After snagging trail cam photos of a potential state-record buck on his 30-acre Wisconsin farm in August, steamfitter Jeff Weber knew he'd have to shake up his regular routine to put a tag on the trophy typical. "Every year we get bucks on camera in early fall and then never see them again," Weber says. "I knew he'd be long gone by gun season." So the longtime firearms hunter bought a used compound bow, grabbed a couple of hay bales and a piece of cardboard, and started getting ready for the hunt of his life.
The 32-year-old steamfitter, who lives near the town of Pipe, about 15 minutes east of Fon Du Lac, only decided to put out a trail cam after a buddy saw a nice buck cross the road onto Weber’s land one July morning. “The first night I had pictures of a doe and what appeared to be a buck,” Weber says. “I thought that was pretty good for one night. Then two weeks went by without a single picture.”
He moved his camera to a draw that divides his 20-acre cornfield in two. The first night he got a picture of an 8-pointer, which he later learned was the buck his buddy had spied crossing the road. “A week later, lo and behold, this big guy was on there.”
“At this point, I pretty much gave permission to my buddy to hunt back there, because he bowhunts and–at the time, at least–I didn’t.” That would soon change. “I’m looking at these pictures and thinking, ‘Oh, man, this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime deer.’ I knew a guy who was talking about getting another bow, so I bought his. And now I’ve got to tell my buddy that I’m gonna be bowhunting back there too.”
Weber hung a stand at one end of the draw, and his buddy put up a blind at the other end. “I said, ‘You can hunt that end and I’ll hunt this end and whoever gets it gets it.”
By the end of August, Weber had more photos of the buck, including his first daytime shots. The new photos were right by his tree stand, 250 yards behind his house. “A buddy showed some of the photos to some other guys, and he came back and said, ‘You know, that buck is probably close to the state record.’ I said, ‘No way! You’re crazy!’ I just couldn’t believe some deer behind my house being a near state record.”
Both Weber and his buddy hunted Wisconsin’s September 17 archery opener. Weber saw the buck come out of the woods 300 yards behind him, and then watched the big typical feed in a hayfield with several other deer before wandering off. “I’m pretty pumped up, because the first night out I actually get to see him. So I sit every night for the next week and I don’t see him. The other guy is losing interest already, because I’m not getting any trail cam pictures and we’re not seeing any deer. Nothing.”
“The next week I hunted a couple of days and didn’t see anything, so I decided by Wednesday to give it a rest. I thought maybe I was putting too much pressure back there, and I decided I wouldn’t sit again until I got more pictures of him. “A couple of days later, we had a bad windstorm and a tree blew over and crushed the turkey tent. So now my buddy can’t hunt anymore.”
By the next Wednesday, October 5, the season was 19 days old and Weber still had no new trail cam photos of the buck. He was working in Fon Du Lac when his boss called. “He lives close to me, and he’d been down at the gas station when someone came in and told him, ‘I just seen the biggest buck of my life down the road.’ My boss had seen my pictures, so he knew what it was. He called and said, ‘Just to let you know, someone seen the buck crossing onto your land.’ So I left work early and by 4:30 I was in my stand.” Imagine that: A boss who not only lets you take time off to hunt, but also calls with a scouting report.
“Sometime after 6 (p.m.) I glanced over my right shoulder, and there he stood, about 150 yards away. He was downwind and looking directly my way. It was pretty much the worst wind I could have.”
This series of trail cam photos were snapped just before the buck came into Weber’s view, as it passed within 10 yards of his buddy’s demolished blind. “Had he been there he’d have seen the buck first. That tree falling–I don’t know, it’s almost like it was meant to happen.”
The buck stood for five minutes staring in Weber’s direction. “At that point my heart is racing, everything is going through my head, how it’s all gonna go down.”
Finally the buck started moving slowly down the field edge, pausing often to thrust its head into the corn stalks. “I don’t know if he was feeding on the corn or what, but every time his head disappeared into the stalks I’d make a little move to get into better position for a shot. I had to stand up and turn all the way around to even get a shot at him.”
After about 20 minutes the buck closed to 40 yards. “Everybody I talk to says the longer they have to wait, the more nervous they get. I think it was exactly the opposite for me. When I first saw him I was flipping out. But the longer I waited the more composed I got. I just kept telling myself, ‘This is the one chance you’re gonna get to do this. Spook him and he’s probably not coming through here again.'”
“At this point, I’m turned around, I’ve got my release clipped on, and I’m pretty much ready to go. He came another 10 yards closer, then stopped, turned broadside and started walking across the waterway. I’m thinking, ‘Well, here’s my shot.’ The only thing going through my head was, ‘Do I make a noise to stop him, like they do in all the shows?’ But I couldn’t bring myself to make a noise. So I let it go as he was walking, and I thought I shot under him, because the arrow just disappeared and he didn’t kick or slouch. He just turned with his head up and trotted away.”
“I was bummed out, because I thought I’d missed him. I decided to sit it out until dark, in case he circled back. I sat there beating myself up, wondering how I’m going to tell everybody I missed this deer at 30 yards broadside.” One thing gave him hope: Weber estimates he’d shot 500 to 600 arrows, first at his hay-bale-and-cardboard setup and later at a 3D deer target. The entire time he’d practiced his shooting, climbing up onto the roof of a shed to get some elevation, he’d never once missed the whole target. Of course, the target wasn’t moving–and it wasn’t sporting 200 inches of antler.
Once he climbed down from his stand and recovered his arrow, Weber knew he’d made a good shot. His buddy and his boss came over to help him follow the blood trail, on hands and knees when necessary, until it led to a 15-point buck with a 22-3/8 inch spread. According to the rough green score that Weber received, deductions will probably reduce the buck’s 200-plus gross measurements to the mid-170s. This will leave the buck well short of the state record, a 187 5/8-inch 12 pointer shot last season by Brian Inda near Wild Rose. Split brow tines, an extra point on one side and noticeably lighter mass on the other will detract from the scoring, but not from Weber’s appreciation of the hard-won trophy. “I know it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see something like this on camera and then end up getting it in the long run.”
When Weber showed his buck off at Dutch’s Trading Post in Fon Du Lac, the titanic typical caused quite a stir. “People were making U-turns in the street. A fire truck stopped. A cop car pulled in. Four or five city utility trucks were pulled up in the yard. It was a crazy scene.” For anyone who wanted to know how he pulled it off, Jeff Weber had a ready answer. “I just did what I figured I had to do: I went out, got a bow, practiced my ass off and got it done.”
_After snagging trail cam photos of a potential state-record buck on his 30-acre Wisconsin farm in August, Jeff Weber knew he’d have to shake up his regular routine to put a tag on the trophy typical. “Every year we get bucks on camera in early fall and then never see them again,” Weber says. “I knew he’d be long gone by gun season.”
So the longtime firearms hunter bought a used compound bow, grabbed a couple of hay bales and a piece of cardboard, and started getting ready for the hunt of his life._