Kentucky's Record Deer From The Past

Here are three amazing trophy bucks from our state's early days of deer hunting. (July 2006)

Green Hamlin, a native of Man-chester, took this awesome buck in Wayne County during the 1966 season. His trophy rack scores 180 2/8 Boone and Crockett Club points.
Photo courtesy of Green Hamlin.

Hunting during Kentucky's early deer seasons of the late 1950s and through the 1960s was truly an exercise in patience and perseverance. Annual harvest figures for those early years were calculated in hundreds rather than thousands. Even by 1970, the yearly total of whitetails bagged by Bluegrass hunters had barely reached 10,000. To put this in perspective, consider that today's harvest rates are more than 10 times this number!


For those fortunate hunters who lived in counties where deer hunting was allowed, the annual season ranged from one to four days. In those early years, many hunters considered their season a success if they merely managed to see a whitetail. Actually taking a deer was the icing on the cake.

Regardless of the odds, most Kentuckians were excited to have an opportunity to hunt a big-game animal within their home state. The ongoing deer restoration program, initiated in the 1940s by the Game & Fish Division, a forerunner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), continued trapping and restocking efforts during this period. And as time passed, more and more of the state's counties were eventually opened to hunting.


In spite of a small deer population and low hunter success rates, there may never have been a better time to take a big, trophy-class buck than during the 1950s and '60s. Years of protection, combined with short seasons and low hunting pressure, allowed a disproportionately high percent of bucks to reach the mature age classes beyond 3 1/2 years. Understandably, however, most hunters of that era were simply happy to take any deer, regardless of the size.


Unfortunately, little information was available at that time regarding record books and antler measuring. Hunters who took big deer often had their photo published in their local newspaper, but that was usually the extent of the recognition. Afterwards, the rack or mount was hung in the home or barn and eventually forgotten. It's impossible to estimate the number of record-class bucks taken during those early years. Sadly, many of the racks are probably lost forever. But on the plus side, a few continue to turn up from time to time.

THE JOSEPH R. WOLF BUCK

Such an occurrence took place in the fall of 2004 when Michael Parker, a teenager from the Lexington area, walked into the taxidermy shop of Harry Whitehead, carrying an exceptionally large set of whitetail antlers. After examining the rack and listening to Michael's asking how he could have it officially scored, the taxidermist readily supplied him with the necessary information.

In many cases involving racks from the past, questions regarding the trophy's history and origin cannot be answered. In this particular instance, fortunately, that was not the situation: Michael knew his great-grandfather, Joseph R. Wolf, had taken the huge buck in 1961, while hunting in the Cox's Creek area of Nelson County.

"My great-grandfather, who was referred to as 'Big Joe,' killed the deer on his own farm," Michael related. "Following his death in 1986, my grandfather, John Mayer, moved into the house and eventually relocated the antlers to a large barn on the property. During my visits to the farm in the late '90s, I was always fascinated with the big rack hanging in the barn. And as my interest in deer hunting increased, I was allowed to take the antlers home with me.

Without question, it was the rack's huge size that initially caught Parker's attention. Later, however, the main attraction was simply the fact that his great-grandfather had taken the buck on land that was part of the original homestead. Since the young hunter knew very little about deer records or record books, the idea of having the antlers measured really never crossed his mind.

All of that changed early in the fall of 2004, when Parker's uncle, Darren Giles, an avid deer hunter from Georgia, arrived to do some bow hunting. One look at the giant rack, and Darren immediately proclaimed that the deer would easily qualify for the Boone and Crockett Club's (B&C) record book. The only unknowns were determining exactly how high it would score and where it might rank in the state records.

The answers were provided a couple of months later when the rack was officially measured. Antler statistics from that taping include exceptionally long main beams, each of which measures nearly 30 inches, an impressive antler spread of 24 2/8 inches outside, and 21 7/8 inches inside, and outstanding tine length. For example, the paired G-2s measure 12 7/8 and 11 3/8 inches, the G-3s are 11 0/8 and 10 7/8 inches, and the G-4s tape 11 7/8 and 8 0/8 inches. Additionally, the entire rack exhibits great antler mass.

In regard to scoring, the 6x6 typical frame grosses a tremendous total of 198 0/8 and, after deductions for asymmetry plus two small sticker points, nets a final B&C typical score of 185 3/8. In addition to qualifying for both B&C record books, the buck ranks 19th on Kentucky's all-time list of typical whitetails. Within Nelson County, the deer stands as the biggest whitetail ever recorded.

While it is unfortunate there are no details of Big Joe's hunt, the rack exhibits evidence of what must have surely been an exciting time in the hunter's life. He is known to have owned several shotguns, so it's been surmised that Big Joe was probably hunting with buckshot. The number of times he fired at the giant whitetail will always remain a mystery; however, several pellets from at least one shot struck the buck's right antler.

Luckily, all things considered, the damage was relatively minor. Even so, the base of the right G-4 tine was splintered, the beam was scarred, and at least half of the right brow tine was shot off.

GREEN HAMLIN'S TROPHY

Unlike today, when Green Hamlin was growing up during the 1930s and '40s, whitetails were nonexistent in the countryside around his family's Clay County farm near Manchester. Employment opportunities eventually made it necessary that Green move to Ohio, but he kept track of the growing deer population in his home state. During the 1960s, as several of Kentucky's eastern counties were opened to limited hunting, he made plans for a Bluegrass deer hunt.

In November of 1966, Green -- along with two brother-in-laws, Wilber and Marvin Allen -- headed south for a weekend deer hunt. However, an unforeseen problem nearly derailed the hunt before it even started.

"It happened to be Vet

erans' Day," Green remembered, "and most stores and offices were closed for the holiday. We were unable to locate any type of business that sold hunting licenses."

Late that afternoon, when the men stopped for gas in Richmond, the station attendant asked if they were planning on doing some hunting. After Green explained their license dilemma, the man offered to call a friend of his who ran a hardware store in nearby Berea. Luckily, the store had exactly three unsold licenses.

"That fellow couldn't have been nicer," Green remarked. "He even insisted that we wait until he closed the station, so he could go with us to make sure we found the store."

As it turned out, the station attendant and a companion had planned to deer hunt the following morning in Wayne County, which had only a one-day season. They encouraged Green and his brother-in-laws to go with them. After a short discussion, the men accepted the invitation.

The group of men drove to the designated location that night and, after sleeping a few hours in the truck, walked approximately two miles back into land that was part of the national forest, not far from Cumberland Lake. Green selected a stand site along a wooded ridgeline. But around midmorning, he decided to move to a different location.

"Around 11 o'clock, I sat down at the base of a large beech tree," Green said. "There had been a heavy frost that morning, but the sun had warmed things up a bit. After sitting there a few minutes, I drifted off to sleep."

The hunter's nap was suddenly interrupted by several shots from just beyond an adjacent ridge. Not knowing exactly where the other hunters were located or from which direction they were shooting, Green moved around to the opposite side of the tree.

No sooner had he gotten settled, than he spotted a flicker of movement on the opposite hillside. A closer look revealed a large buck approximately 150 yards away, walking up the hill toward the top of the ridge. Obviously, the deer was also concerned about the nearby shots, since it had stopped and was looking back in that direction.

Green was using a new Model 94 Winchester, without a scope, which he had purchased a few months earlier for $60. Although he had spent considerable time practicing with the rifle, his first shot missed the buck completely.

"I suddenly realized the shot angle was downhill, which I knew had a tendency to make me shoot high," Green explained. "Fortunately, I believe the deer was confused as to exactly where the shot had come from and remained standing where it was."

The hunter's second shot dropped the big deer in its tracks. After hurrying down the ridge and across the hollow, Green found himself staring down at an enormous heavy-antlered whitetail, truly the buck of a lifetime. That was the good part; the bad part was that the deer was nearly two miles from their vehicle.

"I'm not sure what we would have done if there hadn't been another mighty nice hunter there who was driving a jeep," Green said. "I will always be grateful for his assistance that day."

Like many great whitetails harvested in those years, the deer was carried home and the antlers mounted. But nothing was recorded as to its size or where it was taken. In this particular instance, only a few Kentuckians ever saw the buck. Another 33 years would pass before the huge deer would ever achieve record-book recognition, and that accomplishment was directly due to the efforts of Green's wife, Sarah.

Her initial effort occurred in the mid-1970s when they decided to move from Ohio to Michigan. Before leaving, Green decided to auction off a number of household items, rather than move everything they had to Michigan; surprisingly, the mounted Kentucky buck was one of those items.

"I couldn't believe he would consider getting rid of that deer," Sarah remembered. "I eventually persuaded him to change his mind, and we packed the mount in the back seat of our car."

For 20 additional years, the deer hung in the Hamlins' Michigan home. In all likelihood, that would have been the end of the story. However, a strange twist of fate, triggered by -- of all things -- another giant buck, finally brought recognition to Green's Kentucky whitetail.

In the fall of 1998, photos of a huge Michigan deer, allegedly taken by a bowhunter and proclaimed by some to be a possible new world record, began monopolizing the media. After seeing the buck's picture countless times, Sarah finally suggested that Green should have his Kentucky deer officially measured for the record book. In her opinion, it wasn't all that much smaller than the Michigan buck.

At first, Green was hesitant, but Sarah's persistence was ultimately rewarded. An official Michigan B&C measurer finally taped the Kentucky deer at 188 0/8 gross, with a final net typical score of 180 2/8. Specific antler measurements of the massive 5x5 typical frame include main beams of nearly 27 inches, a spread of 21 inches outside, and 18 7/8 inches inside. Tine length is exceptional, with 7-inch brows (G-1s), followed by paired G-2s, G-3s, and G-4s, all of which tape between 13 3/8 and 8 2/8 inches.

In addition to qualifying for both Boone and Crockett record books, the buck ties for 36th place on Kentucky's all-time list of B&C typical whitetails. Within Wayne County, it still stands as the biggest typical ever recorded.

DON HOUCHENS'

AMAZING 8-POINTER

For Don Houchens, the weather was unbearably cold on the mid-November morning back in 1969. After enduring the below-freezing temperatures for nearly two hours, he left the deer stand and returned to his truck to warm up. A short while later, after taking the chill off, the hunter decided to slowly still-hunt through a nearby section of woods.

"As I approached a dense thicket, a small buck jumped up and began running," Houchens recalled. "Instinctively, I threw up my rifle and fired, but the bullet struck a tree."

The hunter remained standing near the thicket for several minutes, allowing himself to calm down from the excitement. As he looked on, a doe suddenly exited the dense undergrowth, followed seconds later by a monster buck.

"I really couldn't believe what I was seeing," he said. "To say the least, I was excited. But in this case I had plenty of time, and the buck wasn't running."

The huge whitetail, a near-perfect 8-pointer, had an exceptionally big rack with long tines and tremendous mass. A number of times over the years, Houchens considered having the rack officially scored, but things never quite worked out. Finally, last fall, 36 years after he took the buck, the giant antlers were finally measured.

The rack's long main beams tape 28 inches, and the antler spread is 22 3/8 inches outside, 20 2/8 inches inside. The rack's tine length is truly outstanding, with amazing G-1 brows that measure 9 3/8 and 8 0/8 inches. The paired G-2s tape 13 1/8 and 12 7/8 inches, and the G-3s are 10 3/8 and 9 5/

8 inches.

In regard to scoring, the rack exhibits great symmetry, with no abnormal points. After grossing an amazing 175 1/8, the final net score drops only slightly to 171 4/8. As an 8-pointer, the deer qualifies for both B&C record books. Additionally, this score places the Logan County buck in a tie with Kentucky's top 8-pointer of all time, a giant buck from Union County that was taken in 1982 by Wayne Gibson. Considering the exceptional size of these two great whitetails, it is somewhat fitting that they hold the No. 1 spot together.

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