The Johnny King Buck: The Wisconsin 'If' Legend

On opening day of the Wisconsin firearms season last year, Johnny had taken his position as a stander during a family deer drive when this mammoth buck showed up before the drive even started. Johnny made a killing shot, but it took several hours and a lot of strength to recover this one-of-a-kind whitetail. Photos courtesy of Johnny King.


Deer hunting in Wisconsin is a rich tradition filled with much-anticipated family outings and wonderful memories passed on from one generation to the next. The opening of Wisconsin's annual nine-day firearms season has generated incredible excitement and many a sleepless nighat for countless hunters young and old. Young first-time hunters can't wait to get into the woods with their friends and families, and once grown, these same hunters become mentors who relish in carrying on the tradition with their own families.


With expectations running high and visions of large whitetail bucks racing through every deer hunter's mind, opening day in Wisconsin is magical indeed. But how many avid hunters have actually had the opportunity to harvest a truly world-class buck? As Johnny King, of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, joined his family during the early morning hours of Nov. 18, 2006, that thought was the last thing on his mind. Certainly he harbored visions of downing a large-antlered trophy buck -- every hunter has those -- but never in his wildest dreams did he expect to come home with a buck that would be one of the largest typical whitetails ever taken!

Johnny was on property in Grant County, Wisconsin, that's been in his family since the 1950s. Waking up at 3:30 a.m. on that memorable opening day, he gathered his gear and traveled to his mother's house, where he joined his brother Jeff for the traditional opening-day family breakfast.


A FAMILY DEER DRIVE

Over breakfast the two brothers talked about past hunts. Talk of getting out into the woods dominated their conversation. As Johnny went to the truck to make the drive to the family property, he found himself waiting for Jeff, who, as it turned out, couldn't find his rosary. Each brother always carried a rosary when out hunting, and Jeff wasn't going to leave home without his.

Because of the delay, the brothers arrived at the hunting property shortly after daylight. While driving in, they saw their Uncle Dale out in a field, and soon discovered that he'd already harvested his buck, just 15 minutes into the young season. They also noticed that he'd apparently lost a battle with his scope, as blood was dripping from a half-moon cut above his eye. But he certainly felt no pain as he scolded the two for being late, reminding them that they couldn't shoot a deer if they weren't in the woods. He declined any help with his buck and directed the pair to get into the woods instead.

After sitting until midmorning and not seeing any deer, both Johnny and Jeff joined the family at a nearby barn, where it was decided to do a traditional family drive through an area known as the "Pine Knob." Unfortunately, no deer were seen on this drive, so again the family regrouped. The hunters next decided to drive a 100-acre parcel of land about a mile away. Having hunted this property for years, everyone was familiar with the lay of the land.

Johnny, Uncle Dale and a second uncle, Bob, were assigned to post -- that is, take stands -- while the other family members made the drive. Johnny walked down to a spot near a telephone pole that gave him a great view of a large draw, Uncle Bob positioned himself near a second telephone pole some distance away, and Uncle Dale put himself on a high point overlooking an escape funnel.

THE BIGGEST BUCK EVER!

Johnny had only been settled in for a very short time when he saw a very large buck. He knew immediately that this was an extraordinary whitetail. At the time the buck was actually headed toward the drivers, and Johnny got only a quick glimpse. He lost sight of the buck as it disappeared into the draw, but he felt good about the situation, as the buck was headed in the general direction of Uncle Bob. A few moments later, he heard the unmistakable report of Uncle Bob's .308, the loud blast echoing through the woods.

Johnny was now on full alert. Studying the woods in front of him, he spotted the giant whitetail running in some thick underbrush. There was no mistaking this buck for any other buck Johnny had ever seen: It was simply enormous. Johnny then spotted two does, and he watched as the giant buck came to a stop and directed his attention towards the two does. Seizing the opportunity, Johnny prepared to make a shot. Make it count! he thought as he took careful aim.

Steadying his Springfield Arms Model 840 bolt-action .30-30, Johnny lined up the front and rear sights and settled in on the buck's shoulder. Knowing full well that he might never see a deer like this again in his lifetime, his heart raced as he again told himself to make the shot count.

It was a long shot for open sights -- about 150 to 170 yards, the hunter estimated. He sent a 170-grain Core-Lock on its way, and, by the way the deer reacted as it reared backwards, immediately knew that he'd made a good shot. He shot two more times as the giant ran off, and then lost sight of it. All was quiet.

Johnny quickly reloaded. Knowing that if the buck might vanish forever if it got into the very large draw in front of him, he decided to belly-crawl though a set-aside area, peeking over the top of the marsh grass every 20 or 30 yards in hopes of seeing the buck. As doubt began to seep in, the hunter replayed the shot over and over in his mind. Each time he reassured himself that in fact the shot had felt good.

A HOPE AND A PRAYER

Johnny finally crawled up to a fenceline. He looked into the thick underbrush ahead -- and, to his amazement, the giant stood up about 75 yards in front of him. The rifleman quickly took aim and fired again; the massive buck again disappeared. Johnny jumped up, quickly ran to the spot where the buck had been standing, and, seeing nothing, figured that the deer was still in the woods in front of him.

Aware that the big push had yet to start, Johnny yelled for the drivers to hurry, but they were too far away to hear him. At about this same time, the hunter realized that his box of shells was missing. It had probably fallen out of his pocket while he was belly-crawling through the set-aside area.

Johnny had to make a huge judgment call: Should he chance trailing the giant, or wait for the drive to end and try to get help? Thoughts of the giant getting away haunted him, but he kept telling himself that he'd made a good shot on the deer. The decision: He'd wait for the drive to wrap up and then enlist aid for the search.

After an agonizing 45 minutes, a shot suddenly rang out, and Johnny heard his cousin Brad yell, "Big buck!"

Once again Johnny found himself facing a difficult choice: Walk toward the shot or stay put? The thought also entered his head that Brad might have killed the monarch. Then what?

While contemplating these thoughts, Johnny looked up, saw the giant running right at him, and instinctively aimed and fired; once more, the buck disappeared. The hunter quickly closed the distance and, to his amazement, saw the deer running down a hill in front of him. Knowing he only had one bullet left, he carefully lined up the iron sights and fired, and the big animal went down.

Johnny quickly approached the deer, but as he got close, the deer jumped up and started to run. Brad had now appeared on the scene, and being out of bullets, Johnny yelled for Brad to shoot. Brad fired a single round -- and the drama was over.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

As the two cousins approached the deer, they begin the mutual congratulations, patting each other on the back. Out of breath, they both stared down at the enormous whitetail. Brad leaned down, and, in hopes of getting a better view of the massive rack, instinctively grabbed the left antler. To his utter amazement, the left antler popped off in his hand!

Apparently, when Johnny had fired at the running buck the first time, one of his .30-30 slugs had hit the bottom portion of the left main beam just behind the brow tine. The bullet had knocked out a chunk of antler, but the antler didn't break loose until Brad grabbed it. Amazingly, the break fractured down into the pedicle in such a way that the antler could be fitted back in its correct position with only a little bit of wiggle. However, it would definitely need to be repaired.

The rest of the hunting party arrived a short time later. After things had calmed down somewhat, everyone in the group began to realize just what an extraordinary animal this was.  The buck was a basic 6x6 with a 21 3/8-inch inside spread and six impressive tines over 10 inches in length. Everyone knew that it would score high in the record book.

Prior to Nov. 18, 2006, the King family had no idea that this deer roamed the family's land. It was later learned that an adjoining landowner had seen the deer twice during the archery season, once at 50 yards. Unfortunately for him, the giant never came close enough for a shot.

A "WHAT-IF" WORLD-CLASS BUCK

Even with the broken rack, a recent rule change accepting racks such as Johnny's buck's under certain conditions made it possible to have the deer entered in Boone and Crockett's record book, so in early 2007, the buck was scored by a B&C measurer in Wisconsin.

To Johnny's utter amazement, the rack grossed in the 220s and netted over 215 B&C points, potentially surpassing Milo Hanson's current world record from Saskatchewan scoring 213 5/8. In other words, Johnny's buck might be a new world record! However, the official measurer was quick to tell Johnny that the Boone and Crockett Club might not accept all 12 points as typical tines. The measurer was afraid that the G-3s might be scored as abnormal points. Obviously if this happened, it would take away from the net typical score and throw Johnny's buck into the non-typical category.

The official measurer urged Johnny to have his buck scored by a B&C panel of judges. It just so happened that the Pope & Young Club was conducting its 25th Biennium National Convention and Awards Banquet on April 26-28, 2007, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Johnny was told that a panel of B&C judges would be there to help score P&Y trophies, and that this panel could make a ruling as to whether or not his buck's G-3s were typical or non-typical points. Wanting to find out which way the massive rack would be scored (particularly in light of the fact that his buck might be a new world record), Johnny and his dad jumped in the truck in April and drove the 1,200 miles to Lancaster with high hopes.

The good news was that even though it had a damaged main beam, Johnny's buck definitely was eligible for entry into the all-time B&C record book. Unfortunately, however, the panel looked at Johnny's incredible rack and ruled that it would have to be scored as a main-framed 5x5 with abnormal G-3s, which put the "what-if" buck into the non-typical category. Sadly, Johnny's buck was not destined to become the new world record typical.

Johnny took this news in stride and returned home. To him the thrill of the hunt and sharing the hunt with family meant far more than the score, anyway. Later he took his awesome trophy to renowned artist and antler repair wizard Tom Sexton at Five Point Studios in Amana, Iowa. There, Tom restored and repaired the broken world-class rack as only a true whitetail artist could do.

Johnny did receive one pleasant surprise: On May 15, 2007, his trophy rack was scored by Buckmasters scorer Mike Handley at 198 5/8, making it the new Buckmasters world record in the Perfect category according to the Buckmasters scoring system (which does not include an inside spread measurement).

CONCLUSION

Putting all scores aside, harvesting a deer like this is what keeps us all going back as hunters, particularly in light of the fact that the King family knew nothing of this great Wisconsin giant living on their property. You just never know what you might run into when you're hunting deer, and this unknown quantity is certainly part of the reason that many of us love whitetail hunting so much.

But we also hunt to enjoy the outdoors, to put venison in the freezer and to set aside, even if only for a short time, the other responsibilities that life brings us. We also hunt to enjoy the sounds, the smells and the colors of our woodlands.

So: Congratulations on taking a very special deer. The old saying about good things happening to good people applies very fittingly to Johnny King.

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