Huge bucks are taken each year by New York hunters using a variety of gear. But for decades deer hunting in this diverse state has been synonymous with “firearms season.” For most here, nothing gets the blood flowing like the approach of “opening day,” with cars lined up along country roads, kids absent from school and “sick days” at an annual high at local businesses.
Even for those hunters who enjoy time in the woods with their bows or muzzleloaders, the most poignant memories often involve opening day of firearms season. In New York, more trophy bucks are shot on this day than any other. Last year, the state’s largest gross-scoring buck was killed on the opener! Eleven days later an equally impressive buck fell. Let’s take a look at the best bucks taken by this state’s firearms hunters in 2012.
I should note that these “best of the season” articles are always dangerous to write because inevitably great bucks surface after the article is written. But for purposes of this article I am going to feature the largest gross-scoring bucks from the 2012 firearms season registered with the Northeast Big Buck Club. Of course, it is likely that other outstanding bucks were taken but not registered with the NBBC.
The No. 1 Non-Typical Buck of 2012
Last Nov. 17, Dick Sheflin was in the woods of Livingston County for his 46th consecutive opening day of the New York firearms season. Opening day had always been a special day for Dick, but this one would be like none before.
This experienced deer hunter loves to hunt with his bow, muzzleloader and shotgun in his home state. He hunted Pennsylvania a few times in the 1980s, but most of hunting skills were honed in the woods of New York. Most areas Dick hunts include tillable land with mixed hardwoods. His favorite spots are a mix of open woods, thick cover, swampy tangles and plenty of food.
While archery has been Dick’s favorite method of hunting for many years, for him nothing matches the excitement of opening day of gun season. His shotgun had produced nearly half of his 100 deer kills over the years, and most of his 62 bucks.
Until recently, most of those bucks were pretty small. After all, Dick grew up in the ’60s, when shooting any buck was quite an accomplishment. It took him a long time to break those old habits. But recently his sons—Joe (30), Tom (28) and Jim (24)—who have killed a nice group of bucks in the range of 120-130 inches—chided him into passing on those small bucks so he could focus on a wall-hanger.
This new approach seemed to be working. Over the past several years Dick has shot fewer bucks, but bigger ones. And he now finds great enjoyment in letting the “little guys” pass. So he set his goal of shooting a buck worth mounting: by his definition, one of 140 inches or better. And Dick had access to a property that might be able to produce such a buck.
Dick had been hunting a very good property for several years prior to the 2012 season, and he and his sons had shot some decent bucks there. In late summer of 2011, another hunter spotted a giant buck with “at least 14 points” on the farm. Then opening day of the 2011 gun season on the property produced two good bucks for Dick’s sons.
Going into the 2012 season the team had a camera that had picked up some photos of really good bucks, so hopes were high for the firearms opener. They wondered if that big one was still hanging around.
The day before the opener last year was Dec. 16: Dick’s 61st birthday. But it was bittersweet, because on that date three years earlier, his mom passed away. He had spoken with her that morning, and in addition to wishing him a happy birthday, she reminded him that every day is a blessing. About 15 minutes later she had a stroke and passed away the next day.
As Dick prepared for last opening day, his mom’s words came back to him. He also recalled that she had knitted him an orange hat. So in her honor, he found the hat and decided he would wear it. Who knows? Dick said to himself. Maybe it will bring me good luck. He could not have known just how good.
Dick says he never sleeps well the night before the gun opener. To make matters worse he had a cup of coffee late in the evening. He went to bed at 10 but then woke up at 11 and could not get back to sleep. He kept himself busy all night, then cooked breakfast for sons Joe and Tom, who would be hunting with him that morning.
After breakfast, they headed out and got into their stands about an hour before first light. The temperature was in the low 20s. Dick was hunting a stand between two thick areas, though he was in open hardwoods. Around him was a swampy area with plenty of frozen water on this morning. That would make it easy to hear deer moving.
At 8:30, Dick saw eight does and fawns with a 5-pointer behind them. After that things quieted down again, and Dick had something to eat. By 9:30 the sun had warmed him up, and having had so little sleep the night before, the hunter decided it might be time for a little nap.
Dick looked around and saw a tree that looked like a good one to take a snooze under. So at around 10:00 he decided to do just that. But as he started down from his own tree, he happened to see movement in one of the thick areas.
Sure enough, here came some does and fawns, so Dick quietly got back into the stand. Soon afterwards he heard ice breaking, and moments later a tall-racked 6-pointer came out to chase does.
Before long, one of the does started looking behind Dick’s stand. She stamped her feet and was extremely alert, so Dick slowly looked over his shoulder. All he saw was a rack! He tried to grab his gun and it clanked against the metal hanger. Thankfully the buck did not notice the noise and Dick was able to get the gun into position. He looked ahead of the big buck, picked a clear spot and was able to follow the deer with the gun and wait till he hit the opening.
When the shot presented itself, Dick pulled the trigger. In short order the buck went down . . . kicked a few times . . . and that was that. Dick thought he had shot a “decent buck,” but he really had never taken a good look at the rack. He called Joe from his stand and said just that. Then he climbed down and walked over to the dead deer.
As the hunter got closer, it seemed to him that the buck just kept getting bigger and bigger. When Dick bent over and picked up the buck’s head, he could not believe what he was seeing. He still did not completely understand how big the buck was. “I sure hope he scores at least 140!” Dick remembers thinking. He called Joe and updated his previous story. The rack had 18 points!
Joe had a hard time believing his dad’s new version of events. But when asked if he planned to get it mounted, Dick responded, “Oh, yeah!” That was enough to convince the boys to head right over.
They were not disappointed when they got there. In fact, they were shocked! It was a great family experience as the boys enjoyed the moment with their dad. Dick thought about how fortunate he was that his boys had chided him into waiting for a “wall-hanger.” And of course, he also thought of his mom as he looked at the “lucky” orange hat she had knitted him. Taking this great whitetail was all about family.
The boys told their dad they knew his buck would indeed go “better than 140,” but the men still had no idea this would be New York’s highest-gross-score buck of 2012.
Joe took some photos with his new iPhone (the only camera they had) and immediately sent them to a few friends. Dick was amazed how quickly so many people saw that photo. By noon people all over the state were receiving the photo, and it had created quite a stir. Many people came over to see this buck and celebrate with Dick.
The next day, Bob Estes of the New York State Big Buck Club and Boone and Crockett “green” scored the deer. Now, for the first time, Dick realized just how special his buck was. He really enjoyed his time with Bob and the “hubbub” the buck created over the coming months.
After the 60-day drying period, the great buck was panel scored by Bob and Bill Estes of B&C and Robert Terol of NYSBBC. The final panel score of this buck is 195 5/8 inches gross and 188 6/8 net B&C as an 18-point non-typical. The typical frame is a 6×5 with three abnormal points on the right and four on the left.
The G-2 and G-3 tines are the strength of the rack, with the G-2s checking in at 12 5/8 and 13 2/8 and each G-3 exceeding 10. The mass is excellent, with base circumferences over 5 inches each. According to the Northeast Big Buck Club, this buck ranks No. 12 for gun non-typicals from the state all time and is the largest-gross-scoring non-typical from the state in 2012.