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Finding and Tagging a Trophy Buck
 

FINDING AND TAKING A TROPHY BUCK
What Is A Trophy Buck?
EDITOR'S NOTE: We all have our own opinions about what makes a trophy buck, and each idea has validity. However, I don't feel I need an organization to define a trophy buck. Actually no one but me has any concerns about the size of my buck. I have to decide what makes a buck I take a trophy buck, and you may have different parameters to define a trophy buck.
While visiting a friend's house, I noticed three monster-sized deer heads mounted on his wall. All three bucks had huge racks and big necks and probably would have scored better than 150 points on the Boone and Crockett scale. My friend considered them all trophy bucks because of what he'd gone through to take each, but would other hunters?
Private hunting organizations like Boone and Crockett, Pope and Young and Buckmasters have established fair-chase scoring systems that determine the minimum requirements a buck's rack must meet to classify as a trophy in their record books. But do these clubs have the final say on what constitutes a trophy animal?
If you subtract the fair-chase requirement for taking a trophy buck and consider only a deer's heavy body weight and large, wide antlers to define the characteristics of a trophy buck, then anyone can bag a trophy. You can find numerous deer enclosures around the country where paying high prices can get you any size buck you want to take. Just go to an enclosure, look at their photos of live trophy bucks, pay the asking price, and shoot the buck. Then you can mount your buck and hope you'll impress your friends and visitors.

But does a buck that just has huge antlers define a trophy? Or, does the remembrance of a physically-challenging elusive buck and/or a defining moment in your life or that of a friend or family member make a buck a trophy? In my opinion, through the years, outdoorsmen have cheapened the taking of trophy bucks by making them more available and by artificially producing more bucks. Today you may find a trophy buck as common as a bowling trophy. Anyone can get a bowling trophy. Just go to a trophy shop, and pick out the trophy you want. Pay the store owner his asking price, take the trophy home, put it on your shelf, and hope you impress someone with it.
FINDING AND TAKING A TROPHY BUCK
My First Trophy Buck
EDITOR'S NOTE: We all have our own opinions about what makes a trophy buck, and each idea has validity. However, I don't feel I need an organization to define a trophy buck. Actually no one but me has any concerns about the size of my buck. I have to decide what makes a buck I take a trophy buck, and you may have different parameters to define a trophy buck.
While in elementary school more than four decades ago, I went hunting with my dad and saw my first deer track. I became a celebrity when I returned to school because no one else at my school ever had hunted deer or seen a deer track. A few years later, I took my first buck, a 14-inch 8 point, one of the biggest bucks bagged on our hunting club that year. This small buck only may have scored 60 or 70 points on the B&C scale. However, I announced to everyone that I'd taken a true trophy buck and here's why.
I'd stayed up late the night before my hunt and woke up to cold, rainy weather. Nevertheless, I went to my stand before daylight and settled down in the rain. Exhausted from the night before and wearing layers of warm clothes, I fell asleep quickly. But at first light, when I peeked out between the half-open slits of my eyes, I spotted a tremendous buck 30 yards away. I rubbed my eyes to see if I had dreamed the buck. When I saw the buck move, I knew I'd spotted the buck of my dreams.
Mounting my Remington 1100 12-gauge shotgun, I squeezed off the first round of 2 3/4-inch .00 buckshot. My buck went down, but just as quickly, he sprang back up again. I fired a second time and hit him full in the chest as he faced me. Once again he went down. However, when I got to my feet to go claim my trophy, the buck found his legs a third time and started to run. Three more times I fired and believed I'd hit the buck. After I'd waited as long as I could, I went looking for my trophy.
Failing to locate the downed deer, I returned to camp and told five of my buddies about my dilemma. We went back to the spot where I'd shot the buck and searched for him together. Thirty minutes into the search, my brother's brother-in-law, Jimmy Clark, yelled, "Here he is."
I'd seen pictures in magazines of mighty hunters carrying their bucks over their shoulders in victory. So with the help of my friends, I heaved the buck up on my shoulders, stood up and marched about 50 yards. When the weight of the buck finally overcame the adrenaline in my young body, I opted to let my friends help me drag my trophy buck out of the woods.
For weeks -- maybe even months -- our town talked about me and the 8-point buck I'd bagged. At that time, no hunter, including all the male members of my family, ever had taken a better trophy buck. I'll always remember that small buck as one of the finest trophy bucks I've ever taken.
FINDING AND TAKING A TROPHY BUCK
No Pain, No Gain
EDITOR'S NOTE: We all have our own opinions about what makes a trophy buck, and each idea has validity. However, I don't feel I need an organization to define a trophy buck. Actually no one but me has any concerns about the size of my buck. I have to decide what makes a buck I take a trophy buck, and you may have different parameters to define a trophy buck.
Last year on my five-day hunt in Arizona, I climbed the steep Winchester Mountains each morning and glassed the rough terrain for hours. Then after long hard stalks and climbs, I only had come close to taking one of these little, elusive mountain Coues deer. After hiking up mountains most of the day, I'd return to camp each night to eat dinner and welcomed the warmth and the comfort of my sleeping bag. Each morning I had to fight a mental battle to climb out of my sleeping bag with sore muscles and attack the mountains again for another chance to bag a Coues buck.
However, on the last afternoon of my hunt, I finally connected with a buck at 417 yards. Although I missed the deer with the first shot, my second shot found its mark. The next morning before daylight, my guide and I began the 2-hour climb up the mountain to recover my trophy. Although this Coues buck only weighed about 110 pounds, and his rack scored less than 100 B&C points, this trophy Coues holds one of the most-honored places in my den and in my memories.
The Monster
On an elk and mule deer hunt near Toston, Montana, with Mike Parsons of Crow Creek Outfitters, he and I hunted the high country for three days in snow and sub-zero temperatures. The first afternoon of my hunt, I spotted 14, 8-point bucks, each with 18 to 19 inches between their main beams. However, earlier that day I'd missed the biggest whitetail I'd ever attempted to take. I couldn't put a tape measure on the buck, so I didn't know exactly how wide of a rack or how many antlers he had. However, I didn't believe this enormous deer's rack would have fit through my car 's door. Then the second day I hunted whitetails, I came across a monster buck.
Really big deer don't walk like other deer do. They waddle like ducks, rocking from side to side, shifting their huge bulk. This buck -- definitely waddled, and he had 8 massive beams -- the biggest-bodied buck I'd ever seen in the wild.
I aimed at the buck, fired my gun and waited for what seemed like days. When I finally recovered my buck, I couldn't believe the huge size of his body and the long tines and thick bases of his rack. Although I'd missed the biggest buck I'd ever seen, on the same hunt, I also harvested the heaviest buck I'd ever taken.
This trophy of a lifetime only scored 138 B&C points but weighed 318 points. I still look at that mounted buck and relive the joy and the excitement I experienced when I walked up on him and saw him on the ground. I remember the pride I felt when, Mike Parsons put his arm around my shoulder and said, "Good job, Bubba. You got yourself a real trophy."
FINDING AND TAKING A TROPHY BUCK
The Bow Buck Trophies
EDITOR'S NOTE: We all have our own opinions about what makes a trophy buck, and each idea has validity. However, I don't feel I need an organization to define a trophy buck. Actually no one but me has any concerns about the size of my buck. I have to decide what makes a buck I take a trophy buck, and you may have different parameters to define a trophy buck.
I consider bow hunting the ultimate white-tailed challenge. You have to ...
* sit still for hours on a little platform,
* stay extremely quiet and odor-free,
* not move, stand and draw when the buck comes close to keep him from seeing you,
* totally fool the whitetail so that when you're at 30 yards or less, you can take him without his ever realizing your presence.
On one particular bow hunt at Tara Wildlife's Willow Point on an island in the Mississippi River, I hadn't spotted any deer sign that encouraged me to believe that a buck would appear. However, my guide, Hank Hearn, confidently walked me to my stand, not 60 yards from the main road back to camp.
Hunting this narrow neck of hardwoods beside a pine plantation, I heard a bluejay scream. I looked behind the tree where I sat and spotted the biggest 8-point buck I'd ever seen when I had a bow in my hand. My heart thumped so hard from the excitement, I thought I could hear the two pens in my left shirt pocket rattling. The buck took his time to get within range, stopping occasionally to eat acorns, and finally moved within 20 yards of my stand. When another bluejay screamed, the buck turned away from me to look in the direction of the bird. I stood, made my draw and aimed behind the buck's front shoulder.
Just as I prepared to release the arrow, the buck turned and spotted me. I realized that the deer would drop down to jump and run away when I made my shot. So I aimed a little low and released the shaft. As soon as the arrow struck, the buck dropped. Immediately, I drew another arrow and took a second shot to make sure I'd downed the buck. I'd never taken a better bow-hunting trophy at that time in my life. Excited, unnerved and full of the emotions that only successful bowhunters would understand, I had to sit in my tree stand for at least 15 minutes to calm down enough to climb out of the tree.
Even today when I look at that mounted buck, I rekindle some of those same emotions. I once again can feel the pride I felt when I walked up on my trophy, lifted his head and admired his antlers. Although the Pope and Young Club would not have declared this animal a trophy, I did.
Jim Crumley's Trophy
Two years ago Jim Crumley, founder of Trebark Camouflage, bagged one of the finest trophy bucks of his lifetime. "I'd been planting food plots and wild shrubs and managing the land around my home near Roanoke, Virginia, for trophy bucks for many years," Crumley explains. "When hunting on my property, I'd let many little bucks walk and primarily shot does and inferior bucks. Then the biggest 8-point I'd ever seen on my land walked within bow range.
"I released my arrow, and the deer went down. When I recovered the buck, I thought to myself, I did it. I've finally managed my land to the point of being able to produce a buck like this. All those years of letting the little bucks walk, harvesting the does and passing up some nice-sized bucks has paid-off in a buck like this. This buck is truly one of the finest trophies I've ever taken."
Walter Appelle And Tom Runkle's Trophy Bucks
Walter Appelle of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, had hunted for six days in sub-zero temperatures with Whitetail Outfitters in Manitoba, Canada. The two hunters who had made the trip to Canada with him had tagged-out early and left. For three days, Appelle hunted by himself, spending 10 to 12 hours daily in his tree stand and seeing few deer and no big bucks that he wanted to take. Although discouraged, frustrated and ready to give up and go home, Appelle opted not to leave camp early.
On the last day of his hunt, Appelle put on his heavy outerwear and once again left to brave the elements and wait on the trophy of a lifetime. At 9:30 a.m., he took the biggest buck he'd ever seen. He completed his hunt, and now had the trophy buck he'd searched for his entire life.
Tom Runkle of Chetek, Wisconsin, while on the same six-day hunt in Canada as Appelle made the decision before he arrived that if he didn't have an opportunity to bag the biggest buck he'd ever taken, he'd go home happy with a tag in his pocket. Runkle braved the elements, spotting plenty of nice-sized bucks that he would've taken in a heartbeat back home. But none of these deer qualified as the buck of a lifetime. Each night he'd return to camp and say, "If I had to go home tomorrow without filling my tag, I could still say that I'd had a great hunt and would come back again." Finally, on the last day of his hunt, Runkle's dedication and perseverance made the buck of a lifetime he took a trophy not only to him but also to me.
FINDING AND TAKING A TROPHY BUCK
The Enclosure Buck
EDITOR'S NOTE: We all have our own opinions about what makes a trophy buck, and each idea has validity. However, I don't feel I need an organization to define a trophy buck. Actually no one but me has any concerns about the size of my buck. I have to decide what makes a buck I take a trophy buck, and you may have different parameters to define a trophy buck.
I've taken a buck in a hunting enclosure before. On the day of my enclosure hunt, my guide explained, "The deer you're hunting is an older-age-class buck. He's 6- or 7-years old and has been a 7 point for the last three years. We need to cull him out of the herd. I'm pretty sure we can get on him, and you can expect about a 100-yard shot." Sure enough, before 10:00 a.m. that day, I bagged my buck. The deer had a nice rack and delicious meat. I also saw plenty of other big bucks in the enclosure. But I wondered, "If I paid the price to take one of those monster bucks, would he be the trophy that my first buck or my Coues deer was? Would he mean as much as the Montana monster had meant?" For me the answer was a definite "No."
Grandpa's Theory
My grandpa, John L. Phillips, Sr., and I last hunted deer together the year he turned 74. Our home state of Alabama didn't have many deer during Grandpa's teenage or adult years. Grandpa never had seen a deer in the wild. But he'd heard me, my dad and my brother talking about deer. Whenever Grandpa went hunting, he always carried two .20 gauge buckshot shells for his old double-barreled dove gun -- just in case he encountered a deer.
When we arrived at a dove field one year, we had a great day of wing shooting. After the shooting had stopped for about an hour, Grandpa spotted some deer coming into the edge of the field. Someone on that end of the field shot at a dove, spooking the deer, which started running straight toward Grandpa. Grandpa quickly took the 7 1/2-shot out of his .20 gauge and loaded the buckshot. The four deer in the small herd -- three does and a spike buck -- passed less than 20 yards from Grandpa. He opened fire on the buck. So shook up when we finally reached him that he talked fast and almost incoherently, Grandpa couldn't believe he'd really killed a buck deer with antlers.
After the hunt, my brother Archie took the deer herd and had it mounted for my grandpa, presenting it to Grandpa for a Christmas present. Until his death, my grandpa took every visitor to his home to show off his buck -- his trophy, the buck he'd taken with his family.
You can go to any trophy shop, buy a bowling trophy, set it on your mantle and hope someone notices it. You also can visit any hunting enclosure, pick a buck out of a book, pay the price to harvest it, have him mounted and hope you impress somebody with him. However, I believe a true trophy buck captures the memories of a meaningful hunt, reminds you of a great group of people and celebrates the accomplishment of a difficult task that you may have believed impossible. My philosophy doesn't make me right and others wrong. Everyone has a different way to define a trophy buck.


John Phillips

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