November 30, 2021
Year-in and year-out, you hear stories of bowhunters who go to incredible lengths to wrap their tag around a big buck they’ve been targeting. Sometimes, however, all it takes is a little bit of intel and a little bit of luck to knock down the buck of a lifetime.
Such is the case with 14-year-old Justin Bergmann of Wisconsin, who last month downed a 200-inch bruiser on his family’s 60-acre property in Pepin County, only minutes from the mighty Mississippi River. While Pepin may not be known as a big buck hotspot, it is located adjacent to one of the most well-known trophy-producing counties in the nation, legendary Buffalo County.
The Bergmanns — both Justin and dad Jeff — first saw the buck in 2020, when it started showing up on their trail cameras that fall.
“I guess it was about 2-years-old (then) and it had little kickers off each side,” said Justin. “It was a nice deer, and I probably would have shot it if given that chance. But all we got were nocturnal photos, nothing in the daylight and we never saw him in the stand.”
After that, however, the deer seemed to vanish — at least from trail cameras — until it suddenly showed up in mid-October of this year. In the span of two days, the buck they nicknamed “Stickers” appeared on their Cuddeback Cuddelink cameras three different times.
“We had no signs of him (this year) and we’d completely forgotten about him,” Justin said. “Then he suddenly showed up really late at night in the middle of our property. I freaked out, got all excited and just went out in the treestand (the next afternoon).
On Oct. 16, about 30 minutes before sunset, Stickers showed itself, tormenting Justin for approximately 20 minutes without offering an opportunity for a shot. It was only the fifth time the 14-year-old had been hunting by himself, so he was understandably a bit nervous at the sight of the massive buck that close (A person must be at least 14 to legally hunt without an adult in Wisconsin).
“I was out by myself at the back of our property and it was a really warm day — no wind, completely calm (and) no reason that the deer should have shown up,” Justin recalled. “When I first saw him, he was standing behind by this big, old brush pile that was right in front of me. He slowly worked his way towards me, and all I could see was his rack swinging wildly from side to side as he was feeding.
“I thought for sure he would hit the scrape to my right for a clean 20-yard shot, but he just kept coming directly toward me with the brush pile and tree directly between he and I. He came to that brush and tree and made a scrape, thrashing the tree and vines only 15 yards from me. He then paused, and stood for what seemed an eternity.”
Finally, the deer stepped into an opening where Justin had a clear shot. But, just as Bergmann started to get into position, the buck began trotting away. Realizing it was now or never, Justin fired his Ravin R9, sending the MegaMeat-tipped bolt on its way.
“I shot and he ran about 40 yards and I watched him stumble and I heard him crashing…,” Justin recalled.
After taking a few minutes to compose himself, Justin called his father, who then joined him along with his younger brother and sister, to help with tracking the deer. The bolt had good blood on it, but after searching the area, the crew was only able to find two small drops of blood.
“I’m thinking, ‘Uh-oh, was I hearing things? Was it a good hit?’ So, I was getting quite nervous because this thing was massive,” Justin said.
Without a blood trail to follow, they started walking in the direction the deer had travelled after the hit.
“I knew he was down and I swear I could see him, but my dad is getting old,” said Justin jokingly, referring to the fact that Jeff insisted they keep walking and looking for blood.
Finally, Justin exclaimed, “Dad, he’s right there!” as he spotted the big buck wrapped around a big deadfall and stump only 40 yards from the treestand. Justin says that when he grabbed the deer’s antlers, he was in shock at the size of the rack. The buck sported 15 points, including a 5 4/8-inch kicker on its left side, and had a 21-inch-plus inside spread.
“We didn’t know he had 15 points,” Justin said. “I just could not believe it. The thing’s like two times the size of the deer’s head.”
Jeff credits his son’s dedication to scent control as one of the primary reasons he was able to seal the deal on Stickers.
“Justin is probably the most religious user of Ozonics in the family,” he said. “With six boys and only 60 acres, we can push deer off of the property pretty quickly, so he is always making sure everyone uses Ozonics to and from the stand and while in the stand. He credits Ozonics with part of the success, as the buck was within 30 yards for 20 minutes before he could get a good shot.”
The proud dad also notes that the thing that stands out to him most about Stickers is the heavy mass of the deer’s rack.
“It looked thin on camera — it didn’t look really heavy at all — so it was a lot heavier in real life than we thought it was going to be,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you, having never seen a 200-inch deer on the hoof, I had no idea it was that big.”
As word of the giant buck spread, interest in seeing it grew. Jeff says several friends and neighbors came over to lay their eyes on the deer, and one offered to rough score it, estimating the buck’s rack at just over 217 inches.
Justin says the deer will be transformed into a shoulder mount, with the rack officially measured in mid- to late-December following the mandatory, 60-day drying period. Both he and his dad remain in awe that he was fortunate enough to have the deer of a lifetime wander by his stand, especially when you consider it was a day when many hunters wouldn’t even think about going out in the woods.
“We’re just blessed to have taken that animal,” Jeff said. “With limited land, there’s no way we can control the deer herd and we found out afterwards that several neighbors had had him on camera and there were a number of people who were aware of the animal.”
While everyone dreams of taking a 200-inch whitetail, Jeff says hunting, for his family, is as much about the experience and opportunity to spend time outdoors as it is about killing big bucks.
“I would have never in a million years imagined a deer of this size to be on our land, much less have the chance for one of the boys to harvest it,” he said. “I consider myself truly blessed to have been able to pass along a love for hunting to all the kids, and the chance to have one of them take the deer of a lifetime.”
“We were fortunate that Justin just happened to be in the right place at the right time and this amazing deer chose to be on our property at that time. At the end of the day, he still had to make the shot, and after watching the deer for over 20 minutes within 30 yards, I’m not sure I could have kept my cool and made the shot he did — it was perfectly placed!”