In recent seasons, Empire State bowhunters have been downing some world-class bucks. Here's a look at some of the biggest of all taken last year. (December 2007)
Richard Gates' 22-point Suffolk County non-typical gross-scored 208 5/8 Boone and Crockett
Any story about a 200-class buck from anywhere in North America will always get hunters' attention -- particularly if the deer's been taken with bow and arrow.
As I read the story and look at the pictures, I can almost put myself in the tree stand with the hunter and visualize the scene unfolding in front of my eyes.
As a die-hard bow-hunter, I can imagine myself in Kansas, Illinois or Iowa, drawing my bow and preparing for that moment of truth. It's the stuff of dreams.
In 2006, millions of bowhunters took to the woods with that same dream in mind.
A select few hunters had the "right stuff" to seal the deal and put an arrow in the boiler room -- while the rest of us will be haunted for the rest of their lives by missed opportunities.
During the 2006 season, only one hunter in the Empire State had the skill and good fortune to make that dream a reality.
He not only downed the biggest buck taken in the state last year, but it was the largest gross-scoring archery buck tagged in anywhere in the Northeast.
THE GATES BUCK
Richard Gates has been hunting deer for many years, primarily in his home state of New York. During his hunting career, he has taken more than his share of deer, including some very good bucks.
In 2002, he took a very impressive 18-pointer in Suffolk County that scored 162 4/8 net non-typical Pope and Young points.
As he entered the 2006, season he could not have known that he was about to improve his personal best by more than 30 inches!
Gates first saw the huge buck from about 100 yards away, during an afternoon tree-stand hunt in late October 2006. That one look was all he needed -- he was hooked!
He hunted for the buck from that day on, but couldn't get another glimpse of him.
He started to think he'd lost his chance. But then on Nov. 17, a close friend saw the buck in one of Gates' hunting areas.
Gates was re-energized and began to plan the next day's hunt.
On Nov. 18th, he had the option of hunting from one of his tree stands, or setting up in a ground blind on the edge of a field.
He chose the ground blind, and that turned out to be the right choice.
At about 3:45 p.m., two does appeared from a nearby thicket. Right behind them was a buck -- the buck.
The deer went off to the east and disappeared. Gates became anxious and thought about moving in that direction, but he stayed put.
Again, a good choice, because 10 minutes later, the big buck was back in the field. Only this time, he was by himself.
Gates knew the deer was looking for a hot doe. So when the buck was about 80 yards away, he uttered a buck grunt and doe bleat -- a deadly combination.
The wind was perfect. The unsuspecting buck picked up his head and looked for the source of the grunt and bleat. After a brief pause, he put his nose to the ground and started closing the distance.
At that point, Gates knew things were about to get very exciting!
When the buck was about 40 yards out, Gates drew his bow and settled into his anchor point.
At 25 yards, the buck turned and presented a perfect broadside shot. Gates uttered a soft mouth grunt, which stopped the deer in its tracks.
With the sight pin holding solid behind the buck's shoulder, he released the arrow.
The shaft passed clean through the deer's chest cavity, and the monarch bolted to the edge of the field.
He stood there, hunched up and shaking his tail wildly -- signs of a possible liver hit. It appeared as if he was going to go down, but he started to walk off slowly.
Confident that he could get another arrow into the buck, Gates took a risk: He got out of the blind and began to stalk the deer.
He cut an angle to where he last saw the wounded giant.
And as he rounded a cluster of trees, the hunter and the hunted came face to face, at less than 10 yards!
The wounded buck was quartering toward Gates, but appeared to be mortally wounded and unable to move. Gates raised his bow and released another arrow.
The wounded buck charged off again, but quickly bedded down.
At that point, Gates knew the best thing to do was to back out. He had made two good hits on the deer, and he knew it wouldn't take long for the buck to bleed out.
Gates returned home to wait.
After he outfitted his daughter and oldest son with flashlights, the trio set out with Gates' uncle to take up the track. With very little drama, the group discovered the deer a short distance away, lying peacefully along the field edge.
Gates was speechless. The buck was gigantic -- bigger than he had thought, and certainly a sight to behold. He knew this was his hunt of a lifetime, one he would never forget.
Though recovering the buck was a great event, his most cherished moment may have been while their group was following the blood trail.
His children had looked up at him and said, "Dad, this is fun!"
It was a truly joyous and emotional time, and a story Gates will never get tired of sharing.
Some time later, Gates hooked up with scorers representing all the major scoring organizations -- the Northeast Big Buck Club, the Pope and Young Club, the Boone and Crockett Club and the New York State Big Buck Club.
The buck was officially panel-scored after the mandatory 60-day drying period.
The outcome was worth the wait!
This great buck's gross B&C score was 208 5/8 non-typical. The buck had 22 scorable points, with a 12-point typical frame and 10 abnormal points totaling 40 4/8 inches.
After asymmetry deductions, the buck tallied a net B&C score of 196 2/8 non-typical.
The inside spread was just over 20 inches, and the main beams totaled 23 2/8 inches on the right and 26 3/8 inches on the left.
No tines were exceedingly long: In fact, none was longer than 8 inches. But the strength of the number of scorable points -- particularly the abnormal growth -- drove the gross score to the 200-inch level.
MORE GREAT BUCKS
Other great bucks have been arrowed in Suffolk County in the last decade. In 2002, according to NBBC records, Mark Butta took a great 15-point non-typical with a gross score of 179 4/8 and a net P&Y score of 170 1/8.
In 1997, Anthony Alesi connected on a 173 2/8 gross, 166 1/8 net 19-point non-typical buck.
And in 2002, of course, Gates took the buck mentioned earlier in this article. So there's certainly great potential for big bow bucks from this densely populated county.
Richard Gates cut an angle to where he last saw the wounded giant. And as he rounded a cluster of trees, the hunter and the hunted came face to face, at less than 10 yards!
Of course, Suffolk County isn't the only place big bucks fell to archers in 2006. In fact, great archery bucks came from nearly every county in this diverse state.
For example, Lewis County hunter James Mastroianni arrowed a mammoth 16-point non-typical on Oct. 26. His buck grossed 179 2/8 and netted 166 6/8 Pope and Young points.
And a few weeks later, he took another huge buck in Schoharie County with a shotgun.
James Mastroianni is an experienced hunter with over 30 years in the woods. His passion is white-tailed deer, and he takes his deer hunting very seriously.
He spends as much time as possible in the woods, getting to know the lay of the land and studying the surroundings.
As is often the case with die-hard deer hunters, he hunts with bow, muzzleloader, shotgun and rifle.
He's promised himself that each buck he takes has to be as big (or bigger) than the previous year's deer.
That's a tall order -- no easy task for any hunter. But Mastroianni hunts very long and hard in some outstanding areas, including in the rugged Adirondack Mountains, down south in the beautiful Catskill Mountain region and in Schoharie Valley.
Surprisingly, he had been blessed to have accomplished that goal every year for 10 straight years. For the past several years, each of his bucks has dressed over 200 pounds; the heaviest was 240 pounds dressed.
In these past 10 years, he has also allowed many big bucks to walk away. It hasn't been easy to let them go by, but he felt compelled to stay true to his pact.
He hunts in the most secluded and isolated properties he can find in the Adirondack Region. One of the special properties he hunts is privately owned, and on it he built a spike camp, 1 1/2 miles off the dirt road.
He stays in the camp for days or even a week at a time before coming out again to "civilization."
In 2006, his pre-scouting before bow season led him to believe that the monster buck he was after -- the same buck he had seen two years before -- was still in the same area.
He was one of the smartest and most clever bucks Mastroianni ever hunted. But after the third season, the hunter finally figured out his routine.
Because Mastroianni plans on staying in the woods all day for days at a time, he has built a permanent tree stand on the property, set up so that his feet will be a minimum of 20 feet above the ground and he'll be above any buck's line of sight when he comes through the thick pines.
On his fifth straight day of hunting, Mastroianni approached his stand before first light and could hear two bucks locking horns in the predawn silence. Those deer sounded as if they were over 100 yards away.
He got to his stand about 6:30 a.m. and, after seeing just three does, around 8 a.m. he heard the faint steps and crunching of leaves.
Mastroianni thought he heard antlers brushing against the thick underbrush and low-hanging pine branches -- a sound he will never forget.
Was this the buck he had been after for the past three seasons?
The deer approached. Mastroianni could see hooves coming through the pines -- then front legs, and a white throat. And then a nose.
Mastroianni's heart started pounding as he saw the buck's antlers moving back and forth through the tangled undergrowth.
The deer was about 40 yards away when he finally came out of the thicket. This was the buck that had eluded Mastroianni for the past three seasons!
Mastroianni came to full draw, but had to hold for nearly a minute and a half through the most intense, heart-pounding buck fever he had ever experienced!
Finally, he released the arrow. Its flight was perfect, a complete pass-through of both lungs.
The monster buck didn't even realize what had happened. Mastroianni could hear him staggering.
Soon after, the buck collapsed about 35 yards away. But Mastroianni waited an agonizing 20 minutes to make sure the buck had expired, then went to find him.
As he knelt beside the monster buck, Mastroianni felt blessed as he counted 17 points. For him, Oct. 26, 2006, was an unforgettable day.
James Mastroianni's heart started pounding as he saw the buck's antlers moving back and forth through the tangled undergrowth. This was the buck that had eluded him for the past three seasons!
Mastroianni brought the buck to Paul Burke of Schenectady, a scorer for the Northeast Big Buck Club.
As a 16-point non-typical, the buck had a final gross P&Y score of 179 2/8 and a net score of 166 6/8.
The rack was incredibly wide, with an inside spread of 24 3/8, but with relatively short main beams at 18 5/8 and 21 3/8.
The great buck had field-dressed at 205 pounds.
WAIT, THERE'S MORE!
Does the story end here?
Mastroianni went one step farther and headed south to get ready for opening day of gun season.
He hunts in a very desolate and secluded area in Schoharie Range. And guess what? He shot another great buck -- a 10-pointer scoring 163 6/8 gross typical, his largest typical buck ever. And this one dressed out at 240 pounds!
How's that for a successful New York season?
What a challenge it will be for Mastroianni to find a typical and non-typical buck as big or bigger than these two!
For sure, it will be difficult to keep true to his personal pact, but he's certainly ready and willing to take that challenge.
OTHER GREAT ARCHERY BUCKS FROM 2006
Lots of other great bucks fell across the state in 2006, such as the big 16-point non-typical taken Oct. 14 by archer Joseph G. Ebel.
This buck, taken in Tompkins County, had a gross P&Y score of 174 1/8 and a net score of 169 3/8.
Some very nice typical bucks were taken as well. Wyoming County produced a 164 7/8 (gross), 154 2/8 (net) 10-pointer for Daniel Nugent. This buck had a 20-inch inside spread.
R. Scott Peck scored in Steuben County with a 163 (gross), 160 5/8 (net) 10-point. This buck had bases well over 5 inches each.
In addition, Brian Doyle arrowed a 161 7/8-inch gross, 152 6/8-inch net 9-pointer in Oneida County.
Doyle's buck dressed out at a whopping 215 pounds.
Looking back, we also see that New York has produced plenty of other great archery trophies in recent years. In 2005, for example, Rex Taft took an absolute monster scoring 203 7/8 gross, netting 198 4/8 B&C points. Taft's buck had 21 scorable points and was taken in Steuben County.
In 2003, a great typical bow buck, scoring 181 3/8 gross as an 11-pointer, fell to Mike Weinerth in Onondaga County.
Based on recent history, we can assume that New York remains one of the most productive archery trophy states in the Northeast. Who knows what great stories we will have for you after the 2007 season?
For more information about the Northeast Big Buck Club -- or to purchase the club's latest record book, Northeast Trophy Whitetails V -- visit the club's Web site at www.bigbuckclub.com, or send an e-mail to email@example.com.