Each autumn a handful of Oklahoma hunters are fortunate enough to bag whitetail bucks that not only score well enough to qualify for listing in the state records, but the national record books as well.
Some hunters just get lucky. We all know the type, like an acquaintance who went deer hunting for the very first time in his life down in McCurtain County a few years back. A few minutes after daylight on opening morning he downed a beautiful, wide-racked 10-pointer that scored well into the 150s.
"I thought you said deer hunting was hard," he said to his hunting companions as he loaded up his trophy buck to drive back to Tulsa.
Other hunters earn their trophies through diligence and patience, watching a trophy buck grow over two or three seasons and studying trail camera photos to find out where their sought-after buck is moving and making rubs and scrapes.
No matter whether it's luck or hard work that leads the hunter to success, it is always a thrill to take a buck with a really impressive rack.
Now and then, a hunter downs one of those "once in a lifetime" bucks that make them the envy of legions of their camo-and-orange-clad fellow deer hunters.
Last fall in Oklahoma, at least three hunters reached that crowning achievement. And two of the bucks came from heavily urbanized counties.
George Moore, from Arcadia, is a certified scorer for the Boone and Crockett Club. He said last fall was an unusually good year for Oklahoma hunters in that he had scored a dozen bucks from the 2016 seasons that qualified for B&C record listings.
ONLY A 6-POINTER
One of last fall's trophies was "only a 6-pointer," according to some. But it was a 6-pointer like no one in Oklahoma, or in most other states, had ever seen before. And it was killed in one of Oklahoma's most urbanized counties.
When Moore saw the hunter approaching at a deer-scoring session last spring, carrying the European mount of his deer, Moore said he thought the hunter was carrying "the head of a dinosaur." That was understandable. The rack looks more like something created for a creature in some sci-fi animation film than it does any normal whitetail antlers.
The hunter was Brad Julian Jr. carrying the rack of the first buck he ever harvested. (He shot a deer with a muzzleloader a few years earlier but, unfortunately, never found the deer.) Julian was hunting during gun season last year near Jones, where he lives, in Eastern Oklahoma County. He took the deer in a thickly wooded area where he has created some food plots with varied plantings to attract deer.
The buck was at first believed to be the biggest and highest-scoring buck with a basic 3x3 frame ever submitted for the Boone and Crockett trophy records listings. Boone and Crockett now says there is one in their records, taken in Illinois in 1991, that scored 242 7/8.
Julian's monstrous non-typical scored a whopping 216 1/8 and had a total of 37 measurable points, 20 on one side and 17 on the other. The basic structure of the rack, though, is a 6-pointer — a fork on each main beam and two big brow tines.
The European mount by itself weighs 12 1/2 pounds. Out of curiosity, I weighed a European mount of an 11-pointer that hangs on my wall. It weighs right at 3 pounds.
Julian, who has been hunting deer on family property for about five years, had seen images of a "crazy-looking" buck on trail cameras from two years earlier. At that time, the buck was hanging out with a good 12-pointer that appeared with him in some of the photos.
When Julian saw the trophy buck with a doe last fall, he wasn't sure it was the same one he had seen in the photo "It is amazing how much bigger the antlers were after just a couple of years," he said. "They had added so much mass."
Julian's monster buck has relatives in the woods, Julian said. Recent trail camera photos show some younger bucks with similar antler structure.
"Who knows? There might be an even bigger one out there right now. Or, if not, maybe in another year or two," he said.
NO. 2 NON-TYPICAL
Hunter Jeff Parker from Moore was bowhunting on Nov. 10 when he bagged a buck that scored 245 5/8. It was a 37-pointer, with 21 points on the left antler and 16 on the right.
Parker's buck trails only one deer on the Wildlife Department's Cy Curtis trophy deer recognition roll for non-typicals. That buck was killed by gun hunter Michael Crossland in 2004 in Tillman County, an 18-pointer that scored 248 6/8.
Parker, a full-time employee of the Oklahoma Army National Guard, took his trophy during that peak-rut period that lies between the close of the muzzleloader season and the opening of the modern firearms season. He was on family-owned land, which he hunts regularly along with his brother-in-law, when he spied four does climb out of a creek bottom and walk through a patch of tall Johnson grass.
He said he would have been pleased just to harvest a doe and put a little venison in the freezer. He was waiting for the does to get closer when he noticed a tremendous buck standing behind the does.
The does slowly inched toward his ladder stand and the buck slowly followed, taking a seeming eternity to get within reasonable shooting range. As the does came nearly under Parker's stand, the buck was about 50 yards away.
Suddenly one of the does "blew" an alarm and the animals prepared to run away. The hunter grunted to try and get the buck to stop, and then let an arrow fly as the deer turned to flee.
"I made a bad shot," said Parker. "It was the first time I made such a bad one. I hit the deer in the hindquarters. It made me sick when I saw where I hit it."
Fortunately, the arrow severed arteries and the deer bled out — but not for many hours. As archery-killed deer often do, the buck bolted and ran a considerable distance before dying. Parker and his brother-in-law hunted from dusk until the wee hours of the morning before finding the buck.
"I've got lots of good hunting gear," Parker said, "including a blood-trail light. But we didn't have any of that stuff with us that night. We used our cellphones as flashlights. My phone eventually died, and we finally found the buck just as my brother-in-law's phone died too."
The deer had covered a lot of ground, but he made it back to the big patch of Johnson grass before expiring, Parker said.
Parker and his brother-in-law have hunted the same property together for several years, he said. He said the area is rapidly being developed — new housing additions, roads, etc., are replacing forests in the area.
"I call this my 'city deer,'" Parker said.
For several years his brother-in-law killed the bucks that appeared to be the local dominant buck, based on study of trail camera photos. He had killed a 150-class buck there just a few days earlier.
But last year was Parker's turn.
He said they have tons of trail camera photos of bucks on and around that property in recent years, but that this buck appeared to be new to the area. It had not previously shown up on their trail cams.
By the time Parker submitted his buck for official scoring, there were already accounts in the news and on social media about an awesome non-typical killed by another bowhunter that some believed would be the new state record non-typical.
SOLDIER SCORES BIG
U.S. Army Sergeant Travis Ocker, a Kansas native living in Lawton in southwest Oklahoma, was bowhunting in a brushy creek bottom during the peak of Oklahoma's whitetail rut last fall on the sprawling post that serves as the Army's artillery headquarters and training center. Ocker lives in Lawton because he is stationed at Fort Sill.
Like several Army posts, Fort Sill actively manages wildlife and hunting. Military personnel and civilian employees of the post can hunt on the 146-square-mile installation where exploding cannon rounds can be heard throughout the year blasting craters in the prairie and echoing off the granite hills of the west artillery range. The post shares a border with the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge where elk and whitetails roam.
The post's western artillery ranges include part of the Wichita Mountains that have relatively sparse vegetation, while its eastern ranges are more densely wooded and resemble Cross Timbers habitat. Ocker said he likes to hunt the west range and that hunters see more does and fewer bucks on the east range.
Hunters are assigned to specific areas of the post when they draw for permits. He said he was able to hunt one area for five days before killing his record-book buck. On the first day, he saw an impressive 10-pointer and concentrated on hunting it for the next four days. On day five, Nov. 12, the 10-pointer he sought came within range of Ocker's portable stand and he took a shot â€¦ and missed.
But as the 10-pointer was skedaddling, and before Ocker could feel much regret over the miss, things changed. As Ocker was about to hang up his bow, he saw an even better buck! He watched for a couple of minutes and said the deer was going away from him, toward what he thought was a bedding area.
Just seeing the monster buck was a thrill Ocker said. It was the kind of deer you usually just see in magazine photos.
Thirty minutes or so later, he got another look as the deer came back toward him and walked right beneath his stand. It was time, as they say in the artillery, to "fire for effect." Ocker did just that and downed a 28-pointer that had 9 points on one side and 19 on the other. It scored a whopping 245 2/8 points!
That score makes it the second-highest-scoring non-typical taken with a bow in Oklahoma, and the third-highest overall. When it was scored last spring, at least for a short time, it was believed that Ocker's buck was the second-highest scoring non-typical and the highest-scoring archery kill. But his deer was eclipsed â€¦ by another archery kill that occurred two days earlier.
Ocker's buck had points broken off. The tip of the right main beam, as well as 3 other points broken. A couple of them are "about as big around as my thumb" at the break-off points, Ocker said. If the missing points were intact, it probably would have scored a few inches higher, possibly making it the state-record non-typical and scoring higher than Parker's buck and the reigning No. 1 buck.
SUBMIT YOUR TROPHY
Hunters who, like the ones mentioned here, take a big-racked deer this season can submit them for recognition by several trophy scoring organizations. For official scoring, the rack must dry for 60 days before a certified scorer can put the tape measure to work.
Instructions for scoring can be found in numerous videos online and trophy scoring forms can be downloaded from wildlifedepartment.com for Oklahoma's Cy Curtis program. Both Boone and Crockett and the Pope and Young clubs, (which keeps records of archery-killed big game animals), also have scoring and submission information on their Web sites.
The Wildlife Department has several qualified scorers and there are individuals like George Moore in Arcadia, who can score racks. Last spring the Wildlife Department launched its "March Rack Madness" event, scheduled late enough to allow trophies to dry after hunting seasons, at which hunters can bring their Oklahoma trophies for official scoring. A Department spokesman said the event will likely be an annual affair.