by Ronnie "Cuz" Strickland
I know you’ve read the stories about record book bucks. The sighting, the stalk, the encounter, the quest and the glory. I myself have read many tales of how one lone wolf; solitude trophy hunter climbed the mountain and achieved the ultimate in his or her hunting career, a buck that scores in the record book.
There is something about antlers that bring out the best and the worst in people, and I have had many opportunities to see both sides. I can’t tell you how many hunters I have seen that have let the trophy quest all but eliminate the shear enjoyment that should go hand in hand with hunting and being outdoors. There are many factors that have to fall in to place to actually take a whitetail buck that will sport enough antler mass to score in Pope and Young or Boone and Crockett. If you remove the high fence locations from the equation then you’re left with several other factors that come into play. Geography would be paramount. You must hunt where record book deer live. Second would be time. You need ample amounts of this. Money is another factor if you’re going to chase a book buck. Gas, lodging, meals, maps, gear etc. all cost, if you’ll pardon the expression, big bucks. The last factor is the one that actually comes into play more than any other as far as I’m concerned and that’s the alignment factor. This simply means that all the stars and planets align properly and the luck factor kicks in.
If the truth was known and you could really get to the bottom off all the big buck stories, I feel that alignment would be the driving force in at least 90-percent of all hunts that resulted in the record book whitetail. There is a short window of time in which most big buck recollections are credited to alignment or luck. In most cases it’s the first 10 to 15 minutes when the excitement level outweighs the ego level. Most often the first fellow on the scene will get the real story. After that the “man I couldn’t believe he stepped out” turns into “I knew he was in the area,” and after a few hours it gets to the “I cut his tracks last season and found his bedding area and waited 3 weeks to move in close” stage.
Working for Mossy Oak camouflage for 25 years has allowed me to see first hand how fast the alignment factor can fade. I once received a call from a fellow who had taken a real whopper of a buck in my home state of Mississippi. The magnolia state has its share of good bucks but a true record book size buck is news that travels fast in these parts. At first this guy just wanted to show us the photos and said we could use them for whatever we wanted since he was wearing Mossy Oak. He told me how the deer walked out and he shot it and a how excited he was when he realized how big it was. All he wanted was some new camouflage.
A few weeks later I got a call from this hunter’s acting agent who wanted to talk about compensation for using the photo (which we never used). When I told him we had not or would not use the photos, he was shocked. He basically told me the very future of our company depended on using this guy’s photos and endorsement. What he didn’t realize is that we got those types of calls weekly during hunting season and could have picked from hundreds of big buck grab and grin photos to publish if we has wanted to. Fortunately, Mossy Oak was never headed in that direction with its advertising and marketing campaign.
The point is, many people who are lucky enough to bag a world class buck seem to let the hype and hysteria get to them. There are some that simply relish in the moment and share their good fortune (or alignment) with their hunting buddies, but they are few.
I myself lived this big buck circus atmosphere in 1981 when I shot the buck of a lifetime 30 minutes form my Natchez, Mississippi home. This huge buck sported 27 points, double drop tines, 6-inch bases, 22 inches of spread and scored 209 and 6/8ths Boone and Crocket points. At the time, I didn’t know what Boone and Crocket score meant and didn’t really care. Today, over 25 years later, I care even less about the scoring system. Let me start at the beginning and explain why.
First let me solidify the whole alignment theory as it relates to my big buck. The day was November 27, I was 27 years old, it was 27 minutes past 10 a.m., the buck had 27 points and the shot was exactly 27 paces. You tell me, was there some super natural stuff going on or what? Once I shot the buck with my vintage trophy rifle, (a Marlin lever action 30-30 with open sights) I was amazed at its rack and body size. I remember my first thought clearly. I had taken several nice bucks in previous seasons, but my darling wife Pam determined they were not big enough to have mounted. In reality it was more about lack of money than lack of size that kept me from the taxidermist door. At that time the $125.00 fee was a huge budget breaker.
When I walked up on this monster my first thought was, finally I got one that I can get mounted. No way is Miss Pam going to give thumbs down to this monster. That was all the thought I gave to the rack at the time. As it turned out, the taxidermist fee was not going to be a problem. There were “big buck” contests all over the South. Once I had taken care of priority one (the venison) I took the rack and entered it in several “big buck” contests. Needless to say, it won them all and I was suddenly the proud owner of several brand new hunting rifles and some free taxidermy work.
In order to solidify my future hunting plans and score some big points at home, I sold all but one of the rifles and gave the proceeds to my wife Pam. She was all of a sudden very fired up about my hunting and told me that next season I should find another buck maybe even bigger than the 27 pointer. I still smile today when I think about that. I had the big buck mounted by a nearby taxidermist and enjoyed my new found celebrity status even if it was temporary.
Up to this point almost everything was positive. The only negative aspects were the comments I got from a handful of other hunters. I heard first and second hand things like, “He shot it at night”, “he was poaching,” etc. I wrote those off to jealousy and remained positive. A couple of years later I was working in the sporting goods store and a fellow walked in and told me he had seen my 27 pointer on the wall at some hunting lodge that was 50 miles from home. I thought he was mistaken but he was an old friend and knew very well what the buck looked like. I contacted the lodge and sure enough they had purchased a “replica” from the taxidermist. Apparently while the deer was being mounted, the taxidermist made a mold and was selling the reproductions without so much as a request from me. I wasn’t upset about the copies as much as I was the money. I felt like he should have cut me in since it was my deer. I later discovered there were only four reproductions and shortly after all this came out, the taxidermist closed up shop.
Over the next couple of years, I managed to forget about all the negative events. I had landed a job working for Will Primos and things we’re going along well. It was mid summer and I was working the Primos booth at a sportsman’s show in Atlanta.
That night when I called home Pam informed me that she had answered the door bell and been handed a document saying we were being sued by the taxidermist for defamation of character. I drove home and read the document, which quoted a newspaper article I had written a year earlier detailing the reproduction of the 27 pointer and basically how trophy hunting was getting, in my opinion, out of hand. In the article, I did mention names and dates but my facts were correct. Along with the newspaper that printed the article, we prepared a defense. I had to hire a local attorney that knew hunting and could explain to the lawyers retained by the newspaper what terms like antlers and score meant. The case was eventually thrown out because I wrote only the truth and the plaintiff was already out of business when the article appeared.
In the end I was out some money and thoroughly disgusted with the whole trophy aspect of hunting. Today I keep the 27 pointer at home, and use it as a reminder of how people can get caught up in the quest for the record book and forget about the experience. I thank God daily that I work for a company that is considered a leader in the outdoor industry and from top to bottom agree that trophy means different things to different people. We all dream about that huge rack appearing from the brush but sharing the hunt with special people and taking care of the resource are number one. I’ll agree that scoring a rack is good as a reference when discussing size, but other than that I don’t think that any record book defines a hunter’s ability or success.