When you hear people talk about Knowlton, Wisconsin they usually mention the award winning cheeses Mullins Cheese Factory produces or the beauty of nearby Lake Du Bay. Knowlton is a rural township between Wausau and Stevens Point, Wisconsin with a population in the hundreds that consists mainly of family farms and lake houses. The annual deer hunt is a family tradition in the area and most of the locals participate with the hopes of bagging some venison for the freezer.
Many years ago, Tom Buerger, 43, met his future wife, Julie, while they were both training to become police officers for the nearby city of Wisconsin Rapids. Tom had been an avid hunter his entire life and was pleased to learn, along with a loving wife, he was going to get access to some awesome hunting land. The first time Tom visited the 280-acre farm owned by his father-in-law, Jerry, he was given a tour of the 60-head dairy operation and surrounding woods. He was also introduced to the farm’s hired hand and Jerry’s best friend, Edwin, who everyone called “Chipper.” Chipper was a very special person; besides being a valuable part of the farm he had knowledge of deer and their activities that Tom found immediately impressive.
One thing Chipper noticed many years ago was that when he put out the mineral supplement necessary for dairy cows, the deer would visit the sites more often than the bovines it was intended for. He figured this had a lot to do with the area bucks growing larger racks and the does being healthier. He also noted increases in the overall number of deer on the property. Chipper shared his information with Tom early in their friendship and expressed the importance of having the mineral out early enough in the season to get the best results.
Sadly, Chipper was diagnosed with cancer in August, 2006 and looked forward to visits from Tom and Julie while he was receiving treatments. Chipper wanted to make sure Tom continued the mineral program if he wasn’t able to get out of the house in the spring. Chipper’s condition deteriorated rapidly and he asked Tom to come see him when he knew his time was near. Chipper told Tom he would help him get a monster buck and would always be along when he hunted on the property. Chipper lost his battle with cancer in the spring of 2007. Tom put the mineral down as promised exactly the way his friend had taught him.
Tom and Julie suffered another loss a few months after Chipper passed away. Tom had to put his best friend and long time hunting companion Mandy, his yellow lab to sleep to ease her suffering from old age.
Mandy (The Machine) was an extraordinary hunting dog by most people’s standards. She never missed a bird; Tom estimates she made over 2,000 retrieves in her life, which is how she earned her nickname.
Tom and Julie decided the best place to put Mandy to rest was at the base of Tom’s treestand. They built a simple gravesite and marked it with some fieldstones found nearby so Tom could still hunt with Mandy.
That first season weighed a little heavy on Tom’s heart, having lost two close friends in a short time. His time in the stand wasn’t as enjoyable as previous years. Tom had seen a couple of nice bucks, but knew the land was capable of producing trophy bucks; he would wait for a buck that would make Chipper proud. Tom had two nieces who he was helping get started hunting and enjoyed spending time in the woods with them when their busy schedules would allow time for their uncle. Cassie Jo, 12, and Samantha 11, would spend time with their father Tim, Tom, and his son Tony in the woods scouting and checking trail cameras.
Early the next season one of Tom’s trail cameras revealed an awesome buck with multiple brow tines and an exceptional amount of mass with incredible bases. Tom showed the photos to his nieces and told them this was the buck Chipper had told him about before he passed away.
The girls knew at that moment they would do whatever they could to help their uncle shoot this buck. Tom had told them, “If you’re in the stand with me we’ll be hunting for you until your tag is filled then I’ll shoot my deer.” Both of the girls agreed that if the buck came through when they were in the stand with him, they wanted him to shoot it. Tom hunted hard that season and spent many days in the field during archery season but the buck never presented a reasonable shot. The season ended with Tom not filling his tag and left the monster buck, who then became a regular on his trail cams, still living on the farm.
The spring of 2010 brought news of a neighbor finding the sheds of the buck Tom had hunted the previous season. In early August the buck appeared and he was truly magnificent with multiple brow tines and the biggest bases Tom had ever seen. He was never presented with a clean shot on the buck during archery season, though sightings and trail camera photos continued on his father in-law’s land and his neighbor’s property throughout the fall.
Wisconsin’s firearm season opened on November 20, 2010 and their plan was to have the nieces hunt with him and his son Tony. Samantha would hunt with her Uncle Tom on the Knowlton farm and Cassie Jo would be in the stand with her dad on Tom and Julie’s property. Cassie Jo and Sam were still keeping with their plan from the previous year: if the Chipper Buck showed up, they wanted their uncle to shoot it.
Samantha and Tom arrived at the stand at 5:50 a.m. opening morning and were settled in when Sam quietly told her uncle that if the Chipper Buck showed up, she wanted him to shoot it. Tom was moved by this and told her he would like to see her shoot a buck and that he would be surprised if the big buck came out of the protection of the neighboring sanctuary. Tom really wanted Samantha to shoot a buck that day, as it was her 12th birthday and he thought it would be a great gift. Right at 6:50 a.m. Tom nudged Samantha and told her to get ready because he could hear the neighbor driving down the trail on his four-wheeler, which usually kicks deer up and gets them moving.
The excitement rose as the pair could hear deer approaching their stand at a fast pace. Seconds later, several deer appeared in the woods and were headed toward their stand. Samantha could see a big buck was in the lead and, without hesitation, she told her uncle to shoot. Tom looked at with surprise, but knew this was the Chipper Buck and there wasn’t any time for discussion. When the monster buck entered a good shooting lane, he raised his rifle and squeezed the trigger.
The shot rang out for Tom’s Browning rife and he immediately lost sight of the buck. Tom looked at Samantha and asked, “Where did the buck go?” She smiled and pointed to the lane saying, “He fell as soon as you shot.” There were two other bucks traveling with Tom’s buck, but Samantha was more concerned with getting down to her uncle’s trophy. Tom helped Samantha out of the stand and she raced to the buck to get a point count. Tom was walking toward her when she reported the buck had 15 points. Tom took a second to look up and thank his friend Chipper for keeping his promise.
Tom wasted no time in calling his wife and a few friends. Tim and Cassie Jo were still in the stand when they received a text message from Tom saying he had shot the buck. They decided they would go see him at lunchtime, as Cassie Jo had planned to hunt with her father the rest of the day and Tony would take Samantha with him for the afternoon. Tom was busy celebrating when Tony and Cassie Jo arrived at the Knowlton Farm to see his buck. They helped load his trophy on the back of a four-wheeler and he returned to the house leaving Tony and Samantha to hunt out of his stand for the remainder of the day.
After Tom had his buck cared for, he sat in a chair next to the barn so he could hear if Samantha or Tony fired a shot. Tom was enjoying the afternoon, thinking about his friend Chipper and how he would have enjoyed being on the farm today. Shortly before 4 p.m. he heard a shot and could tell from the direction that it was either Samantha or Tony who fired.
A text from Tony shortly after confirmed it and said Samantha had just shot an awesome buck. Tom was too excited to wait for them to call, so he rode down on the four-wheeler to lend them a hand.
When Tom arrived he looked at his phone and realized he had missed a call from his brother, Tim, who was hunting with Cassie Jo. He called and learned she had also shot a nice 8-point buck on the property behind his house. When he arrived Tony was leading Samantha along the blood trail. Tom joined just as Samantha saw her buck 20 yards ahead. Once again, Samantha provided the official point-count on the rack. Her buck had 12. She shared her story with her uncle has they loaded It on the four-wheeler and returned to the house to meet up with Cassie Jo and her buck.
Tom was very pleased the girls both shot nice bucks and couldn’t help but think his friend Chipper had something to do with all three of them getting a buck that day.
Randy Mayes of Mayes Taxidermy provided the SCI score on Tom’s buck of 209 7/8″ featuring the following measurements:
-26 ½”Main Beams – 15 Scoreable Points – 8″ Bases – 44″ From Circumcises Alone The Chipper Buck Should net near 195″ B&C. Shane Koeshall of Realistic Taxidermy of Wisconsin Rapids will be taking care of the trophy for Tom’s buck.
Tom Buerger, a lifelong hunter, learned a secret to raising big bucks and healthy does on his father-in-law’s 280-acre farm from a man who would become a great friend. When that friend, Chipper, passed away from cancer in 2007, Tom kept up the practice and harvested this monster buck on the farm this year. His two nieces also tagged bucks that day, and Tom couldn’t help but think, somehow, Chipper had a hand in it.