Indiana’s standard license plates once read “amber waves of grain,” referring to Hoosierland’s fertile farmlands of wheat, corn and other valuable grains. When it comes to deer hunting these days, maybe the plates should read, “Ample waves of grain, along with great deer habitat and sound deer management.” Over the years, these qualities have all added up to produce exceptional white-tailed deer hunting throughout the state.
The proof starts with the three record-setting deer harvests the last three seasons — but is much more than just sheer deer numbers. After all, Hoosier sportsmen have more than grasped what the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s biologists and property managers have created through smart, flexible regulations geared to this big-game resource. It all began by convincing hunters to take more does — not an easy thing to do decades ago — in an effort to keep total deer numbers in check, while at the same time producing better hunting overall, even for bigger bucks. The icing on the cake may have been the 1992 “one-buck” rule, which may have forced hunters to be pickier on what deer to harvest. Whatever the myriad reasons, the results have been mostly positive.
And the proof, as it’s said, is in the pudding. In this case, it’s the continued success of hunters taking both numbers of deer, along with a fair share of quality bucks each season, from all points east/west and north/south. And though top buck-producing counties like Warren, Porter and Franklin (for gun hunters) and Parke, Vigo and Jefferson (for bowhunters) are great places to be out in the deer woods, many other big bucks come from counties more known for producing high harvest numbers rather than trophy whitetails.
THE KYLE BOLEN BUCK —
NOBLE COUNTY’S NO. 1 NON-TYPICAL GIANT!
A case in point is the fine non-typical buck taken by 14-year-old Kyle Bolen last season in Noble County. Noble County ranked fourth in the state last year in total number of deer taken (3,063), behind No. 1 Steuben (4,102), Kosciusko (3,652) and Switzerland (3,223). So, in a county more known for numbers of deer rather than big bucks, a young hunter takes a trophy 22-point non-typical with a final score of 213 6/8, as added up by official scorer John Bogucki. That makes Bolen’s buck the biggest non-typical ever from this high-harvest deer county.
One look at the Bolen buck is all you need to realize what kind of trophy it is. Its a rack that looks like a bush, with matching double drop tines laced with velvet on the tips, along with many other branches and points. It’s a sight to behold and one that mere pictures don’t do justice.
But the huge 22-pointer is not Kyle’s first deer; it is his fourth, and he is four-for-four when it comes to bagging deer. Already, this youthful hunter has his buck-of-a-lifetime, along with scoring a deer on every shot. You’ve got to believe that many seasoned hunters in this part of the deer world were surprised that they never got such a chance at this big non-typical. This time youth prevailed over age and experience. And the hunt itself all came together without much planning and without much time passing from start to finish. Sometimes, everything just comes together in the deer woods and that’s what apparently happened with this young hunter. But it almost didn’t happen at all.
You see, Kyle’s was supposed to be hunting with his dad, but his father was trying to catch up on some household chores, so the young hunter went off on the family’s 6-acre plot of land on his own. He immediately headed toward thick cover found around a nearby pond. Interestingly, though Kyle had located a nice-looking rub along a deer trail, he had never seen a deer of any size using the property. But he and his dad were aware of many does using the area. On this day, Kyle was actually hoping to get a shot at one of those does, which were using the prime habitat for food, water and shelter.
The hunt was his first on his own. As he walked slowly along a path to the pond, he noticed a deer that appeared to be drinking some 75 yards off. Kyle inadvertently stepped on a twig, which snapped under his weight, but even when the buck raised its head and huge rack, Kyle did not realize it was a trophy deer. The big rack actually blended in with the heavy underbrush, shrubs and tree limbs. This may have been a good thing, ’cause there was no reason to get nervous if you don’t know it’s a big buck you’re looking at.
Fortunately, Kyle’s dad had cut the long grass down that leads up to the edge of the wood line. When the deer raised its head to look back, Kyle took aim with his .44 Magnum H&R rifle, and let fly with an accurate shot. The bullet hit the deer in the side at an angle and went through its lungs; a fine shot. It ran no more than 10 yards and fell into the heavy cover.
“I was only back there about 10 minutes when mom and dad heard a shot. It took more time to drag the big buck out. We even had to move a few logs because the deer weighed over 226 pounds,” said Kyle Bolen.
What do you do to top a deer like that? Probably just savor a fantastic hunt for the rest of your life. One thing Kyle did, though, was donate much of the venison to charity. He mentioned a full-body mount will be completed sometime later this year. What a way to remember such a lifetime hunt.
THE RAYMOND GRAY WHITE CO. TROPHY TYPICAL
Things didn’t seem to be panning out for Lafayette resident Ray Gray. One of the group of three best friends had passed away, leaving only two buddies to hunt on a piece of land, and the long-hunted property was in the process of changing ownership. Further, the pending the transition did not leave any time for pre-season scouting. So the first day on the property for the hunting buddies would be during the actual hunt.
Opening morning was calm and warm for the firearm season. Usually, Ray hunts the east side of the White County property, but made a last-minute decision to go west this time. Unfortunately, the day turned out to be uneventful, with little deer movement and zero deer taken that day. But the two hunters were back at it the next day. On the east end of the property there’s a large ravine, which funnels out into a field and a small creek. The height of the banks allows one to set up on the ground without use of a treestand.
“I found my natural ground blind in the dark and settled in for a long day. Around 7:30 a.m., I heard a gunshot off to my left on the west side of the property. Shortly after I caught some movement down at the bottom of the ravine, which turned out to be a small doe. As I watched her while looking out for other movement, I spotted a nice 6-pointer head up a hill,” said Gray.
The doe still was in sight and Gray continued to be intrigued with her movements. However, the 6-pointer by then had circled back and then the hunter noticed the doe look up the ravine and lay her ears back. She froze.
“I looked back and there was a 10-point buck looking straight at me from the other side of the ravine. I slowly raised my gun and the standoff began,” said Gray.
The buck did not present a clear shot and the standoff seemed like an eternity. Gray’s arms were feeling heavy from the weight of his Remington 870 shotgun, so he slowly lowered his arms. Interestingly, that slight movement got the buck’s attention and it took a step forward — presenting Gray with a clean shot. Gray aimed and fired. The rest, as they say, is history. It was a nice ending to the last year either hunter would be on the property that they had hunted for over two decades.
The Gray buck is impressive in its symmetry and final net score of 171 4/8. Long G-2s (11 0/8; 11 4/8) and G-3s (10 7/8; 10 7/8) tines make for a beautiful trophy. An inside spread of 21 0/8 inches and outside spread of 23 0/8 inches round out some measurements on a trophy buck to be proud of.
BRIAN ROMNEY’S “CHOCOLATE” VELVET TROPHY FROM TIPPECANOE COUNTY
Brian Romney first sighted his amazing-looking velvet buck in a bean field across from his house during the 2008 muzzleloader season. The trophy buck’s rack looked especially dark, but he thought it might have been due to evening shadows. He spotted the deer several more times and realized its rack was, indeed, very dark. That’s when he started calling it the “Chocolate Buck.” Though no chance at this sweet trophy had yet presented itself, Romney was sure excited to see such a fine buck using his neck of the deer woods.
In 2008, the hunter didn’t own a muzzleloader; he was mainly an archery specialist. But he did have prime woods directly behind his house and a couple of stands to choose from when hunting. He was confident that during the late archery season the buck would show. It did not! But when the seasons were over, he again saw the Chocolate Buck several more times, so he knew it had survived. It wasn’t until April of 2009 when he saw the buck again. He was in a cow pasture adjacent to a beanfield. Surprisingly, even during the spring the buck still had its full rack. The rack looked different than at other times, but was still at least 130 inches of knurled antlers. He called his brother to tell him of the buck, but his brother thought he was nuts.
Romney says it was at this point that he decided to buy a muzzleloader to get more deer hunting in during the coming seasons. And the muzzleloader season is when he’d spotted the buck most often. So he finally decided to buy a Thompson Omega muzzleloader and learned how to be proficient with it. Fortunately, he also knew the owner of the cow pasture and his mother worked for the doctor who owns the bean field. Permission was granted to hunt both areas. How nice is that? Ah, but Murphy’s Law intervened a bit when Romney found out that another hunter also had permission to hunt the cow pasture.
“When I called the owner of the cow pasture, he said sure, I could hunt there, but that there was another guy whom he’d given permission to hunt the land as well. I don’t believe in hunting an area where someone else had already been given permission, so I was really disappointed. I just knew this deer was going to be killed before I got my chance,” Romney said.
But as luck would have it, the velvet-racked trophy was a survivor. The two hunters with permission to hunt the same pasture even met up. The other hunter was a great guy, according to Romney. He was hunting with his son. The father-son team had seen the deer in the pasture during the 2008 season, but did not take a shot at it since, at that time, they did not have permission to hunt that piece of private land.
In 2010, Romney was glad to have a neighbor plant an oat/alfalfa/clover mix in a small, unused plot behind his house. It would help his neighbor while also providing an unexpected food plot for marauding whitetails.
On the early morning of the actual hunt on December 11, 2010, during the muzzleloader season, Romney returned from his night shift around 4 a.m. and spotted six does and one fine buck in the planted field. He watched the deer feed for about 20 minutes. It was then that he knew he had to go hunting that morning. With only a few hours of sleep before the hunt, he decided he’d only have enough energy to hunt for about two hours. It turned out two hours would be plenty of time.
“About 10 to 15 minutes after daylight, I heard deer walking through the woods and heading my way. Shortly after, I spotted three does and this big buck with a drop tine on his right antler. At that point, I knew he was a shooter and was just trying to concentrate on making a good shot. All four deer ended up walking down the trail about 35 yards from my stand and I was able to make a good shot that dropped the buck right in its tracks. It was then when I realized it was Chocolate Horns!” said Romney.
Reaching down to grab the antlers, Romney inadvertently broke off 4 inches of the buck’s G-2 tine on the left side. He called his brother to come and take a picture with his cell phone and then help Brian move his trophy carefully as to avoid breaking any more of the rack. “We had to be careful with the antlers because I didn’t want to break anything else off the rack. Neither of us had ever seen a buck like this,” concluded Romney.