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Public Land Monster

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