For years, Dan Vandertie’s claim to fame were the 43 consecutive awards his Doorco Holsteins dairy farm received as Progressive Breeders’ Registry honorees.
The Holstein Association USA’s longest-running award honors top registered Holstein homebred herds based on elite milk production and classification scores. Doorco Holsteins’ honors started when Dan’s parents owned the farm.
Now, the 56-year-old Vandertie finds himself with a new claim to fame, and it doesn’t have anything to do with dairy farming.
Vandertie, who along with his wife, Julie, owns Doorco Holsteins in the Door County town of Brussels, earned his place in Wisconsin lore this month by harvesting the first legal elk in the state’s inaugural managed elk hunt.
On Nov. 8, while hunting near Clam Lake in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Vandertie used a pair of perfectly placed shots to down an impressive bull elk from 160 yards away. The 6X6 bull (six points on each side of its antlers) weighed roughly 800 pounds and fell just 40 feet from where it was first shot.
Peering through the scope of his .300 Winchester Short Magnum rifle at that moment, Vandertie said, “You’re not thinking about getting the first legal elk in the state hunt. You just see it’s a very nice animal out there. You realize how big they really are. You’re looking through the sights and … I’ve hunted enough deer where you calm yourself and don’t rush the shot. You’re not shaking. You stay calm.
“And then when I shot it and it went down, I was very excited because I knew I had a nice elk. Then after a few minutes, it made me think — you know what, I’m a little bit sad. Because I’ll never get to hunt elk in Wisconsin again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s just one of those things I’ll never forget, especially because of the people I met along the way on my journey and the things I got to experience.”
The first managed elk hunt in Wisconsin history opened Oct. 13 following restoration efforts that started in that geographic range with the release of 25 elk from Michigan in 1995.
“This is an incredible conservation success story for Wisconsin,” DNR Secretary Dan Meyer said.
Kevin Wallenfang, Wisconsin DNR deer and elk ecologist, said the hunt was initiated because the herd size surpassed 200; he estimated the pre-hunt number at 215 to 220 elk.
Ten tags were made available for a bull-only hunt this fall. More than 38,000 applications were submitted at $10 each, and Vandertie was one of four Wisconsin residents awarded a tag through a random drawing. One additional tag was awarded to a state resident through a raffle conducted by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. And the remaining five tags were distributed to the Wisconsin Chippewa tribes.
The 2018 state hunt was divided into two periods — Oct. 13 to Nov. 11 and Dec. 13 to Dec. 21. In addition to Vandertie’s 6X6 elk, the other state tags that were filled were 5X5’s. The lone hunter who didn’t harvest an elk yet has another chance during December. Hunters may be issued or transferred only one elk license in their lifetime, meaning Vandertie made the most of his opportunity.
Wallenfang said the quota for next year’s elk hunt will be determined in March, and the application period will be in effect throughout May; it’s a $10 application fee for Wisconsin residents only. Application and license fees, donated funds and proceeds from the RMEF raffle are earmarked for elk management and research in Wisconsin.
Vandertie is no stranger to hunting and dairy farming.
“I’ve been working on this farm since birth, basically,” he said. “Born and raised here. This is my farm, my home. And then when Julie and I got married in 1987, we bought the farm at the same time.” To which he added with a laugh, “We just liked putting stress on our marriage right off the bat.”
Doorco Holsteins milks a herd of 35 registered Holsteins while also doing some cash-cropping on its 400 acres. In addition, the Vanderties sell registered breeding bulls to area farmers and distribute embryos both nationally and internationally.
Vandertie remains passionate about hunting, too. He recalls “running behind (his father, Wilferd Vandertie) through corn fields and doing some rabbit hunting and small game hunting when I was a kid. All my life, I’ve been into some type of hunting.”
Vandertie’s grandfather, William “Butch” Vandertie, traveled to Canada on hunting excursions in 1959, 1960 and 1961 and came back with a moose each year. Vandertie wasn’t born at that time, but he proudly maintains the 1961 Dodge D100 pickup truck his grandfather bought for the moose trip that last season.
Despite their hunting exploits, neither Vandertie’s father nor grandfather went elk hunting.
“My father’s wish was always to go out west elk hunting,” Vandertie said. “But by the time he figured he had time to do it off the farm, his legs and knees weren’t in the best shape so he never got out elk hunting. I wish he had that chance.”
Vandertie and one of his daughters, Karlee, both applied for elk tags last spring.
A few weeks later, Vandertie received a voice mail from Wallenfang after coming in from the barn one night.
“So I called him the next morning and when he told me I got a tag, I thought, ‘OK, who’s pulling a joke on me?’” Vandertie said. “I told him, ‘Are you serious? This isn’t a joke?’ So I said, ‘Hang on, I need to sit down.’ I thought, ‘Holy buckets, this is great! The chance to hunt elk in Wisconsin. Wow.’ I knew how lucky I was.”
With help from his wife, Julie, who shouldered additional duties back on the farm, Vandertie made the first of several four-hour drives to Clam Lake in July to scout the area.
“I got in the woods there and first thing I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, how do you shoot elk in here?’” he said. “This is thick. Real thick. You go to Colorado elk hunting and you’ve got openings. Up in Clam Lake, it was so thick I thought it was going to be impossible. The most you could see was 30, 40 yards, but the elk have hundreds of square miles where they can be.”
Vandertie promptly connected with foresters and DNR personnel and gathered maps and plat books, “because I had to do my homework and figure out a plan.”
By chance, Vandertie’s other daughter, Bridget, came across someone heading to Clam Lake in August to run bear dogs.
“That person was Mitch Bemis, and we talked and he invited me up there,” Vandertie said. “We met up with bear hunters there and they helped with advice on where they see the elk. They really helped get me familiar with the area.”
In another case of good fortune, Vandertie met John and Brenda Maier, who own True North Guiding and Outfitters.
“Our daughters played softball together in high school, and he had a cabin up there,” Vandertie said. “He was right in the middle of elk territory, so they helped me out a lot, too.”
Yet, despite the newfound connections and hours of planning, Vandertie didn’t see any elk in the woods the first two days of hunting.
“We saw them before daylight and after dark when we couldn’t get them, or by the road where we couldn’t shoot them,” he said. “We were getting a little concerned.”
So Vandertie stopped at an area bar, seeking advice rather than a beverage. The locals wasted no time pointing out on maps where open spots could be found in the forest and elk may be seen. They also suggested speaking with loggers who were well-versed in the region.
Shortly thereafter, Vandertie came across a large bull elk. But since it was on private land and permission couldn’t be secured, he had to move on. Ironically, Vandertie ended up coming across the same big bull as time progressed, this time on huntable land.
“I thought I had a second chance at that guy,” Vandertie said. “So we snuck out to the edge of the guy’s barn and were hiding behind a wall of the barn looking through the spotting scope. The bull ended up being 300 yards out in the field. But that far out with a 10 mile-an-hour crosswind and the fact it was getting late in the day … I decided it wasn’t worth taking a chance of wounding him and not finding him. So I let him go.”
Disappointed but not deterred, Vandertie returned to Doorco Holsteins and continued dairy farming for several more days.
With the first month of the elk season starting to wind down, Vandertie packed his bags and returned to Clam Lake on Nov. 7. He again spoke with loggers who pointed him in the direction of where they recently spotted large bulls.
“And that’s where I found the guy that I shot — he was in one of the places they said they saw him,” Vandertie said.
On the morning of Nov. 8, Vandertie and his hunting partners, Mitch Bemis and taxidermist Troy Piotrowski, saw the 6X6 bull but couldn’t get a shot.
“He kept moving closer to the forest road,” Vandertie said. “And then he went into some real heavy evergreens and he kept staying 100, 150 yards ahead of me. About that time we let him be and we went looking for other bulls. A storm front was coming in, so we were really looking.”
At about 12:30 p.m., Vandertie returned to the area in the national forest where he originally spotted the bull. This time he noticed the large elk with a smaller 3X3 bull.
“At about 3:15 p.m., that 3X3 came out, and then about 3:30, this big guy came out,” Vandertie said. “We waited for a while until he got in position where we had a nice shot, and then we took him.”
Both of Vandertie’s shots were on target, as the bull fell within 40 feet of his first shot.
“My dad was extremely excited. It was a pretty cool experience,” said his daughter, Karlee, who was scouting areas nearby and quickly drove to the site after receiving her father’s call.
“So now we’ve got this 800-pound bull lying there,” Vandertie said. “We called some DNR people to come verify it and had to get samples from the deer for the DNR to do health checks.
“And then a guy pulls up who was bow hunting a little further down. He came to see the elk. He was excited and congratulated me and offered to help. He said he had a group of guys who could help us. So 15 minutes later another bunch of guys come pulling up, and they basically carried that elk out of the woods and put it on the back of my truck for me. They were great.”
“After that, guys were telling me, ‘You got the first one so you have the record for the biggest one, too,’” Vandertie said.
He added that the Boone and Crockett Club will do official measurements after the elk has been dead for 60 days. Some of his elk’s meat has already been shared with loggers and people near Clam Lake who helped during the hunt.
“It’s a big elk, but I know there are bigger elk up there yet,” Vandertie said. “I know because I saw them myself.”
Vandertie plans to have his elk shoulder mounted. He said he’s open to showing it at events to help promote the elk hunt on behalf of the Wisconsin DNR.
“There are a lot of people who don’t even know there are elk in Wisconsin,” Vandertie said. “There are people who said to me, ‘Is that a game farm you won a ticket for? Are they in a pen or what?’ So I explained it to them. They definitely weren’t in a pen. It wasn’t like shooting fish in a barrel. This was a whole lot tougher than we thought it was going to be.”
As for his father and grandfather, Vandertie said, “My cousin, when she saw I got it, she said, ‘Your dad and grandpa are smiling right now. You did well.’”
Now that’s he’s back on the dairy farm, Vandertie is busy milking cows and trying to harvest some of the corn that was still standing because of the wet fall.
“I’ve got a lot of work to catch up on from the time I was gone,” he said. “And I have to give my wife some time off now, because she held down the farm and took all the weight on her shoulders to get everything done while I was hunting.”
But no matter what, Vandertie said, he’ll never forget this hunting experience.
“One guy told me, ‘Wow, Dan, what a nice ending, shooting an elk,’” he said. “I just said, ‘Nah, this isn’t an ending. I plan on going back up there and doing more hunting with the people I met. The people were great. And the national forest up there is very nice. A lot of canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting. It opened up my eyes to a whole new part of Wisconsin and how beautiful it is up there.
“Even if I hadn’t got that elk, it was still a great journey. The people, the beautiful areas, those were probably the best parts about it.”