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MINNEAPOLIS — The last thing the Legendary Comstock Buck saw were the headlights of Keith Schuck’s 2002 Chevy Astro. This was on Thanksgiving night about 7 o’clock, and Schuck was en route home to Shell Lake, traveling north on Hwy. 63 between Cumberland and Comstock.

“The buck turned his head and looked at me as I hit him, right in the middle of the road,” Schuck said. “He totaled my van. But I never took my foot off the foot-feed. I kept going until I came to a driveway a couple miles up the road, and pulled in for help.”

Schuck, 61, is a hunter, and if he had killed the buck with his rifle it would have meant something to him.

“As it was, the deer was just roadkill,” he said. “I was more worried about my van. I also didn’t have a cellphone. That’s why I pulled into the driveway.”

The home at the end of the driveway was owned by Bob Capra, and he and his extended family had just finished their Thanksgiving meal. The group was relaxing when Schuck knocked on the door.

Capra’s son-in-law, Jason Haugerud, 34, of Somerset, was among those who answered.

“We looked at the guy’s van and tried to help him call someone,” Haugerud said. “As we did, he said the deer he hit had tall antlers. That’s when everyone jumped up and said, ‘Let’s go.’ “

Schuck couldn’t have known the deer he had hit had been pursued for at least two years by a bevy of archers and gun-toters in the Comstock and Cumberland area.

The big buck with its wildly asymmetrical antlers had shown itself at night on trail cameras and had been spotlighted in farm fields and woodlots.

“One time on my bow stand I had him 24 yards from me,” Haugerud said. “But he wouldn’t clear himself for a shot.”

A dozen or so vehicles were parked on both sides of the road when Schuck and the Capras returned to the crash site.

One, a pickup, was driven by a Minnesota man who hunts in the area, and who assumed the deer had been abandoned. So he claimed the buck by registering it by phone as roadkill with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“Vehicles kept stopping,” Schuck said. “A lot of people, it turns out, had a very personal relationship with this buck. With all the people and cars, and kids running back and forth across the highway, it was a very dangerous situation.”

Drivers who kill deer with their vehicles in Wisconsin are allowed to keep them. But they need a possession tag from the DNR — something the Minnesota man had attained by the time Schuck and the Capras returned.

“The Minnesota man was nice enough to let me use his phone so I could call the DNR to get it straight about ownership,” Schuck said. “The woman on the phone said, ‘You hit the deer, right? So it’s yours.’ “

At that point, tensions rose, and the Minnesota man said, “I’m calling 911.”

Rochelle Olson, 40, was among those who pulled over when she saw the huge buck on the roadside. She and her kids were en route to Boyceville, where she is a sixth-grade teacher.

“My brother had that deer on his trail camera, and he and others in my family have hunted him for a couple of years,” Olson said, adding the Minnesota man “wasn’t being a jerk” in holding his ground on ownership of the buck.

“He just said he had claimed it legally,” she said.

Word of the deer’s demise traveled like wildfire, including to Jeff Lane, a 53-year-old Comstock-area taxidermist and hunting guide who also had passed many hours in tree stands hunting the trophy buck.

“Many, many times over the past few years I knew where he was, but the land was private and I couldn’t get to him,” Lane said. “I had even seen him in daylight. But once the bow season started in September, he went nocturnal entirely.”

Lane, like many others present that night along Hwy. 63, had his photo taken with the big buck.

“He had 26 measurable points, maybe 27,” he said.

Liking what he saw, on the spot, Lane offered the Minnesota man $1,000 for the buck. The offer was rejected, and at some point Lane said to the Minnesota guy, “Maybe we ought to think about loading this thing in your truck before someone gets hurt.”

But the buck stayed on the ground until, about an hour later, two Barron County sheriff’s deputies arrived in separate vehicles, lights flashing.

Said Schuck: “One deputy said to me, ‘Look, you can’t register a deer twice. Then he pointed to the Minnesota man and said, ‘This man has already registered it. It’s his.’ “

Tensions still simmer

Dave Adashak of the Twin Cities is a friend of the Minnesota man and his de facto spokesman.

“He’s a little freaked out by all of this and wants everything to die down,” Adashak said. “He just wants to display the deer for his personal use. He doesn’t want to make money on it.”

Chad Olson of Cumberland, Rochelle Olson’s brother-in-law and a friend of Adashak’s, has proposed making a replica of the famous buck to display in a public place in Cumberland.

Such a gesture might allay tensions that Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said Friday are still palpable over the loss of the Comstock Buck to the Minnesota man.

“That deer did nothing but good for hunting in our area,” Jeff Lane said. “I and many others passed on many beautiful bucks because we wanted a chance at that monster.”

Keith Schuck’s primary concern, meanwhile, is finding another 2002 Astro in good shape with low miles.

“I don’t see what the major thing is about that buck,” Schuck said. “If I got it back I’d hang it in the local food shelf. That way people could see it when they bring in a donation.”

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