IRON RIVER, Wis. — Sherrie Carlson first saw the buck in 2013. Not on the hoof. Only in a trail-camera image.
“He was a 10-pointer then, the same as he is now, just a little smaller,” said Carlson, 51, of Iron River.
In Wisconsin’s bow season, Carlson and her husband, Todd Carlson, always hunt together, side by side in a ground blind.
“He’ll sit with me until I get my deer,” Sherrie said. “Then I sit with him.”
Sherrie shoots a crossbow because she lacks the strength to use a compound bow. She’s been deer hunting only since 2010, when she met Todd. They were married in 2012. She put a buck on the wall in 2012 that green-scored 186. A monster. But she never wanted a buck more, nor pursued one so hard, as the 10-pointer she’d been chasing for three years near Iron River.
In 2014, the 10-pointer they came to know as “Lucky” showed up on the couple’s trail cameras regularly.
“At first, he came during the night, then during the day,” Sherrie said. “He was funny. He’d lie down in front of the trail camera and go to sleep.”
But the buck didn’t present a shot for her that year. She ended up taking a nine-pointer that year. Todd took up the hunt for the 10-pointer and had him within 40 or 50 yards twice.
“He wasn’t comfortable with the shot and let him walk,” Sherrie said.
Fall of 2015
A year later, Sherrie and Todd began looking for the 10-pointer again. They put up cameras where they had seen him in 2014. No luck. They relocated their trail cameras a couple of miles. Sure enough, he started showing up in photos.
“He was very consistent,” Sherrie said. “It was almost like he got used to the scent. He’d walk up to the cameras, stick his tongue out, lie down, take a nap, then come up to the camera again.”
The last day of that bow season, Sherrie was in the woods.
“He came along through the oaks,” she said. “He came around an oak tree, facing me head-on, his front feet low, his butt up in the air. He and I stared at each other for five minutes.”
The buck was within range, but Sherrie didn’t like the shot he was offering.
“There was no way I could place a shot to kill him,” Sherrie said. “I’m not going to risk wounding him. In a split-second, he bounded away.”
She said she had no second thoughts about passing up the shot. But she redoubled her efforts to find the buck again this summer and fall. She used all the resources she could to figure out where he traveled.
Fall of 2016
She and Todd put out cameras in several locations — all on public land.
“I probably have 1,000 pictures of this buck,” Sherrie said. “And those are just the ones I kept.”
She used online resources to study the terrain and try to figure the buck’s likely travel routes.
“I’d go online and study the mapping — GIS and Google — all of those. Where’s he going? I know he’s eating here. Where’s he sleeping? I told Todd, ‘I want a camera here and here and here.’ I was trying to narrow it down,” she said.
Todd is impressed with Sherrie’s attention to detail in her research and on-the-ground scouting.
“In one word, I’d say she’s meticulous,” he said. “When we scout, I see the big picture — food sources and water sources. I see the (deer) runways. But she sees details that I miss. She can pick out a trail where the does have been running bi-directional. She’ll pick out where the bucks are moving better than I do.”
The 10-pointer reappeared on a trail camera during this past summer, right where Sherrie and Todd had last seen him at the end of the 2015 bow season.
“Lo and behold, he was there,” Sherrie said. “I was laughing and giggling like a kid on Christmas morning.”
Lost — and found
Now it was closer to September and the opening of bow-hunting season. The buck vanished. For two, two and a half weeks, he never showed up in front of a camera.
“I was just devastated,” Sherrie said.
She went back to the maps, considered the possibilities. She and Todd moved their cameras almost two miles in a different direction.
“We found him again,” she said.
The season opened. She set up her blind.
“I was determined that one way or the other, I was going to get him,” she said. “I managed to hunt five times. Two times, he didn’t show up. One evening, he approached on the trail of a doe and fawn, but something spooked him.
“His tail went up,” Sherrie said. “He was snorting and wheezing and took off. I was heartbroken. I thought for sure he had caught our scent.”
She and Todd waited two days before returning to the blind. He had shown up on a camera again, at 5:45 p.m. — well within shooting hours.
That evening, the buck came in again, nose on the ground. He stopped.
“Up went his tail and he trotted away,” Sherrie said. “I didn’t see him any more that evening. I was all defeated. I moped around.”
On the afternoon of Oct. 20, she and Todd were back at the blind again, side by side.
“It gets to about half an hour before end of shooting,” Sherrie said. “All of a sudden, I look up and he’s coming up a different trail. Todd’s tapping me on the knee, whispering, ‘It’s him. It’s him.’ ”
Sherrie knew it was him. She put a bolt — the projectile a crossbow shoots — in her crossbow and slipped the safety off.
“At that point, I became super-calm,” she said. “I knew everything was going to come together. I get that feeling every time I’m about to harvest a deer.”
The buck circled around a tree and back to its trail, standing broadside at 20 yards.
“I’m watching him, thinking, ‘OK. This is it,’ ” Sherrie said. “Do I shoot? I know this deer. I know what he does. We’ve played this cat-and-mouse game for three years. Do I really want to end it? I sat there for maybe a minute and a half, deciding what I was going to do.”
Next to her, Todd couldn’t figure out why Sherrie hadn’t released the bolt.
“I can’t say anything,” Todd would say later. “My mind is screaming, ‘Shoot! Shoot!’ ”
Finally, Sherrie released the bolt. The shot was perfect, although the buck bolted away, as is often the case in both bow and rifle hunting.
“She burst into tears,” Todd said. “I wasn’t sure whether she was upset or what. I thought maybe killing this deer broke her heart.”
“Sweetie, here’s your deer”
But the tears were just Sherrie’s emotional release at the culmination of a three-year pursuit. She and Todd waited a short time in the blind, then tracked the buck about 50 yards, where they found it dead. Todd saw it first.
“I said, ‘Sweetie, here’s your deer,’ ” Todd said. “She fell right to the ground, bawlin’. She was awestruck.”
The buck is a beautiful 10-pointer, a buck any hunter would be thankful for. It was roughly scored in the mid-140s, Sherrie said. Mounted, it soon will go on the wall at the Carlsons’ home, dwarfed by the big one Sherrie took in 2012.
“That one doesn’t mean near as much to me as this one,” Sherrie said. “The score is not a big deal to me. It was more about the hunt, pursuing this deer, proving to myself that I had the ability to find him.”