Once, not all that long ago, the autumn woods were regarded by many as a man’s sanctuary. But gradually, that perception is changing. Each year now, I encounter more and more female whitetail hunters. Just like their male counterparts, some of these women and girls are rather lackadaisical in their approach to deer hunting, but many others have a higher level of interest in the hunting lifestyle. In fact, just as is the case with the guys, a small percentage are downright fanatical about filling their tags, and not necessarily with the first deer that comes walking down the trail.
I suppose this evolving trend could change many a man’s lifestyle if it continues. Picture this on a typical Wednesday afternoon in November, when it’s the wife’s turn to hunt: The husband picks up the kids at school, washes the clothes, feeds the baby, cooks dinner and then picks up the hunter after dark near her favorite stand. The husband might even have to help her drag out a monster buck bigger than any he’s ever seen on any of his own hunts.
Some guys might sneer at such possibilities – but those of you men washing the underwear know firsthand what I’m talking about!
In 1953, near Cherryfield, Maine, Flora Campbell killed what was at the time the highest-scoring whitetail ever taken by a woman. Although a few bucks larger than hers have been shot by female hunters in the years since, the Campbell buck still ranks as one of the greatest of all women’s trophies, and he’s definitely one of the most impressive non-typicals ever to come from Maine’s legendary woods.
For some reason, Maine sticks out in my mind most vividly as “the wilderness” from an era past. Maybe it’s because of the many old photos I’ve seen that depicted the nostalgic lifestyles of fur trappers, loggers and other outdoor individuals living in a wilderness setting there. Of course, Jack London’s Call of the Wild and Sergeant Preston of the Royal Canadian Mounties all were food for my ravenous appetite as I dreamed daily of the great wilderness of the North.
Without question, the lifestyle and husband-wife relationship of a wilderness family 50 years ago were dramatically different from what they are today. The Campbells lived that lifestyle in southern Washington County, which forms Maine’s upper coastline. They knew what it meant to survive off the land, as did many other families in Maine back in those days. Flora had run the trapline with her husband for many years, and she certainly knew her way around in the woods. It was common and expected for a woman in that setting to know a mink track from that of an ermine, or the larger, oval pad of a lynx track from that of a bobcat.
Woods-wise families also knew the lore of big-game animals native to the area: where they bedded and fed, the trails used to travel, and the location of all wintering yards in the area. These were learned through sheer exposure. One didn’t set out to learn such facts, but through the course of daily life observed wildlife and their habits simply as part of learning the “neighborhood.”
In the area around Cherryfield, moose, black bears and whitetails constituted the varieties of big game, And, of course, these species figured prominently in the lifestyles of the wilderness families, who relied upon them for food, hides and even income from “sport” hunters utilizing guide services.
In those days, relatively small amounts of farmland were cleared, in comparison to today. As a result, most of the whitetail population lived in a wilderness environment, instead of an agricultural setting. Winters were cold, snows were deep enough to be a problem, and the amount of quality food available was limited, often being confined to pockets. Such factors contributed to a low deer density, and hunting often was tough unless you knew precisely how and where the deer lived and traveled.
Logging was a major activity in Maine in those days, and large tracts of wilderness were becoming accessible because of the establishment of new logging roads. Timber operations also opened the terrain and actually helped the sparse deer herds by providing lush secondary growth that translated into a better food supply. Deer numbers were on the rise.
This was the situation around Cherryfield in 1953, when Flora traveled with her husband over the trapline on a cold November day very near the end of deer season. At one spot where they previously had seen deer on a regular basis, they rounded a corner to find a doe running with her tail down and ears laid back in that familiar posture which told these experienced hunters that a buck was pushing her. Sure enough, he soon followed on her exact route, with his head low and his attention fixed straight ahead, where the doe had disappeared.
The fact that the buck’s rack was so big did little to shake the nerves of one who had lived among big bucks every day and who certainly had seen more than her share of them. Flora swung on the buck with her vintage rifle and dropped the monarch on the spot.
Maine is known for huge-bodied bucks; in fact, the state is credited with having produced bucks very near the world record in that regard, with some dressing over 300 pounds. Although Flora’s trophy was impressive, at 197 pounds dressed he probably was just a bit below average for a mature buck in that area.
His rack, however, made up for it. The huge non-typical antlers rank near the top for any whitetail ever killed in the state. For that matter, they compare favorably with those of almost any buck ever shot outside the state!
Although the buck scores a strong 228 7/8 non-typical Boone and Crockett points, not even that high score reflects his true impressiveness. He actually looks much larger. His mass is extraordinary – especially in the main beams, which carry the weight all the way from bases to tips. Circumference measurements for the right and left bases are 5 7/8 and 6 inches, respectively, and some circumferences are well over 7 inches farther up on the beams. Main beams are 28 2/8 inches on the right, 27 2/8 on the left. The right beam has 11 points and the left 10, making him an official 21-pointer.
The buck’s spread is 18 5/8 inches inside, while the greatest spread spans nearly 23. His narrow inside spread (for a world-class buck) accounts for some of the “low” score, and the fact that he’s a basic 8-pointer in the typical portion of his rack also hurts him. Any 8-pointer is severely penalized in his last (fourth) circumference measurement by the B&C system, because on such a buck, that measurement is taken halfway between the last typical point and the beam tip. This often cuts the normal circumference measurement nearly in half, and in the case of this buck, it probably cost his final score more than 7 inches.
This rack has great beauty in its overall shape, as well as a couple of unique features. Each beam tip turns down rather dramatically, a relatively rare trait in whitetail racks. But even more unusual is the presence of deeply forked back (G-2) tines. This isn’t such an uncommon trait on whitetail racks in the West, but it’s extremely rare in the Northeast.
Based on a combination of these uncommon antler features and the rack’s sheer size, the Campbell buck definitely ranks very near the top of the list of my all-time favorites from anywhere on the continent. What happened on that cold day a half-century ago might have seemed mundane to Flora, but in retrospect, it was one of the greatest accomplishments ever by a whitetail hunter . . . male or female!