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Hunter Accidentally Blows Up Blind, Then Tags Palmated Buck

"If that Buddy Heater wouldn't have blown up, I wouldn't have even seen him"
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brent wiesenburger with paddle whitetail buck
Brent Wiesenburger's paddle-antlered buck is a rare spectacle. Brent Wiesenburger

When Brent Wiesenburger set out to hunt on Saturday morning, he dressed knowing that he’d be sitting in a ground blind with a portable heater, which meant thin layers and no heavy coat. After all, comfort was the last thing on his mind. The 52-year-old hunter had been chasing the most unique whitetail buck he’d ever seen since South Dakota’s archery opener in mid-September. This weekend, he was pulling out all the stops on a rifle hunt.

It wasn’t just a heavy-beamed typical whitetail, or even a nontypical with extra trash hanging off the sides. This buck had one slightly palmated 6-point antler on his right side and what can only be described as a swollen moose paddle on his left. The buck was so out of the ordinary that Wiesenburger barely told any of his buddies about it.

“I love sharing pictures with all my buddies back home,” he tells Outdoor Life. “We all sit together during opening weekend and share pics and tell stories, but I’ve been so secretive this fall. And they’re all like ‘Oh Brent, you’ve got a big one up there, don’t ya?’ And I’ve been like ‘Ehh, he’s not that big, but he’s different.’ And they ask to see a picture, and I tell them nope, I can’t do that.”

brent wiesenburger buck truck
Wiesenburger was hesitant to show his friends trail camera photos of the buck, a rarity for him. Brent Wiesenburger

Wiesenburger started seeing the buck on trail camera this summer. He manages a property in north-central South Dakota for optimal whitetail hunting, and this buck showed up for the first time in early summer. Wiesenburger’s background in agriculture lends well to carefully maintaining food plots, selective cutting in cedar and spruce stands, and generally turning the 600 acres of CRP land into a deer paradise. (Much to the excitement of the landowner, an avid upland bird hunter, this work also turns the land into pheasant paradise.)

On Nov. 18, he dressed light and went out to the ground blind nearly two hours before first light. He turned on his Buddy Heater, which was attached to a 20-pound propane tank.

“The heater sounded funny, like it was burning weird. So I turned it off and clicked it back on again, and it flared up a little bit. So I turned it off again, and turned the propane tank off. But I still heard some hissing. So I decided to let it air out, and I started getting my gun ready and tripod set up, just getting situated,” Wiesenburger tells Outdoor Life. “Then I reached over and figured, before I turned the propane tank back on, I wanted to clear any gas that might have been there. I didn’t realize this, but a small propane tank was still in the heater from last season, and it must have still had some gas in it that was leaking out of the valve. Well, the whole inside of the deer blind turned into a big fireball. It blew up.”

Wiesenburger tried to blow the fire out, but the Buddy Heater wouldn’t extinguish. He unzipped the deer blind and threw the Buddy Heater outside. He tried to stomp it out with dirt from the field. When that didn’t work, he carefully dragged the contraption down to a small pond, broke the ice, and tossed it in the water.

“I got back to my stand and realized there wouldn’t be a deer within 500 yards of this blind,” Wiesenburger chuckles. “It still smells like burnt plastic.”

He lasted until about 45 minutes past first light before he started to really regret his choice of clothing for the morning. The temperature had dropped into the high teens overnight, and the sun was just barely up. Wiesenburger decided to make a break for the tower blind across the shelter belt, where he knew he had another heater—one without a malfunctioning propane tank.

“I wasn’t in there 30 minutes when this buck and another came from the south,” Wiesenburger says. “He stepped into the CRP clearing, 100 yards away. So I shot. It was surreal. I tried to compose a text message to my wife and I couldn’t even type, I was shaking so bad.”

paddle-antlered buck side view
The buck's paddle antler is actually porous and less dense than it looks. Brent Wiesenburger

Once Wiesenburger could investigate the buck’s strange baseball mitt of an antler, he realized it was littered with small pores and was lighter than it looked. (The buck did walk around with his head tilted left under the weight, a tendency that his taxidermist will be replicating in the shoulder mount.) The buck also had a large tumor on its chest in the trail camera photos which had since ruptured, leaving behind a gruesome wound that was leaking fluid.

Having this buck on the ground meant that Wiesenburger could finally send pictures to his friends, which he’d been dying to do since before the season started.

“They were like ‘Where are you at, we’re coming to find you,'” he says. “They couldn’t wait to see it either. That made it pretty special.”

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Wiesenburger’s story proves that in deer hunting, even the worst of circumstances can lead to spectacular outcomes.

“If that Buddy Heater wouldn’t have blown up, I would have been nice and cozy in my ground blind and I wouldn’t have known that buck was on the other side of the trees,” he says. “I wouldn’t have even seen him.”