The 'Potato Pile' Buck

The 'Potato Pile' Buck

Back in 1966, a young potato farmer downed one of the most famous bucks ever shot in northern Maine. In fact, the massive deer still is the highest-scoring typical in New England history. Here's his story.

by Dick Idol

Ronnie Cox grew up hunting the fringes of the Thousand Acre Swamp, a forbidding mass of floating sod and swamp grass surrounded by low cedars so thick few men dared to penetrate beyond its fringes. Maine has a lot of bogs, all right, but virtually none so sprawling and overwhelming as to deserve its own name. The Thousand Acre Bog was a legend.

Its hostile features greatly contributed to its distinguished reputation, but to some men it was legendary for another reason: It was sanctuary to some of the biggest whitetail bucks in the world. They often lived and died within its perimeter, and only when they ventured beyond its safety were they vulnerable to hunters. Although entirely legal to hunt, the vast bog was simply too dangerous and thick for the normal hunter.

Ronnie learned how to hunt deer from his dad. The stories and experiences the elder hunter had accumulated through those years were incredible. He'd seen bucks with racks the likes of which few modern men ever will see.

For decades, Ronnie and his family grew the famous Golden Ridge potatoes near Sherman Mills, Maine. Their farm was located in Maine's northernmost real estate, Aroostook County, which lies adjacent to New Brunswick, Canada. According to records maintained by the Maine Antler and Skull Trophy Club, Aroostook County is among the top producers of trophy bucks, as well as record-class bears, in all of Maine. The club was founded in 1979 to keep tracks of the Pine Tree State's greatest big-game trophies.

During 1964 and '65, throughout the area around the Thousand Acre Bog spread rumors of a couple of bucks that had racks as big as an "apple tree." Ronnie had seen these bucks, and he knew they were indeed huge. One had a rack that was somewhat typical, while the other's was freakish. The young farmer hunted both deer in the fall of '65, but due to his limited hunting time and bad luck, he never got a crack at either. He hoped that would change the next season.

That '66 season didn't start out to be anything memorable either. In fact, after several weeks of gun season had passed, Ronnie still hadn't seen either of the monster bucks. But he had noticed big tracks in the fields, as well as huge rubs around the edges of the fields and on the fringes of cedar swamps. He was certain those bucks were around, but it seemed they were using the fields only at night. Having seen the body size of those deer, Ronnie knew the monstrous tracks must be theirs.

Potatoes on the Cox farm, like those on most other northern Maine potato properties, were stored in rows of small, wooden sheds. Newly harvested spuds were emptied onto a sifter screen to separate the dirt, scraps, potato pieces and other undesirables before storing. After many such cleanings, rather large piles of dirt and potato scraps accumulated near the storage sheds.

Great mass and long, oddly positioned brow tines are the Cox buck's most notable traits. Photo by Duncan Dobie.

The storage area on the Cox farm were in a setting ideal for being visited by deer. They sat in a field that was mostly surrounded by swamps along the edge of the Thousand Acre Bog. Bucks could step out of extremely heavy cover and begin feeding almost immediately on the potato scraps.

After the fall harvest had been finished and most of the potatoes stored, Ronnie began seeing evidence that the monster bucks were feeding on the piles of dirt and potatoes near the sheds. Occasionally, in early morning or late afternoon the young farmer would drive his pickup down to check for the deer . . . but time after time he saw nothing.

In late November, during the last week of the season, a wicked snowstorm blew in and announced the arrival or winter. As heavy snow fell with high winds, Ronnie once more drove down to check the piles. As the pickup bounced over the bumpy road in the blowing snow, Ronnie barely could make out the two dark outlines on the potato pile ahead. As he drove closer, he could see one of the shapes was a doe. The other was one of the huge bucks.

Ronnie confidently fired his .32 Win. Special, hitting the buck in the shoulder. Even so, the deer bolted for the bog and made it 250 yards before dropping.

Upon getting to the deer, Ronnie knew it wasn't the bigger of the two bucks that had been hanging out together. Even so, he could hardly be disappointed. The mass on this buck's rack was the most impressive he'd ever seen. And the buck himself was hardly puny, despite being run down from the rut. He still dressed out at 240 pounds!

Because of the rack's mass, the deer caused quite a stir around the neighborhood. Practically everyone who saw it commented that it was the heaviest they'd ever observed.

It is indeed impressive, and not just for a potato farm. Decades later, the rack alone still weighs over 10 pounds! The gross typical score of the basic 5x5 frame is a whopping 209 2/8 inches, among the highest ever. Unofrtunately, there are 16 inches of deductions, but even with them figured in, the net Boone and Crockett score comes to 192 2/8: easily Maine's state record then, and still the top mark today.

The most unusual feature of the rack, aside from its sheer mass and weight, is the brow tines. Not only are they exceptionally long (10 to 12 inches), their bases have circumferences as large as those of the main beams on most big racks! What's more, they're positioned unusually far out on the beams. Although these points are obviously brow tines, there's a tremendous amount of space between them. Overall, the Cox buck is one of the most impressive whitetails in existence.

The Thousand Acre Bog is a legend for good reason. We can only wonder what happened to the "larger" buck Ronnie and some of the other locals saw. He surely must have died of old age in the heart of that great bog, never to be seen or heard of again. How many other giants pass into oblivion without our even knowing they existed?

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