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Public Land Monster

April 9, 2020

world-class duel with a world-class buck. 

 

 

 We first met when our hands locked on an arm wrestling table in Gera, Michigan. This primal competition of strength and skill, however, wasn’t the only thing these two perfect strangers had in common. Manuel Ferraiuolo and I found out quickly that we both had an obsession with another ancient duel, one not between man and man, but man and beast - we were whitetail hunters. Swapping stories I soon heard of Manuel’s quest for a particular public land whitetail, of seemingly mythical proportions, that had eluded him for years. Pictures make myths reality, and later as my phone lit up with trail camera pictures, I realized this wasn’t just a campfire story, but a once in a lifetime world-class quest. This is the story of that duel, and a buck named Frazier.

 

2015  Manuel began hunting a piece of Lower Michigan public land because it was near where he lived. “I started scouting this property and got some consistent photos of a bachelor group of two 9 points, a basket rack 8 point, and a small 6 point. They were consistent in this one field in late September, so I was hoping it stayed that way into the beginning of October. I was used to hunting state land up in Northern Michigan and seeing a bachelor group like that was very surprising and exciting.” Manuel assumed they would disappear in the beginning of bow season, however, as soon as hunters started hitting the woods. On October 2nd they walked out in front him and Manuel put a good shot on one of the 9 points. Unfortunately, he was not able to find the buck (assumed dead) even after hiring a tracking dog, and spent the rest of the year going after the other 9 point. Unbeknownst to him, this buck would become Manuel’s hunting obsession the next four years.

 

2016  Manuel saw a very nice 10 point show up early in the year. “He was by far the biggest deer that I had on camera on state land,” according to Manuel, who figured out pretty quickly it was the same 9 point he chased the year prior.  “All of the other deer seemed to move aside when he walked in. I had a video from one of my trail cameras on the edge of a field one night when a bunch of deer were feeding. They all looked up when he came into view. Looking like a giant, all of the other deer got out of his way.” Coming from a boxing family, his dad mentioned this reminded him of Smokin Joe Frazier when he stepped into the ring. The name stuck. From here on out his dad would ask if he got the buck, and Manuel would just respond, “you’ll get a text ‘and down goes Frazier’ when I do.” 

 Sightings were very sporadic for Manuel and seemingly inconsistent the rest of the year. As a 4 year old, his pattern was not the same as in 2015. Most the season was hit and miss, and it wasn’t until December that Manuel started getting Frazier consistently back in his core area from the year before. “I set out a plan to go after him, but he would always come out right after dark. There was one very cold day in mid-December that I decided to pack up my gear just a little early, not wanting him to bust me trekking out in the frozen snow at last light.” Later, his trail camera revealed Manuel’s worst fears. “That was right when he walked by my stand, at last light just minutes after I left. It was an amateur mistake, and I really regretted that decision.”  

 

2017 This was the year Manuel got pretty serious about learning the property

and learning how Frazier used it. He got consistent photos and started creating a map and marking times and locations of photos (green where he had him in shooting light). This helped him find patterns and analyze for weaknesses he could capitalize on, which weren’t many. For a buck to make it to 5 years old in Michigan, he has learned how to avoid hunters well. Manuel knew he’d have to be very smart to have an encounter, leave no stone unturned, and execute perfectly when the chance arrived. “I had an encounter in November just before gun season at a thick pinch point between bedding and fields where I had a bunch of doe activity. That afternoon, I had a doe come out of the brush at about 60 yards and then angle down the trail I was on at about 35 yards. Shortly after she went by, a large deer followed. It was Frazier! The wind was perfect, and it looked like I was going to get my opportunity. At 60 yards out he stopped while still back in the brush, and wouldn’t move. For reasons unknown to me, he turned to his right and circled the small opening I was hunting, leaving no shot. I still have no clue why he did that.” 

 

Later in gun season Manuel and a friend closed in on his known bedding area to see if they could catch him returning in the morning. “I had photos of him being there the morning before. We hunted all morning but saw very little. As I climbed down and started packing up I heard something in the brush about 50 or 60 yards away from me take off in the opposite direction. When I got back to my buddy, I found out that I had spooked Frazier right behind his stand but he couldn’t swing around in time for a shot.” 

 

Manuel continued to pattern him, but as expected for a mature buck, was only getting pictures after dark. Finally, he got the perfect cold front and bundled up to go out. Taking his mobile stand he got set early and waited. “It was one of the coldest sits I can remember, and I was confident that it would get him moving early. For some reason my stand had a metallic click when I would transition from sitting to standing. It has never happened on that stand before and no matter what I did I couldn’t get that out. So, I made a determination that If I had him coming in while seated, I would remain seated and hope that he would provide me with a shot that I didn’t have to reposition myself for.”  With plenty of light left Manuel saw a group of does and Frazier approaching 150 yards out. Though sitting down, he thought the loud crunching snow wouldn’t allow them to hear his stand. “I was wrong. When I stood my stand made the click and all the deer stopped for a brief moment including Frazier, who was bringing up the rear. My heart sank, and the thought that I had just screwed up a shot at this monster went through my mind. Then the deer in the front started

continuing forward, and I breathed a sigh of relief until I saw Frazier wasn’t moving with them. I assumed that he would eventually continue but he just stood there like a statue. When the other deer realized that he wasn’t following them, they all stopped. At that point all I could do was pray, but he was too smart for that stupid mistake. After what seemed like an eternity of him standing there, he turned, flicked his tail, and headed right back where he came from.” Knowing he had just made another mistake Manuel was sick to his stomach and mad at myself as he walked out of the woods. He was never able to get him on camera in shooting light again that year.

 

 

2018 Previously Manuel had monitored Frazier while hunting other locations. In 2017 he tagged out on an 8 and a 10 point in other spots, but he now decided he would put all his effort toward Frazier. “I remember when I got my first photo of him. He just had these massive knobs of antlers growing out of his head. I decided that I was going to throw everything at him that year.” Manuel compiled all he had learned about him and his haunts, and set a strategy. He returned to his map with every photo for the last three years in color coded pins. “The green pins were places where I had a sighting or a photo of him in daylight. I then looked at what area they were in, what time of year, and what the weather pattern was on that day. I put it all together and hunted based on what conditions we were supposed to get.” His strategy was working too, having a daylight encounter with him during the early season. “I was in one of my mobile sets in the morning and had him walk out in a transition pinch point, but he was out of range at about 85 yards or so. I tried calling to him, but it was too early in the season for him to care. It wasn’t one of those sightings where I thought I was going to get a chance at him, but it was a sighting that let me know I was on the right track with my strategy.” As the season progressed though, Frazier locked up and wasn’t moving in daylight. 


“I ran cameras all over that property that year and I got him on them regularly. I found a place that he would hide out, and I marked Nov 7th on my calendar, the day I thought he’d show in daylight. On November 5th I hung up all of my camera gear minus my camera, and freshened up the scrape and licking branch. I told my wife (who was almost 9 months pregnant with our son) that I was taking the day off work and hunting all day. However, she informed me that she had a Doctors appointment that morning and that I needed to stay with the kids. As luck, or bad luck would have it, I got a call that morning from my wife. ‘I am sorry honey, it wasn’t today my appointment is tomorrow.’ That day Frazier walked less than 20 yards from my stand in broad daylight. Unbelievable as it was, I had to laugh, but she still hasn’t lived that one down.”

 

Manuel’s next encounter with him was the first week of December, right after gun season. “I was working from home and on the computer at noon when my phone went off. It was my Wi-Fi camera sending me multiple photos of him and two does in a bedding area that was very close to a road. I jumped up from the table, grabbed my bow, and got in the truck. As I drove out there I was still getting photos of them. Slowly, I stalked as close as possible, and then started calling with doe bleats followed by some grunts and a snort wheeze. Pretty soon I saw a doe and then another come out of the brush about 70 yards away. Then I saw movement on the same trail and Frazier’s giant rack lift up. I called again, and he stepped out and began looking in my direction. For a moment I thought I’d get a shot, but he followed the does back into the brush.” 

 

That night Manuel had a choice to make. He figured Frazier would pass one of two stands he had, both on opposite sides of the bog Frazier was in. He had a sneaky feeling he’d choose wrong on this 50/50 chance. “I deliberated over and over, but chose to go to the opposite side as that is the direction that they seemed to be headed,” Manuel recalled. “As darkness fell, I started calling but got zero response. Then, just before last light, I received a text photo of him and the two does walking by my other stand. Once again Frazier out maneuvered me.” 

 

2019 Due to baiting bans Manuel couldn’t run mineral licks, a tactic he used to locate Frazier throughout the year and find his patterns in the past. “I looked and put up cameras everywhere all season and just could not get him on camera. So I finally gave up trying to find where he was and just maintained the licking branches and camera monitoring in the area he always seemed to kick the rut off in. In late October he indeed showed up at one of my licking branches and literally ripped it right out of a tree.” From then Manuel got multiple photos of him but was not able to get an encounter in 2019. The last photo he got of Frazier was very late in the evening of Nov 15th.

 

A DUEL’S END

Manuel became worried when none of his cameras picked up Frazier after gun season. He’d made it through many gun seasons, but maybe his luck had run out. Hoping it was due to his busy schedule and failure to meticulously check his trail cameras, he waited. “I got a text message from a hunting buddy of mine that saw a huge buck posted on FULL Fledge Outdoor’s Facebook page (found dead by two shed hunters),  asking ‘is this the deer that you have been chasing?’ My heart sank as I saw the photo of his unmistakable rack. I asked my buddy to get me connected with the gentleman that found him, and after sending a few photos of Frazier to them to prove I had actually hunted the deer, we met up that afternoon. We shared stories of the property and I traded stories of hunting him (who presumably died from a vehicle collision). I remember at one point I was in the middle a story and I just stopped while staring at the antlers and said ‘I always imagined I would be seeing these antlers at the end of one of my blood trails, but here they are.’”

 

The hunters that found him, Brad and Justin, remarkably decided to let Manuel keep the buck, asking to get a replica of the 187 ⅜ inch monster. Manuel immediately agreed. “I wasn’t able to send an arrow his way and harvest him,” Manuel said, “but he will still be mounted on my wall in the place that I always dreamed he would be. I am very grateful and very humbled these guys did this. They didn’t have to. There are times I have had a trail camera stolen and gotten aggravated, and then there are guys like this that show us what being a sportsman is all about.” Manuel got on his phone and texted his dad, a bittersweet moment signifying the end of an epic duel. “And down goes Frazier,” was all he said.

 

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