The Lone Star State has produced more than its share of interesting deer, but perhaps none more noteworthy than this freak from 1966.
Over the years, I've had the good fortune of getting to handle whitetail antlers of every description. Massive or thin, wide or narrow, tall or short, smooth or gnarly, typical or non-typical - you name it, and odds are I've held one like it in my hands.
But in September 2000, at the second annual conference of the Texas Deer Association in San Antonio, Andy Brown showed me a whitetail rack the likes of which I'd never even imagined, much less seen.
The Frio County buck, shot back in 1966 by Andy's late father, William Bernard Brown, is indeed special. His net non-typical entry score of 259 0/8 Boone and Crockett points is in itself newsworthy, for it makes him one of the Lone Star State's top deer of all time. And just as exciting is the rack's typical frame: 218 4/8 gross points, with a net of 205 2/8.
The non-typical score ranks the buck among the world's top 25 of all time, and his typical frame makes him world-class in that regard as well. But none of these numbers begins to tell the real story of how different this deer is.
If you were asked to draw a rack with a gross typical score of 218 4/8 typical points, most likely you'd begin by sketching a pair of main beams each at least 28 inches long, with a span of well over 20 inches between them. You probably would then adorn those beams with at least a half-dozen tines a foot or more in length. But in the case of this buck, your drawing would bear little resemblance to reality. As his score sheet shows:
- The rack has an inside spread of just 15 6/8 inches, which is narrower than all but one other non-typical whitetail in B&C's top 25. (Mitch Vakoch's 268 5/8-point Minnesota state record has an inside spread of only 14 2/8 inches.)
- There are 27 scorable points on the Brown buck, an exceptionally low number for a rack with such a high score. In fact, the former Illinois state record, Richard Pauli's 267 3/8-pointer, is the only buck scoring so high with fewer points. (The Pauli buck has 25.)
- The Brown buck has an 8x8 typical frame, a configuration rarely found on any whitetail rack.
- Finally - and most amazingly - this unique South Texas trophy has main beams of just 16 2/8 and 15 3/8 inches! You have to drop all the way to No. 1,620 on the B&C list, to a 195 2/8-point non-typical from Texas, to find a book buck that gets fewer inches of score from his main beams! (Total beam length normally is roughly 40 percent of the score of a record buck's typical frame. In the case of the Brown buck, it's a minuscule 14 percent!)
Taken individually, any of these features would make the deer a topic of conversation in a room full of serious hunters. Put all of these odd traits together, and you clearly have one of the most unusual top-end trophies in whitetail history!
The tremendous drop tines worn by the Bernard Brown buck are quite impressive, but they're not his most noteworthy features. Photo by Gordon Whittington.
What's the story behind Bernard's fateful hunt for this deer? According to Andy and his mother, Bettie Belle, it wasn't the result of a long, drawn-out battle of wits between hunter and hunted. Instead, it was a matter of fate - and a gift.
Of the two, the gift - a custom .308 Norma Mag. Rifle - is easier to explain. At the time, it had been Bernard's for only a year, courtesy of a group of friends. The Browns' 3,900-acre property never had been leased out for hunting, but the men had hunted it as guests of the family, and in 1965 they showed their appreciation by giving Bernard this scoped rifle. It had been made by gunsmith Emmett Hutto, a member of the hunting party.
In the South Texas Brush Country, the rut occurs later than in most other parts of North America, and many trophy hunters in the region don't even bother going afield until December. However, a day or two before Thanksgiving 1966, Bernard and his friend, C.E. "Coot" Davis, decided to try their luck on an early-season hunt.
As the men were sitting on a high hill in the ranch's south pasture, watching for deer, Coot suddenly indicated he'd seen something.
"What is it?" Bernard asked.
"I don't know," Coot replied, "but you'd better kill it . . . because if you don't, nobody will believe us!"
The buck was way off, and only his head and bizarre rack were visible above the thick brush. Bernard's rifle was up to the challenge of taking deer at long range, but figuring out where to hold the cross hairs was another matter.
Bernard decided to use the top of the deer's rack as a reference point for figuring bullet drop. But the height of the rack was much greater than he'd thought it was, and when his first shot was touched off, the bullet sailed just over the deer's back. On the second shot, things went much more according to plan. At the sound of the rifle's report, the buck dropped out of sight in the brush.
From any angle, the Brown buck is a sight to behold. Lengthy points jut from everywhere . . . including just above the hair line on the back of the buck's head. Photo by Gordon Whittington.
When Bernard reached the deer, he saw that the huge rack was still covered in velvet. It had to be the buck government trapper Louis Pope had mentioned seeing several times over the past couple of years.
According to the trapper, the buck was a loner, never hanging out with other deer. He'd said the rack was like a mesquite branch, with points sticking in every direction, and this one certainly fit the description!
As it turned out, Louis wasn't the only guy who'd seen the buck. A hunter who'd leased access to an adjoining ranch also knew of the giant, and he was disappointed to learn of the deer's demise.
"That man wrote Dad and told him that he had intended to give up his hunting lease two years earlier, but then had seen this deer and decided to keep hunting there in hopes of getting him," Andy recalls. "When the man saw the deer's picture in the newspaper, he dropped his lease and never went back there to hunt!"
Deer contests were becoming popular in Texas back then, and Bernard entered his trophy into a contest held by the San Antonio Light newspaper. The 6X scope he won as first prize is still in use by hunters in the family.
Bernard certainly knew he'd taken a great trophy. However, the rack remained unscored until shortly before the hunter's death in 1996. Even then, it wasn't entered into the B&C record book until 1998.
"When we had the rack measured, I was all proud of its score being so high," Andy says. "But when I told Dad what it scored, he said, 'So?' You'd have had to know him. He didn't care what it scored."
No matter how high this deer might rank in the record book, he apparently wasn't even the favorite trophy from Bernard's long hunting career.
"Dad always said he'd killed one other buck he liked better than this one," Andy notes. "That was a really heavy 19-pointer he shot in Dimmit County in the '40s. You couldn't reach around the beams. But we'll never know what it scored. The rack was just hung with the others in a mesquite tree behind the ranch house and left there. They all eventually disappeared."
We can speculate about whether or not that monster was bigger than Bernard's 27-pointer from 1966. But I seriously doubt that he was any stranger!