The James Jordan Buck Turns 100
October 02, 2014
What makes a whitetail buck a legend?
Great size is the first criterion, but it's not always enough; while many giants dot the record books, few are household names. The missing ingredient often is a truly compelling tale. Crazy twists and turns in a huge buck's story make him unforgettable to those who hunt or simply admire such giants. Over time, as a world-class whitetail and equally memorable events to go with him become widely known, he attains legendary status.
Only a handful of deer fully qualify. And one of them — perhaps foremost among all whitetails ever taken by gun — is James Jordan's former Boone & Crockett world-record typical.
What brings him to mind is that a milestone anniversary of his harvest is upon us. Nov. 20, 2014, marks 100 years since this giant fell just south of Danbury, Wisconsin. As the occasion nears, locals actually are celebrating it officially in several ways. And we self-appointed whitetail historians find ourselves reflecting on this stunning trophy and the era in which he lived. In so doing, we can't help but ponder the improbable events that help make this super buck a legend among legends.
Even a century after the Jordan buck's demise, this stunning 5x5 ranks No. 2 on B&C's all-time list of typicals. With a net score of 206 1/8, he held the official world record from when he was panel-scored in 1966 until Milo Hanson's 213 5/8-inch basic 12-pointer from Saskatchewan in 1993 was ruled No. 1 by B&C in 1995. In effect, the Jordan buck was the world's top-scoring typical for 79 years.
Regardless of where the Wisconsin giant ranks, it's hard to fathom a finer 10-pointer. Many antler addicts say he's their favorite. His main rival for the title of "best basic 10" is John Breen's 202 0/8-incher, which was shot in Minnesota four years later.
The Jordan buck has unprecedented balance. There are no abnormal points, and asymmetry differences total just 3 2/8 inches. Half of that is with the G-4 tines, which no doubt would have matched better had the right one not been injured in velvet. Even with that difference, the rack has symmetry unseen in any other 200-incher ever.
As the score sheet shows, every measurement is elite. This rack has the beams, spread and tine length to rank among the greats. But it's largely due to his stunning mass — the smallest beam circumference is 6 1/8 inches, the largest 7 4/8 — that he moves to the pinnacle of 5x5s. Put it all together, and in every sense the deer is amazing. Several times I've had the honor of holding his original rack, and that's as humbling an experience as you might guess.
In the fall of 1914, James "Jim" Jordan was a wiry 22-year-old with a deep love of the outdoors. Descended from one of the first non-native families to homestead in the area, he'd grown up near the logging town of Hinckley, Minnesota, halfway between Minneapolis and Duluth. But from there Jim and his bride, Lena, had recently moved a few miles east to Danbury, just across the Wisconsin line.
The young man took whatever work he could find, including trapping and logging. He and Lena lived in a small frame house on Peet Street, near the southern edge of Danbury and just north of the Yellow River.
Few places had many whitetails in 1914. But thanks to seasons and bag limits that had been put in place in the 19th century, Wisconsin still boasted a fair number here and there. On the morning of Nov. 20, 1914, Jim and older friend Eachus Davis headed out in search of fresh venison.
They planned to hunt south of town, beyond the river. To get there, they'd take a wagon across the Soo Line railroad trestle and head south, toward Webster. And so they headed out before dawn, six inches of fresh tracking snow covering their path.
Jim toted his Winchester Model 1892 in .25-20 WCF. With it, he frankly was undergunned; this light hitter has less energy at the muzzle than a .243 Win. has at 800 yards. Today the cartridge isn't even legal for use on Wisconsin deer. But it was all Jim had, and he'd use it on any whitetail he could find.
Wisconsin was just months away from making does off limits. But for now they remained fair game, and Jim dropped one early that morning. Eachus headed north to town with her in the wagon as Jim kept hunting.
About a mile below town, as Jim neared the north end of Round Lake to his west, he cut deer tracks near the tracks. They indicated northward travel — and one set was huge. Jim followed, hoping to get a crack at the deer.
From the south shrieked the loud whistle of a northbound train. As Jim watched, several does' heads popped up from a grassy bank 50 yards ahead. And then, as they bounded away, so did a huge buck.
When Jim got his iron sights on the giant, he shot . . . and shot . . . and shot. He felt at least one round hit solidly, but the massive buck kept following his lady friends toward Danbury.
Jim dug around in his pockets and found one more round. Then he anxiously began following the oversized tracks. He found a bit of blood and occasionally caught glimpses of the buck ahead. But he didn't dare chance a shot just yet. He knew he had to make this last one count.
As Jim reached the south bank of the Yellow River, he saw the buck just ahead. But before a shot could be taken, the deer headed into the water, crossing it. When he finally stopped on the north bank, Jim squeezed off his last round . . . and the giant fell.
After wading the icy river to confirm the deer was dead, Jim went for help. But when he, Eachus and two of the latter's sons (Stewart and Howard) returned, the buck was gone. He'd slid into the river and drifted away! Luckily, the crew found him lodged against a boulder just 200 yards downstream.
Things Go South
Jim wanted a neck mount of his buck. And that's where the trouble began.
In nearby Webster lived part-time taxidermist George Van Castle, who agreed to mount the deer for $5 (about $120 today). The antlers and short cape were delivered, and the hunter awaited completion of his trophy.
But soon after Jim handed off the deer, George's wife died. The taxidermist moved to Hinckley, Minnesota, 30 miles from Danbury. When Jim learned of this, he wasn't too worried. But after many months with no word from George, Jim traveled to Hinckley to see what the holdup was. That's when he learned George had moved again — this time to Florida. And he'd left no forwarding address.
Jim was crushed. How could he hope to find a deer rack half a country away with nothing more to go on? That huge trophy was gone for good.
Time Marches On
Leap ahead right at a half-century, to 1964. Jim was 72 and still in the area. And yes, he still lamented his loss. He'd told his sad story many times.
Over that span, two world wars, the Great Depression and technology had reshaped life. And deer numbers had exploded. Hunting now was more about recreation than survival. Also, in 1950 the Boone & Crockett Club had implemented its modern scoring system. And four typical whitetails — the biggest the recently scored Breen buck from 1918 — had in succession become world records in the category.
But another huge typical from yesteryear was about to stride onto the world stage. And he'd beat them all.
Out of Nowhere
In 1958, Bob Ludwig was at a rummage sale in Sandstone, Minnesota, 10 miles north of Hinckley, when he spied an old neck mount. It was in bad shape, but that couldn't obscure the tall, wide, heavy and balanced 10-point rack. A deer hunter himself, Bob felt it was worth having, so he and the owner struck a deal: $3.
Nothing much happened with the deer for five more years. Then Bob read an article detailing the B&C system. He decided to try his hand at scoring the "antique" buck — and came up with a net of 205. That was 3 inches more than the Breen buck, which had become No. 1 in 1960.
Bob reached out to Bernard Fashingbauer, a B&C measurer in the Twin Cities, with this news. They agreed to meet, but for some reason that meeting never took place. Then, against all odds, a year later Bernard was driving through the area when he recognized Bob's name on a rural mailbox. Sure enough, it was the man with the old antlers. In short order Bernard put a tape to the rack, coming up with 206 5/8 net.
Bob shipped the antlers to B&C for panel-scoring, and on Feb. 28, 1966, at Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, George Church signed off on the panel's score of 206 1/8. There was a new No. 1 typical: the "Sandstone" buck.
But aside from the score, all else was still an enigma. While "killed in 1914" was written on the back of the mount, there was no name. For that matter, was it even a Minnesota deer?
Reunited at Last
At some point before having the antlers scored, Bob ditched the shabby remains of the cape, revealing a full skull. He eventually got around to showing it to his uncle.
When the old fellow laid eyes on it, he was shocked — for he knew he'd seen it before. Yes, believe it or not, Bob's uncle was Jim Jordan.
Jim's claim initially seemed crazy to Bob. Sure, he'd heard his uncle tell of that lost buck — but how could this possibly be the same deer?
Upon investigation, Bob learned the mount had come from the attic of an old house in Hinckley: the same one George Van Castle had lived in briefly before heading to Florida. And the "killed in 1914" written on the back of the discarded mount was a match to Jim's 50-year-old story.
Jim was ecstatic that his buck had miraculously been recovered. But he surely felt frustrated to learn it had been in Hinckley all along. Jim and Lena had themselves lived in that town for many years during the interim, never realizing the deer also was right there.
Pleading His Case
Bob finally concluded the antlers must be those of Jim's Wisconsin giant. But what would it take to convince B&C of that? Jim had no field photos or other real evidence, only his story.
Desperate for support, in 1970 he hand-wrote a letter for publication in the local Grantsburg newspaper, describing the hunt and appealing for aid from anyone who could help him substantiate the events of 56 years prior.
Here are a few excerpts:
"The head was bought at a rummage sale at Sandstone, Minnesota....Stuart (Stewart) Davis helped me pull the deer out of the river and dress it out....I showed him the picture of the horns and he said he would never forget them. He said, 'They are the horns of the buck you killed and I helped you drag out of the river'....And they found the head in an old, abandoned house up in the attic....So I am sure this is the same buck as I killed south of Danbury, Wis., in 1914....The horns were crated and sent away and came back the world's largest buck deer. I do not want the horns; all I want is the name of killing it. The guy that has the horns is my nephew."
Despite this letter, Jim never turned up anything to prove his claim. More years passed. But behind the scenes, the wheels were slowly turning. Those involved with the deer were pleading Jim's case with B&C. They believed the "Sandstone" buck was his long-lost trophy and that he and Wisconsin should get the credit.
In December 1978, B&C finally agreed. The deer was to be listed as the James Jordan buck from Burnett County, Wisconsin, in 1981's 8th edition of Records of North American Big Game. Jim's dream at last had come true.
This announcement should have brought great joy to the hunter, his family and friends. But it was a hollow victory. Because just two months prior to B&C's decision, the 86-year-old hunter had passed away.
Most deer tales end with a happy hunter kneeling beside the kill. But in a way, that's the point at which the real hunt for the Jordan buck begins.
That Jim died before being recognized for this deer is tragic. Still, in the end, the man's connection to the animal he took was made secure. And so, 100 years after the deer's death — and 36 years after Jim's — whitetail history includes both as central figures. No matter how many bucks come down the trail, there never will be another deer, or deer story, quite like this one.
For Your Information
The Jordan buck's original rack is in the "King of Bucks" collection now on display at Bass Pro Shops' headquarters in Springfield, Missouri.
Many Burnett County residents are quite proud of this deer and have worked hard this year to commemorate Jim's historic hunt. In fact, a special Jordan buck banquet is scheduled for Oct. 4. For details on the local events, visit here.
Even North American Whitetail TV is getting in on the celebration. In fact, an upcoming episode (first airing at 8 p.m. EST on Nov. 12 on The Sportsman Channel) will be solely on this legendary buck. We'll retrace the hunter's steps and bring you exclusive footage from the scene.
Order cool Jordan buck products here. And for more on Wisconsin's own record book for whitetails, visit here.