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Minnesota megabuck: Ryan Weibel and his father decided to buy a small parcel of hunting land in Minnesota. It paid off big in a hurry.

When the Wisconsin father-and-son team of Jeff and Ryan Weibel looked over a 45-acre piece of hunting property across the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota, they knew it could have potential. But they had no idea how quickly that potential would become reality.

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The Weibels agreed to buy the property. And before the papers were even signed, they discovered there was something special about this area.

"Hours after making our decision, I received a picture of a buck referred to by locals as 'The Freak,'" Ryan explains. "I knew this buck had to be something special, because the text came from Ben Spanjers, who holds the No. 2 archery non-typical whitetail record in Minnesota."

The Freak had been kept a secret for several years until photos of his shed antlers began to circulate among local hunters in early 2015. The matched set was estimated to score 223 Boone & Crockett. Word was the gigantic buck lived in the sparsely populated bluffs along the Mississippi River.

To understand why this is such a great area for whitetails, you must understand the topography and how it relates to that of surrounding states. Just across the Mississippi to the east is famed Buffalo County, Wisconsin, which has officially produced more B&C bucks than any other county in the world. And just across the state line to the south are Iowa's famous Allamakee and Winneshiek counties, which have consistently produced giants for as long as records have been kept. Southeastern Minnesota offers the same steep bluffs and thick cover, mixed with the fertile soils that support bountiful cropland.

What Minnesota doesn't have is quite the same reputation for producing monster bucks. The culture of deer hunting in Minnesota hasn't created a climate conducive to producing them. Too many young bucks are harvested. The trophy mentality that pervades Iowa and Wisconsin has historically been rare in Minnesota.

But that's changing. Four years ago, for the southeastern corner of the state, the DNR implemented an antler-point restriction to protect bucks with fewer than four points on a side. That change is combining with an increasing awareness that the area can produce big bucks if hunters show a little restraint and let younger ones walk. Thus, the number of giants coming out of southeastern Minnesota has been steadily growing.

So when Ryan discovered a huge one lived in the area of this new parcel, he obtained permission to hunt the property even before it had officially changed hands. And so began the young hunter's dedicated search for The Freak.

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"I quickly relocated all our cameras from our Wisconsin property to Minnesota with the single goal of capturing a photo of him, just to prove that he was still in the area," Ryan explains. "I looked for the prime locations to set up my five trail cameras. I found a great scrape in one area and deer trails through another.

"After a week, I went back to the Minnesota land and had captured a blurry photo. The deer in the photo looked like him; it had brow times like him, and it appeared to be a 200-inch deer. The quality was so coarse-grained, though, that I was unable to positively identify him as The Freak. But even if it wasn't The Freak, it was still going to be a deer of a lifetime, and I had work to do," the hunter notes.

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Ryan was disappointed when he got no more photos of the buck before gun season started on Nov. 7. But having chosen a likely spot for his tree stand, he anxiously climbed in for the morning vigil.

"Opening morning came and passed with little action," he recalls. "In fact, the valley was quiet--almost too quiet.

"Determined that my inexperience with the land had led me to place my stand poorly, I set out to check all my cameras and locate a new afternoon spot. As I came upon a ridge top where I had placed a camera, I quickly discovered several large scrapes. Little did I know I was about to find several pictures of The Freak. Back at deer camp, we gawked over the pictures, which were only three days old."

With these new photos and a clear view of the giant buck in his mind, Ryan changed locations for the afternoon hunt. He climbed back up that ridge and sat down on a stump about 60 yards from the scrapes.

A few hours passed with no activity. Then, suddenly, Ryan heard something crash behind him. Shortly thereafter, he learned the nature of the sound as his neighbor came tracking a doe he'd shot; the deer had fallen not far from where Ryan was quietly watching. He helped his neighbor drag the deer over the property line, all the while thinking his evening hunt was over; only 30 minutes of legal shooting light remained. But the neighbor returned the favor with a piece of advice that would change Ryan's hunting career forever.

"The neighbor suggested I walk out to the point of the ridge that overlooks a valley dense with foliage," Ryan recalls. "Being that it was nearing the end of the day, I decided to take his advice and travel down an old, overgrown logging road.

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"Nearing the end of the road, I had all but given up on the idea that there were any deer bedding on the point. It was time to call it a day. But as I stood there looking over the valley, I heard something close to me. I peered up onto the point above me and there he was, standing at 40 yards. He was in brush so thick it was hard to find an opening good enough to take a shot."

The deer stood like a statue for at least two minutes while Ryan frantically tried to find an opening large enough to slip a shotgun slug through. Finally the buck took a step, and Ryan was able to thread the needle.

"This shot was as difficult as a 40-yard shot could possibly be," he relates. "The buck dropped in his tracks, but got back up and stumbled down the hill, through the ravine and up onto the adjacent hillside."

Ryan found some blood. But trailing was tough as it became dark, so he went back to camp. A decision was made to take up the trail again the next morning.

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"I went home and continued to play it over and over in my head," the hunter remembers. "The Freak was said to had been shot with a bow and survived; would he live through the night to mock another hunter? When the morning came, would he be long gone? I didn't sleep."

To make matters worse, the rest of the group had Ryan wait until after the morning hunt so they could all go look for the deer together.

"I arrived early the next morning with my father, but I was about to face the longest three hours of my life," Ryan says. "Everyone had agreed to sit until 8:00 and then continue tracking. I paced, pondered and questioned every possible situation. On top of that, I could see the blood trail had grown sparse. I started to feel discouraged."

But that discouragement would be short-lived. Not long after the hunters had split up to search, Ryan got the news he'd been hoping for.

"I heard my dad shout, 'He's over here!'" Ryan says. "The enthusiasm in his voice could have been heard down the valley and into the small towns nearby."

After the 60-day drying period, Curt Rotering officially scored the rack at 233 0/8 net inches. The gross typical score is 175 2/8. The 24 non-typical points total 66 2/8 inches. At first glance, the long, bladed brow tines are sure to command your attention. The overall spread of 24 5/8 is also impressive, as is the mass throughout.

Although Ryan had accompanied his father on other Minnesota hunts, this was the first time the younger man had a tag in his own pocket. Some people might think his perspective on deer hunting now has been ruined by taking a buck like this, but Ryan doesn't feel that way at all.

"This has only fueled my hunting fire even more," he vows.

BY BERNIE BARRINGER
RYAN WEIBEL BUCK

Scorable points                             33(16R, 17L)
Tip-to-tip spread7                           7/8
Greatest spread                             24 5/8
Inside spread                               18 2/8


Areas Measured    Right    Lett   Difference

Main Beam         24 4/8  23 3/8     1 1/8
1st point (G-1)    9 7/8  10 2/8     3/8
2nd point (G-2)   11 0/8  11 0/8     --
3rd point (G-3)    8 6/8   9 0/8     2/8
4th point (G-4)       --   3 7/8     3 7/8
5th point (G-5)       --   1 3/8     1 3/8
1st cire. (H-1)    6 5/8   6 5/8     --
2nd circ. (H-2)    5 5/8   5 4/8     1/8
3rd cire. (H-3)    5 4/8   6 3/8     7/8
4th cire. (H-4)    3 5/8   4 1/8     4/8
Totals            75 4/8  81 4/8     8 4/8

Gross typical score                        175 2/8
Subtract side-to-side differences          - 8 4/8
Add abnormal points                       + 66 2/8
FINAL NET NON-TYPICAL SCORE                233 0/8

This monster from Houston County, Minnesota, was
taken with a slug late on the afternoon of Nov. 7, 2015.
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Author:Barringer, Bernie
Publication:North American Whitetail
Geographic Code:1U3WI
Date:Sep 1, 2016
Words:1582
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