By Mike Handley
Without giving much credence to the concept of antler shrinkage, Albert allowed his buck's skull plate to dry on a heater. When it was fresh, he said the rack's bases were 6 inches around, and the inside spread exceeded 22 inches. When the deer was measured officially, however, the first circumference measurements were an even 5 inches, and the span between the beams was 20 5⁄8 inches.
Photos Courtesy of Albert Howard
If an animal isn't dressed in feathers, Vic Dearmore pays little attention. The avid wingshooter from Great Bend, Kan., might own a deer rifle, but it doesn't see much sunlight. He'll gladly return to town three times a day to buy shotgun shells, if he or his friends happen to run out while slinging shot at pheasants or geese.
But the brass on the few .30-30 deer cartridges Vic owns is almost green with disuse.
Albert Howard didn't realize this when he borrowed Vic's rifle last December.
Trading his own beloved long-thumper, topped with a 35-power scope, for Vic's iron-sighted carbine was hard enough. He'd never have done it if he'd known the cartridges in its well-oiled belly were 10 years old.
Regardless of the questionable loads and unnecessary and unfamiliar cowboy gun, Albert's most recent trip to Kansas ended on a high note.
Turns out, the venerable old lever action rose to the occasion, even in the grips of a man who bore prejudice against it. When Albert and his buddy, Mike Carver, headed back to Georgia, there was one less whitetail to eat the food God meant for Vic's birds.
Also, for the first time in a decade, Vic would have to buy a new box of rifle cartridges.
The fall of 2007 marked the fifth time Albert has made the 16-hour drive westward to Barton County, Kan. He met Vic through a mutual friend, whose penchant for antiques led him to Vic's doorstep.
Deer hunting in that part of the Sunflower State is a whole new ballgame for a Southerner. For starters, there aren't very many trees. Out in the grasslands, it's mostly spot and stalk - and more spotting than stalking. The shots are long. The deer hide in plain sight. And you'd better have good optics.
"The way the grass is out there, when you first look out at it, you might not see anything. But stay put for 45 minutes, and you'll see deer stand up and move around," Albert said.
"A lot of folks I take with me just can't stand that kind of hunting, when it comes to deer," he added. "They don't want to come back."
The alternative to spending hours glued to a spotting scope is to walk through some of those grass fields. But one had better be able to handle a long shot at a running target.
"Vic has access to a lot of property within 100 miles of Great Bend," Albert said. "All the land is laid out in little squares. There's tons of food, but not very many trees. Whenever I'm hunting with someone else, we'll often start at opposite ends of one of these blocks and simply walk toward each other. We might cover half a mile each."
In a day's time, they might walk five or six of these blocks.
Albert's companion in '07 was Mike Carver. They arrived at the motel in Great Bend on Nov. 29, which gave them a couple of days to hunt pheasants with Vic before the rifle season commenced. But when the opening bell rang, they swapped shotguns for deer rifles.
While glassing a block between 9:00 and 10 a.m. on Dec. 5, Albert saw a great buck follow a couple of does into a "shelter break" beside the remnants of an old barn. Shelter breaks are stands of trees, often cedars, planted near home sites and sometimes along fencerows to serve as wind breaks.
These make excellent bedding areas. They're islands in a sea of bean, milo and grass fields.
Experience told Albert that the deer he'd seen were not apt to come out of the cedars the same way they'd entered them. So he drove to the opposite side of the large tract before approaching the thicket.
Since his rifle was topped with a 35-power scope and he thought he'd need a gun more suitable for close range, he borrowed Vic's unscoped .30-30.
"I've always cussed .30-30s, but I guess every gun's got its place," Albert said.
"If I'd known the deer was going to go across that wide-open field the way it did, I'd have taken my own rifle."
Before Albert ever reached the cedars, the buck rocketed out of its evergreen sanctuary and was about 200 yards away before Albert could start shooting.
He'd expected the buck to stick to the cover until the last possible minute.
"It must have been watching me the whole time,' Albert said. "Those deer's eyesight is incredible. I tell folks, 'Whatever you do, get behind something. I've watched does a thousand yards away poke their heads up, look at somebody's orange hat, and then head the other way, even if it means crossing open ground - a path they'd ordinarily avoid."
Albert's first shot kicked up dirt behind the fleeing buck, but the dust cloud enabled him to compensate. Three of the next four shots connected.
Yet again, Vic needed to go to the store for ammo. Only this time, the box would be holding 20 shiny new cartridges instead of 25 shotshells.
Now if he could only teach his bird dogs to retrieve deer ...
Hunter: Albert Howard
Official Score: 166 3/8"
Composite Score: 187"
-- Reprinted from the October 2008 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine