September 22, 2010
By Bill Cooper
When Amish hunter Dan Miller headed into the woods of Kentucky's Pennyrile State Forest last November, little could he imagine that he'd soon be dragging out one of Kentucky's best non-typicals of all time!
By Bill Cooper
This awesome 19-point non-typical, scoring 246 3/8, is Kentucky's No. 1 buck from the 2006-2007 season. It ranks 5th on the state's all-time list of B&C non-typical whitetails. Taxidermy by Martin Meredith.
Following an early morning turkey hunt on the Pennyrile State Forest in April of 2005, Indiana hunter Bob Burke was making his way along a wooded hillside on the way back to his truck. As he neared the bottom of a bluff, something white lying several yards away in a patch of bright green May apples attracted his attention.
"At first I thought I was looking at bones from an old deer's rib cage," Bob said. "But as I got closer, I could see that the object was an incredibly big shed antler."
Although the hunter spent several minutes searching the nearby woods, he was unsuccessful in finding the matching shed. Nevertheless, the antler's amazing size was all the encouragement he needed to apply for the area's annual two-day quota deer hunt later that fall. Unfortunately, he was not one of the lucky hunters selected.
WHAT ARE THE ODDS?
In late March of 2006 Bob returned to Pennyrile to do some turkey scouting for the upcoming spring gobbler season. While there, he decided to check out the area where he had previously picked up the big shed antler.
"I honestly had little expectation of finding the other matching antler," Bob said. "But, amazingly, I discovered it about 50 yards from where I had found the first one. I simply have no idea how I initially managed to overlook an object as large as the shed, although there was considerably more early spring ground cover at that time."
Remarkably, the shed was still in very good condition. Weathering had bleached the antler almost completely white, and there were minor signs of rodent gnawing around the tips of the tines, but luckily there was not any significant damage.
Bob knew the 2005 Pennyrile hunt didn't produce a deer with antlers matching the record-class proportions of the sheds.
Therefore, he was looking forward to the fall of 2006 with great anticipation. Unfortunately, he was again unable to obtain one of the 300 quota deer permits.
For obvious reasons, the hunter had remained relatively quiet about finding the sheds, showing them to only a few close friends. Because of this, no general knowledge of the buck's existence had gotten out, and considering the sheds were then 2 years old, even Bob couldn't be sure if the deer was still living on the area.
The lucky applicants who were drawn for Pennyrile's quota hunt included several hunters from an Amish community located near Horse Cave. Having never previously hunted on the 14,000-plus-acre state forest, a small group of the hunters, headed by David Miller, traveled to the area in late October to do some scouting.
"All of us were really impressed with the terrain and habitat," David said. "It had a great combination of hills and hollows, with a mixture of both open and thick timber. Deer tracks and sign were scattered all through the woods."
GOING IN BLIND
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) manages Pennyrile under quality whitetail guidelines, which include a 15-inch outside spread minimum for all harvested bucks. During their scouting, the hunters encountered two bucks, one of which would easily have exceeded the spread limit.
Needless to say, everyone returned home enthusiastic about the prospects for the upcoming hunt. David's cousin, Dan Miller, a schoolteacher, was also selected for the hunt, but had been unable to make the scouting trip because of education duties and a community school meeting.
"Dan was a little distressed about missing out on the scouting," David recalled. "However, I assured him that we had found an area with plenty of deer sign and if he was up to making a two-mile hike, I could place him in a good location."
The group spent most of the night prior to opening day traveling, checking in at the state forest headquarters, and making the long hike to their pre-selected hunt areas. However, the loss of sleep was more than compensated for by the anticipation of an opening-morning deer hunt. After getting Dan positioned and briefly describing the surrounding terrain, David disappeared into the darkness.
As daybreak faded into mid-morning, Dan listened to the occasional sounds of distant gunshots, but saw no sign of deer activity in his area. Around noon, the hunter decided to change locations. He walked a short distance to the head of a shallow draw, situated just below a white oak ridge. Sitting and facing into a light afternoon breeze, he had a good view of the opposite hillside and the drain as it sloped downward into a much larger hollow.
The weather was clear and cool, basically a perfect fall afternoon; leaves and acorns were still falling from the numerous oaks along the ridge, and squirrels seemed to be running everywhere. An hour or so after getting settled, the hunter detected a noise that he could not attribute to squirrel activity. Minutes passed, and finally, 80 yards away, among the broken shadows on the hillside, Dan saw the shape of a deer.
A PENNYRILE SLEEPER
"The deer just appeared out of nowhere, like a ghost," Dan said. "I could see antlers, but the deer was facing away from me, with its head down, feeding on acorns."
Unsure if the buck's rack exceeded the acceptable spread limit, the hunter continued to wait and watch. Eventually, the deer took a couple of steps forward, momentarily raising its head.
"I still had no idea of the rack's size, but I was able to see that it extended out beyond the deer's ears," Dan noted. "Knowing for sure the buck was legal, I decided to take the first clear shot that I had."
After maneuvering into a solid shooting position, Dan quickly located the buck in his Leupold scope. The deer was still feeding, standing at a slight quartering-away position. While not standing at the most preferred shooting angle, the buck was completely in the open. Realizing he might not get another clear shot opportunity, the hunter squeezed the trigger.
"When I fired, the buck immediately disappeared," Dan related. "I assumed it was down, but I continued to watch through the scope for several seconds."
Seeing no additional movement, the hunter got to his feet and cautiously walked to where the buck had been standing. To his dismay, the deer was not there.
"There was a good bit of blood, and considering the fact that I was shooting a 7mm Magnum, I felt reasonably sure the deer hadn't gone very far," Dan said. "However, after searching for over 20 minutes, I began to get concerned."
END OF THE TRAIL
At times, the hunter had to get down on his hands and knees to follow the very dim trail. Approximately 100 yards through the woods, he found a small pool of blood where the deer had lain down, but unfortunately, the buck was nowhere in sight.
"I really became worried at that point," Dan said. "The fact that the deer was able to get back to its feet and continue on made me wonder about the shot placement."
Resuming the search proved to be an effort in concentration as the tiny blood droplets gradually became farther and farther apart. Finally, after covering an additional 75 yards, the trail disappeared completely.
"For several moments, I stood there, contemplating what to do next. Then, as I turned around, I got the shock of my life. The buck was lying only 15 yards behind me! I had been so intent on attempting to follow the trail that I walked by the deer without seeing it.
"It was a sight I will never forget," he continued. "The buck had fallen in such a manner that the rack was sticking up in full view. I kept staring at the antlers thinking, 'There is no way the rack can be that big!'"
Understandably excited, Dan attempted to count the rack's points, but he kept getting the numbers mixed up. Finally, after several minutes, he began to evaluate the reality of his situation: He was two miles from the vehicle with little daylight remaining and no one to help with the deer.
"I really hated to leave the buck lying in the woods, but I knew there was no other choice," Dan noted. "Before leaving, I briefly considered covering the deer with leaves, but decided that probably wasn't necessary."
A DAY LIKE NONE OTHER
It was nearly dark by the time Dan completed the two-mile hike to where the group's vehicle was parked. Luckily, he managed to find two members of his hunting party, and the three of them headed back for the deer.
"They asked how big a buck I had taken," Dan related. "I told them that I wasn't positive, but I thought the rack had about 20 points and a 21- inch spread; both of them looked at me like I was crazy."
David joined Dan and the others during their walk back into the area. While the group had no trouble returning to the hunt location, finding the big deer proved to be a little more difficult.
"I hadn't thought to mark the buck's exact location, and as I quickly found out, in the dark all the trees look the same," Dan noted. "Nevertheless, I felt sure the deer was somewhere close by, and at that moment, I was very thankful for my decision to not cover it with leaves."
Luckily, that particular section of woods had a fairly open understory, and by spreading out the group was able to quickly search a fairly large area. After approximately 30 minutes, they found the big whitetail.
"Everyone immediately gathered around to get a look at the buck," David said. "The scene was a little surreal because for several seconds there was total silence, no one saying a word; then, all at once, the whooping and hollering started.
"Having listened to Dan's story, and knowing he wasn't one to exaggerate, I was confident he had taken a big deer," David continued. "Even so, nothing could have adequately prepared me for my first look at the buck's enormous rack; that memory will be with me forever."
Following several minutes of celebrating and backslapping, it was time for the hard work to begin. Fortunately, the men had brought along a hauling cart; however, it was still necessary to drag the big deer approximately 200 yards to one of the state forest's roads.
Not surprisingly, word of the buck had spread, and when the group eventually reached the state check station, a crowd of hunters was waiting to get a glimpse of the big whitetail. For Dan, who had just walked over six miles within a few short hours, and not had any sleep, excitement was now rapidly being replaced by fatigue. But regardless of being tired, he was happy to retell the hunt story a countless number of times and thoroughly enjoy every congratulatory handshake; it truly was a day he would never forget.
A WORLD-CLASS TROPHY
Later, following the required drying period, official antler measurements of the giant rack verified what a super buck Dan had taken. The rack has 19 scorable points, with an antler spread of 29 4/8 inches outside, and 20 3/8 inches inside, with both main beams taping an amazing 30 inches. Tine length is exceptional, with brows (G-1s) that exceed 8 inches, 14-inch G-2s, and G-3s of 12 and 11 inches; even the G-4s are nearly 10 inches. Antler mass is awesome throughout the entire rack, with all eight circumference measurements averaging over 5 inches.
Additionally, the right beam includes a long 10 7/8-inch drop tine that gives the rack a truly unique character.
In regard to scoring, the 6x5 typical frame grosses an extraordinary 213 4/8 and nets, after minor asymmetry deductions, 205 5/8. After adding in the eight abnormal points, totaling 40 6/8 inches, the final non-typical B&C score stands at 246 3/8.
While this is a great score, ranking the buck No. 5 on the state's all-time list of non-typical whitetails, it doesn't tell the whole story. The typical frame of this deer is truly world class. Had there been no abnormal points, the typical score of 205 5/8 would have topped the current state record of 204 2/8 by more than an inch. Additionally, this score is only 4/8 of an inch less than the famous James Jordan buck from Wisconsin, which stood as the world-record typical for over 20 years. This means the Kentucky buck would have ranked as the No. 3 typical in the world.
On another note, the Pennyrile buck is easily the largest whitetail ever taken on the state's public lands and would probably rank as one of the top all-time public land bucks in North America.
THE AMAZING 2004 SHEDS
Following news that the huge buck had been taken on Pennyrile, Bob Burke produced the buck's matched pair of 2004 shed antlers and had them officially measured and entered into the North America Shed Antler record book. The sheds exhibit amazing similarity in size and shape to the 2006 rack, with both having the same basic 6x5 typical frame. For example, the right shed antler totals 95 2/8 inches, as compared to 98 6/8 inches for the rack's right antler, and the left shed antler totals 90 3/8 inches, as compared to 94 3/8 inches. The sheds have only 25 inches of abnormal points; however, two drop tines had been broken off the right antler. The shed antlers (without an inside spread measurement) have a
final non-typical score of 204 6/8.
Dan's buck was aged by tooth wear at 6 1/2 years, which means the deer was 4 1/2 years old when it dropped the sheds. There is no known evidence of the buck's 2005 rack.
Recently, Dan and David had the opportunity to revisit Pennyrile and return to the area where he had taken the giant whitetail. During their walk, Dan commented about the long distance and how many miles he had walked the night he took the deer.
"Would you do it again?" David asked.
Smiling, Dan replied, "In a heartbeat!"