Buried by the passage of time, the first Boone & Crockett entry has remained shrouded in mystery — until now. More than 180 years after it was killed, the Arthur Young buck — and the story surrounding it — is revealed.
The author shows off Arthur Young's 1830 trophy from northwestern Pennsylvania, along with the hunter's rifle and powder horn.
Those of us who've spent a half-century in the deer woods are happy to tell young hunters how it used to be. And we make these observations with great conviction, as if we're the official historians of all things whitetail and can paint a complete picture of what deer hunting was like 'back in the day. '
But upon honest reflection, even we old-timers must admit we're dabbling on just one small part of a sprawling canvas. Left untouched is that huge area reserved for what happened before even we hunted for the first time. In some cases, long before.
Journals of the first Europeans to roam eastern North America tell of a magical hunting ground. The familiar whitetail was here, along with the wild turkey, but so were many other animals and plants now uncommon or even absent. Elk, cougars, wolves and bison roamed much of Appalachia. Passenger pigeons blackened the sky and nested in such concentrations that large limbs of chestnut trees snapped beneath their weight. The East was a land of unimaginable plenty.
But even by the start of the 19th Century, that richness was dwindling. The last bison east of the Mississippi was killed around the time Lewis and Clark announced that millions of them covered the Great Plains. Eastern elk, cougars and wolves were becoming fewer in number and by the middle of the century had vanished. Even the endless flocks of pigeons were thinning. Today, not only is that species extinct, the several billion chestnut trees providing them food and shelter are gone as well.
So, too, is a hunter named Arthur Young. But he, unlike some other inhabitants of that bygone era, left something behind.
Arthur Young's muzzleloader is of early caplock model. This ignition system was just coming into wide use in the first half of the 19th century.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
This was not the Art Young whose name and likeness were immortalized by the founders of the Pope & Young Club. By 1883, when that bowhunting legend was born in California, the man to whom I'm referring already had been dead for nearly five years. In December 1878 he passed on at the age of 65 in northwestern Pennsylvania, where he'd spent virtually all of his life.
No organization or settlement or highway ever was named for this man. But in his own way, he was just as important a figure in hunting as that other fellow by the same name. Indeed, Pennsylvania's Arthur Young gave us something not even his better-known namesake could have: a whitetail that's by far the earliest Boone and Crockett-qualifying trophy of any species.
OLDEST OF THE OLD
If you've scanned B&C's whitetail listings, perhaps you've run across Arthur's name. As of the most recent edition of the club's Records of North American Big Game, his 175 4/8-inch trophy ranks No. 1,408 all-time among typical whitetails. Pennsylvania's official records list the deer as that state's No. 10 typical ever.
But none of that is what makes the Young buck such a singular trophy. It's all about when he reportedly was shot: 1830. No, that's not a typo. I'm talking about 181 years ago — when there were only 24 U.S. states. Before there were cameras to record Arthur's achievement €¦ or even telegraphs to spread word of it.
Not only does the year of this buck's demise make him the earliest-taken B&C whitetail ever, he holds that distinction with decades to spare. The only other B&C qualifier known to be from before the Civil War was the so-called 'Father Maney ' buck, an ultra-wide typical shot in Maine in 1860. After that, we have the John Bush typical from Minnesota (1870), the Howard Eaton non-typical from South Dakota (1873), the Olaf Andersen non-typical from North Dakota (1886) and the so-called 'Brady ' buck from Texas, a former world record found dead sometime in the 1890s. As far as I know, that's it: history's entire universe of certified pre-1900 B&C whitetails.
Arthur Young's amazing Pennsylvania buck, along with the hunter's muzzleloader and powder horn. The horn was carved before the Revolutionary War!
We find a similar story with other native big-game species. Whether for subsistence, commerce or sport, vast numbers of bears, elk, bison, moose, caribou, pronghorns and the like were shot in the first three centuries following European contact. Common sense tells us some of those animals were spectacularly big. Yet no record book reflects that fact. To my knowledge, the earliest non-whitetail trophy in B&C records is a Pacific walrus from 1870.
Any current sampling of noteworthy game is limited in its ability to reflect hunting history; the record books themselves are a relatively recent development, and even big antlers and skulls don't sit around forever. But B&C, which was founded in 1887, has compiled records that are amazingly comprehensive for the span of time, species and geography they cover. So for there to be no other listings nearly as old as the Young buck speaks volumes. This is arguably the most special big-game trophy in North America's history. This is the founding father. This is the one.
And yet, even for those of us who've spent years chasing down record-book deer and the stories behind them, the Young buck has always been more phantom than reality. The hunting world has known of this trophy since the antlers were measured for the record book in 1965. We just haven't been able to see it, touch it or tell you much about it.
According to locals, this orchard near the Young family's home in Farmers Valley, Pennsylvania, is where Arthur shot his trophy buck in 1830. These trees were planted nearly a century later, replacing those that would have been alive at that time.
As noted in this month's 'My Stand ' column, years of off-and-on searching recently led me to the current owner, who kindly consented to letting me feature the deer here and on our TV show, North American Whitetail presented by Arctic Cat. And so, now, for the first time in the 29-year history of our magazine devoted to history's greatest bucks, we present what's known about the granddaddy of 'em all.
Let's start by looking at what's in the record book. With an inside spread of 21 2/8 inches, beams of 25 5/8 and 25 0/8, basal circumferences of 5 0/8 and 5 2/8 and tine lengths of up to 11 5/8, this clean 6x6 typical has a gross score of 182 1/8 and a net of 175 4/8. And that's after more shrinkage time than any other trophy in history. The rack wasn't measured until 1965 — 135 years after the kill.
By then, of course, a number of even larger typicals had been measured and accepted by B&C. Most notable among these was James Jordan's 206 1/8-incher from Wisconsin, shot in 1914. As a result, the Young buck never was a world record in any official sense. Still, it's fair to say he was the de facto world-record typical for decades. And of course, in a practical sense, he was the first world record by muzzleloader.
The author examines Arthur Young's headstone in the village of Farmers Valley, Pennsylvania, near where the hunter reportedly shot the first B&C buck of all time in 1830.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
In the fall of 1830, Arthur was a lad of 17. Yet he probably was far more a man than a child. You had to be to make it in a region called the 'Pennsylvania Wilds. ' It's still a rugged land of steep ridges, deep valleys and miles of virtually unbroken forests, so we can only imagine how raw it was back in that era.
It was into this unspoiled area that Arthur's father, Stephen, had brought his family in 1821. They'd moved there from Norwich, New York, where Arthur had been born. The Youngs settled several miles from the bustling town of Smethport and began to tackle the challenges of making a living.
Trapping was one way to do that. The fur trade, now often regarded as having been largely a Western industry, was still very much alive in the rural East as well. In 1827, an older brother told Arthur that if he'd run his trap line for him while he was away, the lad could have whatever furs he acquired in the process. The boy took him up on the deal, and in the process acquired a number of mink and otter pelts.
What to do with them? The 14-year-old lad sold them and used the money to buy himself a rifle.
Much of the Pennsylvania Wilds region still is untamed. It was a virtual wilderness when Arthur Young took the world's first B&C whitetail from it nearly two centuries ago.
Built by gunmaker Patrick Smith of Buffalo, New York, it was a muzzleloader, as were all other firearms at the time. But in one major way, it was unlike most that had come before it. There was no flint to ignite the powder charge. Instead, an early form of percussion cap handled that task.
With the advent of the caplock design, the flintlock was about to become yesterday's news. Inside a single human generation, shooters across North America would overwhelmingly embrace the caplock's simpler, more reliable way of touching off a charge. Today's muzzleloader ignition systems are little changed from the one employed by the maker of Arthur's gun.
I don't know if this rifle was new when purchased; nor do I know when it downed its first deer. I can't even confirm Arthur was using it when he shot the huge buck near his home. But as best anyone now alive can say, the rifle killed this deer.
'This gun, his first purchase, which he always used in his expeditions in search of game, he bequeathed to his son, D.C., who cherishes it as a most valuable heirloom, ' noted author Michael Leeson in his 1890 book, History Of The Counties Of McKean, Elk, Cameron and Potter, Pennsylvania. Although I've never read Arthur's will, I'm told it specified both the rifle and the antlers of the 1830 buck were to go to his son, D.C.
With a net typical score of 175 4/8, the Arthur Young buck is still listed in Pennsylvania's official records as the No. 10 typical whitetail ever taken in the state. The antlers weren't scored until 1965, 135 years after the kill.
But there's yet another unique hand-me-down that well could be part of this story — indeed, it might be the most intriguing of all. It's Arthur's powder horn, a piece of Americana that, in comparison, makes the hunter, the rifle and the deer seem almost modern.
The horn is ornately etched, as was common in the early days. Among the figures on it are a saddled horse and a man carrying a rifle. There's also a live buck (or possibly a bull elk), a fish, an owl and another bird that might well be a passenger pigeon. And there's a tree loaded with fruit.
In addition, several names and years are among the carvings. But none of the names is Young €¦ and none of the years fell within his lifetime. This strongly suggests the horn didn't originate with our hunter. It was carved before his birth — in fact, even before the birth of the nation. The years are 1769 and 1770!
The name Jeremiah Baker is prominent, so perhaps he was the person for whom the horn was made. As best I can decipher things, a J.B. Flowers carved it, perhaps assisted by someone with the initials Z.W. None of those is connected to the Young family in any way of which I'm aware. However, the names Warwick and Cranston (presumably Rhode Island) are on the horn, and Arthur's father was born in nearby Providence in 1779.
It's possible that the horn actually came into the family's possession via Arthur's wife, Laurinda. Her paternal grandfather was Capt. Jacob Stull, who served under George Washington for a time during the American Revolution. But I don't have any other reason to think the horn might have originated with him.
In summary, I still don't know how or when this heirloom ended up among Arthur's passed-down possessions, only that it did. Whether or not it carried the powder that killed the first B&C animal in history thus remains debatable. Regardless, it's a fascinating piece.
Intricately carved in a style typical of the 18th century, Arthur's powder horn evidently was a hand-me-down from those days.
So, in addition to the rack itself, we have some items to help paint a picture of that era in whitetail hunting. But at this point you might be asking yourself several fundamental questions: How do we know Arthur even shot this deer? How do we know the hunt occurred in McKean County? And who's to say 1830 really was when it happened?
The hunter had been dead for 87 years when the rack was submitted for B&C entry. And photography itself didn't even exist until 1839, so there aren't any snapshots of Arthur posing with the dead buck. We obviously must rely on other information to link this deer with a certain hunter, place and time.
Support for all claims about the deer comes from a letter now in B&C's files for this entry. It was typed on June 22, 1965, by a great-grandson who has since passed on.
The writer claimed to have taken his information on the kill from the memoirs of the hunter's widow. She and Arthur married in 1841, so presumably he'd had the antlers in his possession for a number of years by then.
'I'm certain the animal was taken in fair chase, as defined by the Boone and Crocket (sic) Club on the measurement blank since there were no motor powered vehicles at that time, ' the letter states. B&C officials accepted the contents of the letter as sufficient proof not only that Arthur had shot the buck, but that the rack was eligible for entry as a hunter kill (as opposed to one found dead) and that the year and location of the kill were 1830 and McKean County, Pennsylvania, respectively.
A copy of the original B&C scoresheet on Arthur Young's buck provides more detail on the enormous antlers.
Ultimately, then, only a great-grandson's third-hand information was used to get the Young buck into B&C as an 1830 kill by a known hunter. Yet there's no known evidence that any of these claims is unfounded. For sure, Arthur's contemporaries in McKean County considered him a great outdoorsman. His newspaper obituary pointed out that he was 'one of the noted hunters of his day, and had the reputation of having killed a greater number of deer, bears, panthers and wildcats, than any other individual in the county. ' According to the great-grandson's letter, Arthur took 'over 1500 deer ' in his lifetime.
Whitetails and black bears are still common in McKean County. But what of the other animals on that list? A 'panther ' was what we'd call a cougar or mountain lion; a 'wildcat ' would have been a bobcat or even a Canadian lynx. Even when the Young buck walked this area cougars and lynx were seldom seen in Pennsylvania, but for much of the 19th Century a few still were around.
While Arthur's love was hunting, he made his living mainly as a farmer. Like most other country boys of his era, he had no real opportunity for higher education. Yet he ended up carving out a good life for Laurinda and their kids in Farmers Valley. Son Gardner became a renowned surgeon. D.C., who inherited the antlers, the rifle and presumably the powder horn, was a leading Smethport merchant and bank founder.
Arthur Young's headstone still stands in Goodwin Cemetery, just down the road from where he reportedly shot his record buck in McKean County, Pennsylvania.
THE SCENE TODAY
Near Farmers Valley there's still an apple orchard where locals claim the first B&C of all time was shot. It's but a few hundred yards from north-flowing Potato Creek. According to the Tanner family, who now own the orchard, the oldest trees there today are from a replanting made around a century ago. Perhaps it was the fruit of these tree's predecessors that lured Arthur's buck to his demise.
Cameraman Mike Clerkin and I visited the area last January, to shoot footage for North American Whitetail Television presented by Arctic Cat. Because I wanted to get a feel for what deer hunting was like in that area in 1830, I decided to go during the late flintlock season. With my .50-caliber Thompson/Center Hawken flintlock and plenty of warm clothing in the vehicle, we drove to Smethport to meet outfitter Perry Burdick, owner and operator of Burdick's Lodge (www.padeerhunting.net).
Perry's rustic camp overlooks one of many beautiful valleys that wind their way through this rugged part of the state, and the outfitter and his clients have taken quite a few nice bucks over the years. I didn't have long to hunt and didn't shoot a deer, but just getting to visit such a key place in whitetail history was a pleasure. As I eased through the winter storm blanketing Potato Creek, I really felt as though I were walking in Arthur's footsteps.
From Burdick's Lodge, it's only a few miles to the reported site of Arthur's legendary 1830 hunt. And but a few hundred yards from there is Goodwin Cemetery, where Arthur and Laurinda lay buried. Their weathered headstones stand just a few feet off the pavement of Route 446, buffeted by the salty winter slush of passing cars and trucks.
For a pastime that's so important to millions of people, whitetail hunting has few shrines. Each of us tends to have his own, for they're of a personal nature: the farm where we first hunted deer, perhaps, or the tree from which we shot our biggest buck. But as I looked at Arthur's headstone and then up the road to the orchard in which he presumably made whitetail history, I knew I was in a place that's important to us all.
The Arthur Young buck wasn't scored until 1965 — 130 years after being shot. The December 1965 edition of Pennsylvania Game News is the first "record book" in which the trophy was listed.
As much as we might wish antlers, old guns and powder horns could talk, they can't. In the case of the Young buck, neither can anyone with firsthand knowledge of the hunt. So let's assume any remaining information or artifacts we'd like to see come to light regarding this historic deer never will.
The first half of the 19th Century was one of ongoing expansion toward the Pacific. As the backcountry of northwestern Pennsylvania was being settled, the frontier was advancing into new lands of breathtaking beauty and unknown animals that captured the imagination of an entire nation. Understandably, perhaps, most historians were too consumed with the romance of this westward push to spend much time documenting the exploits of ordinary men back east.
Even when, as in the case of Arthur Young, those exploits were anything but ordinary themselves.