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Column: On behalf of an old buck, spare 'Jackson'

EDITOR'S NOTE: Chris and Stephanie Potter have come to know a whitetail buck they call Jackson, who visits a feeder near their rural Two Harbors home. Chris wrote this essay as Minnesota's firearms deer season approaches.

My wife, Stephanie, and I have always been somewhat private people, but we feel the need to share our story to give a magnificent buck a fair chance this deer season.

We began feeding deer in 1996 for the mere pleasure of watching them and finding their shed antlers. I am a deer hunter myself, but I do not hunt on or even near our property.

We have seen a lot of nice bucks come and go over the years. Most do get shot by local hunters but a few return each year. One of these bucks stands out: Jackson.

In 2000, our neighbor, Sue Radke, took in an orphaned fawn. She bottle-fed it and named it Jackson. She released the nubbin buck into the wild early that fall and he followed the local deer herd right into our backyard to feed.

He was the only one that we could actually walk up to and pet. Because he's so tame, our neighbor figured he probably wouldn't make it on his own.

We have never had a buck return for more than four years, but each year passed and Jackson always showed up and stayed with us for the better part of the winter.

Over the years, his abnormal rack maintained the same basic profile but magnified. His rack and individual personality always stood out from the rest of the bucks.

We were amazed how tame he was with us, yet somehow always returned like clockwork after each hunting season. It was like our backyard was his only safe haven.

Jackson is now 7½ years old. He is a very wise old buck in many ways. We still whistle him in on occasion, but he never seems to travel the same path twice in one week. Sometimes he's waiting for us at noon, and other days he comes in as late as 8:30 p.m. He even seems to know the sound of our truck when it pulls in the driveway.

I can hear him sniffing the air while standing behind a big pine tree to verify my scent while I'm standing in front of the feeder. We can never pet him or touch him, but he allows us to walk right up to him and photograph within a few feet of him.

Jackson is a true non-typical 17-point buck -- 10 points on his left antler including two drop tines and seven points on his right antler. People always ask me, "Chris, how can you possibly not want to shoot that buck? You're a deer hunter."

Here is my reason: To have the opportunity to continuously walk within feet of this magnificent buck each year, to photograph him and to find his sheds far outweigh killing him. Just to see if he makes it through the hunting seasons outweighs any success I might have during the hunting season myself.

The reason we are sharing our story is because the word is out that a few local hunters are attempting to get close to our property to kill this buck by any means possible.

We'd like local hunters to know that we are totally against feeding deer for the purpose of luring them in to kill them. We have no problem with hunting Jackson in one-on-one "fair chase."

We know the odds are against Jackson with all the properties being split and sold, which creates more hunting pressure close to our property. However, we are starting to see a change in the opinions and attitudes of a lot of people, including hunters.

They now hope to see Jackson make it through another hunting season and return each year. They, too, are curious about what his antlers will look like the next year.

It would be sad to find out that Jackson was killed over a bait pile, in front of a spotlight or right off the road near my property. Give this old buck the credit he deserves. And good luck, Jackson.