13 was a lucky number for Sawyer Ebner

13 was a lucky number for Sawyer Ebner­—Sawyer Ebner and his father Travis, of Cameron, had 12 encounters over a two year time period with “Moose”, a 185-inch trophy buck before the 13th encounter finally allowed the 13-year old to harvest the massive, palmated 16-point buck on Nov. 23. The father-son duo had thousands of trail camera photos and run-ins with the Barron County buck but persistence by the two gave Sawyer an opportunity to take a buck of a lifetime during Wisconsin’s annual nine-day gun deer hunt. Photo courtesy of Christine Ebner

Some things are just meant to be.

A two-year roller coaster ride of physical exertion—literal blood, sweat and tears—along with sleepless nights filled with mental anguish came to an end last week for one the most determined and passionate 13-year-old deer hunters around.

Cameron resident Sawyer Ebner accomplished an incredible feat during Wisconsin’s annual nine-day gun deer season when he harvested “Moose”, a massive 185-inch, once-in-a-lifetime buck.

Beyond the harvest of the incredible 16-point Barron County buck—which sported a unique set of palmated antlers resembling the antlers of a moose—unfolded a wild quest where Sawyer specifically targeted this buck and had 13 encounters with the amazing animal while hunting with his dad, Travis, during the 2020 and 2021 archery and gun seasons.

Hunting out of a box blind in an area where the two had multiple run-ins with the mature buck, Sawyer finally had the opportunity to seal the deal and cap a two-year goal of harvesting Moose. The buck made the fatal mistake around 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 23, when he gave Sawyer a 207-yard shot with his trusty 30.06 rifle.

“That morning, we decided to try a new spot so Sawyer could shoot a doe. While hunting that morning, my cellular camera snapped a photo of Moose with a doe heading toward the pines. We knew the morning doe hunt was over and we needed to plan for the afternoon hunt and go after that buck,” Travis recalled while telling the unforgettable story.

Later that afternoon, the doe that Moose was tending to came out roughly 50 yards from the blind but was still in the pines.

“As soon as we saw her, I told Sawyer to get his gun up and get ready even though there was only a small window of opportunity to shoot into the pines. Two or three minutes after she walked through, I could see tines between pines and, luckily, Sawyer found him in his scope right away,” Travis explained.

“Even though I couldn’t see the entire deer, I could see his front shoulder in the scope. Dad told me to just put it on his front shoulder, so that’s what I did and I shot,” Sawyer said. “As soon as I shot, he mule kicked and trotted into woods, and we thought he went down there. It just happened so fast. We’d seen him multiple times while in the stand, so I actually didn’t get hyped up too much before the shot.”

However, emotions flooded the teenager and he instantly started crying, as Travis started filming him during the memorable moment.

“As I was filming him sobbing with excitement, we hugged a little and I congratulated him. I remember seeing him messing with his gun a bit. But I didn’t notice he was so excited that he had unloaded his gun and set the gun down,” Travis noted.

Suddenly, Travis looked up from the celebration, and Moose emerged out of the patch of woods.

“It was a real slow walk. I told Sawyer, ‘There he is, shoot him again’ as he was now 50 yards closer than the first shot,” Travis said.

During the excitement of finally shooting Moose, Sawyer had unloaded the gun and set the clip on his dad’s knee.

“Unfortunately, by the time we realized it all, we didn’t get the gun loaded in time, and he disappeared,” Travis said.

“I still had a lot of faith he was going to die in there though,” Sawyer added.

Travis began calling people to get their opinions on what to do next, but reiterated that they knew he was hurt because he mule kicked—often a sign of a fatal shot; although him walking back into pines had Travis and Sawyer confused.

With easily 20 to 30 people waiting in anticipation at the Ebner house, a small group went out to check for blood later in the evening. After Travis’ cousin located some blood heading into the pines, Travis said he shined ahead and could see a rack in pine boughs—the buck only went about 20 yards into pines and approximately 60 yards from where they had last seen him on the hoof.

Sawyer’s shot ended up hitting the buck slightly back and split the liver into two pieces.

When the group called back to the house, a big celebration ensued.

“You could hear everyone yelling and screaming in the background. Then they all came running to the woods breaking branches to come see the buck. “I’m just happy that I finally got to shoot him; I knew I hit him good and knew he would eventually go down. I’ve been dreaming about it since 2019 when we first got pictures of him as a 2 year old,” Sawyer said with a big smile on his face.

“The kid set a personal goal and passed up a lot of bucks kids his age and even adults would rarely ever pass up—there were a lot of good ones he let go. I told others that I can’t make my son shoot something he doesn’t want to shoot,” Travis exclaimed.

It was lucky encounter No. 13 for the Sawyer, but it was the only instance they saw him while gun hunting. They had eight run-ins in the 2021 archery and gun seasons and five last year.

The duo’s first encounter with Moose came in the first week of the 2020 bow season when they had him at 40 yards. From there they had a couple encounters from a distance.

Last year on Nov. 14, Sawyer let an arrow fly at the 3-year-old buck, but he used his 20-yard pin instead of his 30-yard pin and shot an inch or two under heart.

Sawyer was frustrated and heartbroken but was not deterred.

Following the 2020 gun season, the Ebners saw Moose from the road coming home one day and began getting trail camera photos of him to confirm he made it through the season and into the holiday season.

With just a couple weeks left in the archery season, the Ebners had the chance to harvest Moose, but opted to let him walk since he had potential of being a 200-inch class whitetail.

“We were in the blind, and I told him to pass up the 180-inch buck. It’s crazy to tell a 12-year-old to that. We had two encounters late season last year and let him go at 20 yards,” Travis said.

According to Travis, the buck would not shed its antlers until March each year. They even saw him breed a young doe/fawn in March last year. In 2019, Travis found both sheds when Moose was a 2 year old.

Still carrying his antlers on March 9, 2020, Travis noticed from a trail cam picture Moose was still carrying just one side of his antlers. A few days later he had none.

After he combed the woods and found the right side of Moose’s antler, Travis was determined to find the other side, expanding his circle to find the second side.

“I walked 67 miles according to my OnX Hunting app over the course of 17 days to locate the other antler. I worried someone else would kill him this year, and I promised Sawyer last year if he let him live in late season as a 180-inch buck so he could grow one more year, that I’d find his antlers. If someone else shot him, I told Sawyer we would have those sheds mounted, so he could at least say he passed up the Buck. I did it for Sawyer because I took an oath I’d find it for him.”

Sawyer was so dead-set on this buck he not only dreamt of him, he literally slept with Moose’s shed antler.

Sawyer admitted he wanted to harvest Moose with a bow and arrow more than anything, and the father-son combo had five encounters with world-class buck this year.

On Sept. 22, Sawyer was at full draw for a minute and a half but knew he didn’t have the best shot. In the same stand four days later, Moose was “walking down the Yellow Brick Road,” heading right to the tree the Ebner’s were concealed in, according to Travis. But once again, the buck averted death when coyotes 100-yards away began to howl and yip, scaring Moose off.

Two weeks before the nine-day gun season on Nov. 7, the Ebners were positioned in the stand where Sawyer missed him with an arrow the year before. Moose wandered within 45 yards but again outsmarted the two. Travis was able to get him to come back to a snort-wheeze call but the buck again maneuvered away.

They always knew he was hanging tight to their hunting grounds based on cell camera photos, logging thousands of pictures over the years.

“It means a lot to shoot him. I always felt like I deserved to shoot it,” Sawyer noted.

“Hunting the way he did is hard. There’s a lot of time, emotions, sweat, and money put into this. I guarantee he’s hunted harder than any adult when he set out to harvest Moose. I personally haven’t touched my bow in almost three years because I wanted this to be his deal,” Travis said. “I think he learned some valuable lessons. You can’t just walk out in the woods and shoot a buck like that; it’s not going happen every time you go out. I always tell him that you’re not going get one on the couch and that you have to put in the time and effort. It was tough because there were tears after almost every encounter.”

Certainly a buck of that caliber is something Sawyer, Travis, their family and friends will always remember.

“It’s pretty special having a chance at a nearly 200-inch buck in Barron County. It became a family affair for us. His sisters—Addyson and Harper—were always the first ones at the door asking if he shot him. It was a pretty emotional journey,” Travis added. “A lot of naysayers would tell us that we can’t keep passing up the bucks that Sawyer did. We let him go, knowing he was living at our place and confident we’d have chances at him.”

Sawyer understands it could easily be the biggest buck he ever shoots, and stated he won’t be setting the bar necessarily higher in the future, but aspires to harvest more mature bucks especially with his bow.

Now that the final chapter has been written in the Ebner’s quest for Moose, Sawyer plans to enjoy time ice fishing, playing sports and doing pretty much anything he can outdoors.

But then again, he’s likely already dreaming about next year’s target buck.