September 22, 2010
By Gordon Whittington
A buck as big as a moose? That's just one of the whitetail world's strangest rumors of the past two decades.
By Gordon Whittington
Chasing down rumors of potential world-record bucks sounds thrilling, and it can be - when the rumor turns out to be legitimate. Sadly, for every one that pans out, an untold number don't. Most rumors are nothing more than that.
In Part 1, I detailed a few of the many dead-end record rumors I've tracked down in my 18 years as editor of North American Whitetail magazine. But believe me, there have been many more. In fact, hardly a year passes that we don't get wind of at least one potential world record somewhere on the continent, so during the 20-year history of this magazine, you can imagine there have been some interesting tales to chase.
Most such rumors begin innocently enough, the result of legitimate trophy racks being misrepresented by persons unfamiliar with how antlers are scored. For instance, consider the case of a Texas buck that was said to have a net typical score of around 210 Boone and Crockett points. At the time the deer was shot (roughly a decade ago), that score would have made him the world record by several inches. In short, this story was potentially big news.
Upon investigating, I discovered that while the buck in question was huge - a B&C qualifier, in fact, with a true net score in the 170s - someone had mistakenly added the rack's outside spread into the total. The person even had thrown in some extra circumference measurements, another common error. Put it all together and you had a deer with almost 40 inches too much score.
As often as not, this is where the story of a "world record" ends: with a real rack bearing an unreal score. But not all such rumors can be traced back to first-time scorers. When it comes to world records, not even having an expert measurer's signature on an official score sheet is enough to guarantee a world record.
Ohio's "Hole in the Horn" buck first was scored as a new world record at 342 3/8 B&C points. The score later was lowered to 328 2/8, making him No. 2 overall. Photo by Duncan Dobie.
The most talked-about instance of this occurred in 1983, with the "Hole in the Horn" buck. Phil Wright - now deceased, but back then perhaps the most respected B&C measurer on the planet - gave the deer a potential No. 1 score. On that basis, North American Whitetail reported the buck to be a "new world record." But three years later, a B&C panel that didn't include the original measurer decided the net score should be more than 14 inches lower, making the "Hole in the Horn" No. 2.
Who got it wrong: Phil, or the panel of fellow measurers who reviewed his scoring judgments? Perhaps both . . . or perhaps neither. You see, scoring racks simply isn't as cut and dried as we'd all prefer, particularly when it comes to world-class non-typicals. In fact, if 20 official measurers were to tape a 300-class non-typical without leaving their pencil marks on the rack or comparing notes with each other, I believe that more often than not they'd often end up with 20 different net scores for the same rack.
This is in no way a knock on the hard-working and greatly under-appreciated volunteers who give up so much of their time and money to measure big-game trophies. They have a difficult and often thankless job. The point is that deer antlers come in so many configurations that even with outstanding training, years of experience and full focus on the task at hand, the scoring process often raises tough questions without cut-and-dried answers.
For another example, consider that nine years after the "Hole in the Horn" buck was panel measured, B&C took on the task of verifying another potential world-record non-typical: this one a mule deer from British Columbia. The old rack had been entered at around 388 net points, well above the long-standing world record of 355. A pair of panel measurers checked the measurements and decided the score should be around 403. Another pair of measurers then took their turn at the rack and came up with a score closer to 411. Eventually, after declaring the deer a "new world record," B&C settled on a final score of under 340. Take your pick as to which of those scores is correct . . . if any.
Despite such notable cases, panel decisions rarely are the reason record-talk turns out to be hot air. Nearly all such claims fade long before there's any need to convene a scoring panel. That definitely was true in the following cases:
A BUCK AS BIG AS A MOOSE?
A record rumor that originates in a renowned trophy area always will catch the ear of antler sleuths. If the rumormonger then mentions that the hunter is a rural resident with no interest in drawing attention to himself or the deer, the tale somehow sounds even more likely to be true.
This combination of elements is why a story coming out of eastern Canada in the late 1980s got so many folks buzzing. A guy reportedly had shot a new world-record typical in New Brunswick. Nobody could doubt that New Brunswick had great trophy potential; in fact, in 1937, the province yielded a buck that went on to become B&C's first world-record typical. Now, along had come another giant buck, and by all accounts, the hunter who'd taken him was totally uninterested in the commotion surrounding his kill.
Okay, perhaps the location and the hunter's lack of interest in fame were believable enough. But what about the amazing dimensions of the rack in question? Rumor had it that the antlers had an inside spread in excess of 30 inches, with main beams somewhere around 40 inches apiece! (Thirty-inch inside spreads are extremely rare, and only a few known whitetails have had even one beam of over 31 inches. None
in any record book is as long as 34.) I was told that the gross typical score was in the 240 range and that the basic 7x7 would net well in excess of 220!
I pondered whether or not to pack my bags and fly to New Brunswick to see this marvel of nature. Ultimately, though, I elected to stay put. The deer simply sounded too big to be real, and there was no guarantee I'd be allowed to see the rack even if I went to the hunter's rural home. I decided to wait for more "facts" to surface.
Fortunately, that didn't take long. It was a rack, all right: a moose rack!
Your first reaction is that nobody smarter than a turnip could confuse the rack of a Canadian moose with that of a whitetail. However, in this case, the antlers had been altered considerably, with the intention of passing them off as something they weren't. The guy had done it by sawing away large areas of the "palms" of the moose rack and rounding off the edges, so that what was left simulated a huge-framed whitetail rack. I was glad I hadn't made the trip, though it might have been intriguing to see the "artwork" firsthand.
How did such a wild rumor ever find its way out of the backwoods of eastern Canada? As much as anything else, the answer speaks to the power of suggestion.
For an explanation, let's turn to George Chase, an avid New Brunswick hunter, outfitter and record-book measurer who's a reliable source of information. George says he believes the owner of the fake rack had taken it to his taxidermist to have it put on a plaque. The taxidermist then spilled the beans to a measurer for the New Brunswick record book, who in turn went to the rack owner's home and asked to see the "deer" for himself.
When the measurer got there he apparently was met with a rather icy reception, though he previously had scored one of the guy's legitimate deer racks. Finally, after warming up a bit, the owner rattled off an imaginative tale about having found this "world record" in a frozen pond. (Or was it on a remote snowmobile trail? He couldn't quite recall.) Then, the man reluctantly consented to give his visitor a peek at the rack.
The monster set of antlers was being kept in a woodshed just dark enough to convince the measurer that what he was seeing and scoring was real. Under those circumstances, it's not hard to imagine that he let his imagination run away with him. In essence, he saw what he wanted to see: a new world-record typical big enough to beat the James Jordan buck's net score of 206 1/8.
After his return from the man's remote home, the measurer claimed that: (1) the rack was real; (2) the owner had turned down $10,000 for it from two potential buyers in the U.S.; and (3) the reason the owner didn't want to discuss the rack publicly was that he figured if he did, his hunting area would be flooded with "every hunter in North America."
All of that sounds plausible, and it definitely got those of us in the trophy community chummed up. Only after George finally got his hands on one of the measurer's photos of the rack, saw how weird the antlers looked and started asking hard questions did the truth about the hoax finally come out.
ANYTHING FOR A BUCK?
Some folks will do virtually anything for money, and that unsettling fact is just as true in the deer business as in any other. A 1994 scam involving a Michigan-based outfitter was clearly fueled by greed, and it ended up getting him into trouble with federal agents.
Barry Leach never claimed his B&C typical from Nebraska was a world record, but an outfitter in the area did. Photo courtesy of Barry Leach.
The guy wanted to drum up some attention for his Nebraska whitetail hunts, and he knew exactly how to do it - by suggesting that a potential world-record typical had been taken on land that he and his partner had leased for hunting.
Barry Leach, a resident of Hyannis, Nebraska, had legally shot a great 173 6/8-point B&C typical in Grant County in 1991. But before anyone outside the small town even knew the deer was dead, the outfitter in question tracked the deer to a local taxidermy shop and had his partner shoot some photos of him holding the rack. The photos were taken with a wide-angle lens that so grossly exaggerated the wide, heavy rack that it really did have the look of a world-record contender. At the time, the score to beat was still 206 1/8, as Milo Hanson's world record from Saskatchewan wouldn't be taken for another two years.
Within two months after the 1991 season closed, the outfitter was flashing photos of the Leach buck at major hunting shows. At one, he cornered a writer and assured him that the rack was as big as it looked, with a gross typical score around 230 and a net in the range of 220. The outfitter repeatedly told everyone that his partner had shot the deer the previous fall on the ranch they'd leased, and - in case any potential clients might be wondering - this wasn't the only monster on the place. (Surprise, surprise.)
What brought the deer into public view was a magazine article in early 1994, in which the alleged "new potential world-record typical" was shown and discussed in print for the first time. What the public didn't realize was that photos of the buck had been circulating for three years at that point, but no one else had chosen to publish them, because there were too many unanswered questions.
The writer who'd authored that 1994 article ultimately told investigators for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission that he thought something about the outfitter's story was amiss. Sure enough, when the investigator began to check into the situation, a red flag went up.
A metal antler tag visible in the magazine photo proved the deer had been checked in at a Commission check station. But state records showed that the outfitter's partner, who'd reportedly shot the buck in 1991, hadn't even received a firearm permit for the area in which the kill reportedly had occurred.
The state investigator told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that he had reason to think the rack had been illegally tagged, leading federal agents to pay the outfitter a visit at his Michigan home. Upon realizing he could be charged with interstate transport of illegal wildlife - a federal offense - the outfitter confessed his elaborate scheme.
In the end, no state or federal charges ever were brought against the guy. Technically, he hadn't done anything worse than lying. Had a client booked a hunt with him on the basis of this photo that could have constituted fraud. But apparently no such case ever was made.
The real shame in this story is that Barry Leach and his super buck were indirectly involved in this ugly situation, through no fault of their own. Both deserved far better.
ONE BIG CLERICAL
As we've seen, a very real trophy buck can become a record "pretender" in quite innocent fashion. If you need still more proof, ask Iowa's Don Boucher.
In 1996, the Albion resident was hunting in Marshall County when a huge non-typical appeared. Don's aim was true, and seconds later, he had the buck of his dreams on the ground. In short order, Iowa's biggest whitetail of the season was officially measured and entered into the state record book maintained by the Department of Natural Resources.
Don Boucher's 245 3/8-inch Iowa buck is clearly a non-typical. But a clerical error made him sound like the No. 1 typical! Photo courtesy of Don Boucher.
Everything was going normally to this point. But it didn't last. While finalizing the list of Iowa's all-time top bucks to print in the September-October 1997 issue of Iowa Conservationist, someone at the DNR made an error. Don's great non-typical - all 245 3/8 points' worth of him - was included in the typical list instead. The print was small, but there was no denying what it said: that Iowa had produced a typical far bigger than Milo Hanson's 213 5/8-inch B&C world record!
To compound the problem, the year of kill for Don's deer was erroneously listed as 1961, not 1996. In a way, this actually gave more credibility to the rumor of a world record. In a rural state such as Iowa, it was easy for readers to imagine that someone had just dragged an old mount out of a closet and had had it scored, only to learn it was a new world record in the typical category.
Because no photo of the Boucher buck accompanied the list, readers had no way of knowing the rack was in truth non-typical. As a result, calls started pouring into the DNR. Deer hunters across the state wanted to know about the buck that apparently would beat Milo Hanson's 213 5/8-inch Saskatchewan typical to become the new world record! Folks even were calling me to ask about the "mystery" buck.
Today, the only remaining mystery is how such an obvious error could slip through. Of course, being in the publishing business myself, I'd be the last to throw stones, because a typographical error can happen to anyone. Besides, there was a bright side to the Boucher story: It did prove that some people actually read the fine print!