By Mike Handley
If a tree falls in the woods, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?
What if, instead of a tree, it’s a world-class whitetail?
Justin Hogan of Densmore, Kan., wasn’t around when a humongous deer made its final bed last year in a Phillips County woodlot. And, much to the hunter’s delight, neither were the squirrels.
By the time Justin stumbled across the buck, all that remained were the spine, skull and one of the most impressive typical racks ever worn by a whitetail. Coyotes and other scavengers had made off with practically everything else, but the antlers lay untouched — weeks, perhaps even months following the deer’s demise.
As soon as he lifted the sun-bleached skull from the grass, Justin knew that it was special. Not many typical racks exceed 200 inches, yet this one seemed every bit that big — a hunch that proved to be correct! Even without the modest 17 1/8-inch inside spread, it tallied a whopping 197 on the BTR scale.
And if he hadn’t already decided to have the antlers mounted atop a fresh cape, the news that his find was a "world record" among Typicals in the BTR’s pickup category pretty much cinched it. Only 11 whitetails in history — seven collected by gun, four by bow — had grown bigger typical racks.
To add even more perspective, this buck’s rack contains the exact same amount of measurable antler found on the Saskatchewan buck shot by Milo Hanson a few years back, the deer B&C recognizes as No. 1. (Of course, the Hanson Buck is 10 inches wider, and it suffers far less deductions.)
Justin knew none of this on the day he found the deer’s remains in the creek bottom he was walking.
Having already filled his buck tag for 2003, Justin decided to be a "driver" when he and his buddies struck out in early December. Other than pushing deer toward his friends, the only thing on his mind was possibly filling his doe tag.
On the fourth man-drive of the day — the first after lunch — the group decided to push some new ground. Justin had hunted the northern half-mile of that section many times, but this was the first year he’d been able to hunt the southern end.
Justin and another fellow were the drivers for eight others. The men followed the creek that snaked through the length of the property, jumping several does and a spike along the way.
As Justin eased along the creek bed, he saw the antlers glowing from about 100 yards. An experienced shed hunter, he knew immediately what he was seeing.
"They stuck out like a sore thumb," he says. "I hunt sheds in the springtime, so I know what a set of antlers looks like, even though these were buried up in some grass. The spinal column was nearby, but all the other bones were long gone."
Still, he had no idea of what he was about to pull from the grass until he reached the skull.
"From a distance, I thought it was a basic 4x4. When I saw it was a 6x6, I thought HOLY MOLY!" he said.
After finding the rack, Justin and his brother, Travis, called a temporary end to the hunting and took it home to measure it.
"There’s gotta be 200 inches here," they explained to their buddies.
"It pretty much killed the day," Justin adds. "I mean, what was the need to hunt anymore after that?"
Nevertheless, after confirming their suspicion, the brothers Hogan rejoined the group and helped stage a couple more drives before nightfall.
Word spread quickly afterward. Friends, neighbors and strangers called continuously, and many of them came to ogle the giant rack. A couple of weeks later, Justin took his find to be scored for the BTR by Dale Larson.
Dale is no stranger to world-class antlers. His own Sunflower State buck, "Dagger," is the former world record Irregular in the BTR’s compound bow category. The tape revealed that not only is the buck a new state record pickup for Kansas, but it also stands as the No. 1 Typical in that category among all states and provinces — the position held by the same Kansas buck it surpassed.
The rack’s composite score is 214 1/8 inches.
But it does not fare well under the Boone and Crockett Club’s system. After the 10 2/8 inches of side-to-side deductions and another 14 inches off for the abnormal points, it nets a mere 189 7/8 B&C. Very few typical-racked bucks score better by the BTR’s yardstick than they do under B&C’s.
This gorgeous deer, however, is the exception.