up with congratulatory calls and text messages. “My kids think it’s pretty cool that I’m in the spotlight right now.” Will (right) is a gun hunter and has gotten a buck every year, but Jake (left) hasn’t been into hunting. Until now. “I think this put him over the edge,” Gerrits says. “He wants to go turkey hunting in the spring and try deer hunting next fall.” “I’m just blessed I have such great hunting buddies and a wife that supports me with my hobby. Heidi knows I need my time in the woods, and she supports me.”
Although speculation started immediately about the buck’s chances at breaking the state record, Gerrits managed to keep Big Surprise and himself out of the spotlight until the official scoring, in early January, confirmed the deer’s status as Wisconsin’s top archery typical.
Gerrits believes it’s a group accomplishment for him and his hunting partners. “I’m just proud it came off our property,” he says. “It’s our third Booner in 14 years.” That’s quite an achievement for 180 acres in a section of the state that allows shotgun hunting, and a testament to the habitat work the men have put in. “It has been a labor of love, really, and now we’re enjoying the fruits of our labors.”
_After hunting hard for several days straight, William “Dusty” Gerrits of Waupun, Wis., thought Nov. 6, 2012, might be a good time to take a break from the deer woods. It was Election Day, after all, and he also needed to get caught up on work at his auto parts business. But some promising trail cam photos and a favorable weather forecast changed his mind–which meant that Gerrits was in his stand when Wisconsin’s next state-record archery typical charged in to challenge a smaller buck working a nearby scrape.
Waiting out a five-minute game of cat-and-mouse between the bucks, Gerrits finally got his shot at a record. A final scoring completed earlier this month made it official: The big mainframe 12 with two stickers that Gerrits and his hunting buddies nicknamed “Big Surprise” netted 189 3/8, making it Wisconsin’s third new typical record in seven years._