To many of the hunters at the Vermont deer registration station, something was amiss. Yes, the deer about to be checked in last November carried a nice 10-point rack. But when you grabbed the antlers, they shifted mysteriously in your hands. So the hunters alerted authorities.
Turns out the 19-year-old amateur taxidermist registering the deer had jacklighted a doe. Then, using epoxy and lag bolts, a drill and a 10-point rack, the kid “built” himself a buck. He fessed up, paid a fine and spent 10 days in jail—not for his antler wizardry, but for illegally taking the doe.
With hoaxers like this, it’s no wonder that both hunting and fishing trophies come under intense scrutiny just as soon as word gets out about a huge buck, bull or fish. Are those antlers real? Did that fish truly weigh that much? The photo shows a monster, but maybe it’s high-tech trickery, a PhotoShop version of epoxy and lag bolts meant to build a tall tale.
These days, it’s hard to know what’s real—and what’s a convincing fake.
A Buck for the Ages?
When Mitch Rompola announced that he’d arrowed the new world-record whitetail deer, killing it on November 13, 1998, near Traverse City, Michigan, the skepticism was immediate—and it hasn’t stopped since.
Soon three scorers would measure out the rack at an astounding 216 5⁄8 inches net, 3 points more than what was and remains the world record, a whitetail taken by Milo Hanson of Saskatchewan. Hanson’s giant scored 213 5⁄8, the Boone and Crockett Club’s typical record. But some surmised there was something not quite right about the Rompola buck. To those who saw the photo, its rack seemed far too symmetrical, one side nearly a mirror image of the other. The coloring of the rack looked off, too, and in photos, the buck’s ears drooped. Some suggested that the skin over the skull was slit open and fabricated antlers were slid in—which would explain the ear droop, the symmetry and the coloring.
If the buck was real, Rompola did himself few favors. At first, he supplied photos and interviews. But he soon clammed up, got an unlisted phone number and essentially disappeared. The controversy raged, however, much of it on the Internet. In one month, the Detroit Free Press’s website got more than 200,000 hits on its Rompola story—the paper’s top Web story of 1998.
“All Mitch had to do was sign the scorers’ sheet,” says freelance writer Richard P. Smith, and the buck would have been entered into the Commemorative Bucks of Michigan—in the top spot, in fact. But he didn’t.
Smith, who chronicled the Rompola saga in Great Michigan Deer Tales, Books 3 and 4, believes the buck was completely legitimate. He has talked with the three scorers, as well as the warden who inspected the buck soon after it was killed. All of them, says Smith, tell him the deer was the real deal.
Yet media reports note that Rompola signed an agreement with Milo Hanson’s business associate, whereby Rompola agrees not to refer to his deer as the “World Record.” Rompola also will not enter his deer with Boone and Crockett as long as Hanson’s buck holds the top spot. He signed off on that—for no money—yet passed on the $20,000 two Michigan men put up if Rompola would have the rack X-rayed and entered with Boone and Crockett.
All of which makes sense to Smith. “Mitch was so badly hurt by it all, he doesn’t want to deal with anyone on that deer,” Smith says.
For a couple of years before 1998, Rompola told many people, including Smith, that he was on the track of a really huge deer, generating interest among outdoor writers and hunting industry sales representatives. And when all his hard work paid off and he killed the buck of his dreams, Rompola suddenly did not want the recognition or the money that would have gone along with the record. Was he scared off by controversy, even though he could have quelled all speculation and rumor by making the deer public?
Possibly. But it does give one pause.
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