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DEER HUNTING: Good . . . or lucky?

WOODBURY, Minn. - Is it better to be a good deer hunter or a lucky one? Deb Luzinski is in the "good" category. On Oct. 27, the Woodbury woman relied on verve and 15 years of experience to bag a 24-point non-typical buck, the largest bow-killed b...

WOODBURY, Minn. - Is it better to be a good deer hunter or a lucky one?

Deb Luzinski is in the "good" category. On Oct. 27, the Woodbury woman relied on verve and 15 years of experience to bag a 24-point non-typical buck, the largest bow-killed buck ever bagged by a woman in Minnesota.

"This is not a Cinderella story," Luzinski said of her success.

But the Minnesota Record Book, compiled by Hugh Price, operator of the Minnesota Deer Classic show, is filled with stories of lucky hunters who are in the right place at the right time.

Northwest success


Mitch Vakoch beat the odds in 1974. His story is among the lucky ones.

The 17-year-old was on his first deer hunt in northwestern Minnesota's Polk County. The season was only one day long, having been closed entirely just a few years earlier. Hunting near Thief River Falls, Vakoch bagged a 43-point buck that remains the state's largest non-typical buck ever killed. At the time, it was the fifth largest in the world.

"He was in the right place at the right time," said Price, who published Vakoch's story in the fifth edition of the Minnesota Record Book.

Wayne Stewart got lucky - twice. Stewart, who lives near Hallock, Minn., was a teenager, too, when he shot an enormous 14-point buck in 1961. Stewart never thought much of the antlers, hanging them on a wood board in his basement, until 1985, when he asked a friend to take them to a taxidermist for a mounting estimate. The antlers were stolen out of his friend's pickup truck.

With the help of an attorney, Stewart tracked down the thief and got the rack back. Stewart's deer now ranks as the second-largest typical, or symmetrical, buck ever killed in Minnesota.

He scoffed at the notion of being a great deer hunter. "I'm just one of the lucky ones," Stewart told the Pioneer Press in 1996.

More luck

Kevin Cortese got lucky, too. His big buck nearly killed him in a northern Minnesota swamp.


In 1999, Cortese, a self-described "ambivalent" deer hunter, shot a 277-pound, 23-point buck that refused to die. The buck jumped into a bog, and Cortese, who had run out of bullets, followed him with only a hunting knife.

The buck jumped on the hunter, and in the ensuing fight, Cortese suffered cuts that required 15 stitches. He was taken to the emergency room, but later that spring, Cortese brought the mounted deer to the Deer Classic show with a story to tell.

"The deer almost got the best of me," Cortese said.

Luckiest of lucky

The top prize for lucky goes to a forester who stumbled across a pair of huge deer antlers at a garage sale in Hinckley, Minn. The hunter who killed it turned out to be Jim Jordan, a Wisconsin farmer. The rack held the world record until a deer with a bigger one was killed by Milo Hanson in Saskatchewan in 1993.

Little is known about Minnesota's state record typical buck, killed in 1918 by farmer John Breen. It ranks among the top half-dozen whitetail racks in the world.

According to the third edition of the Minnesota Record Book, Breen took a train to the northwestern Minnesota town of Funkley to hunt deer in a year when his two oldest sons were overseas fighting World War I.

Back then, deer hunters were interested only in providing meat for their families, so the fact the deer's antlers were among the world's biggest never gained attention until the early 1950s, when the Boone and Crockett Club, the nation's official big-game record-keeping group, measured the Breen buck and declared it the world record.


Breen's family eventually sold the antlers to collector and dentist Chuck Arnold, who also purchased the Jordan buck. Arnold reportedly purchased the Vakoch antlers as well.

Replicas of the Vakoch and Stewart antlers, along with four other state record deer, are permanently displayed at the annual Minnesota Deer Classic show, held in March at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

New book on tap

Price has finished writing the sixth edition of the Minnesota Record Book, due out in December. In it, he has the story of a Minnesota deer hunter who gets a record deer but only after it ran past him three times and he missed the first two shots.

"He got really lucky, and he knows it," Price said. "He's not a hard-core deer hunter. He just sort of fell into this big buck."

Lucky never hurts in deer hunting.

Sometimes, it's the best skill any hunter can have.

Reach Niskanen at cniskanen@pioneerpress.com .

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