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The Jordan Heirs: Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the James Jordan Buck

Jordan-heirs_fWhen Jim Jordan shot a massive 10-pointer in Burnett County, Wisconsin, on Nov. 20, 1914, he set into motion a series of events too outlandish even for a convention of fiction writers. The trail of this spectacular trophy ultimately would wind not only through the countryside south of Danbury but also through the very fabric of whitetail history.

The great deer Jim dropped that cold morning a century ago turned out to be the world's highest-scoring typical whitetail for a span of 79 years, until Saskatchewan's Milo Hanson finally shot a bigger one in 1993. But amazingly, it took more than a half-century to realize the Jordan buck was even a Boone & Crockett record — and even longer to prove Jim had shot him. That's because the antlers were lost soon after the hunt, before being found in a local yard sale by Jim's nephew, Bob Ludwig, in the late 1950s.

With a net score of 206 1/8 inches, the beast was certified as a new world record in 1966 — but he wasn't labeled the James Jordan buck until December 1978: two months after the hunter had passed away at age 86. While Jim lived nearly 64 years after shooting this brute, and roughly 20 after the rack was found, by mere days he still missed out on seeing his name in the record book.

But the rack remains, now displayed on a modern shoulder mount in the "King of Bucks" collection at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Missouri. And what a rack it is. Even today this colossal set of antlers is the top U.S. typical in B&C and the world's No. 2 typical overall.

Hunters and antler collectors alike call the Jordan buck one of the very finest trophies ever taken, and both the deer and the man who got him are revered as legends. Especially around Burnett County, where the story still is told with passion and pride.

112014-James-Jordan-Buck-Day_smSo enduring is the affection for this former world record that Gov. Scott Walker has officially proclaimed Nov. 20, 2014, "James Jordan Buck Day" across Wisconsin. And this fall, several events have been held locally to commemorate the occasion.

Remembering a Legend

On the evening of Oct. 4, roughly 150 other Jordan buck fans and I attended one of these, a banquet in the local town of Siren. Event coordinator Mike Kornmann, an eager promoter of the county's great outdoors, invited me to come up to say a few words as a representative of North American Whitetail.

While we here at NAW had already been working on covering the centennial for not just the magazine but also here on our website, and even a unique episode of North American Whitetail TV, this special event would provide content we'd have been hard pressed to get on our own. I jumped at the chance to be there.

For locals such as Harriet Rice of Studio Northwoods, the idea of celebrating such a milestone in whitetail history was only natural. She loves the outdoors and is all about getting more people involved in the arts. This was a perfect chance to rally locals around something that would be important even beyond the borders of Burnett County.

So Harriet started working on an idea of how to commemorate the occasion. And in short order it had become the Jordan Buck Community Art Project, featuring an animated (perhaps a better adjective would be "humanated") recreation of the buck itself.

Thanks in large part to the vision of Harriet and the skills of Minneapolis puppet master Chris Lutter-Gardella, over many months a bigger-than-life representation of the deer was conceived, designed, assembled and painted by local volunteers. The result was a 9-foot-tall "buck" that is clearly a unique piece of performance art. And it literally brought the story to life.


That became evident as soon as the "buck," operated by the deft duo of Brett Peterson and Debbie Eichman, strode through the back door and onto the stage of the Northwoods Events Center. The puppet even danced along as Chris sang and played his whimsical song, "Ballad of the Jordan Buck."

Check out the song, complete with lyrics:

Up in Burnett County where the land is fair,

Wild animals wander 'round everywhere.

They say it's hunters' heaven and I know it's true —

They come from Minneapolis and Baraboo.

Listen to my story and you'll see what I mean.

It happened way back in nineteen fourteen.

Jim Jordan was out on the Gandy Dancer Trail

When he caught sight of a big whitetail.

Up in jumped when the train whistle blew.

He took his aim and he shot it through.

Well, wouldn't you know — it was just his luck —

He got himself a world-record-breaking buck.

He was the Jordan buck, the Jordan buck

You probably couldn't fit it in a pickup truck

Walkin' through the woods, he really had to duck

He was a mighty big deer — he was the Jordan buck.

Forty-five years later the mount was found

In a secondhand store, up in Sandstone town.

Boone and Crockett came out to Bob Ludwig's home.

They measured that rack and wouldn't you know

Two hundred and six and an eighth was the score

No other deer rack in the world had more.

He was the Jordan buck, the Jordan buck

You probably couldn't fit it in a pickup truck

Walkin' through the woods, he really had to duck

He was a mighty big deer — he was the Jordan buck.

That catchy song wasn't the only one of the night. Local musician Sonny Winberg kicked off the festivities with his own original ballad about the legendary hunt. In addition, members of Whitetails Unlimited and the Wisconsin Buck and Bear Club were on hand to represent their organizations and to celebrate the occasion, with the latter group actually bringing a mounted Jordan buck replica so attendees could take "selfies" with the rack that set the record. (Another replica, created by taxidermist Klaus Lebrecht of Antlers by Klaus and currently located in the Lobby of the Government Center, will go home with someone when that drawing is held on the actual centennial, Nov. 20.)

Also sprinkled throughout the evening were unique door prizes and raffle items. One of them, a Winchester Model 1892 lever action in .25-20 WCF — just like the one Jim used on his historic hunt — ended up going home with John Hicks. Rich Jordan, Jim's nephew, also got drawn as the winner of an original painting of the live buck, done by local artist Jim Springett.

The Jordan Heirs

Every bit of the event was memorable. But one highlight stood above all others: the privilege of both meeting and interviewing several members of the Jordan family. Whether residents of Wisconsin or Minnesota, a number of them still live within an hour of where Jim shot his deer. These "Jordan heirs" remain quite proud of Jim, and they have great memories of the man at the center of the celebration.

Check out our interview with Rich Jordan:

Granddaughter Maria Nichols (her mother, Bertha, was Jim and Lena Jordan's daughter) delighted the audience with tales about how her "grampa" would rattle off one hunting story after another — so many, in fact, that nobody was quite sure what was fact and what was fiction. And Jim's nephew, Rich, noted that when strangers heard his last name, they often asked if he knew of the Jordan who'd shot that record buck so long ago. The name definitely still brings to mind trophy bucks for many in this part of the Great Lakes region.

If any family members are frustrated Jim passed away before B&C officially named him the record holder, they didn't show it. Jim's been gone 36 years now, but the deer today is well known to all who have a passion for trophy bucks. And besides, as Maria told the crowd, her "grampa" was sure of what he'd done, even if it took far too long to convince the record keepers of his achievement.

"He knew it was his deer," she said. "He didn't need Boone & Crockett to tell him."

Even so, Maria expressed great joy that Jim, the deer and Danbury are getting so much attention as Nov. 20 draws near. She really appreciates the passion so many people still have for this trophy and the late hunter who shot him. To her, this unique banquet was a celebration of more than just a deer and the man, but also the hunting culture so cherished by area outdoorsmen and their families.

Check out our interview with Maria Nichols:

The Path of History

I, of course, couldn't leave Burnett County without seeing the spot in which Jim made whitetail history. Not far south of Danbury I found the sign marking the south terminus of the 1.3-mile Jordan Buck Heritage Hike, which follows the former Soo Railroad line north into town. From that sign, I headed north on my self-guided tour.

My trek took me up the manicured trail to where the hunter first shot at the buck, then to where he trailed his prize on north to the river's edge and fired the final round that dropped him on the far bank. As I stood there, listening to the rush of the river's flow and reflecting on the events of that morning in 1914, I found it only natural to relive the hunt through Jim's eyes. Indeed, it was impossible not to.

Many hunters think great hunting memories must happen in a tree stand or while sneaking along a fresh set of tracks in the snow. But deer hunting isn't just about trying to shoot one. In fact, as my weekend in Wisconsin proved, it's easy to have fun "hunting" without even picking up a rifle.

Opportunities to officially celebrate a legendary buck and retrace the hunter's steps are arguably even more rare than trophy deer. Just like old Jim Jordan drawing a fine bead on that mammoth buck a century ago, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Gordon Whittington stands at Marker 3 on the Jordan Buck Heritage Hike near Danbury, Wisconsin. This is truly one of the most historic spots in whitetail history, for it's where Jim Jordan jumped his world-record buck on the morning of Nov. 20, 1914. Jim fired three rounds from his Winchester Model 1892 as the buck bolted behind some does, heading north toward the Yellow River. Minutes later, a final round from the rifle downed the deer for good on the river's north bank.
North American Whitetail editor in chief Gordon Whittington traveled to Burnett County for the Oct. 4 centennial banquet honoring Jim Jordan and his record deer. As part of that visit, Whittington visited the area in which the monster buck was shot in 1914. This sign marks the south terminus of what's been designated as the 'Jordan Buck Heritage Hike, ' a 1.3-mile section of the former Soo Railroad line running south from Danbury toward Webster.
The overall section of former railroad is now called the Gandy Dancer Trail. The term 'gandy dancer ' (probably of Irish or Gaelic origin) once was used to describe members of railway crews, who worked in rhythmic unison to perform the backbreaking chore of laying track.
The headstone of Jim and Lena Jordan at Lutheran Memorial Cemetery in Hinckley, Minnesota, marks their final resting places. Jim passed away at age 86 in October 1978, just two months before the Boone & Crockett Club announced it had accepted his claim of having shot the 206 1/8-inch typical buck already recognized as the world record. Lena passed away in 1990. A number of members of the Jordan family still live in the area.
Greg Peer presents a framed Ron Van Gilder print of the Jordan buck to Larry Rachak (right) at the Oct. 4 banquet in the town of Siren. A number of great raffle and door prize items were handed out during this special celebration of Wisconsin's most famous whitetail. On Nov. 20, the actual centennial date, someone will be announced as the winner of a high-quality replica of the legendary antlers.
Puppet master and singer-songwriter Chris Lutter-Gardella strums his original tune, "Ballad of the Jordan Buck," as local arts advocate Harriet Rice and a crowd of 150 banquet attendees watch a king-sized version of the famous deer dance along. This bigger-than-life puppet was built over many months by local volunteers and now is being made available for use in the community.
Wisconsin Buck & Bear Club members brought a shoulder-mounted replica of the Jordan buck to the banquet, where attendees could admire the antlers up close and even get 'selfies. '
With Mike Kornmann (left) and Don Chell looking on, State Senator Sheila Hansdorf announces John Hicks as the winner of the rifle raffle. This Model 1892 rifle is similar to the one Jim Jordan used on his 1914 hunt. It's even chambered in .25-20 WCF, the same cartridge that felled the world record. While the lightweight cartridge now is illegal for use for Wisconsin deer hunting, it will be a great keepsake.
After shooting the world's biggest typical whitetail in 1914, Jim Jordan had no reason to think the prized buck would vanish from his life for a half-century. But that's just what happened. The taxidermist who mounted the giant left it in a local attic and left the area without providing any contact information. So for many years, Jim felt his deer was gone forever. Finally, in the late 1950s, Bob Ludwig bought an old mount in Sandstone, Minnesota, for $3. Sometime later, he showed it to his uncle — who turned out to be Jim Jordan! The hunter, shown here, immediately recognized his long-lost buck. Interestingly, the original shoulder mount had included the deer's entire skull, but it now has been lost to time.
The November 2014 issue of North American Whitetail magazine features a centennial cover story on the bizarre saga of Wisconsin's Jim Jordan buck, a legendary trophy downed on Nov. 20, 1914.
North American Whitetail TV co-host Pat Hogan checks out the original antlers of the Jordan buck at Bass Pro Shops headquarters in Springfield, Missouri. In Pat's hands is the 1981 Boone & Crockett record book. This is the first edition in which Jim Jordan and Burnett County, Wisconsin, were officially listed as being responsible for the world record. BPS hosted the TV crew for a special taping of an entire show on the buck's centennial celebration, set for its first airing on The Sportsman Channel at 8 p.m. E/P on Nov. 12.
Chris Lutter-Gardella's original song about the biggest typical whitetail in U.S. history.
Many members of the Jordan family attended the Oct. 4 centennial banquet honoring the man and his great trophy deer. Several mentioned how happy they were to see this celebration of the area's most famous deer hunter and his long-standing record deer.
The Jordan boys: Following the centennial banquet, several of Jim Jordan's relatives lined up for a quick photo. From left the right: NAW's Gordon Whittington and Lennie, Tom, Derek, David and Rich Jordan.

Be sure to tune in for a special Jordan buck episode of North American Whitetail TV on Weds. Nov. 12 at 8PM E/P on The Sportsman Channel.

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