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Bob Lamb: Spanjers bags the ‘Hokah Legend’

By Bob Lamb |

Do legends live forever? ADVERTISEMENT

Just ask Ben Spanjers of Hokah, Minn., who shot what has become the “Hokah Legend,” in early October.

Spanjers, husband, father of three children and assistant manager at Kohl’s Department Store in Onalaska, killed what will certainly rank among the top five bucks taken by bow and arrow in the state of Minnesota.

The likeable Spanjers is not only the talk of tiny Hokah, but also among deer hunters throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and beyond. Everyone is learning about the magnificent buck that roamed Hokah hillsides and lowlands for at least seven years, probably eight.

For the record, Spanjers’ buck weighed 310 pounds dead weight, 265 field-dressed. The massive rack had a 23½-inch inside spread. The 23-point buck was green-scored at 230 5/8 points by Chris Fechner, a certified Pope and Young scorer. Two other Pope and Young scorers verified Fechner’s score within one inch.

Jerry Pilger, who also lives in Hokah, has been one of many local residents who has watched, fed and photographed the buck for several winters. Pilger, in fact, found the pair of shed antlers from the buck in his backyard last December. He sold the sheds, but realized the legendary buck would eventually be killed by a hunter or vehicle, or die of disease or old age.

Pilger was one of the first townsfolk to praise Spanjers for his prized trophy buck.

“Ben certainly did his homework. He was well prepared to do the right thing when he made the kill,” Pilger said. “You don’t stumble onto 8-year-old bucks and they don’t stumble onto you. It was indeed man against nature.”

Spanjers, the youngest of nine children, grew up in Genoa, another tiny town across the Mississippi River. Maybe it was his upbringing that taught him about patience and discipline when hunting.

While Spanjers’ brothers taught him how to hunt deer, it was his father who bought him his first compound bow when he was 13 years old. His father also bought him his first shotgun, a .410, and a beagle.

“My dad gave me one shell and told me that when I brought back a rabbit, he would give me two shells,” Spanjers said, laughing. “It took me about 10 times before I finally got that first rabbit. I’m glad he didn’t give me a .22 rifle or I’d probably still be trying.”

Spanjers learned the significance of making the first shot the most important. At 6:35 p.m. on Oct. 3, it paid off.

While the “Hokah Legend” was observed by many hunters, no one could ever get a good shot at it during the archery or gun-deer hunting seasons.

Enter Spanjers’ father-in-law, George Walther, who owns a 12-acre parcel, including only two acres of wooded area.

“He saw the buck in his field in broad daylight. I found the tracks and knew it was the big one,” Spanjers said.

Spanjers borrowed a trail camera from hunting buddy Josh Swenson. Over the next several weeks, Spanjers captured more than 500 photos of the buck on the trail camera. He learned that every seven or eight days the deer would show up near the camera at 6:30 p.m. Otherwise it frequented the field between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. each day.

“Patterning” the deer paid off in a big way.

It was a “no wind day” on Oct. 3, when Spanjers climbed into his tree stand about 15 feet above ground.

Lo and behold, the majestic animal showed up just after 6:30 p.m. It came within five yards of Spanjers’ tree stand before he drew back and released the arrow.

“I just picked a shooting lane,” Spanjers said. “He bolted right when I shot and I hit him a little far back. I saw the arrow hit. I watched him for about 20 yards. It was exactly 6:35 p.m.”

Spanjers didn’t trail the deer, rather seeking help from Swenson and his brother-in-law, Kevin Walther, three hours later. However, finding only a few specks of blood, the three men decided to wait until the next day.

Another search party was formed early the next morning. Spanjers’ father-in-law found the dead deer near the Root River just before 8 a.m.

“George had a gut feeling the deer would be along the river,” Spanjers said.

“I didn’t sleep at all Friday night because I thought there was a chance of not finding it,” he said. “To tell you the truth, I wasn’t nervous during or after the shot, but I sure was nervous when my father-in-law hollered out that he found it.”

Before Spanjers knew it, there was a car caravan following him into Hokah. Townsfolk were as excited as he was for getting the “Hokah Legend.”

Spanjers, a 1989 graduate of De Soto High School and a self-taught butcher, said despite a hard frost on the night of Oct. 3, he was able to salvage only about 50 percent of the venison.

While Spanjers has been contacted by outdoors magazines and company outlets, he is simply happy to be the one who shot the big buck.

“Some people around here are calling it the ‘Hokah Legend.’ Others call it ‘Ben’s Buck.’ I prefer ‘Hokah Legend,’” said the affable Spanjers, adding that Travis Fishel of Prairie Ridge Taxidermy in Caledonia, Minn., is making the mount of the monster buck.

“To me, it’s a sporting thing. It was a matter of knowing I was lucky enough to have access to my father-in-law’s land and that I was blessed enough to get close to the buck,” Spanjers said, adding that bow hunting is therapy, a release from the stress of work.

“Archery is still archery. If you’re blessed with one big deer, that doesn’t mean it’s any easier getting another one,” he said. “I have always believed that if you’re not excited about shooting a doe with your bow, you might as well quit because the passion isn’t there. It’s not all about big bucks. That’s where people make their mistakes.”

Meanwhile, Pilger plans to watch and photograph other deer frequenting his backyard this winter.

“This one was Grandpa Monster, but he’s got an incredible gene pool,” said Pilger, who has seen at least one large buck in the same territory.

Neighbors report there is also another big buck in the area.

“I’m sure they’re both offspring from Grandpa Monster,” Pilger said.

Who knows? The “Hokah Legend” may live on.

Just ask Ben Spanjers.

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Great and interesting article, sounds like a very level headed guy.

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Great read. Thanks for sharing the article. Good to see it harvested by a hard working, humble family man instead of some TV Personality hunting on leased land. My only issue is... HOW CAN YOU NOT BE NERVOUS DRAWING BACK ON THAT DEER?

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Nice to see the deer lived a long life and was taken by someone deserving! Sounds like he had done his homework and had a lot of appreciation for the animal. Great story.

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ts, I to heard some contorversy on this buck. It seems that there are upwards of 500+ camera pics of this buck because it actually frequented the bird feeders in the backyards of Hokah residents. It sounded to me that he interceped the buck before he could reach the bird feeders. What I take from the story you shared and things that I have heard being that I grew up very close to there is that there is almost always controversy. All I can say is just make sure you are doing the right thing and hope and assume everyone else it following suit. I hope everything this guy was doing was legit and legal.

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There will always be people against hunters. There are also alot of pro-hunters that are VERY particular about their land. Hopefully they did everything by the book.

I have some land .5 mi west of there and I know a couple of the neighbors are really particular about what happens around there.

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