The biggest and oldest bucks bagged in Michigan each year continue to come from counties without mandatory antler point restrictions. The highest scoring typical and non-typical whitetails entered in state records maintained by Commemorative Bucks of Michigan (CBM) were bagged during firearm season.
Joe Blugerman from Munith shot a 22-point non-typical in perennial big buck producer Jackson County on November 25 that grossed 213 and netted 206 that was 7 1/2 years old. John Hatt from Paw Paw nailed a 12-pointer in Van Buren County, another county with a history of Booners, on the same date. That buck grossed 180 7/8 and netted 171 3/8, and it was also 7 1/2 years old.
Some whopper whitetails were also bagged in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.). Lightly hunted public land in the U.P. produced an impressive 17-point non-typical that grossed 175 and netted 171 4/8 that was at least 4 1/2 years old for Phil Long from Brownstown on November 16 in the Ontonagon County portion of the Ottawa National Forest. I saw photos of an even larger non-typical shot in the western U.P. last fall that was not entered in state records. Here are the stories behind three of Michigan’s best gun kills from 2017.
John Hatt’s typical 12-pointer has an impressive 10-point typical frame and two non-typical points. All of the tines are long on this rack, including the brows. The left brow tine is 7 2/8 inches long, and the one on the right measures 9 4/8 inches. The second and third points on each side range between 9 5/8 and 11 1/8 inches in length.
“He showed up on camera in mid-October during 2016,” Hatt said. “He started showing up in daylight, and I asked my buddy if we could wait a couple of days before going to Kansas. We usually bowhunt in Kansas just before Michigan’s gun season opens.”
Michigan’s archery season is open until the day before gun season starts (November 14). John ended up going to Kansas in 2016 without seeing the Michigan monster while bowhunting.
“When I got back from Kansas during November of 2016, I had a trail camera photo of the big buck after dark on November 15 (opening day of gun season), so I knew he made it through opening day. I didn’t get another photo of him until December 25.
“During 2017, the big buck showed up again in mid-October. They were all nighttime photos. I got back from Kansas on November 19. When I checked my camera, I had a picture of him on the 18th, so I knew he was still alive.
“On Thanksgiving morning, I was hunting another property when I got a text from my wife at 9:30 a.m. The text read, ‘That giant’s out in the bean field with a doe.’”
John actually has two soybean fields on his property. There’s the north and south fields. His wife saw the buck in the south field on Thursday morning.
After John got home later that day, he set up a new stand on the south field to hunt that evening, taking into account the wind conditions at the time. He was hoping the buck was still with the doe and they would return to the same field that evening.
“When every doe showed up that evening,” Hatt commented, “I was on pins and needles, expecting the buck to be behind her, but he never showed up.
“I had to work Friday, so Saturday morning I was torn between hunting the south beanfield where my wife saw the buck or the north beanfield. I decided to hunt the north field, hoping to catch him cruising down the edge of the woods headed towards the south field where I figured he tended to bed.”
John obviously made the right choice. He saw the buck about 8:30 a.m., headed toward the south, as expected. The buck was 120 to 130 yards away when John first saw it. He waited until the deer was about 45 yards away and stopped it with a grunt.
“I didn’t have a shot where he stopped,” Hatt said. “After he took a couple of steps, I stopped him again. When I shot, he mule kicked and took off. I felt good about the shot.”
The buck ran on a neighbor’s property, so John called the neighbor to get permission to go look for the whitetail. Even though the 2 3/4-inch Lightfield 20-gauge slug went through both of the buck’s lungs, the deer went a surprising 180 to 200 yards before dropping. The whitetail went far enough that John was starting to have doubts about his shot placement. He was obviously relieved when they finally found the deer.
The buck’s dressed weight was only 165 pounds, but he had lost weight during the rut.
TOP 3 MICHIGAN TYPICALS
1. Troy Stephens (1997)
Score: 198 CBM
2. Tom Britenfeld (2007)
190 6⁄8 CBM
3. Greg McCuiston (2001)
190 5⁄8 CBM
TOP 3 MICHIGAN NON-TYPICALS
1. Paul Mickey (1976)
238 2⁄8 CBM
2. Albert Solberg (1900)
231 3⁄8 CBM
3. Jon West (1984)
231 1⁄8 CBM
Abundant public land in the U.P. is a real sleeper for trophy bucks as Phil Long proved. After several mild winters, deer numbers have rebounded, but hunter numbers remain the lowest they have been for many years. If it weren’t for a healthy dose of good luck, the whitetail Long shot would have gotten away.
“We’ve been hunting that same spot for many years,” Phil explained. “It was originally my father’s spot. When he passed away, I started hunting there.
“The spot where I shot the buck is a little over 1.5 miles from where we park. We ride our ATVs on the main trail for about a mile, and then we walk the rest of the way. I go in when it’s dark, so I can get there before daylight, and come out after dark. Does are usually active throughout the day, and you can see a buck at any time.”
Phil said he hunts from a ground blind over bait. He put out some corn and Big & J Powder as bait. On opening day of firearms season, Long said he saw a 4-pointer and a spikehorn besides does. He got the big buck about an hour before dark the next day.
“I was hunting with a Marlin lever-action rifle that I hadn’t taken any deer with previously,” Phil said. “It’s a .45-70 mounted with a 2-7X Redfield Revolution Scope. Other lever-action Marlins that I’ve hunted with don’t have safeties. The hammer is the safety on those rifles. Once the hammer is cocked, those rifles are ready to fire.
“The .45-70 has a safety besides the hammer that has to be taken off before the rifle will fire. When the buck came in behind a doe, he caught me by surprise. I cocked the hammer and when I pulled the trigger, there was a ‘click’ and nothing happened. Not realizing what was going on, I cocked the hammer a second time and there was only a click again when I tried to shoot the buck.
“That time the buck walked off. I was sure he was gone. The buck looked like he was headed toward my father-in-law, so I grabbed my phone and texted him, ‘You’ve got a big buck coming your way. I just screwed up.’ But the buck didn’t leave after all. He didn’t want to leave that doe.
“The buck circled me. By the time he came back in view, I knew what I had done wrong the first two times. That time I took the rifle’s safety off besides cocking the hammer. When I pulled the trigger the third time, the rifle went off, and I got the buck.
“I knew the buck had a big rack, but I didn’t take the time to count the points. After I shot him, I thought to myself, ‘Please be a 10-pointer!’”
It proved to be a 10-pointer plus 7. The rack has a typical 12-point frame and five non-typical points, according to CBM. All of the non-typical points either split off of the brow tines or are at the base of the antlers. Those non-typical points total 13 3/8 inches in length.
The whitetail was estimated to be 4 1/2 or 5 1/2 years old and had a dressed weight of 183 pounds. The best buck he killed there prior to last fall was a nice, heavy 8-pointer during the late 1990s.
“My father-in-law got a couple of trail camera photos of the buck during 2016,” Phil said. “When I shot the deer, I had no idea it was one we had a photo of. We didn’t realize it was the same deer until later on.”
Joe Blugerman’s 22-point non-typical is the highest scoring non-typical on record for Jackson County, according to CBM. That spot was previously held by an 18-pointer that Steve Crocker shot during 1989 that scored 201 1/8. Although Jackson has a reputation for growing Booners, most of them have been typicals, including the current state record typical netting 198 that Troy Stephens shot during 1996.
Blugerman had never seen the big non-typical he got late in the day on November 25, either while hunting or in photos from his trail cameras, until he shot it. A neighbor who did have photos of the buck, shared them with Joe after he shot the deer. Joe hunts with bow and arrow as well as firearms. The only high point of his 2017 seasons before the 25th was when he called in a decent 8-pointer while bowhunting on November 8.
The whitetail was going away from Joe when he saw it at a distance of 100 yards. He then put a Can Call into action, and the buck eventually worked its way to within bow range. By the time the deer was in position for a shot, Joe was so excited that he missed.
After firearm season opened, the only bucks Blugerman saw were yearlings. He said he normally passes up small bucks, preferring to take deer that are at least 2 1/2 years old. He has four bucks to his credit that score in the 130s. Two of those were 8-pointers; one was a 9-point, and the final one had 10 points.
On the afternoon of the 25th, Joe decided to hunt from a ladder stand he had taken a couple of bucks from previously. Around 4:45 p.m., while standing on the platform, he decided to look behind him for any sign of movement. After looking in that direction for about a minute without seeing anything, Blugerman turned back to watch the terrain in front of him. To his surprise, there was a deer standing broadside 25 yards away.
“Holy cow, it’s a monster,” Joe thought to himself as the size of the deer’s antlers registered in his brain. “He’s looking right at me. The first thing I did is close my eyes.
“I didn’t want to make eye contact,” he explained. “My gun was hanging in the tree next to me and I didn’t dare move. I would open my eyes every five seconds or so, kind of squinting at him. He would turn his head to look away and then look back at me.
“I didn’t have a chance to study his antlers. I knew he wasn’t a typical. I was telling myself, ‘You can tell how big he is later after he’s dead. Don’t blow it,’” he reminded himself, remembering the 8-pointer during bow season.
The buck eventually started taking a few steps, and when his head was behind a tree, Joe grabbed his scoped 20-gauge single-shot Harrington & Richardson shotgun with a rifled barrel and got ready for a shot. When the buck was angling away at a distance of about 35 yards, Blugerman put a Hornady sabot slug through the buck’s lungs.
The buck died near the far side of a nearby river. Joe called some neighbors for help in retrieving the deer, and they brought chest waders for him to wear. The water proved to be too deep for the waders, however, so Joe ended up stripping to his underwear, swimming to the whitetail and tying a rope to it, so it could be pulled to shore.
Needless to say, Joe was surprised and pleased about the size of the deer’s antlers!