Lovstuen Buck Part II
The Rest of the Story
By Bill Winke
To Read Part I, Click Here
case you missed the news flashes and emails last fall, 15-year-old Tony Lovstuen
shot a buck on Sept. 29 that received an official net non-typical Boone and
Crockett entry score of 319 4/8 inches. If upheld in panel scoring in 2004, the
buck will be the largest ever shot by a hunter. First, a quick summary of the
events of the hunt that led up to the harvest of this great
Steve Angran discovered the buck’s existence when he found a pair of huge sheds from the deer in the spring of 2001. The deer would have scored an estimated 290 gross inches during the fall of 2000. Eventually, his cousins, Doug Lovstuen and Mark Murphy, who also hunt the family farm, found out about the deer and all three of them began hunting the deer. That fall Steve had a close encounter with the buck during the bow season but couldn’t get a shot. The deer was likely a 285- to 300-inch gross scoring buck in the fall of 2001. Doug wounded the deer during the December 2001 firearms deer season and spent several weeks looking for him.
The next year, 2002, the deer grew a much smaller rack than he had the prior two years and then halfway through the summer the right main beam turned black and fell off. The hunters had to decide whether to hunt the deer that year or wait until the next year. They decided to wait, but it was not a unanimous decision. Thankfully, the buck made it through anyway.
hunters worked hard following the 2002 season to pattern the buck better and
used six trail cameras in various parts of the buck’s range to learn his
habits. The work paid off when Tony Lovstuen, Doug’s 15-year-old son, took the
The Bad Rack
What happened to the buck’s antlers in 2002 is an intriguing subject for most deer people. The buck started out the year growing a much more typical (and smaller) rack than he had grown in the past and then midway through the summer the right antler appeared to die. I wasn’t aware that this actually happens, but I’ve since learned that it is fairly common in nature.
The velvet turned black and pealed off prematurely. Based on trail camera photos of the buck, the right antler appeared porous almost like foam. Prior to the fall, as the left side was still filling out inside its velvet skin, the dead rack began crumbling. First, the end of the main beam disappeared and then the points until only a portion of the dead beam remained. Presumably, when the buck began rubbing in September, he dislodged that remaining piece.
This event produced a mental conflict and posed an important decision for the hunters who had been pursuing this buck for more than a year. Should they continue to hunt the deer or let him go?
“2002 was the year Mark Murphy started hunting the buck hard, too,” said Doug Lovstuen. “He’s the one that spent the most time in 2002 photographing and patterning the deer. He got the entire antler development from that year on his trail cameras.
“As soon as we realized the right antler was dead and wasn’t going to develop, I started calling people to see if they thought the buck would grow a normal one again the next year. I wanted to know if I caused the bad antler from the gunshot wound I made to the buck’s right side in 2001 (as seen from Steve Angran’s trail camera photos, Doug’s hit was actually a flesh wound that had almost no visible effect on the buck). Half of those I spoke with thought it would grow back normally the next year and half thought it wouldn’t. It left us in a tough spot.”
“We still don’t know exactly what killed the antler,” added Doug. “Some of the experts said they didn’t believe the rack would have even grown to begin with if the problem was caused by the gunshot wound.”
Rather than speculate on what might have happened to the buck’s antlers in 2002, I asked a noted deer expert for his thoughts on the injury.
“This is fairly common among big-antlered deer,” he said. “The buck hit something solid and broke the antler off while it was still in velvet. When that happens, the blood supply is cut off and the antler slowly dies. The velvet turns black and peals off sooner than it would if the antler was still healthy.
“This could not be attributed to the flesh wound that the buck sustained during the 2001 shotgun season,” he added. “It takes a very traumatic injury to result in antler deformation the following year. For example, a buck would have to break his leg or suffer a similarly traumatic injury.”
After discussing the pros and cons of passing on the buck, Doug and Steve decided they would let him go during the 2002 season. But, they weren’t so sure about Mark. Mark said he wouldn’t shoot it, but Doug and Steve weren’t sure that when the rubber met the road, Mark would actually hold off on the trigger. So rather than hope for the best, Doug and Steve actually made an effort to keep the buck away from Mark’s stands during the 2002 season.
Ultimately, the deer never approached Mark’s stands and eventually made it safely through the entire 2002 season unscathed. Doug and Steve breathed a sigh of relief. It is just one more chapter in an amazing story about the most documented wild, world-class deer to ever walk the earth.
Using Trail Cameras to Pattern the Buck
Another amazing aspect of this hunt is the overwhelming number of photos the three men were able to get with their trail cameras. They have literally hundreds of shots of the buck. I’ve written about a lot of big deer through the years, but never has one been documented or followed like this one not even close.
The cousins have a huge library of images taken of the buck over corn piles, but that didn’t necessarily help them to hunt the buck. Just because they could pull him to a certain spot to feed didn’t mean they knew the buck’s patterns. What would happen when they stopped baiting him leading up to the season? To learn that, they would need to remove the bait and start trying to catch the buck’s natural movements.
“We were getting pretty close to patterning him in 2002,” Doug said. “We could find him by camera almost any time we wanted.”
“We left him alone more that year,” Steve added. “As we got to know his area and where he lived we pretty much left him untouched. He was spending most of his time in a side hill draw with CRP on both sides. There were just two draws and two little hills where he liked to live.”
“By the end of 2002, we pretty well knew these locations,” said Doug. “I could have taken you to either one of those two draws and we’d push him out of one or the other almost any day. The buck wasn’t hunted hard that year. He didn’t seem to travel far, so we were really starting to nail his pattern down. We left him alone as much as we could.
“His range shrunk more and more each year that we hunted him,” agreed Steve. “The first year I hunted him he was ranging pretty wide, but then it got smaller and smaller.”
“I’m not sure if it was because he got older and changed or if it was the hunting pressure on the other farms,” Doug said. “Because as everyone started coming in all around us trying to get a crack at the deer, we started backing out. We checked cameras at the same time every day. That was the only pressure he had except when we were hunting, and even then we were very careful how we went in and where we hunted. I don’t think he intended to stay close to one spot. I think people forced him to use a smaller range.
“We had to stop baiting because we weren’t patterning the deer. Instead, we were bringing him to us. That wasn’t teaching us anything about where he traveled. Instead, we started to put our cameras on trails. Sometimes we would just drive a fence post in the ground in an open field and slap a camera on it. We were starting to catch him on trails in the summer of 2002, but it was spotty then. We got a lot better at it in 2003. We used our cameras better and learned which trails he liked and when.”
Patterning by tracks: During the winter of 2002, Mark used a combination of trail camera photos and tracks in the snow to pinpoint the buck’s home range. During this time, Mark was checking the cameras daily and taking the film to a one-hour photo developer a half-hour away to see what he had. Whenever the buck showed up in the photos from the night before, Mark would find out early the next day. After developing the film, he would go back and start tracking the buck in the snow.
As hunters, we often try to track deer to learn their patterns but we never know for sure which deer we are following. Mark removed that doubt by tying the trail camera photos into the process. He knew he was following the big buck’s tracks and soon he had a very good idea where the buck was bedding most of the time. He used this knowledge to help him refine his camera locations during the spring and summer of 2003 in order to get photos of the deer without the use of bait.
This incredible level of intimacy with the deer permitted Mark to make a very close prediction of where the men should attempt to hunt the deer during the fall of 2003.
I’ll pick up the story in August of 2003 and explain how Mark used this information to determine the best place to set up.
Setting up the shot: By mid-summer, Mark changed his entire work schedule so he would have time each day to check his cameras and take the film in for developing. Later, he switched to digital cameras on some of his checkpoints so he could cut out the daily trips to the one-hour photo lab. It was with great anticipation that he checked the cameras each day. He had developed a bond with the deer.
“We knew where he was bedding and where he was feeding but we didn’t know which trails he was using,” Mark admits. “We put three or four cameras out in an effort to find these trails. We worked backwards from the Imperial Whitetail Clover food plot. From the way he was coming in and out of the field, he had to be using a certain trail; yet that trail didn’t lead to his bedding area.
“The buck wasn’t coming from the same direction we expected, and we began to wonder if he had changed bedding areas. We knew where he usually bedded so we had to go up there to find out. We set up a camera near that spot and we started getting him again. We didn’t want to disturb him or pressure him, but we wanted to know how he was leaving his bed and what trails he was using. We figured that out. That’s when I realized he wasn’t coming in straight from the bedding area; he was making a sort of a loop to get to the food plot.
“We didn’t have much rain during the summer of 2003 so the one place we knew we could find him was at water, a stock pond on the farm. The cameras showed that he was heading that way every afternoon during the late summer. The creek that ran through the bottom by the food plots and eventually emptied into the pond was bone dry. But there was water in the pond. There is no doubt in my mind that the buck was going to the pond almost every day. He cut down the ridge from his bedding area, across that creek bottom and then up the other side and into a small CRP field before following the creek bottom toward the pond.
“I had a camera set up on the edge of that small field,” Mark added, to prove his theory. “I got a few photos of him as he stopped just after stepping out onto the field.
“One day we got a bad scare. We found a dead deer near the pond and called the local game warden. The deer had a bullet hole in its back so we figured someone was poaching around that pond. We knew the big buck was going to the pond and for a time we didn’t get a single picture of him. It was about a week. That’s about the time he would have been shedding velvet. We thought that if someone had shot a small buck and left it, then maybe they had shot the big buck and took him. We were freaking out because we didn’t get any photos for a week.”
Finally, after he had shed his velvet, he started showing up again. Everyone was relieved. In August, the CRP came available for baling because of the drought. Doug and Mark were trying to talk to everyone using the farm trying to get them to come in and out the same way at the same time. Steve cut the hay in the CRP fields, and he was in there baling until dark. That minor disturbance seemed to be all it took to put the buck off his normal pattern. He turned nocturnal and stayed that way until the end of September until just a few days before Tony shot the deer.
In fact, the trail cameras even played a role in the final success of the hunt. Tony hunted the buck several evenings near the small CRP field the buck was crossing but didn’t see the deer. For several days just before the end of September, Tony didn’t hunt. It was during this time that Mark finally got a photo showing that the buck was again on a daylight pattern. Immediately after getting the film back from the one-hour developer, he called Doug and told him that Tony needed to hunt that evening before the buck became nocturnal again.
As it turned out, Mark called the day perfectly. Just before sunset, the giant non-typical stepped from the cover and caused an incredible commotion in a ground blind 75 yards away. That’s where Doug, Mark and Tony were waiting. The rest is history.
Few people have any idea of the amount of scouting and planning that went into the harvest of this great buck. The three cousins and Tony deserve a lot of credit and respect for their dedication to hunting this buck and for staying the course until the end.
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