Editor’s Note: Richard P. Smith is a longtime outdoor writer and editor from Michigan. What follows is his perspective on the Rompola Buck, one of the most controversial whitetails of all time. The author has covered the story of this buck since the very beginning.
Back in 1998, an experienced bowhunter named Mitch Rompola shot an enormous typical whitetail buck in Grand Traverse County, Michigan. The buck scores more than the buck that currently sits atop the list of Boone & Crockett records. Little was known about the measurements of the Mitch Rompola Buck besides the final score, the exceptionally wide inside spread, and the fact that it was never entered into the record books.
But recently, a score sheet for the deer has mysteriously surfaced on social media. It’s unclear if the scores filled out on that sheet are legitimate (more on this later). But what is crystal clear is that there are many folks who still believe the Rompola Buck is real and that it would be a world record if it were ever officially entered into the B&C books. As someone who has covered the story of this buck since it first surfaced, I’m one of the believers.
The score sheet, like the antlers from the whitetail, have been under wraps since the rack was measured by a panel of three men, presumably for entry into state records maintained by Commemorative Bucks of Michigan during late March 1999. All three men were CBM measurers, but Gary Berger also scored big game for Boone & Crockett, Pope & Young and the Longhunter’s Society. Lee Holbrook (one of the other three scorers) was on the list of Pope & Young scorers, too. Al Brown was the third member of the panel.
It was assumed the rack would be a new state record typical and CBM bylaws require panel measuring of any antlers that are a potential record. Rompola already held the state record for typical bow kills with a 12-pointer he arrowed in 1985 that scored 181 ⅞ (that wasn’t the only buck he had in state records). Also, Rompola had been scoring chairman for CBM for many years, so he was well aware of the rules. He had previously been a measurer for Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young, too.
The rack from the massive whitetail that Rompola killed with a bow on November 13, 1998 ended up with a net score of 216 ⅝. That not only set the record for Michigan typicals, but it also set the typical world record. Then, as now, the number one typical whitetail in Boone & Crockett Records was the Hanson buck—a Saskatchewan 12-pointer shot by Milo Hanson that netted 213 ⅝.
After the buck was discussed on the popular Joe Rogan podcast and a score sheet was posted on social media, many are once again asking: Why isn’t the Rompola Buck in the Boone & Crockett Records … or any records, for that matter?
The Mitch Rompola Buck’s Score
I knew Rompola personally through my involvement with CBM. I wrote and edited the first editions of the state’s big game record books and was editor of the organization’s quarterly magazine, Buck Fax, for a number of years.
I’ve known Mitch since the early 1980s and considered him a friend. I wrote a number of articles about his big buck success with bow and arrow, including the story behind the state-record buck he tagged in 1985. The monster deer he killed in 1998 generated more articles, and it also generated fallout far beyond what anyone could have imagined. The rack was so big and its shape so unique that many people didn’t believe it was real.
The antlers grew off to the sides of the deer’s head instead of going upward, which contributed to the wide inside spread and long beams. The inside spread of the antlers taped out at 30 ⅜ inches and both antlers were more than 32 inches in length. The right beam measured 32 6⁄8 inches and the left was 32 2⁄8. Even the largest trophy whitetail antlers typically end up with main beam measurements less than 30 inches. For reference, the Hanson buck had main-beam measurements of 28 ⅜ and 28 ⅛.
The DNR aged the buck at 7 ½ years old, well beyond the age that most whitetail bucks reach anywhere in the U.S. The buck’s age made it possible for him to grow the impressive headgear. Circumferences of the antlers at the bases were 5 3⁄8 and 5 5⁄8 inches. All but one of the other circumference measurements were between 4 4⁄8 and 5 inches.
The second and third tines on each side were the longest, ranging from 11 to more than 13 inches long. Brow tines and the last points (G5s) were the shortest, being between 4 and 5 inches in length.
All of the measurements on the right antler totaled 96 3⁄8 inches and came out to 94 inches on the left side. When those two numbers are added to the inside spread of 30 3⁄8, the rack’s gross score was 220 6⁄8. There were only 4 1⁄8 inches of differences (deductions) from one antler to the other, yielding the net score of 216 5⁄8.
A Scoresheet Surfaces
A scoresheet for the Mitch Rompola Buck was recently posted on the Mitch Rompola Fan Club Facebook group, which has more than 3,200 members. The description for the group reads in part: “This group is dedicated to Mitch Rompola and those of us hunters who either know Mitch personally, know of his stature, ethics, morals and credibility as well as his remarkable bowhunting skills, etc. And those of us that believe Mitch isn’t a fake, didn’t fake his legendary bow kill of what would be a record buck as well. Many of us believe that Mitch got a raw deal — his name slandered, disrespected, accused of something that he never falsified or did wrong…”
It’s unlikely that this scoresheet is the original one that was completed by the panel of scorers. As several members of the Facebook group noted, the sheet has a newer design than the score sheets of the late 90s.
I spoke with the administrator of the Facebook group who said he pulled the image from the depths of the Internet and was never able to trace its original publisher. Gary Berger, one of the three original scorers, eventually responded to my requests for comment on the score sheet.
“All I know is that’s not my handwriting,” he said.
Based on what I had reported on the buck previously, I believe that it’s a replica of the original, reprinted on the modern B&C score sheet template.
The Rompola Buck Backstory
Mitch had been hunting this particular buck for three years. He saw it on a number of occasions and took several photos of it during that time. Rompola’s first opportunity to kill the whitetail failed when his arrow was deflected. But 10 days later, he was able to arrow the deer.
Rompola had been sharing the story about the big buck he was after with many of his friends. When he finally tagged the deer, he showed it to as many of them as possible. One of the people who saw and inspected the impressive whitetail was veteran tribal conservation officer Bill Bailey from Honor, Michigan. Bailey is a big buck hunter in his own right and he brought some relatives with him to see the buck. Several other folks were there to see the deer as well.
I spoke to Bailey about the Mitch Rompola Buck and there was no doubt in his mind about the legitimacy of the whitetail and its rack.
“I’m convinced the deer and the antlers are real,” he told me. “I’ve seen them. How can anyone who hasn’t seen the deer claim otherwise?”
In almost any other situation, the word of a law enforcement officer would be enough to verify the authenticity of a deer. On top of that, the trio of experienced measurers who officially scored the antlers, spending hours inspecting and measuring the rack, all vouched for the deer.
The head of the buck was partially mounted when it was measured during late March, but the back of the mount was still open, so the CBM officials could inspect the skull plate and the base of the antlers. Nothing fishy was observed. In spite of the steadfast testimony of those who went over the antlers as meticulously as anyone could, there are still many detractors. Many insist that northern Michigan isn’t capable of producing a whitetail of that caliber. They say the buck must have been shot from behind a high fence, or the deer was shot illegally. They say that the fact that Mitch didn’t enter the deer in any records proves that it is fake.
Big Bucks of Northern Michigan
I think it’s foolish to believe that this area of Michigan simply couldn’t produce a world-record buck. Grand Traverse County may not be the best county in Michigan for record book bucks, but other high scoring whitetails have been grown there besides those Rompola has taken. On Oct. 2, 2022, Tim Bannen nailed a 15-point nontypical with palmated antlers from the county that had a green score of 182 4⁄8. During the 1976 gun season, Jim Thomson shot a 12-point bruiser in the county that netted 174 6⁄8.
If more bucks lived to be 7 ½ years old like the one Mitch tagged in 1998, the county would certainly produce more record-book bucks. Not all portions of Grand Traverse County are open to deer hunting and some whitetails are able to grow old in those sanctuaries. Mitch told me about a buck he was pursuing in 2004 that spent 70 percent of its time in areas that were closed to hunting. He never did kill that whitetail, but the information about that deer confirms that Rompola was targeting some deer along the fringes of sanctuaries that other hunters were avoiding.
The Recovery Video
Besides the supporting testimony of everyone who saw the big buck Mitch shot in 1998, Rompola himself did something to document the authenticity of the kill. After arrowing the deer, he went home to let his girlfriend know what happened, ate something, and got his cameras before recovering the deer. He recorded a 20-minute video of the recovery, starting from the treestand where he shot it and progressing to where the buck fell. I’m one of the few people who has seen that entire video, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the level of excitement in Mitch’s voice was authentic. When he reached the fallen deer it was the culmination of three years of an incredible hunting effort. The arrow was still in the whitetail and the animal was shown from different angles. The footage appeared totally legitimate.
Rompola shared this video with a local news station, which edited it down into a short clip for the outdoors segment of their program. I visited the station and viewed the full, unedited video there in the editing room. But this was nearly 25 years ago, and the full film has since been lost to time.
Why Didn’t Rompola Enter the Buck in the Record Books?
Some hunters have a hard time believing anyone who killed such a massive buck would not enter it in the record books to claim the title of having taken a world-record whitetail. Mitch Rompola is not like everyone else, however. The fact that he consistently puts himself in position to take trophy whitetails with his bow sets him apart. He is also not a people person.
Yes—like most any other hunter would be, he was ecstatic about taking a world-class buck on Nov. 13, 1998. He tried to share his good fortune with the world, starting with family and friends, and then doing numerous interviews for newspapers, magazines, and television shows. He had a hard time understanding why people didn’t believe his story and doubted the authenticity of the buck.
He knew what he accomplished and that was good enough for him. What had been a highlight of his hunting career was turning into a soap opera, with Rompola painted as the villain by those who never saw the deer or the antlers and didn’t know much, if anything, about it. Rompola didn’t feel he had to prove anything to anybody. He got tired of dealing with false claims and negative comments about the deer and his own character, and said, “The hell with it!”
Although the antlers from the Mitch Rompola Buck from 1998 were clearly of world record size, he never referred to the whitetail as a world record. This was because he knew he would have to enter the deer in Boone & Crockett or Pope & Young records to achieve that status. He never planned on doing either. The buck didn’t qualify for Pope & Young Records because he killed the whitetail with a compound bow that had greater than a 65 percent let-off at full draw and the club’s rules prohibited such entries at the time. Their rules have changed since then.
That deer was the third to Rompola’s credit with antlers large enough to qualify for all-time listing in Boone & Crockett. When Rompola was 13, he arrowed a 16-point nontypical that scored 208 6⁄8 in his home state of Missouri. Then in 1985, he tagged the 12-point in Michigan that was a state record for many years and netted 181 7⁄8. Mitch didn’t enter either of those deer in B&C. So he was being consistent by not entering his 1998 buck either. There are, of course, plenty of other hunters who have shot B&C-caliber bucks who have chosen not to enter them.
But why didn’t Rompola enter the whitetail in state records after it was panel scored? All he had to do was sign the score sheet to finalize the entry. He chose not to sign the sheet to avoid bringing CBM into the controversy. If he did enter the rack into CBM records and CBM deemed the Mitch Rompola Buck the official Michigan state record, it would have created an incredible amount of undue controversy and criticism for the relatively small organization.
“People are adamantly insisting that I must do certain things to get the buck entered in the record books,” Rompola wrote in an article in Buck Fax. “Well, I’m not interested in the record books, but I’m still fascinated by the antler measurements for comparison with my personal racks. The record books used to be important to me, but they are not anymore.
“Although I’ve shot a good number of trophy bucks in recent years, I haven’t entered any of them since 1988. For now, don’t expect this one to be treated any differently. It may be entered someday, or it may not.”
Why Did Rompola Sign the Agreement with Hanson?
The fact that Mitch didn’t plan on entering the deer in B&C is the reason he didn’t have any qualms about signing a legal agreement drafted by representatives of Milo Hanson’s existing world record. The agreement stated that Rompola would not enter the deer and would not claim that his deer was a world record. Doing so would devalue the Hanson buck, hence the agreement.
Some people continue to claim that Rompola’s signing of that agreement proves that there was a problem with the deer, but that’s false just like all of the other rumors, speculation, and lies that have been spread about the whitetail and the hunter who killed it.
In reality, the company that took the time, effort, and expense to draft the agreement Mitch signed would not have done so if they didn’t feel the buck was legitimate. The bottom line is that in spite of all of the rumors, myths, and speculation about the Rompola Buck being fake or an illegal kill, no proof to that effect has surfaced over the past 25 years. The obvious reason for that is because the buck is real, so there is no proof of it being a fraud.
Where Did the Rumors Start?
One of the people who started rumors about the Rompola Buck being fake is Craig Calderone from Jackson, Michigan. It’s important to know that Calderone may have had an axe to grind. In the fall of 1986, Calderone killed a 14-point typical with a bow in Jackson County that scored more than the top deer for that category at the time. The current record holder in the category was Rompola, with the buck he bagged the year before.
Not long after Calderone’s buck was entered in state records, a ticket and violation surfaced, which Craig had received years earlier for spotlighting deer. According to CBM bylaws, the Calderone Buck was suspended for three years. It could have been re-entered after that time, but Craig chose not to go through the entry process again. That deer is listed in B&C Records with a score of 193 2⁄8.
Rompola was the previous record holder and a CBM official at the time this all went down. Calderone blamed Rompola for his rack being dropped from state records. But Rompola had nothing to do with the decision about the Calderone Buck. He even excluded himself from deliberations due to potential conflict of interest.
When Rompola killed his giant buck in 1998, Calderone didn’t waste any time calling it fake after seeing photos of the deer. Calderone claimed the coloration of the antlers was typical of fabricated racks and the buck’s droopy ears proved the antlers were altered.
Calderone went so far as to publicly offer to give $10,000 to a charity of Rompola’s choosing if he would have the antlers X-rayed. He did this knowing Rompola probably wouldn’t take him up on the offer. (To this day, many people mistakenly think Calderone offered to give Rompola $10,000 directly, if he would’ve had the rack X-rayed.)
The Story Continues
Rompola is still alive and well, living in Michigan and keeping to himself. It’s been years since I’ve corresponded with him through letters. Even so, I’m still hopeful that more details and facts about the buck will come to light.
I like to think it was Rompola or one of his friends who finally released those numbers in the score sheet and we might be seeing and hearing more about that deer in the not too distant future.
The Mitch Rompola buck is still being written about and talked about in podcasts today. If you want to read more about Rompola’s big buck success with a bow, refer to books one, three, and four of my series, Great Michigan Deer Tales. There are now eight books in the series, which focuses on the biggest bucks bagged by hunters in the state.
Update: This story has been updated after Gary Berger responded to an interview request.