For Ben Knisley, a "good" deer season is defined by how much time he’s able to spend in the woods with family and friends. Filling a tag always comes second to the young Minnesotan, and he’s not picky when opportunity knocks.
The 2006 season was good on both counts. Not only did Ben shoot a buck (a serious understatement), but he also got to share the hunt with his Uncle Dick.
Ben rolled out of the sack before sunrise on Nov. 4, eager to hunt the family farm he’d prowled since he was a kid. He was greeted by bitter cold, not unusual for that time of year in Minnesota.
He hunted hard all morning, checking all the spots where he had seen deer in years past. The deer, however, were nowhere to be seen. Around noon, Ben decided to leave and grab a bite to eat. He also was ready for a change of scenery for his afternoon hunt.
During lunch with his Uncle Dick, who lives about 15 miles outside of Paynesville, the two men discussed their mornings and decided to double-team a piece of property about a quarter-mile from Dick’s home. The block contains about 50 acres of recently timbered hardwoods, a swamp in the middle of it, and it’s surrounded by agricultural fields.
When they arrived, Ben asked his uncle if he could go to his favorite treestand. Dick said that would be fine, but to give him 10 minutes to get to his own stand.
Not long after Dick settled into his treestand, he heard several deer moving behind him.
And one of them was grunting. Hoping to get the buck’s attention, he pulled out his call and gave a few short grunts. Dick strained to hear a response, but the deer never stopped.
Meanwhile, Ben, who was positioned on the other side of the property, had no idea what was going on with his uncle. He was just enjoying being out in the woods, at least until the silence was broken by the sound of deer approaching. It was time to focus.
Ben soon spotted three does. But since he didn’t have a doe tag, he just enjoyed the sight, hoping a buck might be trailing them. Sure enough, one was.
After seeing antlers, Ben didn’t waste any time. Although he didn’t know how big the buck was, he was going to shoot it if he got the chance.
When the buck walked slowly to within 40 yards, Ben raised his .54-caliber Hawken muzzleloader and, with all the confidence in the world, aimed and fired. Following the blast, the buck ran out to about 80 yards and stopped.
Knowing there was no way he could’ve missed, Ben calmly ran a wet patch down the barrel of his muzzleloader. To most, this would seem strange. Why wouldn’t he just reload and shoot again?
Ben takes a lot of pride in accuracy and blackpowder hunting, and he knows his gun shoots best with a clean barrel. End of story.
Oddly enough, the buck was still standing in the same spot when Ben finished cleaning and reloading his primitive rifle. So the hunter fired again.
That time, the smoke prevented Ben from seeing where the deer went.
Still calm, Ben cleaned and loaded his gun yet again and waited. After a while, he spotted the buck at the edge of the distant cornfield. He knew it would be a long shot with iron sights, but he’d practiced at that distance. He knew how far the bullet would drop. So he compensated and squeezed the trigger a third time.
When the smoke cleared, the woods were silent. There was no sign of the deer.
Dick arrived a short while later to see what, if anything, his nephew had shot.
"Did you get anything?" he asked.
"I think so," Ben replied, before sharing his story.
"Where did you shoot last?" Dick pressed.
pointed to the cornfield.
thought his nephew’s final shot had been more of a Hail-Mary attempt, but that’s where they agreed to start the search.
Dick was first to reach the cornfield, and he saw the giant buck.
"I hope you have a doe tag!" he yelled back to Ben, who wasn’t fooled by the joke.
After exchanging high-fives, the men examined the buck more closely. All three shots had connected.
Editor’s Note: The Knisley Buck was a new No. 3 Semi-irregular in the BTR’s blackpowder category.