When more than 600,000 deer hunters converged on the state’s woodlots, forests and farm fields Saturday, it’s a safe bet most of them had visions of big bucks.
Few could even imagine the one killed three seasons ago by Jim Paalman Sr. of rural Fremont-a buck with so many points that he and his hunting partner Larry Zwiers of Neenah initially counted and re-counted the antler points until they agreed on a number: 25.
The dream buck officially scored 241 7/8 points and lands as the fourth-largest non-typical buck ever killed in Wisconsin.
It’s the largest ever killed in Waupaca County, and one of more than 20 nice bucks Paalman, 66, has killed from the same homemade tree stand on his own land.
In life, this massive monarch drew attention from the lucky few who caught a glimpse of it in earlier seasons and in 2008. Its haunts included the Rawhide Boys Ranch and Red Banks along the Wolf River.
Its unforgettable antlers were captured on several trail cameras (one hunter had more than 50 images of it), although Paalman and Zwiers never got photos of it on their trail cams. Zwiers did catch a look at it one night, nearly hitting it with his truck as he drove out of Paalman’s driveway.
And a nearby bowhunter even got a crack at the buck from 25 yards away on Nov. 10, 2008, but a small limb just four feet in front of him deflected the arrow.
Paalman’s success story is a reflection of a simple, diligent and dogged pursuit of all things whitetail. The fact that he’s had so much success on his 175 acres of hardwoods, pines and swampland is testament that he’s doing it right, and we can learn from him.
“I’ve shot a lot of bucks,” said Paalman, who runs an Appleton machine shop. “I missed a lot in my younger years. If he’s a shooter, I will never look at the horns again.”
He likes to keep things simple, using a smoothbore, scoped Remington 1100 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun and Remington Sluggers to shoot the 25-pointer and all the rest. For the first time this year, Waupaca County is now open to rifle hunting, but he believes a centerfire rifle’s longer range is not safe for most of the county and he plans on sticking with a shotgun. (his son, Jim Paalman Jr., is now using the lucky gun and senior has set up a new Remington 11-87 shotgun for himself).
The 2008 season started out well for Paalman. His favorite tree stand overlooking the edge of a swamp proved lucky, with a nice, long-tined 7-pointer falling to his gun on opening day. Paalman never mounted that 150-class rack, or any other deer beside his jaw-dropping buck.
Paalman, Zwiers and four other hunters returned to the woods Wednesday, Nov. 26. Paalman of course returned to his lucky tree stand. In the early morning light, Paalman watched an 8-point buck and five does pass by. He’s selective on what he shoots, so let the buck go. The group planned to meet up at 9 a.m. to process the deer Paalman and a nephew had shot, but he sat tight until 10 a.m.
This is another tip for all hunters: “You’ve got to be there.
“When you walk away, that’s when he’ll come through,” he explained. He’s killed deer at noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. He sits in his stand all day. “Relax and enjoy it.”
Paalman saw movement at 10 a.m., finally seeing antlers moving. He leveled his shotgun, using a window sill to steady the shot (always use some sort of rest when shooting, he advised), aimed for an opening in the brush 80 yards away, and fired.
The buck flinched, then moved into thick brush. He was sure he’d made a good hit, and was able to fire a second time, hitting it again.
He found a good blood trail, but enlisted the help of Zwiers and the others to surround a large cornfield and box in the deer to prevent it from reaching the Wolf River bottoms. After waiting 1-1/2 hours, he entered the cornfield and followed the blood trail to a small spruce tree. The buck was bedded there, still alive. It jumped up, but collapsed in seconds.
Since Paalman had already tagged a buck earlier, Zwiers tagged the 25-pointer and brought it to the check station (under Wisconsin law, party hunting is allowed, so one hunter in a group may tag a deer shot by another). Word soon spread of the monster buck, and Paalman later learned of the existing trail cam photos and unlucky bowhunter’s shot.
Today, the trophy mounted by Mike Remme of Fremont is on display at Scheel’s in Appleton, along with a black coyote that Paalman also shot on his land.
Ironically, Paalman has not shot a deer since, choosing instead to mentor his three grandchildren, Tyler, 13, Megan, 10, and Tiffany, 10, in the rich traditions of Wisconsin deer hunting.
Paalman credits his wife of 46 years, Karen, with the patience and understanding to let him return to his beloved tree stand, time and time again.
Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.