Sitting in a lawn chair just before dusk Friday with his 20-gauge Winchester shotgun, Jim Wackler heard the buck coming “like a freight train” before he saw tips from its massive 36-point rack peeking above the field.
“All that dry corn, it was just a’ rattling,” Wackler said Tuesday. “He stuck his head out, looked around a bit and started trotting.”
Wackler, a lifelong hunter who eats what he catches — from squirrel and rabbit to pheasant, goose, duck and bear — hadn’t had much luck this year until he headed out late Friday afternoon from his home in Howard Lake to the farm near Waverly where his daughter and son-in-law, Ruth and Mike Young, live.
Wackler, 78, recently gave up his annual hunting trips Up North because he uses a cane now. “My legs are in tough shape,” he said.
The lifelong hunter estimated he’s killed 150 deer. Most were bucks with typical antlers with points, or tines, balanced on each side. The unofficial 36-pointer Wackler bagged has a “nontypical” rack with points that aren’t necessarily balanced and go in multiple directions.
On Friday, when the big buck stepped out from behind the corn and trotted toward the woods, Wackler hollered, freezing the buck about 35 yards away. “That’s when I put the bead on his chest,” Wackler said. “I wasn’t one bit nervous. I knew he had a big rack on him. I told myself to concentrate on the shot because if you look at the rack, you’ll miss.”
Wackler took the shot and the buck’s tail went down. The animal ran into the woods, but didn’t get far. Wackler found him belly up. He recovered the slug from the body and pocketed the shell, too. Wackler had to call in help to move the buck, which weighed 216 pounds after being field dressed.
By 6 p.m., Wackler was drawing a crowd at Joe’s Sport Shop in Howard Lake. Owner Joe Drusch said the parking lot was full. “The only time you see something like him is in magazines,” Drusch said of Wackler’s buck. “We’ll never see one like this again.”
The buck had been caught on trail cameras off and on for a few years; bowhunters reportedly had seen the buck, too.
“I hadn’t seen him,” Wackler said. “Several people had hunted him pretty hard. I guess I was the lucky one.”
His wife, Carolyn, said she was worried that all the attention would be too much for her husband’s heart. “We stood there so long, so many people stopped,” she said.
Jack Reneau, director emeritus of the Big Game Records Program at Boone and Crockett Club in Missoula, Mont., said he’s seen enough from a single photo of the slain deer to say it’s “very unique.”
“It’s one I wouldn’t pass up, I’ll tell you that,” Reneau said. He added that Boone and Crockett won’t provide an official score of any trophy without first waiting 60 days for the antlers to dry.
Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said the buck had to have been wily to survive in farm country. “I’ve never seen a wild deer like that,” he said.
Last month, a woman shot a 17-point buck near Bemidji that field-dressed at 235 pounds.
Wackler already has his buck butchered and frozen. For the first time in his hunting career, he’ll have his catch mounted. For now the head with the rack intact sits on the dining room table wrapped in plastic. “We need to get that out, it’s starting to smell,” Carolyn Wackler said.
Wackler will haul the head into the yard and boil the tissue off the bones. In another 60 days, the antlers will be officially “scored” for size.
Staff writers Tony Kennedy and Dennis Anderson contributed to this report.