The freak shot and the freak deer incidents didn’t happen the same year. The shot came first.
The year was 1942 when Lawrence Becker of Madison, Wisconsin, made what he called a “freak shot” on a huge 10-point buck. The arrow was one of the “mistakes” which we’ve all been guilty of from time to time–the result of either a bad release, a limb hitting some unseen brush, or just a simple case of buck fever that makes a smooth, practiced form go all “hurky-jerky”.
Whatever the cause, Becker must have watched with a bad feeling in his stomach as the errant shaft streaked towards its intended target–a good three feet from where it was aimed.
But luck was with him that day. Instead of a complete miss or a gut shot, the arrow hit the animal’s left hind leg three inches above the knee where it just managed to nick an artery. After following an ample blood trail over a relatively short distance, the big whitetail was recovered where it had bled out. It was a dandy, too, which dressed out at 219 pounds.
In spite of the notoriety of tagging a deer–something that was still quite uncommon among archers at that point–it was a big buck, one that any hunter could brag about. But this success story was tempered by the circumstances. It was hardly the shot that bowhunters want to make, and drew a lot of wisecracks, (like “That was a freak shot” and “You were lucky”) from his pals.
The following season Lawrence was determined to do better. Bagging a bigger buck would be hard to do, but at least he’d shoot this one properly–skewer it right in the lungs where he was aiming, and show his buddies that he could shoot straight after all.
But as it turned out, instead of making another freak shot this time around, he shot a freak buck.
Becker and his wife were coming back from an unsuccessful hunt in central Wisconsin near the town of Poynette. The day was rainy and miserable; they’d seen very little game that morning, and decided to head home. But as they passed a high, barren hill, our ever optimistic hunter spotted what appeared to be a big lone buck, and he said to his wife: “…I’m going to try for that baby.”
He took two arrows and his 65 pound Osage bow and started up the hill after the large animal–a distance of about a quarter of a mile.
“Walking very carefully” he recounted, “…I neared the peak of the hill but my prey had disappeared. I looked around and spied the deer about two hundred yards distant, standing under some small trees in a very sparsely planted wood. There were also a few clumps of scrub oak surrounding him, and after lining up with one of these clumps, I started to crawl Indian fashion across the vacant field.”
He was sopping wet and covered with mud when he finally reached the cover of some berry bushes. The buck was only thirty yards away, but that wasn’t close enough for Becker. This is contrary to common practice at this point in the evolution of bowhunting when shots from sixty yards or more were not considered excessive. He had his reasons, however.
“Since the distance was too far for a sure shot and with my determination to make a perfect hit so that I wouldn’t have to run the gamut of jeers I heard last year, I very cautiously moved on to another clump of bushes flat on my belly to within eighteen yards of the deer.”
As he crawled into position he cleared away all twigs on the ground and other litter with the purpose of creating a place to set his knees silently when he was ready to shoot.
“Rising slowly, I reached my shooting position and as I slowly drew my bow, many thoughts flashed through my mind, such as ‘Do this right’. Without much pausing on my part, suddenly the bow string twanged and the arrow hit the deer with a thud, entering the left flank toward the center of the chest cavity, penetrating twenty inches.”
The stricken buck shot up in the air “as if he were on springs”, and dashed towards the hunter. About six yards from Becker it stopped and looked around.
“I could very easily have taken another shot” Becker commented, “but I could see that the way he was hit he couldn’t travel far.”
Sure enough, the animal walked off only a short distance before dying. When Becker walked over and took a good look at it, however, the archer wondered exactly what he had shot.
“He had a moose horn with seven points on one side, a billy- goat horn on the other with three points, a body like a barrel, very short legs, a cow’s neck, goat’s whiskers and feet three times the size of a normal deer.”
An unusual deer, indeed, and something that piqued my curiosity enough to contact Adam Murkowski, a deer biologist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. His explanation for the freak deer was as follows:
“My initial impression of the deer would be that it is an older deer which has sustained some type of physical injury. Age, field dressed weight, antler mass and hoof size are well correlated. Thus, a large bodied deer would be expected to have heavier antlers and hooves. Moreover, the deer was likely harvested in the fall when a male deer’s neck can greatly increase in size. Antler palmation and formation in general has a strong genetic component. Thus, the shape of the antlers is likely due to some genetic influence; however, the ‘odd’ shape if you will is likely due to the injury. Deer generally have abnormally shaped antlers on the side of the animal opposite of where the injury occurred. The downward growth of the left antler may also be due as a direct result of the injury.”
So instead of the result of some kind of outlandish (not to mention impossible) breeding between a moose to a billygoat, there was a logical explanation to the “freak” after all. Still, a deer like this would have brought about some “What the heck is it?” remarks from a lot of folks and enhanced Becker’s reputation for unusual hunts.
Upon reading the account, one is also struck by the tenacity of the hunter. How many of us today — even the most devoted traditionalist – would have embarked on a quarter mile stalk in the rain which culminated in slithering a hundred yards through the mud on a day when most of us would much more likely be home cresting arrows?
Perhaps a better title for the account should have been “An Unusual Deer Taken By An Unusually Dedicated Hunter.”