DAKOTA, Minn. — Kyle Dulek, who freely admits he thinks about white-tail deer hunting 365 days a year, imagined that someday, somehow, he would shoot a trophy buck that would make him forever smile.
And perhaps others.
Oh, please don’t misunderstand. Dulek, a 38-year-old man who resides in Dakota, Minn., has shot his fair share of respectable bucks over the past 26 years of November woods time. But as the deer hunting lore says, the big one is always out there.
And, as Dulek knows, it has been out there for a long time.
“I grew up hunting. I hunted with my dad, my grandpa, my brother. I remember — I must have been 10 or 11, as I wasn’t old enough to hunt on my own — sitting next to him (his dad) on a stump and saw him shoot a deer. I was hooked,” Dulek said.
“I have shot a lot of nice deer, but up until this year, nothing that would make you say ‘Wow.’ Not a mount where you would walk up to it and say ‘Wow.’”
My how things have changed. You could say, “Wow! Wow! Wow!”
Dulek recorded what some might call a Trophy Trifecta, as he shot an 11-point buck on Nov. 7 that green scored at 171, a 10-pointer on Nov. 12 that scored in the 140s, then topped it off with a monster buck during muzzleloader season — an almost magical 25-pointer shot on Dec. 6 that green scored at 223 6/8.
Yes, 25 points, two of which are drop tines on the right side of an antler that is some of nature’s finest work.
“I live for this. It is truly amazing. It is a dream season,” said Dulek, who shot the first two deer during Minnesota’s gun season with a shotgun, and the third with — get this — a muzzleloader he won at a deer hunting banquet. “In 26 years of hunting I have never shot a giant, nothing like this. I hunt hard every year, and it is unbelievable to see something like this. This last one looks like a magazine deer.”
And before you ask, yes, he’s been told multiple times to buy a lottery ticket during his red-hot streak. No word on whether he’s won.
Let’s get back to what is quickly growing into a legendary buck. The 25-pointer, with its antler mass, points, unique drop tines and triple brow tine, simply captures your attention and holds it like a vice. It’s likely a once-in-a-lifetime deer, but with the hot streak that Dulek is riding, you’d be foolish to bet against him. Remember, he thought the 11-pointer was special — and it is — until you hold its antlers next the 25-pointer.
Yes, Dulek finally bagged his “Wow” deer, and boy did news travel fast.
“It is pretty comical. I called my dad (after shooting the third buck) and said, ‘I am out deer hunting and you’ll never believe this.’ He asked me, ‘Did you get one?’ Yes, bigger than the last two,” Dulek said, noting his dad, Ryan “Butch” Dulek, immediately jumped in his truck and drove from near Lewiston, Minn., to Dakota to get a first-hand look at the beast.
“It took us an hour-and-a-half to get the deer out of there (woods), and that’s with three guys. I couldn’t even fit it on my 4-wheeler. When we got there (to his house), there were 20 people waiting for us.”
Let’s backtrack for a second.
Dulek, who started working at Dahl Auto of La Crosse as a lot attendant when he was 16, has been one of the company’s key sales consultants for years. He works weekends, and long weekday hours prevent him from getting into the woods as much he would like. So when he “burned two weeks” of vacation to go elk hunting in Montana this year, he knew his time in the Minnesota woods would have to be well spent.
That meant choosing the right tree stand while taking into consideration the wind direction, as well as the feeding habits of the deer in relation to the food plots he and his friends had planted. Trail cameras provided some critical information, too, on what was out there (but not everything).
This wasn’t going to be a luck-of-the-draw deer hunt.
“We live for this; we talk about deer hunting 365 days a year,” Dulek said of his family and friends. “We shed hunt, we make our food plots. I just don’t just wake up and walk to my stand.
“This one (25-pointer), it was 100 percent perfect wind for this spot. You want it blowing at your face, and the deer upwind from you. I take showers every time before I go out. My clothes go in sealed bag.”
In other words, he was prepared. So when opening morning came around on Nov. 7, he thought he had a pretty good spot.
“I had been thinking about that spot since I moved here (to his current house) three years ago. It was a perfect south wind for that spot,” Dulek said.
It was a 45-minute hike to spot, Dulek said, and it wasn’t an easy trek.
“This is bluff country, with big, steep hills. I dressed light as I didn’t want to be sweating when I got there.”
It wasn’t long before he got his chance at trophy deer No. 1.
“He (the buck) is facing me 40 yards away. I saw him right away, but I had my gun in my lap, sitting in a ladder stand. He put his head down, then jerked back up twice. The last time he put his head down, I had an opening and shot him. He went 50 yards and tipped over,” Dulek said.
“I knew it was nice, but it got better (the closer he got). It was the biggest deer of my life. I have never seen one in the woods that big. I am thinking, opening day, 7:15, and I got the deer of a lifetime.”
Or so he thought.
Five days later, he shot yet another trophy deer, a 10-pointer with nice, long tines, and a distinctive formation on one side of its antlers. It was a deer that his father saw last year, but didn’t shoot because of numerous tines were broken off. And it was a deer Kyle had seen a number of times on trail cameras.
“I have been chasing that deer for three years. It has a distinct crab claw on the end. It could not have worked out any more perfect. He came around a ditch 40 yards away, one shot, and it folded,” Dulek said of trophy buck No. 2. “Oh my God, I can’t believe it.”
The story, it seems, was just unfolding and getting better. Not that anyone, including Dulek, ever imagined bagging an even bigger buck in the same season. In the same Dakota, Minn., area.
It just doesn’t happen.
“I thought, ‘Do I even waste the money and buy another tag, but I love the muzzleloader season. I have off a couple of days, so maybe I will hunt with my dad,” Dulek said.
“I will go out for a night and see what happens.”
Then the unthinkable happened on Sunday, Dec. 6, when his memorable season hit the final chapter. It started when a doe came out late in the day, near his circle stand, and turned out to be a draw the monster buck couldn’t resist.
“It was cool, I just watched it (doe) and watched it. It kept looking behind me. Then I hear branches breaking, coyotes yipping. Are the coyotes come in?” Dulek wondered. “I could hear a lot of crunching behind me. Then, literally I could see the back end of a deer, a tail flicker. I couldn’t see any horns or its head. I could hear him at a scrape, rustling the leaves. I am looking at him through binoculars and caught a glimpse of his horns. I never seen his full head.
“When I was looking at him through the binocs, I saw four points on one side, so I knew it was a big buck. I can’t believe this. It was starting to get late out, 10 minutes to go before dark, and I was just about to leave and hop down (from the tree stand).
“I just needed one good shot. I was in a circle stand, where there is a chair in the middle and it swivels. I had a perfect rest against a tree, so I shot. It was a pretty good poke, maybe a 110-yard shot.”
Dulek, who described himself as careful and patient, always waiting for a good kill shot even if it means no shot at all, hit the deer. He waited until well after dark to exit his tree stand, then went to where he thought the deer was hit. He didn’t immediately find blood, but a few steps later he located a few drops of blood. At that point, he walked 45 minutes back to his house, the called two friends to help him track the deer.
“I walked down after dark, and no blood, no nothing!” Dulek said, his voice raising. “I went a couple of more steps and I found two little drops of blood. I put my hat down (as a marker). I am thinking the last two deer I shot folded in front of me and I could see them. Now I can’t find this one.”
The deer had traveled about 45 yards before expiring. It was a memorable scene, or sound, when Dulek’s friends, Loren Beach and Grant Zenke, came upon the deer before Dulek.
“All of a sudden I could hear them hooting and hollering and just blowing up. ‘Do you know what you did? You know what you did? This is a 25-pointer. It makes that 170 (buck) look tiny,’” Dulek said of his friends’ banter.
“We hooted and hollered some more as it is the biggest deer I have seen in real life. It is just crazy big. All three of us are hugging and hooting and hollering. I am so blessed this year.”
The “Wow!” deer, without a doubt, became reality. Three times, that is.
Jeff Brown, a former longtime sports editor for the Tribune, is a freelance outdoors writer. Send him story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org
In this Series
- 17 updates