Matt Serwa wasn’t necessarily surprised when a nice buck showed up on his trail cameras last summer. The 35-year old Hatley, Wis., resident and his family had been managing their hunting property for several years. Their hard work on improving habitat and nutrition, combined with some true commitment to trigger control, had let several generations of bucks pass into older age classes. So, running summer camera checks typically revealed several nice bucks.
What did surprise Serwa was the size of a particular buck that showed up in July.
“I could tell he was special from those first photos,” he says. “But even then, I wasn’t sure just how big he was going to get. Fortunately, we’re able to get some really nice pics every summer over our Real Deal mineral sites (realdealmineral.com). We developed this mineral a dozen years ago and time and again it’s proven its ability to attract deer and give bucks and does the minerals they need to reach their potential.”
Serwa and his family monitored the progress of several mature whitetails as the summer progressed and had identified several great bucks, including the one that just got larger and more impressive. Still, Serwa wasn’t sure how much time he’d devote to early season hunting.
“I have a great wife and young kids that always have something going on that I don’t want to miss,” he says. “I usually save up my hunting time for closer to the rut so I can spend time with them.”
But a final check of the cameras — timed just before Wisconsin’s mid-September archery opener — changed Serwa’s mind about hopping in a tree stand.
“We got a photo of the really big one, and he’d just exploded,” he said. “I sent the pic to my brother and said ‘I think we better go hunting this weekend!’”
Opening weekend found Serwa in a tree stand overlooking one of the many food plots on the property.
“It’s not far off a creek bottom, which is pretty thick and serves as a bedding area for some of the older bucks,” he said. “The food plot is actually kind of a staging area; the deer come out of the creek bottom, hit the food plot for a little while, and then head out to other areas. We kind of suspected this big one and his bachelor group—we usually had pics of him hanging with several other bucks—were bedding in this creek bottom, so I was hoping the food plot would be a good spot.”
Serwa thought he’d had a million-dollar hunch when the bachelor group emerged from the creek bottom and started feeding nearby. But the monster whitetail that was a regular member of the group was nowhere to be seen.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “He traveled with them all the time. So I just sat there and watched the bachelor group feed, then disappear. I didn’t know what to think, except he must have just decided to not hang with them anymore.”
“Suddenly he was just there, about 15 yards from the stand,” he said. “I never even heard him approach. So I drew back the bow, and I couldn’t see through the peep sight at all. I did my best to peer around the peep and I took the shot. It went over his back, and I was just sick. But the buck just trotted off a little way and stood there. He didn’t seem to know what had happened, so I slowly reached for another arrow, nocked it, and drew back. My peep was still twisted some, and I managed to miss that shot, too!”
Miraculously, the buck remained stymied by the buzz and confusion and, though he’d walked a little ways since the second arrow, was still within Serwa’s effective range.
“I drew back and finally the peep was in the right spot, so I settled in and took the shot,” he says. “I saw the arrow hit. I knew I was little farther back than perfect, but I knew I’d made a good shot on the buck. He tore off the food plot and headed toward that thick creek bottom.”
Any bowhunter who’s made a shot he knows is not immediately lethal recognizes Serwa’s mindset that evening.
“I knew that the hit was fatal, but finding the buck would be tough,” he said. “To make matters worse, it was supposed to rain that evening and I was worried about the blood trail. I didn’t have to think things over too much before I called my friend, Kasey Morgan. Kasey has a trained blood-tracking dog named Boomer, and I figured if it was going to be a tough tracking job. I wanted all the help I could get.”
Serwa and Morgan discussed the hit and the impending weather conditions (It rained that night and into the morning) and decided to wait until morning before taking up the blood trail.
“We’d shot some bucks in this area before, and I knew where they usually liked to go on that creek bottom when they bedded,” Serwa said. “And when we got Boomer on the trail, he followed it to that area. We found some deer beds in that spot but none of them had blood in them.
“Boomer went off in a fairly straight line away from those beds. We’d gone about 400 yards from the food plot by now. And I kept thinking about that area where the deer always bed, and here’s Boomer, off in a different direction, going through tag alders and water about a foot deep. He got confused on the track a couple of times, but kept circling back toward the creek. Kasey was ahead of me, following the dog, and suddenly he was yelling at me to come over. Boomer had found the buck, right along the creek bank! I was amazed. I think I’d have found the deer eventually, but it would have taken a lot of hard searching. Kasey and Boomer are quite a team!”
The trio did some celebrating, and for good reason: Serwa’s buck is one incredible whitetail. The big-framed rack sports 19 scoreable points and an inside spread of 18 7/8 inches. The gross green score was 2013/8 inches B&C, which will easily place it among the largest bucks killed in Wisconsin for the 2013 season.
Serwa appreciates every aspect of that special hunt and the buck he was able to tag. But the experience was special because it validated what he appreciates most about deer hunting.
“My whole family has been working hard to improve this hunting property for years,” he said. “To see all that effort –the food plots, the habitat work, the development, marketing, and success of Real Deal mineral—pay off with a huge buck was really meaningful. And the fact that I have a wonderful wife and great kids who all support what I love to do … well, that’s the real trophy for me.”