April 25, 2003
For at least the first half of the 20th century, whitetail hunters and memorabilia collectors frequently kept gigantic antlers and old, moth-eaten mounts in attics, basements and other dark "cubbyholes." As a result, many of these great racks would remain in obscurity for decades.
As stories of exceptional deer got out, a few pioneer antler collectors constantly chased down the rumors, driving all over the continent in search of great racks that had been lying in barns and closets for years. Such giants did exist, and through the efforts of these early collectors, they were found on a regular basis.
By today's standards, that was a rather non-commercial era filled with intrigue and mystery, when the only real motive for finding a world-class whitetail rack was a genuine love of antlers. To those collectors, each great rack was a piece of artwork from nature's gallery, for no two deer were alike.
As the trophy-whitetail movement matured, interest in discovering big antlers eventually led expert and novice antler sleuths alike to the far corners of North America. The search has long since reached the grassroots level; taxidermists, hunters, collectors, sporting-goods dealers, outdoor writers and even antler brokers now have checked under most of the stones once left unturned. As a result, most of the huge bucks that have turned up since the late 1980s have been recent kills. Unknown giants from the old days are now few and far between, and those still out there are certainly obscure.
But believe it or not, every so often a monster from yesteryear still turns up. For a case in point, you need look only as far as the facing page. This incredible Nebraska whitetail appears to have been the biggest typical ever to walk the earth, as far as can be substantiated. And get this: His rack sat in obscurity for nearly 40 years!
AN OVERLOOKED HOTSPOT
The fortunate discovery of this spectacular buck can be credited to outfitter Tim Condict of Oklahoma. In the mid-1990s, Tim decided to take a bigger step into the world of whitetail outfitting and began leasing some large ranches not just in his home state, but also in Nebraska. You don't hear much about the Cornhusker State, but it's among the most underrated whitetail hotspots in North America. Nebraska has a small human population, a few outfitters . . . and plenty of big bucks!
In a number of states in the Midwest, whitetail hunting has become a tradition only in the last couple of human generations. Nebraska definitely fits this description. Following settlement of the state in the 1800s the deer herd was depleted, and hunting was stopped. In fact, it wasn't until the late 1950s that modern whitetail seasons were held. But when it finally happened, Nebraska's top bucks almost immediately started making headlines.
Del Austin's legendary 279 7/8-point Pope & Young non-typical, which holds not only the state mark but also the Pope and Young world record, was arrowed in south-central Nebraska in 1962. And Vernon Virka's 199 5/8-point Boone and Crockett typical, which was shot with a rifle in 1983 in eastern Nebraska, is the current state record in that category and is widely regarded by collectors as one of the world's finest typicals of all time.
Given this history of top-end bucks, it's not surprising that Tim felt Nebraska was worth exploring, and over several years he leased more than 50,000 acres for whitetail hunting in the state, outfitting archery, muzzleloader and rifle hunts throughout the various seasons.
In his ongoing quest for hunting land, Tim had several telephone conversations with a relative's friend who owned a ranch in Nebraska.
Of course, the process of zeroing in on big bucks can be approached from several angles. Tim's favorite way is to identify areas that have great trophy potential, based on the known presence of big bucks in years past. This can include kills and/or huge shed antlers.
In the course of questioning this particular rancher about the buck potential in his area, Tim always asked about any big racks or sheds that might have turned up since they'd last talked. After numerous conversations between them, the rancher friend finally recalled, "If you want to see a really big set of horns, this ol' boy across the way has a monster hanging on the wall in his house. I've been down to that Cabela's store in Sidney, and they don't have anything hanging that compares to this one!"
Tim had heard such stories before, and he knew they seldom pan out. He'd been on a few wild goose chases before and knew that the reality of a buck's size is generally far less than the rumor contends. But Tim also realized that in big-buck country, any rumor about a gigantic set of antlers could be reality. So that spring, he drove up to Nebraska to do some shed hunting, look at ranches and especially look at the pair of sheds described by his friend.
A BIG SURPRISE
The setting was typical of central Nebraska: a modest farmhouse sitting amid many outbuildings, with various livestock scattered about. Tim was invited inside the house by the landowner, who then led him through several rooms to where the sheds supposedly were.
As the rancher passed through a low, arched entryway, he said, "There he is."
Tim looked at every wall but saw no antlers. He was beginning to feel a bit foolish for having even pursued the rumor, but then finally realized that the object of his quest was directly above his head.
"As I looked up under those massive 32-plus-inch beams, my jaw dropped and my teeth fell out on the floor," Tim recalls in what is probably only a mild exaggeration. "After I jacked my jaw back up and put my teeth in, I said, 'Nice buck.' "
The sheds were fastened directly to a plaque by long wood screws between the burr and brow tine of each antler. Because the back edge of each burr was too thick to allow the antlers to fit completely flat against the wall, a small portion of the rear of each burr had been sawed off. Other than that, both antlers were in nearly perfect condition.
IN THE BEGINNING
As the story of the antlers' discovery was told, back in the spring of 1959 the rancher had been tending to a cow that had just had a calf. As the man walked around a thick willow bush to get to the bedded calf, he saw a single whitetail antler actually hanging in the bush. Looking down, he then noticed the other side was lying only a few feet away. At the time, the rancher realized they were unusually big, so he decided to pick them up and hang them in his house.
Later in the conversation, Tim asked the rancher if he'd ever seen the buck in the flesh. "Yes," the man replied matter-of-factly. "There were three of them back in '58. All of them were about the same size, and I'm sure this guy was one of them."
The rancher reflected for a moment, then elaborated even further. "Back in those days, there were lots of big bucks. These sheds were found back in the years when the first whitetail season began in Nebraska."
There's really no reason to doubt him, either. From other ranchers in the area, Tim has heard many other stories of huge bucks being seen during that era. But the sheds off this buck are the story here. They're huge in every way, from score to appearance. Study the accompanying score sheet and you'll see that the rack is every bit as big as it looks.
There are so many phenomenal measurements on this buck that it's difficult to know where to start in analyzing him. Of course, the estimated net score of 218 1/8 points is one serious number, as it easily exceeds that of the current world-record typical, Milo Hanson's 213 5/8-pointer from Saskatchewan (1993).
I have no doubt that this Nebraska buck would have netted at least 218 1/8 points on the hoof - a hands-down world record. That's because most experts who really know antlers and have seen the sheds feel that the estimated inside spread of 23 6/8 inches is conservative. The actual spread might have been as much as 1 1/2 inches more, depending upon the exact angle at which the antlers were attached to the buck's head.
We also must remember that the sheds were found several months after having been exposed to winter's elements, and that for 37 years they hung just beneath the ceiling of a room in which the shrinking effects of heat were no doubt considerable. Only then were they taken down and measured for the first time.
It's hardly fair to compare such a rack to a recently harvested one kept indoors from the time of skinning for the short 60-day drying period and then officially measured for the record book. Just in shrinkage alone, these Nebraska sheds could easily have lost as much as 6 to 8 inches in total measurement, especially in this type of rack, which still has 32-plus-inch main beams and a conservative inside spread of nearly 24 inches. Another 8 to 10 inches overall, which this buck conceivably lost, would have put him at 226 1/8 to 228 1/8 net, had the antlers been measured soon after being found back in 1959.
But even discounting all of that, and working with the measurements as they currently are, this buck is a giant. In fact, if he were toting these antlers around today, he'd be a "walking world record." Milo Hanson's No. 1 typical is truly an extraordinary buck, but this deer would have beaten him in terms of both gross and net scores with inches to spare.
Of the biggest sets of typical sheds known to exist - many of which I've written about in North American Whitetail over the years - this is the only pair that can be fully scored without speculation about anything other than inside spread. The "Kansas King," a buck whose sheds I wrote about in the December 1994 issue, theoretically could have netted around 217 points, but the entire lengths of a brow tine and a G-2 tine had been broken off, leaving us to speculate as to their true lengths. Even so, that buck's best possible score of 217 net points is less than what these Nebraska sheds score.
And then, from Iowa comes an enormous shed grossing around 112 typical points that supposedly had a reasonably matched opposite side. Unfortunately, as the story goes, that other antler was made into knife handles before it could be scored or photographed. In all likelihood the missing side was big, and the total net score for this buck could have exceeded 218 1/8 - but I doubt anyone will ever know for sure.
On the Nebraska rack, there's no speculation as to what each side scores, except for tiny variances in each measurer's interpretation, as all points and main beams are completely intact. His net score (without any spread credit) has been accepted for the North American Shed Hunter's Club record book, and the sheds are now the official world record in NASHC's typical category. The sheds were measured by John Kunert of Nebraska, a respected NASHC official measurer.
Because there are no common-base typical points or other significantly difficult scoring challenges on either antler, it's reasonable to assume they've been measured quite accurately. Again, most knowledgeable individuals who've seen the sheds also feel that the inside spread of 23 6/8 inches is on the conservative side. But even if the mounted antlers have been set too wide, the inside spread would have beaten the Hanson buck with no problem. In fact, the spread could be reduced 4 3/8 inches (to 19 3/8 inches) and still render a net score higher than that deer's 213 5/8.
This narrow a spread wouldn't be realistic, so we can safely assume that the Nebraska buck was the highest-scoring typical (that can be reasonably documented) of all time. He was undoubtedly a world-record typical while alive and still would be, but he can't be declared so by B&C; sheds aren't eligible for entry into anything other than the NASHC's book for sheds.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
It's even more stunning to analyze the score sheet to see what the Nebraska buck easily could have scored. Perhaps his conservative gross typical score of 234 1/8 points is an even better indicator of what he really grew on his head more than 40 years ago.
Unfortunately, along with that gigantic typical frame, the deer also sprouted a 4 1/8-inch abnormal point off the back of the right brow tine (not included in the gross typical score). Without that, he'd almost certainly have netted out at a minimum of 222 2/8 points!
But wait - there's more. The side-to-side differences on the typical frame also badly hurt the final score. The total asymmetry deduction of 11 7/8 inches is quite high for a clean 6x6 typical frame. Just the side-to-side differences in the lengths of this rack's G-2 and G-4 tines cost it another 7 inches in net score, which would have put the deer at a 229 7/8 net typical score (again, if the 4 1/8-inch abnormal point hadn't been grown)!
All of this conjecture simply points to the greatness of this buck. Even without the benefit of any of these "what-ifs," he was clearly a world-record typical at the time he lived, and he'd still be one today, were his rack intact. His estimated inside spread of 23 6/8 inches is remarkable, and those 32-plus-inch main beams have been equaled by only a handful of other deer. His mass, especially at the H-3 and H-4 measurements, is simply incredible. And finally, his total typical measurements of 107 2/8 and 103 1/8 inches per side, for a total of 210 3/8, would have given him a gross typical score higher than that of James Jordan's longtime world record from Wisconsin - and remember, that's with no spread credit for the Nebraska buck!
Tim says he feels honored to have "discovered" the highest-scoring typical buck ever known to exist. And get this: The deer was wearing that set of antlers the year Tim was born. Fate?
GREATEST 6x6 EVER?
Over the years, I've handled and written about all of the world's very biggest whitetail racks, and I realize that the overall greatness of a buck isn't always reflected in his actual score. For example, most serious antler connoisseurs, myself included, feel that the net 202-inch John Breen buck from Minnesota, shot in 1918, is the best-looking and most impressive typical ever. At least, we did before these Nebraska sheds turned up! Now, many feel that while the Breen buck is still the greatest basic 5x5 in the world, this "new" brute is the top basic 6x6.
We might argue over which of these two amazing trophies is overall the most impressive typical in history, and that's a tough call. But one thing's clear: This Nebraska giant will forever be considered among the greatest bucks in history.