Readers have told us time and time again, “Give us real stories about regular guys.” Well, here they are, seven stories about average Joes, guys who work a full week (sometimes at two jobs) but live for chasing whitetails. They’re spread out around the country, some in legendary deer counties and others near up-and-coming hot spots. None would describe themselves as trophy hunters; they’re just hard-core, honest outdoorsmen. What they all have in common is that each has a great story to tell and each shot a deer that would make a grown man squeal with glee.
To the yin of ethical, honest hunting, however, there’s a yang. In this year’s deer hunting yearbook we made sure to include the darker side of the sport. Tales of strange poaching busts are, sadly, almost as widespread as stories about superbucks. On the lighter side, we’ve also packed these pages with lots of fun stuff like trivia and stats.
Read the adventures, get excited and hunt hard this season. Accounts of monster bucks, which were once told only by a handful of elite hunters, are becoming more and more common. Maybe next year we’ll feature yours.
Chad Hane of Stillwater, Okla., and his brother were eating lunch when the doorbell rang. They weren’t expecting company. When Hane opened the door he was surprised to see two state policemen. “Is there a problem, officer?” he asked.
“No,” said one. “But we heard you shot a nice buck. We hoped to take a look.”
Just a few hours before, on the opening morning of Oklahoma’s archery season, October 1, Hane had arrowed a monster non-typical. The buck measured 214 4/8. Hane was confused, though, as to how the police already knew about his kill. He had told only two people, and one was his brother, who was there with him.
“I mentioned to my wife that I had shot a trophy. I guess she told a coworker,” Hane says. From there the rumor mill exploded.
Hane maintained food plots on the 10 acres of land where he was born and raised; he had a good idea about the size of the local bucks. Still, on August 10 he was surprised to look out his bay window and see four deer eating from a new feeder in his backyard. One of them was the huge non-typical.
“My wife grabbed the video camera and we taped the deer until dark,” he says. The buck’s peers were worthy trophies as well–two 8-pointers and a non-typical 12-pointer.
A firefighter by trade, Hane is maniacal about safety. That means still-hunting only, no tree stands. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but prior to the hunt he underwent shoulder surgery. His arm was weak, and he could only pull a 48-pound draw weight.
Hane awoke much earlier than needed on opening day. Unlike most hunters who have long treks to favorite spots, he walked just 80 yards across the rear of his property to an elevated cedar grove. His only worry was the weather. It was cool and overcast and the wind wasn’t right, but if the deer came in slowly he could get a shot before they caught his scent.
The deer marched in single file. He set his sights on the first one, that massive non-typical he’d watched many times. Trying to suppress his nerves, he fired a “decent shot” from 45 yards that hit the deer broadside but didn’t pass through.
When he found the deer, Hane decided to try his hand at scoring. His first score put the buck near 180. He missed a few non-typical points, however, which added an additional 30 points to his score. “What I couldn’t get over was the age of the deer. The biologist is certain that this buck wasn’t a day over three and a half.”
By that afternoon his life was like a carnival attraction. Hane took the deer to a checking station, where it lay in the flatbed of his pickup. A couple of tines stuck out from behind the tailgate. He told the wildlife officer that he had a trophy. Skeptical as most hunters are, a couple of men standing nearby heckled him. “That doesn’t look very big,” one said. Hane told them to take a closer look. When they caught a full glimpse of this non-typical, there was no more doubting. The tremendous deer stands as the new Oklahoma archery record.
The first deer Ricky Roy shot, he carried 300 yards to his truck without stopping to rest. The deer was a spike, but it hooked him to the sport. “My daddy didn’t hunt deer, only rabbits and birds,” says Roy, of Russell Springs, Ky. “I started hunting by going with some older friends to lottery hunts at Fort Knox. In those days there weren’t many deer around.” That was 20 years ago, when Roy was a teen.
Times changed in Kentucky. Hundreds of farms were converted from tobacco to soybeans, corn and alfalfa. Good deer habitat suddenly became great–witness the 40 Boone and Crockett Club entries during the 2003 season.
This change became evident to Roy as he stood over a massive buck he shot on November 8. He knew he wouldn’t be carrying this one out of the woods alone.
Four days prior to the hunt, Roy and his son were coon hunting late at night when they spooked a huge deer, a legendary animal among Roy’s friends. “We’d watched him in the summer for three years,” Roy says. Roy even had the sheds from the year before, so he knew what class buck he was chasing. Russell County is not a hotbed of monster deer–they had never even had a B&C buck taken there. That made this buck even more enticing. Five hunting buddies turned a one-and-a-half mile section of land upside down looking for the deer. They had him patterned in September, but during the rut he moved. “When the soybeans were still green, we saw him a half dozen times,” Roy remembers. Luckily a few coon hounds chased the wrong scent and jumped the buck, giving Roy a chance to take this elusive deer.
The terrain in Russell County is rough–crags and creek bottoms give way to dense woods dotted with small agricultural fields. Roy set his son up on the property, a friend’s farm, in an area rife with sign. He moved a half mile away and placed his stand deeper in the woods along a hillside.
Shortly after 7 a.m., a doe moved toward him but stopped to check the wind. To his left he watched a huge set of antlers emerge from the ivy. The rack attached to this buck matched his sheds almost perfectly. Suddenly the bruiser saw the doe and started bounding toward her. Then the buck paused, sealing his fate.
“The second I pulled the trigger I knew he would make the book,” says Roy, who is selective after 20 years of hunting. “I try to only shoot bucks that would score better than 140.”
Later, at Roy’s brother-in-law’s store, Lake Country Outdoors, the 10-pointer received a net score of 183 as a typical. It stands as the largest deer taken in Russell County and is a sign of a successful shift in deer management. Roy, for the most part, has been able to avoid the media spotlight. “A couple of guys called, trying to buy the rack, but I didn’t sell.”
By the time the 2003 season rolled around, everyone who cared to know where the buck was living already knew: He was living on a farm just outside the small town of Albia, Iowa. Steve Angran found a set of sheds from the incredible buck (already gross scoring over 280 inches) while turkey hunting during the spring of 2001. During the summer, a pair of local hunters filmed and photographed the buck, and quickly the small circle of those in the know began to grow.
Steve really wanted to see the buck make it through the ensuing gun season, but the word was out. That December Steve’s cousin, Doug Lovstuen, shot and wounded the buck during Iowa’s shotgun slug season. His gut-wrenching search for the carcass lasted more than two months. Toward the end of that time, Steve began getting pictures of the buck on his trail camera; it was alive and well. But he let Doug keep searching. The best thing that could happen to Steve was for everyone to think the buck was dead.
In January, the photos taken by the two local hunters during the summer and a story of the “walking world record” showed up in several national hunting magazines, including OUTDOOR LIFE. Though it took a little detective work to figure out where the deer lived, soon the whole deer-hunting world had turned its collective gaze toward little Albia and the farm where Steve was hunting. Bit by bit, the family members learned the buck was still alive, and those most serious about hunting it (Angran, Lovstuen and later Mark Murphy) came together to work as a team rather than as adversaries. It was a turning point.
With newfound cooperation, the cousins decided to work together and hunt the deer during every legal season without regard for who might shoot it. The first chance was Iowa’s early youth season, which starts in mid-September. Out of the hunting group, only Doug’s son Tony, 15 years old, was young enough to participate.
Tony Lovstuen enjoyed hunting, but he had never shot a deer. Doug and Tony practiced during August for the blackpowder youth season together, using Doug’s muzzleloader.
Tony was ready when opening day rolled around, but the buck was a no-show. Mark had patterned the buck’s summer behavior and range very well with trail cameras during the months leading up to the hunt, but after the buck shed his velvet he was unpredictable.
On September 29 the buck stepped out. It was Tony’s fifth evening of hunting. Tony, Doug and Mark had piled into the blind that afternoon, and there was quite a commotion when the buck appeared 75 yards away across a small grass field. Tony’s bullet found the mark.
During panel scoring at the Boone and Crockett National Convention last spring, the buck’s final score was 307 inches. It made the 15-year-old’s first deer the largest non-typical ever shot by a hunter.–Bill Winke
Marlon Vander Heiden
“I get so frustrated with not being able to hunt much,” Marlon Vander Heiden of New Liberty, Iowa, bemoans. His complaint is easily the number one aggravation hunters have during deer season. It is especially difficult for Vander Heiden because he, along with his brother and father, run a pig farm. With nearly 1,000 pigs born each month, it’s rare that Vander Heiden can get in the field.
During the first week of shotgun season Vander Heiden hunts with his brothers, but for the rest of the year he goes solo. He might not get out often, but his lucky streak is mind-boggling. The smallest of his seven mounts is in the 140s.
By early January, Vander Heiden still had a landowner’s tag to fill and only a couple of days in which to do it. After working a full day in pig slop he had 30 minutes to hunt. Grabbing a muzzleloader he made for the fields. He wore no camo and put on no scent. “Pig waste is about the best cover scent you can get and I was covered in it,” says Vander Heiden.
On the edge of a timber line he glassed a herd of deer moving toward him. He tried to move around them but kicked up a doe. Luckily the skittish doe didn’t spook the herd. Vander Heiden set up on the crest of a hill. Below, 30-odd deer grazed, including a respectable eight-pointer. Planting his scope on the buck, Vander Heiden was about to fire when a monster buck appeared behind the other one. The buck looked at him and the wind was wrong, but that hog mess kept Vander Heiden hidden. “I didn’t have time to react, or even to get nervous,” he says. He shot, and the hunt turned into a vaudeville act.
The buck took off, and the other 30 deer were scattering like teens after cops bust a prom party. Vander Heiden’s scope whipped his sunglasses off, and the smoke blinded him. Cursing with poetic license, he struggled and struggled to get another cap in the muzzleloader. His eyesight returned and he saw that the buck had fallen. “It was embarrassing. It happened just like some silly story,” he says.
The whitetail scored 183 7/8 typical. Vander Heiden learned first-hand the trickiness of scoring. “If it had 2/8 more of an inch it would be the state muzzleloader record,” he says. Consider how small that is; it’s about the size of a shirt button. A shirt button kept him from the state record, but with his luck he’ll break it next year.
Paul Hofer has a huge advantage over almost every deer hunter on the continent each time he climbs into the stand. That’s because he lives in Buffalo County, Wisc., one of the great whitetail areas of the world. His trophy kills read like stats from an all-star baseball player–six Pope and Young Club and two Boone and Crockett Club bucks–and most of them are from his parents’ small farm.
Hofer almost always hunts alone. “People think it’s a little strange,” he says. Still, he prefers his bow, tree stand and the solitude of the farm. When he was 13 years old he acquired a 40-pound K-Mart bow and taught himself to shoot. “Everyone back then hunted during the gun season. It was a carnival atmosphere when it started,” he says. Since no one in his family bowhunted, Hofer developed his own technique with no instruction. For years he didn’t shoot anything.
Hofer spends his evenings working the farm after finishing a day job. That gives him plenty of time to single out deer worth pursing. “I don’t scout. I just watch what happens in the field while I farm,” he says. In the fall of 2000, his trail camera took a photograph of a huge non-typical buck. For the next two years the buck vanished.
During the spring of last year, a neighboring landowner discovered a massive shed, giving Hofer hope that the big buck was alive. From the first of October through the close of the season, he was on the stand every evening. On October 13, he noticed movement 80 yards away from his stand, but the late-day light can play tricks on the eyes. “I thought it was a groundhog,” he says. But then one tine appeared, followed by another, and soon a buck emerged from the tree line.
The buck put his head down to feed, giving Hofer a sitting target. He drew his bow and let the arrow fly. But he missed. The arrow went just over the deer’s front shoulders. Amazingly, the deer didn’t notice.
By the time the rut began Hofer had saved up enough vacation time to take several days off for hunting. “Just seeing deer makes the day worth it,” Hofer says. But not one deer showed up on his first full day in the field.
Hofer doesn’t read, sleep or fidget on the stand. Like a meditating monk, he is focused entirely on hunting deer, up to 12 hours straight in a day. By November 7, though, he was feeling disheartened. Another full morning on the stand, and no deer. That afternoon, as the shadows grew long again, Hofer noticed movement on the edge of the field. A buck appeared about 40 yards away and he recognized it. It was the same one from October.
As he began to draw, the buck looked up and locked eyes with him. The deer didn’t notice anything strange, though. Hofer shot, and the arrow flew straight, piercing both lungs.
“I asked my dad to give me a hand with the deer,” Hofer says. “He took one look at it and said, ‘There’s no way I’m helping you drag that out.'” The 7 1/2-year-old buck field-dressed 205 pounds and the rack weighed 8 3/4 pounds.
Hofer scored the buck at the Wisconsin Deer Classic. A three-person panel gave it a non-typical net score of 224 7/8. While at home after the season Hofer developed a forgotten roll of film from his trail camera. To his surprise there was a shot of his stellar buck; a keepsake to go along with the trophy mount.
The night before the opening of Kansas’s rifle season, Justin Simmons of Pratt was on the phone going through last-minute strategies with his dad back in New York. Simmons was skeptical of his hunting location. His friend, Eric England, convinced him to give Unit 16 a chance, but Simmons thought for sure the bruiser bucks would be on his traditional hunting ground to the south, Unit 15. England really wanted to hunt Unit 16 because the summer before he had seen what he believed was a respectable 10-pointer four times.
At 5 a.m. Simmons sent his father an e-mail. It read, “Off to hunt. I’ll send you pictures of the big one by noon.”
The morning was typical of late fall on the prairies, freezing temperatures made worse by a relentless wind that pierced every layer of clothing. By 8 a.m. Simmons was freezing. Moving his stand was the best way to get his blood flowing. He radioed his buddy, who wanted to fight the cold by doing a drive. “Eric joked that it was so cold, if he shot he would blow his arm off,” Simmons says. The deer were in the area but bedded down because of the stiff breeze. In essence, the two were giving up on the day’s prospects.
The typical Kansas terrain is harsh but ideal. The private farm Simmons hunted is half timber and half open fields. Grass in the open fields reaches 5 to 6 feet. It’s possible to walk within an arm’s length of bedded deer without either party knowing the other is there.
England broke a twig in the field. Three does jumped, running up a slight hill in front of them. England took a shot, and a doe fell at the top of the incline. While looking at the deer they heard snapping branches and crunching leaves. Simmons looked up to see a buck sprinting away.
In Kansas the limit is one buck per season. Simmons was reluctant to pull the trigger on just any deer two hours into opening day but this one looked impressive. In the thrill of the hunt, pondering a deer’s size as he runs away is an exercise in futility. Simmons whistled once, causing the deer to turn and slow. He shouldered his .30/06 and fired one shot at 160 yards. For a moment, he wasn’t sure if he’d hit the buck, but it fell after a couple of bounds.
When they reached the buck, all Simmons could say was, “That ain’t a ten-pointer.” No, it was a 31-pointer on a 5 by 5 mainframe. After 60 days it unofficially scored 241 1/8 as a non-typical. Before a hunt, hunters often boast of the trophies they will shoot. If Simmons did any boasting, he backed it up that day. By noon, digital images of his 241 1/8 non-typical were making the rounds through cyberspace.
“I was in the right place at the right time; my brother wasn’t,” says Kent Marr of Coyville, Kan. An outdoorsman’s cliche for sure, but it’s especially true for Marr. If his 222 3/8 non-typical buck had wandered in the other direction, his brother would be giving the interviews.
Kent and his brother Jan live in a small farming town with a population of 79 people and have watched city slickers buy up hunting rights to many surrounding properties. “Deer hunting has been turned into a money sport around here,” Marr says. Luckily, his commitment to the community provides him with a few places to hunt. One friend in particular, Carolyn, allows Marr to hunt her mother’s 200-acre farm.
Marr was glassing from the back deck of her farmhouse on the Friday before the muzzleloader opener. Carolyn told Marr that one deer was sporting a very hefty rack. Sure enough, in the waning light of a Midwestern evening, Marr saw several deer grazing in the agricultural field, including a jaw-dropping 200-class buck.
The set-up was perfect; the deer were showing up within a 10-minute timeframe every evening. They were uneducated and felt safe. Once the deer left the field, Marr selected a tree-stand site, and Carolyn helped him construct a ground blind for his brother using hay bales. Marr’s brother Jan cannot hunt from a tree stand because of a handicap. The hunt was falling into place perfectly. Then the rains came.
Opening morning rains left the ground moist. “I figured we weren’t going to hunt. I didn’t want to tear up her fields driving to the ground blind.” Instead Marr and his brother watched the Kansas football game. By the second half, Kansas had the lead, the rain was gone and Marr’s phone was ringing off the hook. It was Carolyn and she sounded excited. “She told me to get to her land by 5 p.m., no excuses,” says Marr.
At the farm Marr parked the pickup truck in the ground blind with his brother on the flatbed. He walked across the alfalfa field to a grove of trees to place his stand. Shortly after 7 p.m., the buck appeared and stood like a wishbone between the two brothers. If he broke in one direction Jan would get him, in the other and the rack would belong to Kent. (And if he turned back into the woods he would live.) The deer chose Kent’s side. Shouldering his muzzleloader, Kent fired.
The deer bolted past his brother, who saw a lot of blood pouring out. The brothers used a tractor to haul the buck to an elevator scale. Its live weight was 275 pounds. “I don’t ever go to the city unless it’s to see a doctor,” Marr says. “But I had to take the buck to Wichita to get it scored. Man, is that a process!” The trip was worthwhile, though, because the deer is one of the largest on record in Kansas.
November 8, 2003, was the best day of last season for harvesting a B&C buck. On that stellar day, 15 were killed. (It probably helps that it was a Saturday.)
Big Buck Outlook
Where will the next world-record whitetail come from?
“For quite a while I would have said Illinois, but the next top-end buck will come from Iowa.” –Pope and Young Club’s Greg Hisey
“For typicals alone I would say Alberta or Kansas, but for non-typicals it will be Iowa.” –Boone and Crockett Club’s Keith Balfourd
Price Per Inch
The King Ranch in Kingsville, Tex., offers one heck of an expensive deer hunt. Each inch on a 150-class deer costs $36.66, while a 200-class buck is a walloping $100 per inch. Tax and tip extra.
The Dryden Buck
In a forest just north of Dryden, Ont., conservation officers eyed a 199-inch typical (possibly a new Ontario record) that they suspected was poached. The officers had gotten a tip that gunshots were heard after dark. But the hunters were nowhere to be seen. Instead of posing with their trophy, two men from Louisiana were in a hurry to get out of Canada. (The man at right helped officers recover the buck.)
The two were charged with 12 counts of illegally hunting this 18-pointer and one other deer.
Do You Remember Mitch Rompola?
He stood the whitetail world on its head in 1998 when a photo of him posing with a massive 12-pointer appeared. The buck reportedly scored between 216 and 218 and was heralded as a new world-record typical. But doubters emerged, claiming the deer was a fraud.
The already reclusive Rompola became a hermit, refusing to display the animal in public. The deer was unofficially panel scored, but no one inspected the skull plate.
Then Rompola made a strange move. He signed an agreement with one of record-holder Milo Hansen’s sponsors stating that he would not promote the deer as a world record.
According to those who know him, he’s moved on. In fact, he still kills world-class bucks, including one that scored in the 180s. But we have to ask: If Mitch Rompola did shoot a new world record, why wasn’t he willing to have the deer scored officially and entered into the record book?
Two Record Deer Poached
Ohio DNR officer Charlie Stone has been on the job for almost 22 years. But this is the first time where both the number one typical and non-typical in the state could be disqualified for poaching.
Greg Jones’s case goes like this: He shot a mighty impressive buck on the afternoon of October 22. The next morning he checked in the deer. Sixty days passed and the buck scored a very respectable 182 4/8 typical. After the season, Stone’s partner, officer George Foreman, was looking for anything suspicious in the tag records–standard procedure, according to Stone. A red flag came up with Jones’s name.
In Ohio, hunting licenses are databased online with a code to determine the date and time of purchase. “This was a textbook case,” Stone says. Jones killed the deer, was ecstatic about the size and wanted it to be legal. Problem was, he didn’t have a license. He bought the license and tagged the deer the next morning. Of course, Jones had his excuse. “He claimed he resided on land owned by his girlfriend’s parents and was therefore the tenant,” says Stone. But that didn’t fly with the DNR. The financial penalties weren’t crippling. Jones incurred a $90 fine and $65 court costs. But the kicker was mandatory forfeiture of the mount.
As of press time a 229 P&Y non-typical whitetail is also under investigation by the DNR. “Deer are the most significant poaching issue in Ohio,” Stone says.
Shooting for the Book
What are the chances of shooting a buck worthy of entry into the Boone and Crockett Club’s record book? Almost as bad as the odds of winning the lottery. Consider these numbers:
Roughly 5.5 million deer are killed each year by hunters, while the average number of B&C book entries per year since 2000 is about 300. Without taking into consideration location, weather and time of year, your chance of bagging a record trophy by just showing up to any old tree stand is 0.0005 percent.
And the odds only get slightly better if you’re hunting a proven hot spot, like Buffalo County, Wis., or Allamakee County, Iowa.
Between 2000 and 2003, Buffalo County hunters took 33,580 deer, yet just 14 were eligible for B&C entry. That works out to a 0.04 percent chance. Allamakee County is about as good as it gets. With a total harvest of 13,780 deer, 8 made the book, putting the odds for entry at 0.06 percent. But you never know: As with the lottery, people win every day.
That’s for sure.
World’s Luckiest Hunter?
The scene: It was a few hours before dark on the eve of opening day in Falls City, Neb. Most hunters were taking care of last-minute preparations, but not Chuck Allen. He was browsing the rifle selection at Dan Weddle’s gun shop, The Lower Forty. Allen still didn’t have a firearm for the next day. Because of the time constraints (he still didn’t have a tree stand location) he agreed with Weddle that a package gun was his best–and only–option.
Weddle suggested a Savage 111 chambered in 7mm mag. Allen dry-fired it a few times and Weddle checked the factory-mounted scope with a boresighter. After their “rigorous” inspection Allen decided to buy the rifle.
Once the tree stand was placed the next morning, Allen sat, waiting for some action. Soon, the recognizable sounds of a walking deer snapped him from a daydream. When Allen saw the buck, he almost dropped his gun (which had still not been fired). It was a big one, the biggest he’d ever seen. Without hesitation he squeezed off a round, and the buck fell. The whitetail received a score of 179 as a typical.
Allen (with the buck, at left) has rewritten the rules of hunting: Don’t worry about scouting or test-firing. After all, as Woody Allen put it, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”
But we have to offer this advice: It definitely helps to sight-in that rifle first.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
|Favorite Deer Cartridges|
|A recent poll on outdoorlife.com asked the question: According to RCBS, the following are the most popular reloading dies for deer cartridges. Which is your favorite?|
|Here are the results.|
||| |—|—| | .30/06 Sprg. | 33.9% | | .308 Win. | 28.7% | | .30/30 Win. | 19.3% | | .270 Win. | 13.5% | | .300 Win. Mag. | 3.8% | The Homeboy Â CHAD HANE SCORE: 214 4/8 non-typical AGE: 3 1/2 SPREAD: 26 6/8 inside POINTS: 26 RANK: No. 1 Oklahoma bow kill METHOD: Bow Â The Selective Shot RICKY ROY SCORE: 183 typical SPREAD: 21 7/8 inside POINTS: 10 METHOD: Rifle (.300 Win. Mag.) The Young Gun aka “Mr. World Record” TONY LOVSTUEN SCORE: 307 non-typical AGE: 7 1/2 RANK: No. 1 in Iowa, No. 3 B&C METHOD: Muzzleloader POINTS: 38 SPREAD: 22 inside Mr. Hog Wild MARLON VANDER HEIDEN SCORE: 183 7/8 typical AGE: 5 1/2 SPREAD: 20 5/8 inside POINTS: 13 METHOD: Muzzleloader Most Likely to Succeed PAUL HOFER SCORE: 224 7/8 non-typical AGE: 7 1/2 RANK: No. 3 bow-kill, Wisconsin METHOD: Bow POINTS: 24 SPREAD: 16 7/8 inside The Follow-up Shot JUSTIN SIMMONS SCORE: 241 1/8 non-typical* POINTS: 31 METHOD: Rifle (.30/06) SPREAD: 20 1/2 inside * unofficial The Local Favorite KENT MARR SCORE: 222 3/8 non-typical SPREAD: 16 4/8 inside POINTS: 22 METHOD: Muzzleloader Tracking Trophy Takes In the last 30 years, the number of B&C bucks bagged per year exploded; it is now tapering off.