In 2017, Oklahoma deer hunters dropped close to 40 bucks that grossed over 200 inches. That’s a big gulp of rarified air for one state to suck up in a season, and it’s tough to pick just three stories out of the bunch to highlight what this state is capable of producing.
Every hunter at a corner café has a theory about how this came to be, but a good guess relates to conditions in recent years. Drought sapped every living thing in Oklahoma for several years, but when the drought broke in 2013, it ushered in successive damp years and mild winters.
Deer harvest declined with thick brush and tall grass that stayed green well into the fall — heck winter — in recent seasons. Growing bucks had all the food they needed and didn’t have to go far to find it. They grew older and they grew bigger.
Hunters who observed them grow on their trail cameras waited and watched for that buck to walk out of the trail camera lineup and spring to life in the field, and in range.
THE HUGHES-FLETCHER BUCK
Oklahoma’s biggest buck was recovered but likely won’t be remembered.
The antlers of what would have been Oklahoma’s new top buck are property of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. A mount was made, and it’s displayed, among others, in the Operation Game Thief trailer, a public education display used at events.
To be clear, the story of this buck has no connection to criminal activity. The buck was recovered after it perished, literally hung up in a barbed-wire fence. While the Game Thief trailer includes trophies seized in wildlife crime investigations, it also contains mounts that simply serve as examples of the big bucks Oklahoma can grow.
In fact, the men who recovered the buck on the edge of their LeFlore County hunting property, Josh Hughes and Drake Fletcher, were lauded for coming forward with the antlers of the buck they had nicknamed “Goliath.”
The mount in the game trailer is not labeled, and now it’s clear Oklahoma’s biggest buck won’t be listed in the record books either.
“To be honest it’s all kind of been downhill since it was scored,” Hughes said. “I tried to turn it in to Boone and Crockett, but they said they couldn’t accept it because I don’t have possession of the deer. Then the Wildlife Department said they won’t turn it in. I can’t find any way around it, so I guess it just won’t be remembered.”
Wildlife Department enforcement officials say huge bucks aren’t turned over to finders so that others won’t be tempted to poach bucks and later say they found them. Wildlife Department spokesman Micah Holmes said the department can’t hold a record.
“I know they got it officially scored, and it’s a certified score, which is neat to have, but whether it gets into the record book is up to Boone and Crockett,” he said. “We don’t turn in measurements for that sort of thing. We don’t hold records as a department.”
The buck was found after the farmer on the neighboring property mentioned in casual conversation to Hughes that a buck was hanging over a creek near their hunting tract. He said it had been hanging there for months.
The farmer had no interest in deer antlers large or small. Hughes had been wondering where the big buck had gone.
“I had pictures on my phone of a big 10-point, and I asked him if it was as big as that one was, and he said, ‘No, it’s bigger than that.’ I thought, ‘Uh-oh,’” Hughes said.
Instead of hunting the buck they watched grow over four seasons, Fletcher and Hughes found the 6 1/2-year-old non-typical as little more than a rotting hide, head and a spine suspended over the creek.
The buck ultimately measured 257 5/8 inches gross and 250 inches net — the biggest of all time for the Sooner State. It would have been the biggest grossing non-typical of 2017 nationwide. It had 21 points on the right, 26 points on the left and an inside spread of 20 2/8 inches. Oklahoma’s current top non-typical in Boone and Crockett was taken in 1970 and measured 247 2/8. The state’s Cy Curtis program lists one larger at 248 6/8 taken in 2004.
The story of Goliath might not end there, however.
“Last season we had a two-year-old on camera that looks identical to him at the same age,” Hughes said. “He’s like a carbon copy, so I’m pretty excited to see what happens with him. He’s two or three years away from that prime age, but he has the genetics. It’s just a matter of whether he’ll have the conditions to grow.”
The second buck in this lineup is a second with the name “Goliath.”
The heavy, wide rack on this Logan County monster came oh so close to being Oklahoma’s number one. It just came up a little short on one side.
Steven Everett of Edmond named the buck “Goliath” when he first saw trail cam shots of the buck that roamed the county north of Oklahoma City three years prior to his successful hunt. Everett offers no hints he’s upset the buck fell short of that number one mark, however.
“It’s what could have been,” he said.
He would emphasize that’s said with no regrets and that he thanks God for his good fortune in taking the buck of a lifetime and that he was able to share the moment with the man who taught him how to hunt, his father Johnnie Everett.
“Especially since I got to share it with my Dad,” he said. “He was hunting at another spot that night, so we were both there.”
The antlers have 28 scoreable points and a 26 7/8-inch inside spread. It grossed a straight up 255 inches, and the net of 245 7/8 made it the second place all time Boone and Crockett buck for Oklahoma.
It scored just 2/8 larger than the buck Jeff Parker took one year earlier in Cleveland County and falls just 1 3/8 inches shy of the Johnson County buck taken by Bill Foster that has stood up as the top Boone and Crockett Oklahoma non-typical since the ’70s.
“He broke about 3 inches off that one main beam, too,” Everett said.
It’s No. 2 in Oklahoma’s Cy Curtis records as well, behind Michael Crossland’s 248 6/8-inch Tillman County buck taken in 2004. Crossland’s buck is not listed in Boone and Crockett, and Foster’s buck is not listed in the Cy Curtis roster.
Everett believes the buck was even larger the prior season, but “Goliath” wasn’t going to go down easily. Everett pursued the buck with all he had, but he just couldn’t connect.
“I have photos from (2016); he was bigger overall, and his G2s were a lot taller,” Everett said. “He just never came out during daylight hours.”
The nocturnal roamer frequented the hunter’s dreams as well.
“I had missed this deer two years ago with my bow at 60 yards, and it haunted me every day after,” Everett said. That arrow slid just under the buck.
Everett was as prepared as ever for the 2017 season. He was determined to succeed, and he had learned a lot about this buck. The bow hunter in him wanted some redemption.
“I really wanted to take him with my bow,” he said.
He almost had his chance one October evening, but pure bad luck intervened.
“He was at about 70 yards. There was plenty of daylight left, and then about 15 hogs came in and ran him off. I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
When rifle season opened, the hunter knew he needed to use every opportunity he could, and he set up with his rifle in a hard-sided blind on his property that overlooked some of “Goliath’s” usual territory.
November 18 was a relatively warm, sunny and windy day with a high temperature in the upper 60s, but the rut was in full swing. When the opportunity came along that evening, he didn’t hesitate.
“I was hunting out of a Redneck blind when he came chasing a doe into an open area I was hunting,” he said. “I shot him with my 7mm magnum Browning X-Bolt within 15 seconds of seeing him, so the shakes would not set in.”
One of the best things John McCollum has done to improve, as a deer hunter, is to hunt with his kids. Another good thing he did is to miss a couple shots at a nice buck that matured into an incredible buck.
“I’ve got two girls and a boy, and between the four of us, we have about 21 mounts,” he said. “They’ve killed some good 150-, 160-inch bucks, but I had to work on the skills to get deer under us for a good shot and, hunting with kids, you know, you help them concentrate and wait until he turns for the right shot and to take a deep breath. I really think that is what helped me kill this deer.”
Had it not been his son’s 11th birthday, and had he not had a cousin over that weekend before Halloween, the boy might have been the one to take the buck McCollum named “Megatron” three years earlier.
Hunters apparently agree that the Coal County muzzleloader buck was the best-looking buck of Oklahoma’s 2017-18 season. His wife agrees, too.
“Megatron is the only mount she let me hang in the front room,” he said.
The hunter who bought a new muzzleloader to take the buck won a second new muzzleloader at the annual big buck contest during the Backwoods Hunting and Fishing Expo in Oklahoma City when “Megatron” was voted best of show.
With a gross score of 206 inches, tall points and 40 inches in mass measurements on sweeping 26 1/2-inch main beams that curl around to nearly touch in the front, this buck has the idyllic features to make a hunter shake in his boots.
McCollum could have put the buck in the record books as a non-typical net 193, but he did it right and set the notch on the net 172 3/8 typical for higher standing overall in the Boone and Crockett book. For Oklahoma, it’s the No. 29 all-time typical.
McCollum watched this buck for four years as it crossed in front of the 10 trail cameras he has on his 500-acre hunting property, but only in the winter months. In summer, he lived on the other side of a county road.
“The one thing I don’t have of him is a picture in velvet,” he said.
The first year on camera, the buck was a nice eight-pointer with above average mass. The next year he turned up as a nine pointer. “That’s when I gave him the name ‘Megatron’ as a four-and-a-half-year-old,” McCollum said. “That year I missed him twice with my bow.”
The third year, “Megatron” frequented the camera circuit but only came close to offering a shot on one occasion. The buck was at about 50 yards but concealed by tall grass; then a car coming down a nearby county road foiled the approach.
“All I could see of him was from the chin up,” he said.
Word of “Megatron” and his proximity to that road spread. “I knew come muzzleloader season everyone would be out there after him, so I went and bought a muzzleloader,” he said.
A pair of does lured “Megatron” to cross that county road for the last time, and McCollum was ready, but shaky.
“I had my crosshairs on him, and they were bouncing all around,” he said. “I just had to tell myself to remember to take a deep breath.”
“He is a buck of a lifetime,” he said. “As long as my kids will let me go and sit with them to hunt, I don’t have to kill another one.”