‘Rack Man’

John Ohmer has measured more racks in the past 17 years than most hunters see in a lifetime. (August 2008)

It takes an average of an hour or two for Ohmer to measure each set of antlers, and those are the easy ones.
Photo by Richard P. Smith.

John Ohmer has measured more than 1,000 sets of deer antlers, the first Commemorative Bucks of Michigan scorer to achieve such a milestone.


That's more racks than most hunters see in a lifetime, and it took much of Ohmer's time as a volunteer to come up with a score for each of those racks.

It takes an average of an hour or two to measure each set of antlers, and those are the easy ones. Some non-typical racks with numerous tines require hours to measure them properly.


"I became real interested in the scoring thing after I learned a system for measuring deer antlers existed," Ohmer said. "It's a standard by which all deer can be compared. I'm always willing to help a hunter who has bagged a big buck become a part of history. All of the deer that qualify for state records end up being published in our record book, which I consider a history book."


CBM uses the Boone and Crockett Club measuring system where tine and beam lengths are measured along with circumferences at four places on each beam. The inside spread is measured between the beams. Judgments must be made regarding whether tines are typical or non-typical. Differences in symmetry between the antlers are scored as deductions. Adding the measurements and then subtracting deductions derives the final score.

Ohmer, from Yale, was able to measure such a large number of racks by volunteering at shows like Woods-N-Water Weekend and the Deer Spectacular. Hundreds of successful hunters bring antlers from big bucks they've bagged to these shows, among others, each year to find out what they score and enter them in state records maintained by CBM.

Ohmer also visits taxidermy shops in his area to score multiple racks.

There is no charge to have antlers measured, although an entry fee is required for racks that meet or exceed state-record minimums. CBM members may enter racks at no additional charge.

Ohmer's first book buck eventually led him to CBM and becoming a measurer himself. He killed a 9-pointer with bow and arrow that scored 125 4/8 in 1987 in Iron County. At the time, Ohmer and his cousin, Bernard Ohmer, were en route to an Upper Peninsula deer camp the week before firearms season opened.

"On the way to camp, two bucks went across the road ahead of us and they were fighting," Ohmer said. "We went after them and got them both."

The brothers had planned to hunt the entire two-week gun season after a week of bowhunting, but their pickup truck was fully loaded with gear.

"It took a half hour just to get my bow and arrows out of the back of the pickup," Ohmer explained. "It took so long to get the one bow out that we took off after the bucks without it. The fighting bucks were a half-mile into the woods by the time we went after them.

"We couldn't hear them, but they were easy to follow because the ground was all torn up where they had gone. Their antlers weren't locked, but they were engaged in serious combat. They were oblivious to what was around them.

"For that reason, it was easy to shoot the bucks when we caught up to them. I shot the smaller one first, then handed the bow to Bernard. I shot the 9-pointer in the heart, but you couldn't tell he was hurt. They kept fighting."

Bernard arrowed the larger buck -- an 11-pointer that scored 131 3/8 -- before the smaller one died.

When Ohmer attended a show at the state fairgrounds a year later, he brought both racks. A former CBM board member saw the antlers and suggested Ohmer have them measured.

Both racks exceeded the minimum scores required for national archery records, but the Pope and Young Club's guidelines disqualified bucks with locked antlers. A year later, the rule was expanded to include fighting bucks and the Ohmer brothers' record was recognized by P&Y.

Ohmer was certified as a CBM measurer in 1991 and scored 13 racks at that year's Deer Spectacular.

After becoming a scorer for state records, Ohmer was certified to measure racks for the Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young clubs and the Longhunter Society muzzleloader club.

He recalled that he didn't get many calls from hunters when he began measuring, but now that he's established and better known, he has about 100 calls a year.

"Scoring deer has changed my standards," Ohmer said. "I leave the smaller bucks for the young fellas. I never criticize anyone for shooting a small deer. I have a row of 6-pointers in my garage."

The 1,000th rack measured by Ohmer was a "nice, clean 8-point" gun kill that scored 126 or 127.

What's the biggest set of antlers from Michigan that Ohmer has measured?

"I've measured quite a few over 200 inches," he said. "One of the most memorable big racks I measured was a 22-pointer that a guy brought in to the Deer Spectacular at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. It was a state-record bow kill. The guy asked me, 'Can you score this quick for me so I can tell the guys at work how much it scores?' "

The rack was a non-typical that required plenty of time to measure properly. Much time is required to simply examine the antlers to determine what its typical frame is and which points are non-typical before any measuring is done.

"Dealing with that rack took most of the day," Ohmer remembered. "After I measured it myself and figured that it was a state record, it had to be panel measured. After I was done dealing with that rack, I went out and sold raffle tickets. I had enough measuring for the day."

All racks that are close to being of state-record caliber must be measured by at least three scorers. The original scorers are normally involved in the panel to provide input on how the antlers were originally scored.

The memorable rack of state-record proportions that Ohmer spent most of a day on was the first non-typical bow kill taken from our state with antlers that exceeded Boone and Crockett's minimum of 195. The 22-pointer arrowe

d in Jackson County by Herb Miller in 1993 recorded an official net score of 196 7/8.

One of the strangest sets of whitetail antlers that Ohmer measured came from a 25-point non-typical at a show in Charlotte, N.C.

"The pedicles, circular areas on top of the head that antlers sprout, were hollow to the top of the skull," he said. "There were lots of burr points coming off to the sides. They looked like clumps of flowers. One of the burr points was 13 inches long."

Ohmer said the rack scored 26 as a typical, but after all the non-typical point lengths were added, it measured 174.

Ohmer doesn't remember what county that buck came from, but a hunter told him it was shot near a chemical plant.

"I scored another unusual rack that I remember during my first year as a measurer," the rack man said. "I had been certified the week before and it was my first show. The rack wasn't very big. There was no way it was going to make the book.

"It was on the table with all the other racks, but everyone was avoiding it," Ohmer said. "Finally, Mitch brought it over to me and said, 'This is your test.'

"That rack was real confusing. It had 17 or 18 points -- none of them being very long -- and a 9-inch spread. It didn't make the book, but I guess I passed the test."

The longest tines Ohmer has measured were 18 inches with G-2s on an 8-point that scored 168.

Whitetail brow tines are referred to as G-1s on score sheets. G-2s are next in line along the beam toward the tip. Tines are numbered consecutively.

Ohmer has collected deer-hunting tips from hunters he has scored, as well as his own experiences in the field. One of his favorite deer-hunting methods, for instance, involves hunting corn fields. He likes to hunt across the wind that allows him to cross the rows of corn. He works his way across the field, moves down and re-crosses the field going in the opposite direction.

"If I can see 40 or 50 yards down the rows of corn, I only move that far when I reach the edge and then go back across the field," Ohmer said. "One time I moved a few rows farther than I could see while making a second pass across a corn field. A buck saw my boots coming and took off before I could get a shot."

Another bow kill that qualified for a state record taught him that bucks like to hide in thorn apple thickets to avoid hunters as well as eat the food they provide. Ohmer spent an entire season pursuing an 8-point 106 2/8 buck before finally getting him on Jan. 1.

When Ohmer gutted the buck, he opened the stomach and discovered it was full of thorn apple seeds.

One of the buck's front legs was full of lead, possibly from a shot fired previously by another hunter that had healed. Because of that injury, the antler on that side was smaller than the other. Ohmer said the buck would have scored around 120 if both antlers had matched.

Another piece of deer-hunting advice that applies to bowhunting, was passed to Ohmer by a relative whose personal experience taught him, "When it's quiet, aim 3 inches low."

Ohmer was bowhunting near apple trees, when a group of does and fawns that had been eating the fruit, fled at the approach of a buck. Ohmer knew a buck was coming because he heard it grunting and came to full draw when it was almost in view. The forkhorn came in facing him, offering a shot he didn't want to take, so he waited.

The buck remained so long that Ohmer eventually had to rest his bowstring against his leg to avoid fatigue. After watching the buck eat 11 apples at a distance of 18 yards, the whitetail finally turned broadside. When Ohmer released the arrow, the buck jumped and he missed. If he had aimed low, he would have been successful.

When stand-hunting, Ohmer said he prefers a spot where background noise may help cover any sound he might make when drawing his bow. Flowing streams or dry leaves that may be rustled by moving whitetails are the type of background noises he searches for. The sounds also serve to tip hunters to the presence of game.

Morning stands should face west and evening stands should face east, according to Ohmer, because the sun will be at the hunter's back. Approaching deer must look into the sun, sometimes reducing the chances of spotting a waiting hunter.

Ohmer said walking to your stand in stocking feet instead of shoes or boots may sometimes be advantageous because you make less noise, reducing the chances of alerting deer to your presence. Some hunters do the same thing when still-hunting or stalking a whitetail.

In snow, one hunter recommended wearing wool socks with felt insoles inside or Tinglies, cheap, thin farm boots that are worn over shoes. These overshoes allow hunters to feel the ground with their feet while reducing noise.

After Ohmer measured his 1,000th rack last September, he quit working as hard as he used to, preferring to let his son, Robert, also a CBM measurer, score most of the racks. Still, he's there to provide advice if a tricky situation arises.

Ohmer often helps out in the same capacity at shows now, letting many of the more inexperienced measurers do most of the scoring. Whenever there's a question, he's one of the veterans there who can provide the answer.

For more information about CBM's statewide network of measurers, visit www.buckfax.com .

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