March 24, 2016
Rare is the hunter who's taken two Boone & Crockett animals before the age of 25. Even less common is the hunter who's accomplished this feat with two species from the same state. And rarer still is it for a woman to have achieved such a milestone.
But all of these notable achievements come together in a high school agriculture teacher from Lindsay, Oklahoma. Erica Keen shot one of the best pronghorn antelope ever taken in Oklahoma, and now she's added the state's No. 9 non-typical whitetail to her list of impressive accomplishments. Not surprisingly, perhaps, she also holds the state record for each species by a female hunter.
I officially measured each of Erica's trophies, and in the process learned she isn't just a tag-along hunter. She has a passion for it. We met two years ago, when her dad, Brian Gantz, called to ask if I could score his daughter's big antelope she'd just harvested in the Panhandle. As an official measurer for the Boone & Crockett Club, I've scored many big bucks from Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas over the years. I enjoy meeting the hunters and hearing their stories, so I naturally agreed to put a tape to Erica's antelope.
She'd just taken the great pronghorn in Texas County, having drawn a tag in the state lottery. I explained to Brian that the skull would need to dry for at least 60 days before I could officially measure it, and I invited her to call me back after the drying time had ended. She'd shot the antelope on Sept. 8, 2013, and when I officially taped it in November, it measured 82 4/8 inches net. That not only made B&C (minimum entry score 82) but also ranked the trophy No. 4 all time in the state.
Then last November I received a text from Erica. And I was shocked by her wording: "Hi, this is Erica with the antelope. I have another one for you to score. And do you know a good taxidermist?" I took it that she'd shot another monster speed goat in September and had waited out the mandatory 60-day drying time before asking me to score it for her. But when I called back, I almost fell over. Erica hadn't shot another pronghorn, but a monster non-typical whitetail. She described him as having around 19 points and a 32-inch outside spread!
I of course asked Erica to text me a couple of photos of the deer. Seeing them, I was even more shocked. I couldn't wait to get my hands on the rack to score it for her. She'd taken the deer Nov. 28, so I couldn't officially score it until late January.
Erica and her husband, Josh, usually hunt deer in Northwest Oklahoma. But because of her occupation as ag teacher for Lindsay High School, they didn't have time to make the long trip last year. After talking to her dad, they decided to hunt a family farm just east of home. Brian told them he'd seen a nice buck in a wheat field on that property.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, Erica and Josh got to their stand about 4:00 p.m. "We crawled up to the edge of the field to a washout to see if any deer were on the field yet," she remembers. "There were a doe and two small bucks that came out first. We watched them ease around the back of a pond dam. We were watching them when Josh turned to look back at the other side of the pond and a non-typical buck was out on the edge of the field, grazing with a doe in front of him. We knew he looked big and was no doubt a shooter.
"I set up on him and had to reposition to get a better shot," Erica notes. "He was grazing broadside and wasn't paying much attention to the doe in front of him. I remember him picking up his head for the first time, and that's when I realized he was no ordinary deer — he was a monster. It was incredible, just like you see in the videos on TV.
"As the big buck turned broadside with his head down, I shouldered my Browning X-Bolt .243 and shot just over his back at about 200 yards," Erica continues. "But as luck was on my side, he bolted and ran toward me, quartering to within 100 yards. I fired again. Upon hearing the thud of the bullet making contact, I was sure I'd hit him good. He humped up and ran back toward the timber line he'd come out of earlier."
Erica and Josh waited about 30 minutes before getting up to check for blood. After not finding much sign of a hit, they abandoned the search for the night.
"It was getting dark, and we didn't have very good lights," Erica explains. "In fact, we only had our cell phones for lighting the way. We decided to wait till morning."
The hunters made their way back home and called some relatives to help them search again the next morning. "I just had to call my dad, since he was gone to the Ohio State-Michigan football game," Erica says. "I told him I'd just shot a Bass Pro Shops-type buck."
As you can imagine, sleep was in short supply around the Keen household. "It was the longest night of my hunting career," Erica notes. "We almost decided to go back out with bigger lights. But we thought we might push him off our property, so we waited."
The next morning Erica and Josh, along with some family members, left for the farm way before daylight. They wanted to make sure that if the buck had made it to the fence line of their property that another hunter wouldn't see him lying there before they did.
"We had help from my mom, little brother and uncle," she says. "It was 30 minutes before we found the first spot of blood. And then, as we followed the blood trail, we found him lying just beneath a large oak tree, with the sun shining on his antlers." The buck had made almost a complete circle back to where he'd entered the field with that doe the evening before.
"My first thought, when I saw how massive he was lying there, was a Bible verse that's a favorite of mine: 'Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.'
"It took all of us to load the deer," Erica continues. "And I think that's when I really was in shock to know exactly how big he was, on the back of the 4-wheeler."
As it turned out, a neighbor across the road had some game camera photos of the buck. They'd been seeing him on camera for three years but never with their own eyes in daylight. After waiting for her dad to come home from the football game, Erica showed him the buck the next day. That is when they both made the call to me about another one to score.
"We all talk about my comment to my dad about shooting a Bass Pro buck," Erica says, "and thank God that he has given me the opportunity to spend time in His outdoors!"
Being almost as excited as the hunter and her family were, I just couldn't wait for the 60-day drying period to expire before seeing the antlers. So I called Erica to set up a time to "green" score the deer. A short time later I met Erica, her husband, dad and uncle in Edmond to check out the massive rack.
When I finished the measurements, I just couldn't believe them. So I checked my math three times before I let anyone know the numbers: 234 1/8 gross, 226 1/8 net. Of course, those numbers weren't official; I'd need to score the deer again after the drying period. I also explained that usually a rack ends up close to its green score, except for a bit of shrinkage of the inside spread.
On Jan. 30 we met again in Edmond with the same onlookers and helpers. I wanted to take my time officially measuring the rack, as I felt it could be the largest ever taken in Oklahoma by a woman. Sure enough, it was. After the final scoring and rechecking my numbers, we had a gross non-typical score of 233 6/8 and net of 225 6/8, making this deer the women's record and No. 9 overall in Oklahoma.
Erica started hunting at age 10 with her dad, and she's now taken around 15 deer. Prior to her 2014 giant, her biggest was a 13-pointer. She and Josh have been married for five years, and they hunt every chance they can. But if you think he's jealous of her success, you're wrong. In fact, Josh couldn't be more proud of his wife for shooting a buck big enough to make most hunters envious. It's also granted him a different sort of claim to brag about.
"Josh says he likes to tell everyone he passed on a top 10 deer in the state for his wife to shoot," Erica explains with a laugh.