September 26, 2022
When news breaks about a 200-inch deer being taken by a crossbow hunter in the fabled, big-buck-rich Midwest, the story is often as much about the deer and the storied region as it is about the hunter.
But not in this instance — not in the case of a 200-inch plus bruiser buck from Iowa that fell to a disabled hunter late last week as he hunted in a cornfield blind with Big Buck Down Outfitters.
Last Thursday evening, the amazing tale of an unforgettable hunt began to wrap up, one that is every bit as much about the hunter — 45-year old Kaukauna, Wisc. resident Jeremiah Voigt — as it is about a world class animal or an incredible place to hunt in one of the whitetail world’s best deer camps.
Because while the phrase "walk by faith, not by sight" might be a Biblical truth that many first heard around a Sunday School flannel board or a church youth camp setting, late last week it also proved to be true in the whitetail woods thanks to one of the most amazing deer hunting stories that the 2022 season is destined to produce.
The reason for that is because for Voigt, who has deer hunted since he was five or six years old when his father tied him into a makeshift treestand with a safety rope as they watched the sunrise unfold over the Badger State woods, the idea of walking by faith and not by sight is a daily reality. It's an unexpected way of life in more ways than one.
After a lifetime of work, travel, hunting, and family, Voigt was nearly crushed to death in an unfortunate accident back in 2017 when a work truck came down on him during a parking lot repair effort in Wisconsin. Just hours after he had returned from helping a friend pursue a once-in-a-lifetime desert bighorn sheep with a governor's tag out west, Voigt suddenly ended up in a hospital fighting for his life and facing a new reality going forward.
"I own a concrete company and was on my way up to northern Wisconsin," said Voigt. "The truck had some mechanical problems with the drive shaft and transfer case. It was rattling pretty bad, so I pulled into an O'Reilly's to get some wrenches and go to work on it."
Moments later, a desperate rescue attempt was underway to free the man pinned under a huge truck after it rolled back a bit into a depression as Voigt worked underneath it. In a brief moment, everything changed for the hunter as the weight of the rig settled down onto his body with sudden and brutal force. He was critically injured and most of his facial bones were crushed, along with his lower jaw being broken, an arm busted, both collarbones broken, a vertebrae in his back crushed, all of his ribs broken, and his sternum split.
Voigt would spend several days in a medically induced coma, then weeks spent healing and rehabbing, and it would be a month plus before he would leave the hospital. He's a real miracle man who is lucky to be alive.
But as his body faced all of that trauma, a catastrophic injury, as well as a near-death experience, the biggest effect of all happened in the dark recesses of his body when the blood flow was pinched off and interrupted just long enough to leave Voigt in darkness for the remainder of his life.
After the optical nerves were affected in those first few moments by the loss of blood flow, the family man and dedicated deer hunter was left blind going forward, a new reality that at first appeared to have stolen the window to a world that Voight thoroughly enjoyed living in. This was especially true in the fall — during hunting season — something that was a part of who he was in deep and powerful ways.
"I live in Kaukauna, which is about 20 miles south of Green Bay, which is Packers' country," said Voigt. "But I'm way more of a serious hunter than a football fan because the way I look at it, those autumn months are meant to be spent in the woods and not at a football game. Honestly, I've only been to one Packers game."
But he had been to countless deer stands prior to his accident. And finding himself living in a world that was suddenly dark, it’s understandable that in the early days of his recovery at home back in 2017, he told his spouse Mandy that he was afraid those days of hunting were over with.
"I said to my wife after I got out of the hospital, 'I'm never going to hunt again,'" said Voigt. "She said we'll figure it out. And somehow we did, even though neither one of us knew anything about this world (of hunting while blind). There wasn't a lot out there about blind hunters and how they do something in the woods."
What Jeremiah and Mandy eventually found was a device by BESTSIGHT, an apparatus that attaches to the back of the hunter’s scope sitting atop his Ravin R10 crossbow. While originally designed for night-vision use, the device’s wire connection transmits a daylight image to a five-inch screen that shows where the crosshair’s are aligned on the target downrange.
With Voigt’s crossbow mounted on a tripod and an observer sitting next to him, instructions are quietly whispered like “Up, up, up, right, right, right, over, over, over, Shoot!” And because of that system, the blind crossbow hunter is able to still get into the deer woods and live out the passion that has consumed most of his four-decades plus.
“I’m not one that wants to wound a deer, either a doe or a 200-inch buck,” said Voigt. “If I’m going to pull the trigger or let an arrow fly, that deer deserves to be taken humanely, expire fast, and not go off and suffer. We looked at some other devices early on, but I had ethical concerns. Now, we’ve found a system that really works and one that I feel comfortable going out and using.”
In the fall of 2018, Voigt took to the woods to make sure that he could do this with the new system in place. After a lot of practice that summer, he made a good shot on a “…little basket six-pointer that might have scored 30 inches,” just to prove that he could still get it done. Then during the COVID-19 season of 2020, he shot a 135-inch 9-pointer — a mainframe eight with a kicker that left him all smiles.
Last year, Jeremiah didn’t get a deer, but Mandy did while hunting with Big Buck Down Outfitters (641-919-7845) in the legendary big whitetail country near Stockport, Iowa. And when that happened, it set the wheels in motion for Jeremiah to take the biggest buck of his life a year later.
“Reed, one of the owners of Big Buck Down Outfitters, alerted me to the early-season disabled hunter opportunity in Iowa,” said Voigt. “It’s just like the state’s other non-resident draw process. I got the paperwork, my doctor filled it out, and it was sent in to the DNR.”
When the tag drawing results came out earlier this year, Voigt found out that he had drawn and contacted BBD Outfitters and scheduled a hunt.
“I’ve known Jeremiah for four or five years now,” said Corbin Millard, one of the outfitting company’s owners and operators. “He’s always been blind since I’ve known him, and he’s a great guy to hang around with. He had a friend down the road, they stopped off at the house one day and we talked. We hit it off."
“And his wife Mandy hunted with us last year and she killed a great 158-inch buck during the gun season,” Millard added. “When Jeremiah put in for this tag this year, I knew there was a pretty good chance that he’d get it because I think it’s like an 80- or 90-percent draw the first year. And with a point, I think it’s pretty much 100 percent.”
What was not 100 percent this year was the weather. And when it turned unusually hot and dry in July and August, Millard was concerned a bit as the September hunt for Jeremiah drew closer.
“It was so dry, I think we had a half-inch of rain or less during the late summer,” said Millard.
But then everyone caught a break, almost as if this big buck down tale was divinely inspired and meant to be.
“We never had this buck on camera, we never had any pictures of this buck in velvet,” said Millard. “Close to the start of the season, it was so dry that the farmer picked the corn, and all of a sudden, this huge buck is there almost as soon as it gets picked.”
Trying to come up with a good game plan in the face of the unusually hot weather, Millard called Voigt and told him about the buck, soon texting photos of the giant whitetail to his wife Mandy.
But the weather still wasn’t cooperating as the Sept. 17-Oct. 2 disabled hunting season began.
“It looked so blistering hot to begin the youth and disabled hunter season that I called Jeremiah and said, ‘Let’s not come at the beginning of the season since it’s going to be so warm,” said Millard. “I said let’s have you on standby and we’ll get you in here as soon as we get a break in the weather.”
But heat or no heat, the corn getting picked early proved to be a blessing as the buck started showing up to chow down. While Millard says most early-season big bucks get killed on a greenfield food pattern, this buck had a taste for the golden kernels littering the ground unexpectedly early.
As the deer kept coming into feed during the waning evening light leading up to the season’s start, Millard changed his mind, phoned Voigt, and said he thought he was on a reliable enough pattern that the Wisconsin hunter needed to head south in an effort to take this huge buck down.
Arriving on the first Saturday of the season, Voigt and his wife settled into their room, changed into their lightweight Optifade Subalpine Sitka Gear clothing, and headed for the blind tucked back into some leftover corn.
“I had the farmer leave a couple of acres of standing corn for a food plot for my late-season hunters,” said Millard. “We put a Double Bull style blind back in this corn, set it about 30 yards from the edge of the field, and had a buffer zone of picked corn between it and the edge of the woods.”
The blind was well hidden and Voigt noted that Mandy didn’t even spot it when they first arrived. That first evening, through the blind window opening up to a shooting lane into the field, the deer were so close that Voigt could hear them munching and snorting as they gobbled up the spent kernels on the ground.
But despite the anticipation and excitement, that first evening — and the next several after that — came and went with some doe and fawn activity, and the occasional small buck visiting before sundown. But the whopper whitetail that had everyone’s attention never showed.
But then came a change on the weather map, a break that set everything in motion. After a high in the mid-90s on Tuesday, a wind shift brought the temperatures down a bit on Wednesday and promised even more relief on Thursday.
And when Millard got sight of the buck while driving on a nearby road, spirits were suddenly soaring and the wheels were set in motion for a climatic ending on Thursday evening. It’s worth noting here that with one exception earlier in the week, Voigt and his guide Brendon Hastings were only hunting this big buck on an evening food pattern.
On Thursday evening, Sept. 22, 2022, Voigt was dutifully in the cornfield blind again, listening to the description of does and small bucks coming. But after several days of wondering where the buck was in the Iowa deer woods, everything changed in an instant when Hastings excitedly whispered that the buck was moving into the field.
“Brendon said ‘Oh, my gosh, here he comes!’,” recalled Voigt. “It was hard for me to know where he was coming from since I obviously didn’t know what the scenery looked like, I just knew he was coming in from my right.
“I was definitely a bit nervous,” he added. “I’ve deer hunted for a long time and it was hard trying to keep my composure. I’m going off everyone else’s description of the buck and I’m assuming that Brendon was probably more nervous than I was at this point, because he could actually see it. If he was nervous, he held his composure really well.”
Like a coach instructing his player calmly in a tense final moment of a big game, Hastings whispered his instructions quietly on the still evening. When the buck closed to within 20 yards, Voigt steadied himself, touched the trigger on the Ravin crossbow, and sent the bolt and Rage Broadheads combination downrange.
For just a moment after the arrow struck, there was a bit of nervous uncertainty in Voigt’s mind.
“Once I shot, it got really quiet for a second, and then Brendon said, ‘You nailed it, you nailed it!’ Then a second or two later, he said ‘He’s down, he’s down!’”
When that “Big Buck Down!” pronouncement came, the energy that was pent up in the still hunting blind erupted into a celebration of hugging and excitement, a hunter and those who love him celebrating a deer hunting moment when an act of faith became an on-the-ground reality.
A few minutes later, Millard was there, filming the recovery of a buck that traveled less than 50 yards before expiring.
“They made sure it was expired, then brought me over to it,” recalled Voigt. “I put my hands on its horns, started feeling them and checking it out. They were telling me before I shot it that it was a 180-class deer. But when I got my hands on it, I said ‘This is 180 all day long, it’s bigger than y’all were telling me!’”
Later that evening, Millard’s measuring tape confirmed that the deer was bigger, gross scoring around 200 inches. While the final taping after a 60-day drying period may or may not find the deer with a net score big enough to land in the legendary Boone and Crockett Club record book (which has a net-entry score minimum of 195 inches for non-typicals), Voigt doesn’t care.
“That’s the biggest deer of my life,” he said. “And to do it totally blind, that’s an even bigger feat.”
But it also is even bigger than all of that, since what could prove to be the most inspirational hunting story of the fall season can offer encouragement to many others out there who are facing discouraging circumstances that threaten to curtail or even end their time in the woods.
“Before my accident, I wasn’t much of a church going guy and I wasn’t talking about believing in God too much,” said Voigt. “But shortly after I woke up (from his induced coma), I told my wife, we’re going to start going to church. We did, and I got baptized at 41 and one of my daughter’s got baptized. I’m not perfect, but God plays a bigger role in my life now.”
Voigt’s attitude is as amazing as his story is. While some might find themselves mired in despair and depression after such a life-changing accident, the Wisconsin bowhunter won’t allow that to happen.
“We all have challenges for unknown reasons,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we can become better people for those challenges, so I guess what I’m saying is don’t ever give up.”
And when he’s down on occasion, he reflects on the words that Mandy has told him numerous times since his accident.
“My wife says when I’m down, remember Jeremiah, you’ve got to live by faith and not by sight.”
And last week in the Iowa deer woods, Jeremiah Voigt did just that — downing a huge buck in a hunting story that certainly won’t be forgotten anytime soon.