■ Photo by Richard P. Smith.
The highest-scoring whitetail known to have been taken in the state during the 2009 season was a 24-point non-typical from Tuscola County that was bagged by bowhunter John Benedict from Auburn Hills on Dec. 29. The impressive rack has 12 points per antler, a gross score of 209 1/8 and nets 202 even. That score is high enough to put the deer in eighth place among non-typical bow kills in the state, according to the eighth edition of Michigan Big Game Records.
The buck is the highest-scoring non-typical bow kill on record for Tuscola County, but even if gun kills are considered, it’s still No. 3.
Benedict’s name is not unfamiliar to anyone who has been paying attention to who collects Michigan’s biggest bow bucks. His name has been at or near the top of the list a number of times during recent years because he targets the biggest bucks he can find, and he’s a skilled hunter. He’s also an expert at obtaining permission to hunt private land where whoppers live.
John had seen the trophy whitetail he got last December a number of times over the years, but mostly after dark. On the evening of Dec. 27, while hunting the property where the buck spent some of its time, Benedict saw what he thought was the buck just before dark. It spooked and ran toward some fields.
When going in the direction the buck had taken, John found a heavily used deer trail. Thinking that trail would be a perfect place to try to ambush the buck, he found a fallen tree nearby and cleared out a place to hide among its branches. He also trimmed a few branches to make a couple of clear shooting lanes to the trail.
John returned to his natural blind before daylight two days later.
“I was sitting on the trunk of a downed tree with a good cluster of branches for cover in front of me,” Benedict wrote. “The wind was in my face, and the trail was already visible. Just as it got light enough to see, three does crossed the road from near a house that I could barely see through the trees. They were on the trail I was watching, so they would pass within 10 yards of my nest. I was concerned that they might see or wind me and scare the buck off, but they passed without notice.
“The buck stood on the far side of a road when I first spotted him. He was potbellied, swaybacked, and sported a huge non-typical set of antlers. My heart raced as he trotted across the road and into the woods a few yards, and began to browse on the sparse branches along the trail. His pace was much slower than the does that had preceded him, and he was a lot more wary.
“I got the bow up and into position when he was still 50 yards away. I had a good place to rest the limb so keeping it near the shooting position would not tire my arm, and I could use the bow as part of my concealment. The buck came directly down the trail into my first kill zone, but he was so close that movement was impossible.
“So I let him pass, and he continued to browse his way into my second kill zone,” John continued. “The shot was quartering away, so I aimed behind the ribs toward the far shoulder. The arrow hit a little low, the deer bucked high in the air, took two jumps down the trail, and piled up.”
The Rage broadhead on the end of Benedict’s arrow sliced through the buck’s heart. The whitetail weighed 186 pounds and was at least 5 1/2 years old. That deer may not have lived much longer, however, if John hadn’t killed it. He said it had been gut shot with a .22 caliber bullet that probably came from a poacher’s gun.
THE HARTLINE BUCK
Steve Hartline of Marcellus bagged another monster non-typical with 16 points in Cass County, using a muzzleloader during firearms season. No less than four of those points were drop tines. The rack has an official gross score of 206 2/8 and nets 198 3/8, according to Commemorative Bucks of Michigan.
The minimum score for entry of non-typical racks in Boone and Crockett’s all-time records is 195 and it takes at least 185 to make the honorable-mention list. The Hartline Buck scores high enough to rank in the No. 4 spot among non-typical muzzleloader whitetails in state records. The buck is the second-highest scoring non-typical on record for Cass County, but is the highest scoring gun kill in that category because the No. 1 non-typical, scoring 219 6/8, was taken with bow and arrow by Bruce Heslett in 2000.
Hartline got his Boone and Crockett buck from a thicket where he has hunted for 10 years. His previous best buck from that spot was a 149-inch 8-pointer with a 21-inch inside spread that he nailed with bow and arrow on Halloween in 2005. He said the second tines on that whitetail’s antlers were 13 inches long.
He also tagged an 11-pointer that measured 120. And two days before the 2009 firearms season opened, Steve arrowed a smaller 10-pointer from the thicket with a new bow.
By the time gun season begins, most cornfields in the area where Hartline hunts are cut, eliminating them as cover for whitetails. That was not the case in 2009. Most nearby cornfields remained standing during the first days of the gun hunt.
Those fields were cut on Nov. 20, which played a key role in Steve’s success on his “Book” buck. Hartline talked to a farmer who was combining corn from a field near his thicket deer stand. The farmer told him that he saw two big bucks leave the corn as it was being cut. One went toward Steve’s hunting area and the other went in a different direction.
Steve questioned the farmer about specifics regarding the antlers of the buck seen heading toward his hunting area, but the farmer is not a hunter.
“It was a great big buck,” the farmer told him. “It had a great big rack.” That was enough to get Steve excited about hunting.
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