It is no secret that the state of New York produces some of the biggest bucks taken in the Northeast every year. These days we are not even surprised anymore when some lucky hunter kills a deer scoring in excess of 200 inches gross Boone and Crockett. There is good reason for this. New York is not only one of the biggest states in the Northeast, it also has some of the most varied and diverse habitats. Great bucks are arrowed in suburban bow-only zones; they are taken by shotgun in farm country; and they are tracked down in the snow-covered mountainous regions. Some tremendous bucks are occasionally taken in the “wilds” of Long Island.
The Empire State truly has it all when it comes to deer hunting, including relatively high deer densities throughout the state combined with outstanding trophy buck potential in most regions. Even more important is that hunters are allowed to take “meat” deer in various districts, leaving them free to fill a tag with a trophy-class buck. Factor in fairly lengthy hunting seasons that begin in September and end in January in some districts and it will come as no surprise that the Empire State produces some of the Northeast’s best bucks. The 2016 season was a perfect example.
The Northeast Big Bucks Club has already officially scored several New York bucks from last season that score between 170 and 200. And we have green scored several other giants that had not yet been officially scored.
As good as those deer are, one buck stands out from all the others. It is the largest gross-scoring buck shot by a hunter anywhere in the Northeast last season. Well, it “would have been” officially tops in the NBBC records for 2016 if not for a very unfortunate turn of events.
THE ORTOLANI BUCK
Bob Ortolani is an experienced hunter who started hunting by tagging along with his father and grandfather back in the 1970s. Entering the 2016 season his biggest buck was a nice-looking 8-pointer.
In 2016 Ortolani and his hunting partners were chasing a great buck that they had seen on their trail cameras in Onondaga County. They had pictures from 2013, 2014 and 2015, so they entered the 2016 season with great expectations. The buck, however, did not show up on their cameras heading into the firearms season, and there were no sightings of him through the end of regular gun season. Ortolani wondered if the buck had left the area — or possibly had died. He was not sure how old this buck was and did not have enough information to accurately pattern him. A few pictures gathered over several years showed the buck getting bigger every year. The town supervisor and his brother hunt private land not more than one-half mile away, and they had never seen the buck or gotten any pictures of him on their trail cams. So this buck was a ghost and was very good at staying under the radar. The bucks’ innate ability to avoid detection gave Ortolani some hope that he was still alive and would surface eventually.
Ortolani and his wife, Holly, own an auto repair shop, and in mid- December one of the floor drains became plugged. Most of us would not consider this to be a good thing, but for Ortolani it was the best thing that ever could have happened. The plumbing company that they use included some avid deer hunters from the other side of town. In the past, they would always exchange hunting stories, and when the crew arrived to fix the drain they discussed their 2016 hunting season.
During the conversation one of the guys mentioned that a big non-typical with a drop tine was sighted recently on the other side of the Seneca River. Ortolani remembered that one of his employees wondered earlier in the season if the buck could be swimming the river. This would explain how he disappeared every year.
Knowing that the buck was still alive gave Ortolani and his hunting partner new hope, and there was still some time to hunt him. Ortolani pulled his camera cards on Saturday, Dec. 17 and, bingo, there he was!
It was game time. The afternoon passed with no sign of the buck. The next morning the weather was miserable. At 4 a.m. Ortolani awoke to driving rain and almost decided not to go out. Not having good rain gear, Ortolani decided to use some lawn-and-leaf bags to help keep him dry.
The action was slow in the morning, with only a doe and a spike showing up. Ortolani knew the weather was supposed to change to wind and snow with dropping temperatures. He knew that change could get the deer moving, and he was right. Ortolani saw eight does and a spike. Based on where he saw those deer, he figured if the big one was going to make an appearance, it was going to be from the side of his tree stand that was wide open.
As the does wandered off, Ortolani decided to test his equipment by pulling up quietly on the spike. The crossbow was frozen to his tree stand safety bar, the lenses were iced-over and the battery for the LED reticle display was dying! He cleared the lenses, turned off the display to conserve battery power, and watched the spike wander off.
Ortolani had made up his mind that this was going to be his last hunt of 2016 even though the season officially closed Dec. 20.
It was getting late and Ortolani was ready to call it quits. Suddenly, in the exact same spot where the spike wandered off, the ghost appeared! Ortolani had rehearsed the routine in his mind plenty of times: reticle display on, arrow firmly seated, safety off. He would shoot slightly high as the monster worked his way in to only 15 yards away and he would be shooting at a downward angle. The elusive buck went down in his tracks!
One shot was all it took, but things got interesting almost immediately. Struggling to keep his composure, Ortolani knew he had better prepare for a second shot in case the monster got back up and took off. But, the hunter had never given any thought about the next logical step — trying to reload in a tiny tree stand, trying to fit a big boot into a small stirrup with built-up snow and ice creating further complication.
Ortolani finally managed to cock the crossbow as the deer continued struggling. The hunter feared that the wounded giant was going to get up and run away, never to be found. Ortolani quickly reached for another arrow from the quiver, but in doing so inadvertently knocked the quiver and the last arrow to the ground 12 feet below! He had no choice but to sit back down.
He tried to call for help on his cell phone but it, too, was frozen solid and wouldn’t work. He kept a watchful eye on the buck and finally, after some time, he was able to warm the cell phone up enough to send for help.
Ortolani’s son and a friend finally showed up, but Ortolani still wasn’t convinced that the buck wouldn’t run off. The two helpers came in from one direction, and Ortolani climbed down at the same time so they would have three sets of eyes if the wounded deer ran off.
Finally the trio reached the deer, which had expired. They knew it was a big one but nothing could have prepared the hunters for the size of this buck’s incredible rack. A quick count totaled 30 points and excitement reigned, but then things took a turn for the worse.
Ortolani’s son asked if it was a good idea to drag the deer by its antlers.
“Sure, these things never fall off this early in the year,” Ortolani said, but as if the question itself was some sort of premonition, 10 feet later the right antler came off!
The Northeast Big Buck Club (www.bigbuckclub.com) requires that the skull and antlers be fully intact in order to be officially measured and entered as a hunter-harvested buck. In situations where the skull is split or cracked or in situations like this where one or both antlers come off the skull, there is no accurate means of getting a true inside spread, and therefore that measurement cannot be included in the score. NBBC measurers green scored Ortolani’s buck with an estimate of the inside spread based on the way the antler would have been positioned on the skull.
Terry Stoddard, NBBC scorer, gave the buck a total score of 227 5/8. The rack scored 208 without the inside spread measurement, so the estimated inside spread was over 19 inches. The rack had over 72 inches of non-typical growth.
While this buck can’t be entered as a hunter-harvested crossbow kill in the NBBC records, it will be entered in our records in the Shed category once it is officially score, so Ortolani’s sheds will ultimately score in the high 220’s!
The buck field dressed at 150 pounds and had no fat on him. The butcher thought he could have been over 200 pounds pre-rut.
A taxidermist determined his age to be at least 6 1/2, which is old for the area, which gets hunted pretty hard. The buck’s teeth were ground down and the taxidermist wondered that he may not have made it through another winter.
After word got out around town, many people contacted Ortolani with their stories about this buck. It was amazing how many people had seen the deer, had pictures on their trail cams or knew someone else who had photos. Most of the sightings were from the other side of the river, most no more than two miles away as the crow flies from Ortolani’s stand. If not for making that one mistake on a cold, windy, snowy day, the deer may never have crossed paths with the lucky hunter.
THE DEBADTS BUCK
Jeffrey DeBadts’ Wayne County giant was a 15-point non-typical and was also killed on Nov. 19. DeBadts’ buck scored 185 6/8 gross and 175 4/8 net. And, nearly matching the Knight buck, DeBadts’ huge deer carried a 9-point typical frame complemented by six abnormal points totaling 21 inches. However, DeBadts’ buck had an unusually wide inside spread, at 24 6/8 inches.
Jeffrey DeBadts first learned of the buck he harvested on Nov. 19 this past fall when a buddy showed him a grainy cellphone picture of the buck crossing a railroad track. Rumor had it that someone had captured trail-camera images of a 14-pointer in the same area. Until DeBadts saw the buck for the first time he had to wonder if the tales were simply the result of over-eager hunters’ imaginations.
On the fateful day, DeBadts was hunting an overgrown meadow with thick brush on both sides. Not believing the rumors of a giant buck in the area, he was surprised when the buck appeared and began to work ascrape back in some thick birch trees. Unable to get a shot because of the trees, DeBadts had to wait for the buck to move, which it did, circle around until it was only 10 yards away from the hunter. The buck kept moving but at 20 yards DeBadts had his shot. After 20 minutes, DeBadts followed the blood trail, but ended up jumping the buck where it had bedded down. DeBadts waited for a copule of hours, picked up the blood trail, and found the deer 60 yards away.
THE KNIGHT BUCK
Talk about coincidence! On the same day — Nov. 19 — that Debadts killed his trophy, Scott Knight shot a giant 15-point non-typical in Oswego County during the firearms season. Like the DeBadts buck, Knight’s buck had 15 points. The rack on Knight’s deer had six abnormal points that totaled over 25 inches of non-typical growth on a 9-point frame with a relatively tight 15 5/8 inside spread. Total NBBC score was 192 2/8 gross and 174 net. So while these two giants look different at first glance, they are actually very similar in many ways! What a great looking, high scoring rack!
Author’s Note: All information provided is excerpted from the Northeast Big Buck Club’s 8th Record Book, Northeast Trophy Whitetails VIII, published in July of 2017. This book contains nearly 14,000 of the Northeast’s best bucks, and represents all deer scored and entered to the NBBC through April of 2017. For information about their latest record book, visit www.bigbuckclub.com. Hunters who know of or have taken exceptional bucks in New York and would like to have them officially scored, e-mail Jeff Brown, club president, at firstname.lastname@example.org.