Rendezvous With an Adirondack Dream Buck
September 22, 2010
Reunited with her husband at World War II's end, Peg Smith downed a buck to remember!
By Duncan Dobie
It all began about 10 years ago when North American Whitetail magazine reader Robert Combs saw an ad in the newspaper for a deer rifle. At the time, Robert was living in southern Vermont. A sweet little old lady named Margaret "Peg" Smith, who lived in southern Vermont, had a 7mm. Mauser for sale. Robert answered the ad and bought the rifle. The stock had been hand-carved out of maple by Peg's husband Nick Smith who had recently passed away at age 85.
As Peg showed Robert the rifle, she began to reminisce about a hunting club in upstate New York, where she and her husband had been members for over 40 years. Peg then pulled out an old photo of a buck she had bagged on the club property in November 1945. The picture showed an outstanding 12-pointer with a wide, heavy rack.
Robert couldn't get that buck out of his mind. He later contacted Whitetail magazine and sent us a photocopy of the photo.
Nick Smith had joined the legendary hunting club known as the Hollywood Club in Essex County in 1938. Still going strong today and now boasting seven generations of hunters, the Hollywood Club is one of New York State's oldest hunting clubs. The club was founded in the mid-1880s by several businessmen from Boston, New York and New Jersey who loved to hunt and fish in the Adirondacks.
In the years following the Civil War, a number of avid big city sportsmen loved to travel to what they referred to as the "North Woods" wilderness of upstate New York on frequent hunting and fishing trips. Around 1882, two of these men, Dr. J. Clement French, a prominent Congregational minister from Newark, New Jersey, and Alden Speare, a successful Boston businessman, crossed paths. They began camping with their individual hunting parties in the same area each year.
These men cherished the great hunting and fishing the area offered. The land was not your typical mountain terrain found throughout most of the Adirondack region. Instead, it consisted of short, rolling hills that were very wild and rugged.
A TRADITION IS BORN
Eventually, French and Speare decided to join forces and form a permanent hunting camp near the Racquette River in Essex County so that they could return to the same place year after year. Together with several other founding members, they purchased a 50-acre tract of land not far from the small township of Hollywood, New York. Thus, the Hollywood Club was born. Over the years, several thousand acres were added to the club property. The club boasted many prominent members including a former governor of New Jersey.
Nick Smith attended college with George Perkins, the grandson of one of the founding club members. Having been invited to hunt at the Hollywood Club with his good friend George on several occasions, Nick became a permanent member in 1938. At the outbreak of World War II, Nick, along with millions of other young men, went off to fight for his country. Nick joined the Marines and was shipped off to the Pacific.
Very little hunting took place on the club property during the war years for obvious reasons. But all of that changed in the fall of 1945 with Japan's surrender in September.
It must have been a jubilant time for Nick and Peg. Happy to be reunited, one of the first things they did was plan a fall hunt at the Hollywood Club. In fact, for the next 30 years, fall hunts at the Hollywood Club would come to rank as one of their most anticipated annual outings. The club traditionally celebrated the opening week of deer season with a special seven- to 10-day fall hunt for all its members.
In 1945, New York's Adirondack season ran from October 20 to November 30 with a one-buck limit. Nick and Peg participated in the club-wide October hunt without filling their buck tags. By now, they had become very good friends with George Perkins and his wife, Dot. The foursome frequently hunted and socialized together. Undaunted by their lack of opening-day luck, they decided to go back to the club property and hunt the final few days of the season in late November.
Hailed as the "champion buck killer of the Hollywood Club," Peg Smith proudly shows off her 163 6/8 trophy, taken in November 1945. The Hollywood Club is one of upstate New York's oldest hunting clubs. Photo courtesy of Nick Smith Jr.
NO WOMEN ALLOWED
During its early history, the Hollywood Club had been a "men's only" club. Eventually, however, the "no women allowed" rule was relaxed. Wives, daughters and sweethearts were allowed to hunt and participate in club activities right alongside the men. After this happened, women became a strong force in the club, and many of the male members enjoyed hunting and socializing with their wives.
Such was the situation on this late November hunt as the two couples drove into camp. A new snow had just fallen, and hunting conditions were excellent. Throughout its history, the Hollywood Club always maintained several excellent whitetail guides. In 1945, the guides happened to be brothers, Roland and Hamilton "Ham" Ferry. Being part Indian, they were excellent woodsmen. As plans were being made for the first morning's hunt, Nick and George insisted that the guides accompany the two women, since the husbands knew the lay of the land much better than their wives.
Expectations were high on the morning of Nov. 20. Dot went out with Roland, while Peg Smith left for a different area with Ham. Both women were known to be fine rifle shots. Nick and George promptly ran into a large-bodied 8-pointer, which they easily dispatched and started dragging back to camp. Dot and her guide saw several does, but no antlered bucks. For Peg and Ham, however, the situation would prove to be dramatically different.
In a 1951 book titled Hollywood Club Memoirs by E. Ray Speare, grandson of one of the club's founding members, the author quotes Peg's hunting guide as he described the exciting events of that memorable morning:
"Me and Mrs. Nick were tramping along quiet out west of the camp near the big swamp when I seen a big deer's body in a bunch of small spruce. We stopped, and soon I seen the head come up with a gosh-awful bunch of horns on top. I whispers to Mrs, Nick, 'Shoot! It's an elephant!'
" 'Are you sure it's a buck?' says she.
" 'Cripes, yes! Shoot!' says I. She ups with the rifle (an open-sighted Winchester lever-action .30/30 carbine), whangs away, and down drops the buck. We went up to him and he had the dangdest set of horns I ever seen. She was pretty excited, of course, and the first thing I knew she burst
" 'What's the matter?' I says.
" 'Look,' she says, 'Look! I killed him when he was just eating his breakfast.'
"There were some pieces of fern sticking out of his mouth, which gave her the idea, but the weeps didn't last long with that big walloper lyin' there, the first buck she had ever seen and bagged so slick."
Peg was soon hailed as "the champion buck killer of the Hollywood Club." Her impressive 6x6 trophy was the envy of everyone in the club. It was said to be the largest buck ever taken on the club property.
After Peg Smith downed her once-in-a-lifetime trophy, the hunter's Adirondack guide referred to the big 6x6 as a real "walloper." Photo courtesy of Nick Smith Jr.
THE GRANCEL FITZ SYSTEM
The following year, in November 1946, the New York State Conservation magazine, The Conservationist, featured an article about the 10 best heads in the state's history, dating from 1895 to 1942. Being curious as to how well his wife's buck would stack up with New York's finest, Nick decided to have the beautiful rack measured.
At the time, the Grancel Fitz Scoring System was being used by the New York State Conservation Department to measure whitetail antlers. A trophy buck measuring 198.3 points and said to have been killed in Hamilton County around 1895 was listed as the state's largest whitetail ever. (In those days, the Grancel Fitz system used increments of tenths of an inch, instead of eighths.)
Peg's trophy was scored at 196.12 points, which would have made it No. 2 in the state. (Note: The Roosevelt Luckey trophy, taken in Alleghany Co. in 1939 and scoring 198 3/8 typical B&C points, was not listed on that 1946 "10 best" list. But since it had the same score as the above mentioned deer from Hamilton County, this might have been some type of mix up with names. New York State currently has no record of a high-scoring deer from Hamilton County taken in the 1800s. In any event, the Roosevelt Luckey trophy has long been New York State's best-ever typical.)
To add to the confusion, the Grancel Fitz scoring system had not yet been revised and refined by the Boone and Crockett Club. In 1946, it was common practice to take several extra measurements. This is why Peg Smith's buck tallied up such a high score. Instead of taking four circumference measurements as is proper today, five circumference measurements were often taken on a 6x6 rack. (This is a common mistake made by amateurs that often occurs to this day with 6x6 racks.)
The second extra measurement taken on Peg's deer involved the G-5 tines. Apparently the main beam was measured separately from the base of the G-5s to the end of the main beam. In essence, this part of the main beam was measured twice.
The Grancel Fitz scoring system was revised by the Boone and Crockett Club in 1949. At that time, the extra measurements were eliminated. The present-day scoring system for whitetails is still based on the 1949 revision.
AN OFFICIAL B&C SCORE
Peg's buck never received much notice beyond its Hollywood Club fame. However, deer hunting at the club each year became a much-cherished family tradition for the Smiths as mentioned. Nick eventually built a small cabin on the property for the couple's use. Nick and Peg continued to hunt until they were in their 70s.
Nick Smith Jr., who supplied much of the information for this story, often hunted and fished with his parents at the Hollywood Club during his late teens. Today, Nick Jr. owns and operates Stonington Vineyards in Stonington, Connecticut. His mother's trophy whitetail has been hanging in the vineyards office for many years.
Sadly, Peg passed away several years ago, but Nick Jr. has many fond memories of hunting and fishing with his parents at the Hollywood Club. He started deer hunting with them when he was 18. One of his fondest memories occurred in 1965 when Nick was 28.
"All three of us got a buck on the same day!" Nick recalls.
In May 2004 Peg's great 1945 Adirondack trophy was officially scored by Northeast Big Bucks Club regional director and frequent Whitetail contributor "Connecticut" Carl Lieser. With an 18-inch inside spread and main beams measuring just over 25 inches, Peg's vintage trophy tallied up a net typical score of 163 6/8.
At a time when few women hunted in the whitetail woods with their husbands, Peg Smith was a true pioneer. To many of the club members both old and new, she remains to this day "the champion buck killer of the Hollywood Club!"
(Author's note: Special thanks to reader Robert Combs, who made us aware of this great story. Also, many thanks to Nick Smith Jr. for supplying much of the information as well as the old photos. Lastly, many thanks to Northeast Big Bucks Club president Jeff Brown, another regular NAW contributor, for making arrangements to have the Smith buck officially measured.)