CROW WING STATE PARK - It's what drew Mark Kunz to hunting with a muzzleloader.
Kunz started hunting deer with a muzzleloader three years ago for many of the same reasons he has bow hunted for more than three decades.
Mark Kunz with the buck he shot Dec. 5 in Crow Wing State Park's special muzzleloader hunt. Brainerd Dispatch/ Brian S. Peterson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The sportsmanship, the challenge, a closeness to nature.
But in all that time, he was never afforded an up-close look at a deer like this.
Not that this was such a look. At least not at first.
Kunz, 53, of Madelia - southwest of Mankato - bagged the biggest deer Paul Roth, manager at Crow Wing State Park, says he has ever seen come out of the longtime special muzzleloader hunt at the park. And the biggest deer Kunz has seen in the field period.
Kunz shot a nice buck - it had nine thick, typical points, 11 if you count the non-typical points - during the second day of the 12th annual hunt Dec. 5 at the park just south of Brainerd.
Not a typical deer for the hunt - of the 24 deer harvested, all but Kunz's were of the smaller variety. And not a typical shot for an old-school hunter.
"About a hundred yards. A pretty good poke," Kunz said of the distance of the shot, which he said he paced off.
That's quite lengthy in bow and muzzleloader circles, of which Kunz is an avid member.
"I like it, too," he said of choosing a muzzleloader over hunting with a rifle. "You only get one shot with a muzzleloader, and it's open sights. It's more of a challenge. Anyone can shoot (a rifle) at 300 yards. But not everyone can get close enough (to shoot a deer with a bow or muzzleloader)."
The shot was admittedly longer than Kunz would have liked. But that wasn't the only challenge.
"There was just one little hole to shoot through in the trees," he said of the thick brush and forest that held the buck on the south side of the park. "I could tell it was a buck, but I just had a little "V" to poke through, and I let 'er fly.
"He kind of quartered toward me. I didn't know he was that big until I ran out there (after the shot). It's the biggest one I've ever shot. I've never seen one like that."
He immediately called friend Rick Nelson, also of Madelia, who owns a cabin near the park and was hunting close by. Nelson was expecting a photo of the big buck via Kunz's cell phone camera.
"I was too nervous to use it," Kunz said.
Nelson helped Kunz drag the deer out of the woods and to their vehicles on a gravel road about 200 yards from where Kunz dropped the buck.
There, they rested, admired the deer and posed for a few photos.
It was one of only three adult bucks taken in the three-day hunt. Also taken were seven male fawns, four female fawns and 10 adult does.
The harvest was down slightly from last year, when 33 deer were harvested, but still helped to thin the deer population at the park, where damage to vegetation has been a problem, ultimately prompting such a hunt.
It was the first time Kunz participated and the third year he had applied - about the norm to get in, according to Roth, who said about 180 hunters typically apply for the 45 permits available each year.
This year, Roth said 12 hunters hailed from within 30 minutes of Brainerd, 13 from the St. Cloud area, seven each from the Fergus Falls area and southern Minnesota and six from the Twin Cities.
But one hunter - and in particular, one deer - stood out in this hunt.
"It's the biggest rack I've seen," Roth said of Kunz's deer. "It's the nicest I've seen come out of here."
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5864.
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