By Matt Kane
DELANO After an incident in which he had to climb through the roof of his vehicle to avoid sinking to the bottom of the lake with that vehicle, Delano’s Todd Bullock has not been a big fan of driving his vehicle on the lake when he goes ice fishing.
He prefers to walk out onto the lake or use an ATV to pull his portable fishhouse.
This winter, Bullock has the option of using a brand new Polaris Sportsman 50 HO ATV to pull any equipment out onto a lake, thanks to his lucky shot with his rife this past fall during deer hunting season.
The new ATV was the first-place prize Bullock won for harvesting a prize buck in the Minnesota Big Buck Challenge. Bullock won the under-200 pounds division, thanks to the 10-point buck that weighed 199.88 pounds.
“When I got that buck, I couldn’t believe it. I was ecstatic because it was around my dad’s birthday, and he is who introduced me to this,” said Bullock.
Bullock shot the buck on the second day of gun season, Nov. 9, about 10 miles from the cabin he recently built in Cook County, which is the arrowhead of Minnesota.
He field dressed it, dragged it out of the thick woods with the help of his daughter, Megan, and didn’t think much of it for a couple of days. That following Tuesday, Nov. 12, Bullock decided to get the deer weighed at the nearest scale in Grand Marais.
“They put it on the scale and said ‘199.4.’ I thought to myself, ‘For the Big Buck Challenge, I might be a contestant for the under-200,’” Bullock recalled.
The Grand Marais scale was not an official weighing station for the Big Buck Challenge. To enter his deer in the contest, Bullock had to drive three hours to Virginia.
“They weighed the deer up and said, ‘You might have a lucky deer here.’ I looked at the screen and it was at 199.88, and it zeroed in,” said Bullock.
His deer was the new leader, but there were still five days remaining in the contest. Bullock didn’t pay much attention to the leaderboard, which was updated online daily, but his friends did.
“Someone told me, ‘They just put one up that was 199.99 . . . but that was last year’s winner,” Bullock said of his ribbing friends.
When the final day of the contest arrived, Nov. 17, no other deer snuck in between the 199.88 pounds of Bullock’s buck and the max weight of 199.99 pounds. He got the call form a Big Buck Challenge official Nov. 22, telling him he won first place in the under-200 division. The second-place buck weighed 199.82 pounds.
Winning the contest and the ATV was a thrill, but, for Bullock, the circumstances surrounding the harvest of the prize buck seems to mean more than any physical prize.
Those circumstances included the recent completion of the family cabin, the timing of the hunt being close to his late father’s birthday, and a text message he sent to his wife, Cara, who was at the cabin, and the rest of his hunting party not long before he shot the 10-point buck.
“I got down out of my stand that Sunday afternoon to look around and saw some big tracks. I took a picture on my phone and sent it to my wife and the people in our hunting party, and said, ‘I have a sign that there is a big deer in this area, and I am going to stay here all day, and I feel kind of lucky,’” he said of the text he sent. “Two hours later, I got that buck.”
It took some work to get the buck in range.
“I found an area, put the stand in the tree, got up in it, and at 2 p.m. this buck comes by. I got it with one shot,” he said, then explaining the situation further. “It started to go into the cedar swamp but I was able to grunt it and coax it out to about 40 yards right in front of my tree. I drilled him right between the shoulder blades, and he dropped.”
The deer dropped, and Bullock climbed down 6 feet from the tree stand he was in. When he talks about the hunt and harvest of the ATV-winning buck, that tree stand gets a lot of mention.
It was built by his father, Robert Bullock, who passed away in 1995, when Bullock was 26 years old.
“It was my dad’s birthday Nov. 9, and I decided to explore a new area and take my dad’s old stand that he had made. I would guess this thing goes back to the early ‘80s,” he explained. “With this thing, you carry it in one arm, put the chain in your pocket, and you have a couple of tree climbers that you screw into the tree. Nobody does that anymore,” Bullock said.
Including Bullock, himself, for a time.
Bullock hadn’t used his dad’s old stand since 1989. He shot a 10-point buck that trip.
“When all the new stands started coming out, we put dad’s stand to rest,” he explained of the decision to use the 20-year-old stand. “I literally got it out as a tribute to dad because it is pretty remote out there. You cannot carry those big ladder stands out there.”
Hunting memories with his dad are at the front of Bullock’s mind, but a newspaper clip from his hunting scrapbook reminded Bullock of the prized buck his dad shot in 1967. It was a 17-point buck that won Robert Bullock a .222 Mag Deluxe rifle. That deer bust currently hangs on the wall at the home of Bullock’s brother, Randy, in Shakopee.
Bullock was raised in the shadow of the Twin Cities in Shakopee, but grew up hunting with his family in the Brainerd area. The obvious respect Bullock shows for hunting and the outdoors was instilled in him by his father, Robert, at an early age. Bullock began hunting at the age of 10, but he did not carry a gun for the first two years.
“Dad put me with a brother just to watch with my eyes. I did not have a gun. At age 12, I completed my gun training course and got to carry a gun. But, then, I had to sit in the stand with my mom,” he explained.
Bullock didn’t see much those first few years with mom.
“I did not see a brown deer until I was age 16. My mom said it was because I slept a lot,” he said. “At age 16 and 17, I went out on my own, but I did not see my first deer until I was 18. On that opening day, I shot two bucks. That’s how it started.”
It started with Bullock’s father and mother passing the hunting tradition on to him, and, now, Bullock is passing it on to his and Cara’s three daughters, Megan, 21, Becca, 17, and Grace, 7, all of whom were up north at the cabin during the prized hunting trip.
It’s working. Bullock and oldest daughter, Megan, have harvested a 10-point buck in five of the past six seasons. Megan got her first deer in 2008. It weighed 232 pounds. She harvested a 10-point buck in each of the next two seasons. Bullock shot a 10-pointer in 2011, and, this past season, he got the prize-winner.
They didn’t harvest a buck in 2012, but that doesn’t mean the Bullocks didn’t see any. They are picky at what they shoot at.
“We try to harvest a mature buck,” he said. “A mature buck will have a neck in rut. It will be a bigger deer with a nicer rack, and is generally 3 years old and older.”
Bullock believes this past year’s prized buck was at least 5 years old.
The deer is currently with the family’s favorite taxidermist, and will eventually join the small wildlife kingdom in the basement of Bullock’s home in Delano.
Until the shoulder mount shows up, the Bullocks can remind themselves of the prize buck by taking a few spins on the ATV, and they can talk about hunting over a meal of venison sausage.
The butchering, processing, and packaging of the deer meat is, of course, an old Bullock family tradition. Just like the harvesting of prized bucks is.