Buckshots: One for Chuck

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The Big 8 that was the buck in Tony Wagner’s sights for his late friend, Chuck.

Opening day of gun deer season 2011 I first saw my neighbor Chuck. I was sitting in my favorite stand facing his property when he appeared in his back yard in a blaze orange jacket, with a leaf blower so powerful that it must have scared all the deer away for more than a mile.

When my son and I finally got out of our stands that evening and met back at the house, his first words were, “You need to talk to that dude with the leaf blower.” Little did I know that in the next three years my neighbor Chuck and I would become best friends, and that his excitement exceeded mine when, in 2012, I killed a monster buck out of the same stand on opening morning. The next year, Chuck died at an early age from cancer in his jaw.

Tony Wagner with the buck he killed with his late friend's crossbow. After a long night he resumed the blood trailing and found the buck the next morning.

Tony Wagner with the buck he killed with his late friend’s crossbow. After a long night he resumed the blood trailing and found the buck the next morning.

After our initial encounter with the blower, I decided it was best to introduce myself as soon as possible. I had just purchased four acres next to Chuck that borders my land to the north. When we finally met, I told him that I was his new neighbor. Chuck asked if I was going to get rid of the old trailer home which was his view when he looked out his window. I did within 24 hours. That is another story. Over the next year, Chuck and I became great friends while I was building my hunting shack/man cave.

Chuck allowed me to use his electricity and water until mine was installed. I also borrowed many tools and various items until finished. Chuck even gave me a brand new furnace to heat the man cave from his old shack. Prior to all of this he had kept to himself, rarely coming outside of his cabin. As our friendship flourished, I learned that Chuck had been an avid outdoorsman. So, I encouraged him to get back into it again. After getting to know him more, I finally asked him “What was the deal with blowing leaves on opening day?” We belly laughed and he agreed to refrain from doing this while I was hunting in the future.

The next opening day I shot “Mr. Moose”, a 198 4/8-inch monster. Chuck was there in minutes taking pictures and getting my trophy buck of a lifetime on TV that evening. Boy was that a great day. In spring, Chuck started getting into kayak fishing our lake. He asked me if it was alright to hunt the property line for turkeys if he purchased a crossbow. Of course, I said sure.

Tony Wagner has one more hunt ahead of him with his late friend's crossbow, in spring for a turkey, to join the memories of the hunt for this buck.

Tony Wagner has one more hunt ahead of him with his late friend’s crossbow, in spring for a turkey, to join the memories of the hunt for this buck.

Just after getting his crossbow Chuck came down with cancer. As the season approached, he suggested I use it since he was going to be in treatment. I never got to use the bow. Neither did Chuck. Within a couple of months Chuck was gone. Amazingly, he did not die from the cancer. His heart gave out during his therapy. I asked his children if I could buy his crossbow from the estate, but they gave it to me for being his close friend.

I shot it sparingly over the next year, but decided when the hunting rules changed that I would try to take a buck with Chuck’s crossbow if I was in the right situation. Opening weekend of 2015 bow season I hunted with my son on his lease in western Wisconsin. As always we saw deer, but no shooters. Monday morning, back on my land, I sat in the middle of the property, on what I call the swale food plot. One nice buck came in but things didn’t work out. My trail camera pictures told me he was the second-largest on the property. Over all of my hunting years, I have never taken a buck on opening weekend of bow season.

I was pondering where to sit that evening, and finally decided to go to the cornfield stand, right next to Chuck’s property. I also chose to use his crossbow, since there was a good place to lean it on a branch that touches the bottom of the platform. When I was climbing the stand I told myself, “If that big 8 comes in, I’m going to take him for Chuck.” After all, he was the largest buck I had on camera all summer and fall.

Over the next few hours, I saw about a half dozen deer. At least two were bucks. About 30 minutes before closing, I saw a small buck coming from my backside, near the corn. Following him was the Big 8. They circled to my left and went into the food plot I had made next to my gun stand. That stand had been my second choice of where to sit that evening. Had I been sitting there it would have been an easy shot.

After feeding for a while the pair continued to a stand I call Old Trusty for a drink out of the small pond. Damn, that was my third choice for where to sit that evening. I assumed they had moved on, so I was starting to think about climbing down, when I noticed the smaller buck coming back straight toward me on the trail. He was followed again by the “Big 8.” Slowly I picked up the crossbow aimed and said a quick prayer for Chuck. When the buck stopped, I squeezed the trigger thinking, “Chuck, this one is for you.” I heard the arrow hit hard, and the buck bolted to the thick part of the woods I call the Burn. Normally, I would wait for at least 30 minutes before getting down. Since the light was getting dim, I wanted to find the arrow and blood.

It didn’t take but a minute to find the arrow, covered in blood. But, I could not find any blood on his path of exit. Doing the smart thing, I backed out & went home and started calling my buddies to see who was available to help me track. Zach, my “second” son said if I waited until morning he would come and track. As anyone who is in this situation knows, I didn’t get much sleep. Waking early, I decided to start tracking myself. Zach was on the way. I have taken many bow deer over the years, so I knew how important it is to watch exactly where the deer runs. On his trail I could also see where he had kicked up dirt as he headed into the thick stuff. But, I found only a drop of blood here and there.

“Chuck, I could use a little help,” were the words going through my head. I decided to walk to the far end of an old trail inside the thicket, and work my way back. After getting back even with where I had last marked the last blood, I looked to my left. There he was lying about 20 yards inside the “burn.” I looked up and thanked Chuck for his help, the crossbow and most of all, his friendship. Approaching the Big 8, I apologized to the deer as I always do for taking his life. Just then Zach arrived. Needless to say, we took some pictures, called my son Kevin, and started the celebration. It was my first early season buck, and the biggest bow buck ever taken on the property.

Every time, I go over to the Man Cave I see Chuck’s place. I miss him. His brother Rick, the caretaker of the property and I have since become good friends. Now it’s time to shoot a turkey with Chuck’s bow.

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