DULUTH, Minn. -- When Larry Kline shot the "ghost buck" near Gordon, Wis., in 2004, he told his wife, Amy, "This deer is going to change our life."
"And it has," he said.
The 23-point nontypical whitetail, which Kline shot with a bow, scored a net 214 inches on the Pope and Young scoring scale. At the time, it was the No. 3 bow-killed whitetail in Wisconsin (it has since slipped to No. 9).
The buck made the cover of two magazines and now stands, with a full-body mount, in Kline's hunting shack near Gordon. It vaulted Kline into an elite group of deer hunters nationally.
"Shooting that buck has opened a lot of doors for me," Kline said, "giving me the opportunity to hunt other places and going to shows."
He has hunted multiple times with an outfitter in Buffalo County, Wis., considered by many the home of America's biggest whitetail bucks. On opening day of last fall's gun deer season, hunting at Bluff Country Outfitters near Alma, Kline shot a huge 14-point typical buck that measured 191 inches.
"He's a very good hunter," said Tom Indrebo, who owns the camp. "I see quite a few types of hunters. The spot I put Larry, in the past, other guys wouldn't stay there. They wanted to come back to camp and warm up. The reason I put Larry there was he's the kind of guy who would wait there until it happened."
In the years between those two huge bucks, Kline has taken several 150-inch-plus bucks, including a 177-incher in Duluth's city bow hunt. He hunts the Duluth hunt every year, taking one trophy buck after another.
"Buffalo County (Wisconsin) is the No. 1 county in the U.S.," Kline said. "But it's got nothing on Duluth."
Kline's success in deer hunting is no accident. He comes from a strong deer-hunting tradition. He owns 180 acres of land near Gordon, close to land he has hunted with his family since he was 8 years old. And at his grandfather's camp, you'd better not have returned to the shack saying you'd passed up a buck -- of any size.
"I was raised to kill deer," he said. "That's what we did."
Since those early days, Kline has become a student of deer hunting. He's a fanatic about scent management, and he began experimenting with food plots in the late 1980s, long before it became trendy.
Drive with him on the roads and fields of his hunting property, and Kline will show you food plots with turnip plants, rape, frost-tolerant oats, barley and winter rye. He'll show you where he shot the buck he called "the ghost buck."
"I came in here, and the idea was to raise deer," said Kline, 47. "I'm totally convinced I grew that buck."
He chased the buck for three years, he said. He had seen it on game cameras but never while hunting until opening day of Wisconsin's bow season in 2004.
"I was obsessed with that thing," he said. "It was part of the family."
To grow and shoot bucks like that one, Kline plants food plots three or four times a year, some to foster buck growth, some as food sources after freeze-up. Turnips sweeten after the frost, and Kline has listened to deer munching the frozen plants the size of basketballs.
"Basically, what you've got is a popsicle in the ground," he said.
His friends and neighbors originally thought he was crazy, feeding the deer all year in hopes of shooting bigger bucks in the fall. It took him "thousands of hours" to clear a seven-acre field in the middle of his land, grubbing out trees and stumps.
"When I shot this big buck," he said, looking at the mounted monarch in his cabin, "it justified the whole insanity."
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He allows only two or three others to bow hunt on his property, which he bought in 1987. He keeps 60 acres of it as a sanctuary. Nobody goes in there unless he's tracking a wounded deer. Kline believes having that untouched land allows bucks to live longer.
"I get a lot of pressure around me in rifle season," he said. "They get chased in there, and I leave them alone. I let 'em grow another year."
Beyond creating good habitat on his own property, Kline admits he is a "freak" about controlling his own scent when he goes afield. He keeps his deer-hunting clothes separate from other clothes and unnatural scents. He chews Gum-o-Flage gum so his breath smells like apples or pine trees. He believes, to a degree, in carbon hunting clothing, which is said to lock in human scent.
"I don't think you can fool a deer's nose to become invisible to him, but you can make that deer think you're 200 yards away when you're 30," Kline said.
He also begins taking chlorophyll pills a couple of weeks before deer season.
"They give 'em to old people in nursing homes, so they won't smell as much," he said.
Must work for deer hunters, he figures.
He never uses attractant scents or buck scents of any kind. He uses lots of cover scents that smell like herbs or soil. He plays the wind. He alters the forest as little as possible.
"I've seen guys ruin a stand by cutting too many shooting lanes," he said. "Those deer know every tree, and they know every smell."
Duluth's Andrew Frielund, one of Kline's hunting friends, said Kline has a knack for attracting big bucks.
"I'll sit in tree one night, and I'll see a forkhorn or spike," Frielund said. "I pick up Larry and there are six bucks standing around. And he says, 'Oh, the big ones left before you got here.' He's really got a gut instinct on where to be and when. I don't know how it works. We like to call him lucky Larry, but you know it's not luck."
It's safe to say that Kline puts in more time focused on deer hunting than most hunters.
"This hunting thing with me is an 11-month obsession," he said.
(If you're wondering, February is his month off.)
He scouts. He places and moves and checks his game cameras. He works his food plots. And he shoots.
"I shoot my bow 12 months of the year," he said. "It's not something I'm picking up a week before the season. It's crucial to be efficient with your bow. You get an opportunity to take a shot. You may have two seconds to decide. It might not be an easy shot, but if you have confidence you can make the shot, you're going to shoot a lot more deer."
Shooting huge bucks has not diminished his passion for deer hunting.
"I think it's gotten worse," he said during a recent telephone interview. "My hands are sweating now, talking to you."
Frielund has witnessed that intensity in Kline.
"As the season gets closer and closer, he's calling me five, six times a day," Frielund said. "He's absolutely fanatical -- in a healthy way."
Kline credits his wife Amy, a physical therapist, for allowing him to pursue his passion.
"If it weren't for my wife, I couldn't do this. She's totally supportive," Kline said.
He estimates that he hunts more than 400 hours each fall, the equivalent of 50 eight-hour days.
For the past four years, he's been on the trail of a massive animal on his land, a buck he calls his "retirement buck." It's even bigger than the ghost buck of 2004.
"It's so big, I'll never shoot one bigger, so I'll have to retire," he said. "I've never gotten a picture of him. I've seen him seven or eight times -- on the road, in the stand. I can't figure him out. I think he's probably a state record. He's smarter than me."
While he pursues that one -- and others -- he's also grooming another Kline. His 10-year-old daughter, Hallie, shot her first deer last year in a mentored hunt with her dad.
"That was as fun as any of those big bucks," Kline said.