On opening day of Ohio’s 2005 bow season, Mike Rex shot a 17-pointer with 14-inch brow tines and stickers all over. Total score: 220 inches. In Pepin County, Wis., Tom Lee grunted in a beast with 30-inch beams and a palmated, caribou-like G-2 on the left antler. Score: 187.
I even got in on the action up in Saskatchewan, felling a black-racked 22-pointer with junky daggers and bases the size of a can of Red Bull. Score: 181. And this is just a minuscule sampling of the monstrous non-typicals that hit the dirt last season. What’s the deal with all of these freaks breaking into the record books each fall?
One factor that leads to bizarre rack growth is an injury to growing antlers. Two years ago in Wyoming, I killed a 160-class 10-point with a fist-sized blob for a right G-4. He’d smashed the tine on a tree or hooked it on a fence or something earlier that summer. But injuries are the exception. Freaky racks are mostly about genetics.
“In my opinion, genetics are the primary cause for non-typical antler growth anywhere in the country,” says Mick Hellickson, chief wildlife biologist for the King Ranch in Texas. He says that many bucks have the genetic ability to grow junk on an otherwise typical 8- or 10-point rack, but most of them are shot by hunters or hit by cars before they get the chance. Hellickson’s research shows that atypical antlers generally don’t occur until bucks are 5 to 7 years old.
Another top whitetail scientist concurs, even going a step further. Dr. Grant Woods of Missouri feels that most whitetails have non-typical characteristics in their genes. “It’s rare for a six- or seven-year-old buck to be a straight-up typical these days, especially on private land where there’s lots of nutritious food,” he says.
WHERE THE FREAKS ROAM
Since 1950, more typical racks (5,441) than non-typical (3,021) have been entered into the Boone and Crockett Club record book. But the freaks are on the upswing. From 1995 until present, more than 1,400 non-typical bucks were registered with B&C.
Compare that to the previous decade, when 801 abnormal racks were put in the book. And these figures don’t take into account the thousands of junky, three-beamed 140- to 180-inch trophies shot by hunters in just the last few years.
The heartland is producing the most monsters by far, including the highest-scoring whitetail ever shot. Young Tony Lovstuen killed his 38-point, 307 5/8-inch giant in Monroe County, Iowa, in 2003. The region has fertile river bottoms and fields of corn and soybeans. Plus, quality deer management has exploded, with many landowners planting food plots and passing up young bucks.
Abundant feed is helpful, but a buck’s age is the number one freak factor. Take Saskatchewan, which has produced 34 non-typical B&C entries since 2000. The soil is not particularly rich, crops are thin in the northern part of the province and the growing season is short at that latitude. But what Canada does have is millions of acres of sparsely populated spruce and fir forest. In spite of the cold and the wolves, many bucks live 5½ years or more in the bush and grow those big racks we all dream about.
To see photos of the record racks, go to outdoorlife.com/hunting/whitetails
NON-TYPICAL WHITETAIL RECORD-BOOK ENTRIES BY STATE
MASS: Show me an old buck with beer-can thick bases and heavy mass throughout the main beams and I’ll show you a giant that will make a hunter faint.
WILD FACT: Masswise, the largest antler base on record is 8 inches in circumference (the right base of the No. 3 all-time Tony Lovstuen Buck, which scored 307 5/8).
DROP TINES: The sight of a drop tine, large or small, will jazz any hunter. Maybe that’s because drops or “clubs” occur on relatively few whitetails. Usually only a single or double drop grows.
WILD FACT: The No. 1 nontypical, which was picked up in St. Louis Co., Mo., in 1981, has six measurable drops on its 333 7/8-inch rack.
POINTS ALL OVER: While B&C scorers talk inches, the average hunter still talks points. Want to impress? Tell a guy you just killed a 15- or 22-pointer and watch his jaw drop.
WILD FACT: The No. 7 nontypical, a 284 3/9-inch giant killed in Texas way back in 1892, has 47 points (21 on its right beam, 27 on its left).
JUNK: While points and mass add up to an amazing trophy, the bucks that attract the most gawkers sport all kinds of junk, like beams that branch into stubby crowns or kicker and sticker tines.
WILD FACT: The No. 5 Tony Fulton Buck, which scores 295 6/8, has two big, matching sticker blobs on each beam, with a drop tine below each.
Mike’s Quick Tip
Medical studies show your heart can reach 118 percent of its maximum rate when you’re fixing to shoot a deer. Hold on to your ticker if you see a big freak marching through the woods! To calm down a bit, pull your eyes off that rack, focus on a patch of shoulder hair, breathe deep and kill the beast as fast as you can.