Editor’s note: The below story, written by the late Barron News-Shield editor Mike Strandlund, appeared in the Wednesday, Sept. 19, 1984, edition of the News-Shield.
Jim Kittleson, grandson of Walter Kittleson, noted that the record buck almost went down as an epic hunting mishap. Walter test-fired his gun at lunchtime, only to find it wasn’t in working order. Luckily, his uncle decided to stay home that afternoon and offered his gun to Walter. What followed is hunting lore:
Imagine, if you will, a northern Wisconsin deer hunt, circa 1920.
Deer have all but disappeared from the southern two-thirds of the state, so this teen-aged Barron County farmer has hopped a train to Seeley, a tiny community hacked out of the tamaracks north of Hayward.
Here he joins his uncle, also a farmer, as he has for the past four seasons. There is no better treat for young Walt Kittleson than this annual trek to the wilderness, so he accommodates his uncle’s wishes and has come up a few days in advance to help pick potatoes.
The first day of the hunt arrives, and Walt’s anticipation is at its peak. He is still pursuing the title of successful buck hunter. In his first hunt, at 14, both he and his uncle shot at a big buck and brought it down, but neither is sure who actually killed him. Since then, no bucks have crossed his path; deer are scarce even here, far from the constant hunting pressure that has decimated the southern herd.
But they have hunted. They have still-hunted and stand-hunted. In the previous seasons young Kittleson has tagged his uncle around the frozen forest for 10 days at a time without seeing a deer. But that does not dampen the spirits of a true buck hunter.
The new season has arrived, and today 17-year-old Kittleson is with his brother and uncle’s neighbor. As usual, they are in the woods from daybreak, and as usual, they see nothing.
By 3 p.m., two of the hunters are home by the fire. Walt, however, prefers a snow-covered tagalder swamp. He decides to circle the swamp on a tote road, the only kind of road found in this country at this time.
Suddenly, shots ring out across the swamp. Walt stops, and soon the wooden sound of beaten brush approaches. He knows the sound is made less by hooves then by antlers, and he feels a flash of buck fever.
The huge creature appears in a clearing, and the flash becomes a full-fledged attack. He raises his .32 Special, but it’s no use. The bead of the carbine won’t hold still, and it wavers over an area ten times that occupied by the buck.
Walt knows he has to shoot quickly. He aims behind the deer, swings the sights on a horizontal plane, and touches off a shot when the bead crosses the massive shoulder. The deer falls after three leaps.
Walt is still shaking, but doesn’t even realize the true magnitude of this hunt. He won’t find out until 60 years later. In his youthful naiveté, he thinks the enormous 23-point rack is about average.
But other hunters know. As the buck hangs near the tote road for the remainder of the 1920 season, they beat a deep path through the snow to examine the great deer. Though they have many opportunities, hunters of this innocent age would not think of stealing the trophy that could immortalize their names in the annals of great buck hunters.
Finally Walt is convinced, and makes the significant fiscal decision to spend $12 to have his trophy mounted. Ole Odegaard of Hayward mounts the specimen with skill and care evident through six decades.
During that time, Walt’s enthusiasm for hunting grows even stronger. He remains skillful and lucky, bringing down 50 more bucks, one of which proves to be a record-maker Wyoming mulie. In his home county, south of Poskin, he bags a black bear weighing 500 pounds dressed. But that 23-point prize from 1920 remains the standout.
It’s 1980. News breaks that the mysterious “Sandstone Buck”—perhaps the biggest in North America, had been taken in Wisconsin. That prompts Walt’s son, Bard, to find out how big his father’s “Seeley buck” really is. He contacts Pat Haupt of Hayward, an official Boone and Crockett measurer, who pays a visit to Walt in Barron.
The results are in. “If you would have had this buck measured in 1920,” Haupt tells Walt, “you would have held the state record for 42 years. It wasn’t until 1962 that they officially measured a buck bigger then yours.”
As it stands, Walt’s trophy is number nine in the record books.”