September 22, 2010
By Gordon Whittington
To uncover the occasional record-breaking deer entails following up on a ton of dead-end leads. Here are some of the more memorable ones of the past 20 years.
By Gordon Whittington
There once was a boy who cried, "Wolf!" - not because he'd actually seen one, but because he loved all of the attention the resulting hysteria brought him. Ever wonder what became of that kid? Well, the older I get, the more certain I am that he grew up to be a whitetail hunter.
For as long as record books have been around to honor trophy bucks, there have been wild claims about deer rumored to be bigger than any of those listed. Many such "lies" start out innocently enough, perhaps nothing more than erroneous information dispensed by someone who doesn't know better. Others are outright fabrications meant to delude or even defraud. But regardless of intent, the immediate result is much the same: plenty of frenzied scurrying as outdoor writers, measurers, antler collectors and everyday hunters all seek to uncover the truth, if any, behind the rumor.
Since its inception in 1982, North American Whitetail has been the unquestioned leader in breaking the stories of giant bucks, including several that have gone on to become official world records. But in the process, we've also been in on an annoyingly high number of wild buck chases that didn't pan out.
Rumors of this sort are rampant, and unfortunately, they can't very well be ignored. After all, every true story of a new No. 1 buck essentially starts out unproved, so who's to say the next rumor won't be true as well? For this reason, those of us in the whitetail media spend a fair amount of time chasing down every lead we get, hoping the next rumor of a great deer will turn out to be legitimate - even if the last 50 weren't.
While the following review by no means includes every juicy world-record rumor that came to a dead end over our 20 years of publishing North American Whitetail, these tales should give you a good idea of the frustrations involved in searching for the next real No. 1 deer. Enjoy them all, if only for their entertainment value . . . and be glad you weren't the one left red-faced at the end!
In 1983, while living in Central Texas, I got wind of an intriguing record rumor from old hunting buddy Pete Gipson. Through contacts at work, Pete had heard that a guy from South Texas had in his garage the mount of a potential No. 1 typical. Supposedly, the guy had shot the buck a few months before in northern Mexico. By all accounts the rack was gigantic, reportedly netting in the ballpark of 245 B&C typical points!
That would be an incomprehensibly huge "ballpark" even today, but it was even more astounding back then, for Jim Jordan's 206 1/8-point buck from Wisconsin (1914) had seldom even been seriously challenged as the world record. Then, as now, no known whitetail ever had grossed 245 typical, and here was a buck that supposedly would net that much!
For many years, James Jordan's 206 1/8-inch 10-pointer from Wisconsin was the world-record typical. But there were persistent rumors of even bigger ones. Photo by Duncan Dobie.
Soon enough, however, the truth was revealed. The "antlers" turned out to be bogus, made of plaster! This "deer" story was a hoax.
Based on the outcome of this rumor, you might think the entire incident was a waste of my time. Yet from that single episode, I learned a lot about the pattern world-record rumors often follow. Let's look specifically at three main points:
(1) There was a huge set of "deer antlers" to serve as a catalyst for the story.
Once a credible person actually saw the "trophy," it was immediately recognized as a fake. In the meantime, just the rumor that someone had seen a huge, mysterious deer head hanging in a hunter's garage fueled hopes that it was indeed real.
Helping to put legs under this story was the fact that it had broken less than two years after the shocking revelation that a new No. 1 non-typical scoring 333 7/8 points really had been found dead in St. Louis County, Missouri. This new "Minnesota Monarch" had beaten the old world record from Texas by nearly 50 inches. As a result, many whitetail fanatics woke up every morning half-expecting to hear that the Jordan buck had been bumped off the top of the typical category. In such an atmosphere, it was only natural to mobilize the troops in a hurry whenever a rumor surfaced.
(2) The record deer reportedly had been killed in a region known for trophy bucks.
This is an important part of the equation. It wouldn't be nearly as believable to start a tale about a world record from an area where huge-racked deer are extremely rare or even non-existent. But in this case, the location - the Rio Grande region of Mexico - made it plausible. While that part of the world had no track record of producing 200-inch typicals, the fact that it contained so many vast, relatively unexplored ranches led many observers to believe it capable of such a stunner. Even if the buck didn't net 245, he might still be bigger than 206 1/8. Mexico had produced some real bruisers over the years.
(3) The hunter at first insisted that the story was true but then backed off as investigators kept pressing for details.
The "rack" apparently had been somewhat of a practical joke to start with, but then, the situation escalated out of the guy's control. He could have doused the fire early on by being honest about his little gag, but he apparently thought it was fun to string everyone along. Once he realized the callers were persistent and knew more about antlers than he did, he at least had the good sense to 'fess up. Of course, by then the damage to his reputation had been done.
For me, this episode proved to be not only fascinating but educational. I'd always known there were individuals who wouldn't hesitate to poach a trophy buck, but now I realized some folks were just as willing to invent one. As we'll see in the remainder of this series, it wouldn't be the last time, either.
A LOT OF BUCK - OR ALL BULL?
Rumors move rapidly enough by word of mouth, but if you really want one to travel at warp speed, spread it electronically. By utilizing technology, a lie now can be spread all over the world in less time than it's taken you to read this paragraph.
That's just what happened in the winter of 1987-88, when an odd story hit the newswire. It originated in Harlan, Kentucky, but soon found its way into the far corners of the continent. And, it apparently ended up costing a newspaper reporter his job. Here's the text that started it all:
Harlan, Ky. - Every sportsman dreams of bagging a trophy size deer when he takes to the woods.
Every hunter hopes that his trophy will be of sufficient size to make an attractive addition to the den wall.
David Howard is no exception. Only the latest addition to be added to the Howard trophy wall is not just trophy size and is not just large enough to make an attractive display - it is world record size.
Howard's latest deer has been certified as the Boone & Crockett world-record-holder typical buck, based on antler size, spread and configuration.
Howard bagged the record-breaking whitetail deer Dec. 10, his first day of a hunting trip in Barnhart, Mo., a rural community in the southeastern part of the state along the Mississippi River.
He was accompanied on the trip by hunting companions Roger and Mike Williams.
"We went to Missouri to hunt after we got our limit of six deer, one each with bows and one each with guns," Howard said.
The deer Howard bagged broke the world record of 234 points that had stood for more than 12 years, and he broke it by more than 60 points.
The trophy buck was taken on land owned by a power company in Missouri that gave the three men permission to hunt there.
|PROVING A 'POINT'|
Before any whitetail rack can be entered into a record book, its score must be calculated by an official measurer. If the entry score shows the buck to be a potential world record, the owner then will be invited to submit the deer for verification of its entry score. Should a hand-picked panel of measurers then agree that the rack outscores any previously recorded, the deer will be certified as No. 1.
"We got to Barnhart early in the morning on Dec. 10. We got our licenses and tags and got to the field about nine in the morning. We drove across this field of grass to the edge of the woods and left our vehicles there and split up to hunt," Howard recalled.
He told of taking a portable tree stand, a device that locks around a tree and provides the hunter with an elevated seat from which to watch for his quarry, into the woods to begin looking for "deer signs," some rubs and scrapes (signs male deer leave to mark their territory). "I figured that would be a good place to set up," he said.
"About an hour passed and I glanced over my left shoulder and saw this big buck grazing his way across the same field we had crossed. The wind was blowing away from me and toward him, and he would lift his head and wind the air, sniffing the deer lure I was using," he said.
He said the lure was a combination of commercial deer attractor mixed with a homemade formula he and his hunting companions have been having pretty good luck with over the past four years.
"I just turned around and, using a limb for a rest, I just waiteds for him. All I could see through the scope was this massive set of antlers. I let him get to within about 150 yards and then shot him broadside. He ran for about 100 feet and took a nosedive into the dirt.
"I went over and field dressed him, knowing I had a big deer, but never guessing just how big. I sat down on him and waited for my buddies to come in. I sat on the deer because I have had five big bucks I have killed stolen, including one this year. I wasn't about to take a chance on letting somebody get away with this one."
The animal was taken to a deer check station, and it was only then Howard began to get the feeling it was something special.
"They seemed to get kind of excited about it. We took a yardstick and could move it back and forth between the widest part of the antlers. They called a game warden, and he came over and told me I likely had a Missouri state record buck and if it proved to be one, they would mount it free of charge."
The deer was skinned and the head, cape and antlers were left in Missouri. Since then, Joey Lucas, commissioner of the Missouri Department Of Conservation, has called him with details of the record and how the determination was made that the buck was in fact sporting the largest rack of antlers of any whitetail deer ever taken, anywhere in the world.
According to Lucas, Howard's record was calculated by three Boone & Crockett officials to be 298 and four-eighths typical points on the B&C scale.
"This means quite a bit of money for Mr. Howard," Lucas said, indicating Howard will be receiving requests for endorsements and promotions of hunting products and purchases of his story from hunting magazines and enthusiasts.
"I've killed a whole lot of deer and some pretty big ones, but never anything this big," Howard said.
Howard, a coal miner for 14 years and former coal mine operator, has been told there is a lot of notoriety that accompanies taking a world record deer and he looks on the possibility with a certain degree of skepticism.
"It would be nice, though, to be able to make a little money off of something you love to do as much as I love to hunt," he said.
The trophy is now in the hands of the Missouri taxidermist, and it may be as much as three months before the job is completed and Howard gets his prize here.
"But, it'll be worth waiting for," he said.
Following this text was a more specific description of the rack:
Howard's deer measured 10 inches in circumference at the base of the main antler beams, 39 inches in length for each beam, 32 inches in the spread of the beams from tip to tip, 41 inches of outside spread at its widest point, and the buck weighed 278 pounds field dressed. The animal was approximately six years old.
Well, I guess if you're going to tell a lie, you might as well make it a good one - and whoever originated this story did exactly that. Of course, to anyone familiar with the scoring system and/or Missouri deer hunting, this was obviously a hoax. But it still managed to get onto nothing less than the New York Times Wire Service, just beca
use a bunch of non-hunters blindly assumed every bit of it was the gospel truth. In retrospect, nothing about it was.
Not surprisingly, the "hunters" in question couldn't be located for comment. Missouri's gun season hadn't even been open on Dec. 10. The typical B&C record at that time was 206 1/8 points (the Jordan buck), not the 234 points mentioned. No Joey Lucas served as commissioner of the Missouri wildlife department. I could go on, but you get the idea.
How this mess ever reached print remains a mystery of modern journalism. There was a byline on the article, but when I contacted the Harlan Daily Enterprise to speak with that writer, I was told he was "no longer employed" there. I guess that meant he'd been fired. The impression I got was that everyone in the newspaper office wished the entire episode had just been a bad dream, but that wasn't the case.
The moral of this story? Just as you probably shouldn't count on outdoor writers to explain the inner workings of Congress, don't rely too heavily on big-city wire services for the straight story on a "world record" whitetail.