September 22, 2010
By Gabe Van Wormer
When this avid hunter spotted the buck of his dreams through the closed Plexiglas window of his ground blind, he had to make a split-second decision: "Do I shoot through the Plexiglas or do I lose the chance of a lifetime?"
By Gabe Van Wormer
Bill Rushford got this snow-filled trail camera photo (top photo) on Nov. 23, 2008. Three days later as he sat in his ground blind, the monster buck appeared to Bill's right through a closed Plexiglas window. Bill had little choice but to shoot through the plastic, and his well-placed bullet found its mark on the 197 3/8-inch bruiser from Michigan's U.P.
Luckily for Bill Rushford of Newberry, Michigan, there is a Home Depot within 100 miles of where he hunts. You see, Bill had some repairs to make on his ground blind after a memorable hunt last November. Newberry isn't what you'd call a metropolis, so in order to get the necessary supplies to repair his blind, Bill had to drive all the way over to Marquette. Bill shot a buck last season the likes of which most hunters only dream about. And while he was in the process of shooting that amazing buck, his blind suffered a rather bizarre mishap.
THE GOOD 'OL DAYS ARE BACK
By and large, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is not a destination for out-of-state hunters looking to bring monster bucks home to their taxidermists. Although it was once a mecca for rifle hunters early in the 20th century, the Lower Peninsula of Michigan now gains much more attention, with trophy bucks being tagged each year in the southern-tier counties.
Only a couple of generations ago, anyone looking for venison headed north for the season. Come mid-November, throngs of hunters waited in line for the ferry to shuttle them across the straits that separate the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Many of the record bucks from this time period still sit atop the record books in Upper Peninsula counties. Luce County is no exception.
Both the typical and non-typical county records were set well over 50 years ago. In 1917, Sid Jones took a 22-point buck scoring 197 5/8 non-typical points.
Times have definitely changed. Ninety-one years after Sid Jones took his big buck, local hunter Bill Rushford checked his Moultrie trail camera while talking on his cell phone to his wife Shelly. The date was Nov. 23, 2008. Shelly's call was interrupted by stunned silence as Bill, scrolling through the pictures, saw what at first glance looked like a monster main-frame 10-point buck trailing a doe. The picture was so astounding that Bill told his wife, "Someone must be playing a trick on me!"
THE REAL THING!
The picture was no hoax. Closer inspection on the computer showed 12 or possibly 13 points, including split brow tines. It was a restless night for Bill. How would he get a crack at this buck without spooking him out of the area? And worse yet, how long would the buck stick around? Over a month of running a trail camera in the area had yielded absolutely nothing in the way of good bucks.
And the Lake Superior watershed is one of the few areas in the Midwest where deer migrate to yarding areas for the winter, sometimes for long distances. Bill knew that some deer were already moving along some of the migration routes in the area. With more snow predicted, it wouldn't be long before most of the deer would vacate the area altogether. Bill knew he had to do something quickly!
The afternoon of Nov. 26 found Bill in his shack blind overlooking a small opening near a cedar swamp. The wind was right to get into the blind without spooking the deer. It wasn't long before the action started. Nervous about the wind blowing through the blind and out the other side, the hunter made a decision to keep only the front Plexiglas window open. This decision almost cost Bill the buck of his dreams!
AN UNUSUAL CHALLENGE
Looking out the window to his right, Bill soon spotted a doe moving into an opening. The doe acted a little nervous. Suddenly there he was, the giant buck that had appeared on Bill's trail camera photo! The buck was standing a mere 18 yards away, and there was nothing between Bill and the deer but a thin window of Plexiglas. When the blind had first been constructed, the plastic windows had been carefully covered with camo netting to block the glare and to mask the movements of the hunter inside.
Now the huge rack was clearly visible through the plastic window as the buck moved slowly out into the opening. Knowing the buck would surely hear the noise if he tried to open the window, Bill noticed a small hole in the plastic about the size of a silver dollar.
Raising his Remington 7mm Mag., he realized that there was no way he could get the barrel through the hole and make the shot.
The buck nervously took a step back. It was now or never. Bill made a decision that would eventually prove to be the talk of whitetail hunters everywhere! Leaning back and taking careful aim, he fired through the Plexiglas window! The muzzle blast left his ears ringing and put a large hole in the plastic. The buck lurched through the opening and out of sight.
Never having seen Plexiglas advertised as "shoot through" material, Bill was understandably worried about the results. But a short walk over to where the buck had been standing revealed a significant blood trail. About 80 yards later, a mass of antlers was spotted buried in a small bush where the buck had skidded to a halt.
COMING ON STRONG
Within hours, a steady stream of visitors started arriving at the Rushford household.
Word travels fast in the Upper Peninsula. Before long, pictures of Bill and his buck were all over the Internet. Later scored by official measurer David Wellman in early February 2009, the 14-point buck tallied up an official non-typical score of 197 3/8 inches. The main-frame 5x5 sported a 20 7/8-inch inside spread and 17 4/8 inches in non-typical growth.
Given that this hunt took place in a county that previously had boasted only one B&C non-typical, you'd think that this might be a fluke, but that is not the case. In recent years, big bucks have started showing up again in the Upper Peninsula. Pat Abram is a hunter who would definitely agree. Living just down the road in the small town of Curtis near one the best fishing lakes in the Upper Peninsula, Pat and his dad had long been known as the gurus of spear-fishing. But on a cold day in 2000, Pat became known for something else.
A heavy-equipment operator by trade, Pat had cleared a shooting lane away from his blind to allow him a better view for rifle hunting. One night he spotted a good buck following the trail of a doe that had just trotted away from his blind. The buck was moving away with his hea
d down, but Pat saw antlers on both sides of the deer. He figured this was a good buck, and he took the shot as the buck turned slightly quartering away.
As the buck went down, Pat saw the massive rack for a split second. It was then that he became a little worried. The fine for shooting a moose in Michigan is pretty steep, and from the palmated look of this rack, it could have been a small bull. Luckily for Pat, the animal turned out to be a huge 16-point non-typical whitetail instead. So big in fact, it beat a relative's 171-inch non-typical shot back in '91. Pat's 8 1/2-year-old Mackinac County monster scored 196 2/8 inches. But just like Bill Rushford's buck taken just over the county line, Pat's buck ended up in second place in the county records behind a 205-incher taken in 1951.
Is this the tip of the iceberg for the eastern U.P.? Is it a matter of time before the Lake Superior watershed sees some county records topple? It will certainly take some 200-inch bruisers to do so, but it could happen. In the meantime, Bill Rushford is happy. In fact, while traveling to the Home Depot to search for a new sheet of Plexiglas for his blind, he couldn't get that big grin off his face!