Jimmy Spataro didn't start hunting whitetails until he was well into his 60s, and he was 67 before he harvested his first buck, this dandy 15-pointer taken with a crossbow last November only a five-minute walk from his Pewaukee, Wisconsin, home. The harvest capped a remarkable comeback for Jimmy, who embraced the sport as a way to continue getting outdoors after a debilitating disease robbed him of his strength and forced him to give up his first love: Golf. His story--which unfolded as Spataro was dealing with his medical issues and nursing his wife back to health after her own near-fatal crisis--is a reminder that sometimes a buck is just a bonus.
Spataro spent 25 years building Wisconsin’s largest Mayflower moving franchise and played an active role in Milwaukee’s Italian-American community, serving as president of the Italian Community Center and the National Italian Golf Tournament for Charities. After selling his business, he expanded his passion for golf by spending half the year in Hawaii. There he volunteered at the Mercedes-Benz golf championship, where he was in charge of the practice facility, rubbing elbows with pros like Jesper Parnevik (left).
“I was a golfer’s golfer; I played with some of the best in the world,” Spataro says. “I played for 55 years. So it was a big deal for me to have to say, ‘I gotta quit. I can’t do this any more.'” But that’s exactly what he had to do. In 1986, while organizing a charity golf tournament for the Italian Community Center, Spataro was involved in a car accident. “This accident started the fibromyalgia that continues to take away my strength and mobility,” he says. The disease, which causes overall muscle fatigue as well as pain and stiffness in muscles and joints, can be debilitating. “Because of the fibromyalgia, I live with increasing pain. I just couldn’t continue golfing.”
Quitting was tough on him. “Golf had helped define his life nearly as much as his Italian heritage and community involvement,” says Mark LaBarbera, Spataro’s friend and the author of Wisconsin Deer & Bear Record Book. “So when fibromyalgia forced him to give up golf, it created a void and a sense of loss,” Searching for another sport that would allow him to spend time outdoors, he turned to hunting. “I had been watching hunting shows on TV, and I thought maybe I could do this,” he says. Accomplished bowhunter Michael Enea–“my paisano,” Spataro says–offered instruction. But Jimmy discovered the fibromyalgia had left him too weak to draw a bow. That’s when he turned to the crossbow, a TenPoint Titan TL-7.
Spataro practiced his crossbow shooting with the same single-minded dedication he put into his golf swing, and the hard work paid off: He took his first doe in 2007–on Columbus Day, no less.
Until this year, he has been focused less on filling his trophy room and more on filling freezers. LaBarbera says Spataro’s public works of charity have always been supplemented by behind-the-scenes acts of kindness. “He would bring meals to neighbors, help them with their gardens. He would visit the elderly.” Now he had something else to share with them: the bounty of his hunts. LaBarbera says Jimmy was tapping into a tradition that has long been part of Italian-American heritage. “What’s trendy now–homegrown fruits and vegetables, local fish and game–was commonplace in Milwaukee’s Italian community,” LaBarbera notes. “Even in the old city neighborhoods, along the train tracks, ditches and vacant lots, Italian kids and parents would harvest birds, rabbits, squirrels and other wild critters for the sugo, the spaghetti sauce made with backyard tomatoes and basil. Italian heritage included a green movement before it was called green. It was all part of feeding the family.”
One elderly landowner whom Spataro helped with his garden returned the favor, inviting Jimmy to hunt his land. The location–only a five-minute walk from Spataro’s house–would turn out to be perfect. That fall his wife, Linda (shown here), nearly died when an aneurysm in her brain ruptured. Jimmy was home at the time and was able to resuscitate Linda, who had stopped breathing. Doctors prescribed daily naps to help aid her recovery, and Spataro would hunt his nearby stand while Linda slept. It was there he encountered the biggest buck he’d ever seen.
On November 15, Spataro climbed into his stand after setting out some doe-in-estrous scent wicks; he hit the rattling bag a couple of times and tried a few soft grunts on his call before settling in to wait. An hour later he tried again, and feeling the aches and pains of his illness, thought about going home to check on Linda. “I was hoping for a deer, any deer, to put venison in the freezer,” Jimmy recalls. “I was about ready to call it a day. But just then a big buck came over a little ridge about 30 yards away, nose in the air.”
“I knew immediately he was a shooter: High rack, lots of antler points. Bigger than anything I’ve ever seen within bow range. My heart began pounding. I remember breathing rapidly.” Spataro started to stand up, but the buck moved closer. He froze–not fully standing, not comfortably sitting. He was in an awkward spot. “My fibromyalgia had me worried about whether I could hold still, let alone make the shot if I got a good one,” he recalls. “I wanted him close, broadside or quartering away, so I could put an arrow cleanly through both lungs.”
Then the buck walked behind some trees, and Spataro was able to stand up. “He never knew I was there,” Jimmy says. “He was heading to a clearing of 8 to 10 feet, and my legs started to shake. My heart rate sped up. I didn’t look at his antlers again. I focused on the spot I wanted to hit.” At 15 yards he got his chance: The buck stepped into the clearing and he slipped off the safety and fired.
Spataro watched as the buck wheeled and ran back in the direction he’d come from, disappearing over a ridge 30 yards away. “Then I heard him crash. From shot to crash was over in a flash. That’s when it hit me, the emotion, the excitement that I had been trying to control leading up to the shot. Full of adrenaline, my body began to shake.”
Spataro called friends for help, and Linda to share the good news. She walked up from the house to meet him, camera in hand. Steve Vento (left) and Rainy Weismann were among those who arrived to help Spataro recover his buck. They found it only 10 yards beyond the ridge where he’d seen it disappear. Jimmy had his first buck–and it was a monster. “He was huge!” Spataro says. “I put my TenPoint against him, kneeled down next to the buck–now my buck–tagged him and took pictures. Even the most experienced hunters in the group said they had not been this close to such a large buck.”
Fifteen of the rack’s 18 points were scoreable, and the initial green score tallied by an official Boone & Crockett measurer was 211 gross, 188 5/8 net. After the 60-day drying period passed, a panel of four official measurers taped the rack. They classified it as a 7×7 with one nontypical point and arrived at a score of 210 5/8 gross and 179 1/8 net–which would make it the largest typical ever taken in Wisconsin by a crossbow hunter. However, the Boone & Crockett Club has flagged the score for a second look, saying that the rack will need to be re-measured. A determination of whether the buck is a typical or nontypical is still under review, so there is no official net score, though B&C officials say the gross score should not change.
Talk to Spataro and it’s clear that he’s jazzed by the opportunity to hunt, to once again be in the outdoors pursuing a sport and a passion. That means more to him than the prospect of finding his name listed on the Wisconsin record book’s top 10 typical list. “Deer hunting has a lot of similarities to golf,” Spataro says. “It’s an individual thing. It’s hand-eye coordination. You’re outside enjoying nature. If you play golf at a certain level, there’s an ethic you follow: It’s based on respect.”
While crossbows are a source of controversy for many in the hunting community, there’s no controversy for Spataro. “If not for deer hunting with a crossbow, I would not be getting outdoors in my late 60s and enjoying it as much as I do now. It’s a wonderful piece of equipment,” he says. “The crossbow makes it possible for me to feel like I am hunting, and that I can kill a deer cleanly and ethically. I believe everyone should be able to use one. I really think it would get a lot more people involved in hunting.” Adds Spataro, “I never thought I’d be a hunter. I was a golfer! I won a couple of championships. I made three holes-in-one. But I was never excited like I was with this buck. Not even in the same realm. It was unbelievable.”
Jimmy Spataro didn’t start hunting whitetails until he was well into his 60s after a debilitating condition robbed him of his first love: golf. The crossbow allowed him to take up hunting, despite his disease, and he may have tagged the Wisconsin record crossbow buck last season. Steve Hill got Spataro’s remarkable story and photos of his beastly deer.