By Bill Cooper
Fall’s blue skies, autumn leaves and cool temperatures bring to mind many things. But for thousands of hunters across the Commonwealth, it means that deer season is just around the corner. For one hunter, Ben Brogle of Lancaster, the anticipation and eager expectations of a new season are not all that different than when he was growing up.
“Ever since I was about 12 or 13 years old, I’ve lived and breathed deer hunting,” Brogle said. “And like most people, age aside, I always dreamed of taking a big trophy buck.”
While a senior in high school, Brogle saved his money and purchased a new bolt-action rifle in .243 caliber. Over the years he has taken his share of deer and all, but for a few bow kills, were with the same rifle. However, prior to 2002, he was still waiting and hoping for a chance at a truly big whitetail.
“At the beginning of last season, I hadn’t shot a buck in three years,” Brogle noted. “That wasn’t due to a lack of opportunity; I simply realized my only hope of taking a big deer was to stop shooting smaller ones. I don’t mean to imply that I had my sights set on the record book; believe me, a 145- or 150-class buck would have tickled me to death.”
Brogle, a dairy farmer, is forced to manage his hunting time around farm responsibilities; therefore, most of the hunt areas he regularly frequents are within several miles of home.
During the first few days of the 2002 season the hunter spotted a number of deer, but encountered little evidence of big-buck sign. After hunting one morning and seeing only a doe, he was unsure exactly where to concentrate his efforts. Surprisingly, that answer was provided by a single phone call.
“I have a cousin who has retired, but helps my uncle with various farming operations,” Brogle said. “He called around noon on Thursday to tell me about a big buck he had seen earlier that morning on farmland adjacent to his house. Although he doesn’t do much hunting nowadays, he certainly has done his share in the past, including Western trips for elk and mule deer. Therefore, when he told me it was the biggest buck he had ever seen in the area, I had no doubt the deer’s size was exactly as described.”
The farm where the buck had been sighted included a wooded hollow slightly over one-half mile long that is surrounded by cultivated fields and pastureland. Referred to locally as the “thicket,” the hollow included hardwoods, pockets of cedars and small feeder ravines choked with dense mixtures of saplings, vines and briars.
“It wasn’t unusual to sight deer there from time to time, but for the most part, the thicket was an area deer moved in and out of as opposed to staying throughout the year,” Brogle noted. “Considering the rut was going on, I was concerned the big buck my cousin spotted was merely passing through the hollow while searching for does.”
At first, Brogle was inclined to dismiss the event as a chance sighting and probably not worth following up on. But as he attended to several afternoon chores, thoughts of the conversation with his cousin continued running through his mind and around 4 p.m. that day, he decided to drive over and check out the thicket.
“My idea was to simply look the area over and if I encountered anything promising, I’d return the following morning,” Brogle said. “However, the first thing I did was stop by my cousin’s house to find out exactly where he had seen the deer. During the visit, I asked him again about the size of the buck’s rack and his response was to spread his hands approximately 2 feet apart.”
Overlooking the thicket from just below his cousin’s house, Brogle could see the afternoon wind direction dictated that he needed to be positioned on the opposite side. Directly across the hollow a corn field bordered the woods line and the hunter decided that would probably be the best place to take an evening stand.
“Normally, I prefer walking to wherever I’m going to hunt,” Brogle said. “But in this particular instance I thought there would be less disturbance if I remained in my pickup and followed the regular farm road across the bottom.
“Just as I reached the other side and was about to park the truck, I glanced toward the corn field and there, going over the top of the hill, was a huge buck,” he continued. “I thought, Man, what luck, I have screwed up and jumped this big deer.”
Grabbing his rifle, Brogle jumped from the truck and began running across the corn field. Fortunately, the corn had been picked, which made the going a little easier; however, he still had to cover a considerable distance before reaching the hill where the buck had disappeared.
“I was hoping to get an idea of which direction the deer had gone,” the hunter said. “As I approached the crest of the hill, I slowed down and eased forward until I could see over the top. Amazingly, the buck was still in sight, slowly walking through the field approximately 275 to 300 yards away.”
Still trying to catch his breath from the long run, Brogle couldn’t begin to hold the rifle still enough to attempt an off-hand shot. Thinking he might have a chance at the deer with a solid rest, he quickly dropped into shooting position on the ground. However, the slightly rolling terrain of the field made it impossible to see over the corn stubble.
After getting to his feet, a combination of nerves, excitement and frustration got the better of Brogle and he fired at the distant deer. Not surprisingly, the shot missed the target by a great distance.
“The second I pulled the trigger I knew it was a mistake,” the hunter related. “I thought to myself, You idiot. You know better than to try something like that!”
Brogle had little time to contemplate his error in judgment because, at the shot, the buck whirled around and began running directly toward the shocked hunter.
“After a short distance the deer spotted me and turned,” Brogle related. “Which is hardly surprising, considering I was a big orange
blob standing completely in the open. Looking back on the situation, I feel confidant the buck was heading back to the thicket and, had I been on the ground, he probably would have continued coming straight to me.”
Brogle watched the big whitetail circle out through the corn field, jump a fence into an adjoining field and eventually disappear into the hollow. On the way back to his truck, the hunter began experiencing a roller coaster of emotions.
“Only another deer hunter can relate to my feelings at that time,” Brogle said. “I was frustrated, mad and disappointed to the point of tears; I literally felt sick. When I got back in the truck, I called my wife and told her I just missed the biggest deer I had ever seen. I also asked her to say a little prayer that I’d get another chance at him.”
To the hunter’s credit, being upset had no effect on his ability to make what will undoubtedly be the most profound decision of his hunting career. Although at the time, the situation seemed pretty bleak.
“When I was younger I believed any big buck that was jumped would probably run a mile or two before stopping,” Brogle noted. “However, over the years I have found that simply isn’t always the case. I can recall one instance where a large buck that a hunting buddy and I jumped, returned to nearly the same spot within an hour.
“In this particular case, there had been no prior hunting or disturbance on the farm and despite having just been shot at, the buck didn’t appear to be terribly spooked,” he continued. “When I last saw the deer, he was heading toward the far end of the hollow and, while I realized he might keep right on going, I thought there was a good possibility that eventually he would circle back to where I had jumped him near the corn field. The only problem was I needed to be positioned on the opposite side of the hollow, and the wind was blowing in the wrong direction for that to work.”
Brogle drove back across the bottom and parked his truck at a barn on top of the hill. While contemplating his next move, the wind suddenly shifted and began blowing out of the north.
“I remembered the forecast had mentioned a cold front moving in, but I couldn’t believe the timing,” Brogle said. “I immediately set out walking and after going about 400 to 500 yards farther down the hollow, I picked out a good vantage point and sat down.”
About 30 minutes after getting situated, the hunter spotted the giant deer slowly making its way back up the hollow. This time the distance was only 125 yards, the buck was broadside, and Brogle was sitting in a comfortable shooting position.
“Believe me, I was totally focused on the deer and not its rack,” he said. “I kept telling myself, Whatever you do, don’t miss this shot!”
When Brogle finally squeezed the trigger, there was no doubt the bullet found its mark, but the buck turned and started running. At this point in time, the hunter wasn’t about to make any assumptions or take unnecessary chances and he continued shooting until the big deer went down.
As Brogle began walking to where the buck had fallen, he once again experienced a variety of emotions; first and foremost, there was pure relief that the hunt was finally over, and of course, happiness, that it had ended successfully. But there was also heartfelt thankfulness for having received a second shooting opportunity, and an upwelling of excitement over the great trophy whitetail he had just taken.
However, the evening still held one additional surprise for the hunter. During his entire afternoon adventure, Brogle had gotten only brief distant glimpses of the buck’s antlers, now for the first time he was about to see the rack up close.
“I knew the buck was big and wide, and I was fairly certain I had seen a couple of drop tines, but that was all,” he noted. “Because of the deer’s size, I just assumed it was probably a 10- or 12-pointer; therefore when I got to where the buck was lying, the sight of the antlers was literally overwhelming. I honestly had no idea there were so many additional points on the rack.”
After catching his breath, Brogle called his wife to tell her the good news, and his brother-in-law to request assistance with moving the deer. During the latter conversation, his brother-in-law asked about the buck’s size. Brogle’s response was, “About 35 or 36 points!” There was immediate laughter over the phone, followed by “Yeah, right! How big is he really?”
“I repeated the same thing at least two more times and he never did believe me,” Brogle laughed. “I finally told him to come on down and do the counting himself.”
Before leaving that night, Brogle stopped by his cousin’s house to show him the deer. After one quick look, he immediately identified the buck as the deer he had seen early that morning, but he, too, was unaware that the huge rack contained so many points.
Possibly the most outstanding feature of the buck’s rack is the amazing balance it displays between the right and left antlers. Except for two drop tines, most of the abnormal points are contained within the 6×6 typical frame. This is especially unusual for a giant non-typical, where it is not uncommon to see growth patterns that produce points sticking in every conceivable direction. And this may also explain why the numerous abnormal points were not readily apparent to either Brogle or his cousin.
This balance is dramatically illustrated by using antler statistics compiled during the rack’s official measuring. There are 35 scorable points present, 18 are located on the right antler and 17 on the left. Twelve of the points on the right antler are abnormal and total 45 7/8 inches, while 11 on the left antler total 41 2/8 inches.
The basic 6×6 typical frame, which includes a tremendous antler spread of 27 6/8 inches outside and 23 4/8 inches inside, grosses a superb score of 180 3/8. Minor asymmetry deductions of 7 3/8 inches drops the net typical score only slightly to a very impressive 173 0/8. After adding in the 87 1/8 inches of abnormal points, the rack’s final non-typical Boone and Crockett score is a whopping 260 1/8.
In addition to being the top non-typical from last season, Brogle’s great buck also stands as Kentucky’s new state-record non-typical whitetail, topping the former No. 1, a 23-pointer taken by Anthony Mefford in Lewis County during the ’96 season, by almost 20 points.
The buck also ranks high nationally. Using the 11th edition of Boone and Crockett’s Records of North American Big Game, which includes all non-typical whitetails entered through 1997, the Garrard County buck falls into the 20th slot.
For Brogle and his family, the whole experience has been like a trip on a magic carpet. They cannot begin to estimate the number of individuals who have called and dropped by to see the outstanding trophy. At times it has been somewhat of an ordeal, but they wouldn’t change a thing.
“I just want to thank the good Lord for allowi
ng me to be part of this,” Brogle said. “It has truly been beyond my wildest dreams.”
Meanwhile, Brogle’s cousin has been inundated with hundreds of requests to be placed on his “people to call” list the next time he sights a big buck!
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