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Three Michigan Crossbow Bucks

Three Michigan Crossbow Bucks
Butch Kulikowski, left, and Steve Campbell compare their state record non-typical crossbow racks at the Deer Expo in Lansing.

Anyone who claims that Michigan doesn't produce many big bucks or that mandatory antler point restrictions are necessary to produce older age-class bucks, simply is not paying attention.

By Richard P. Smith

No less than three monster bucks with state-record caliber racks were bagged with crossbows in our state last fall. Each of those sets of antlers are large enough to qualify for listing in the prestigious Boone and Crockett club and none of them came from counties where MAPR are in effect.

Crossbow Bucks
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

When crossbows were first legalized for general use during archery deer seasons in 2009, new state-record marks for both typical and non-typical whitetails were expected, and it didn't take long for those record breakers to start rolling in. Crossbow records have changed hands multiple times since then. Amazingly, that trend continued through the eighth year. Those record marks have now reached such high levels that they may be in effect for a number of years before they change again.

The new state record typical crossbow kill, for example, is an impressive Allegan County 10-pointer that rural Allegan County resident Trent Smith nailed on Oct. 22, 2016. The huge antlers have a gross score of 177 7/8 and net 175 2/8. The previous state record typical crossbow buck had only been taken the year before. It was another 10-pointer from Wayne County that netted 170 even.

And the state record mark among non-typical crossbow kills really took a jump during 2016. Two non-typicals of state-record proportions were arrowed in the same county and they were both bagged during December. The county is Livingston. On Dec. 11, Steven Campbell from Clinton Township connected on a 16-pointer that grossed 197 5/8 and netted 189 7/8.

The Campbell Buck beat a record that had been in place for a whole two years. The previous state record non-typical crossbow buck was downed by John Tolfree from Milan on Dec. 23, 2014, in Washtenaw County. That 20-pointer netted 186 3/8.

The second state record non-typical known taken in Livingston County with a crossbow during 2016 is going to be tough to unseat. That 18-pointer was dropped by Chester "Butch" Kulikowski from Brighton on the evening of Dec. 20. That narrow, long-tined rack grossed 222 5/8 and netted 213 3/8.

All potential state record racks have to be panel measured by a group of three Commemorative Bucks of Michigan scorers to determine the official score. The person who originally measured the antlers is normally a member of the panel. All members of the panel have to agree on each measurement. The final score may or may not change from the original measurement.

Both non-typical crossbow kills of state record proportions were panel measured at the Deer & Turkey Expo in Lansing on February 18 and 19. The Campbell Buck was measured on the 18th and was labeled as a new state record soon afterward. After the Kulikowski Buck showed up on the 19th and was panel measured, it obviously took over the top spot among non-typical crossbow bucks, dropping the Campbell Buck to No. 2.

"My buck was No. 1 for about 15 hours," Campbell later commented, "but that's good enough for me. The buck I shot is a spectacular deer whether it's No.1 or No. 10. It doesn't matter to me."

Steve's hunt for the trophy 16-pointer he eventually got started during October 2016 when some friends told him about a big buck that crossed a road in front of their vehicle. Campbell scouted the area where the whitetail had been seen and found some huge rubs and then set up trail cameras to find out what the deer looked like. After seeing photos of the deer, he decided to try and get it. He made up his mind to concentrate on getting the big one or nothing.

Crossbow Bucks 1
Butch Kulikowski, left, and Steve Campbell compare their state record non-typical crossbow racks at the Deer Expo in Lansing.

Campbell set up two stands to hunt the deer from, using corn as bait to try to lure it into position for a bowshot. Cold, snowy weather during December made the bait more attractive to local deer. But most of the buck activity was nocturnal.

"Almost every time we got pictures of the big buck, he was with at least one of the other bucks in the area," Campbell said. "At various times, he was with a 12-, 10-, 9- and a couple of 8-pointers. Most of the photos we got of them were after dark though.

"The first photo I got of the big buck during daylight was on opening day of muzzleloader season, which I think was Dec. 3. He showed up at 4:30 p.m. that day, but I wasn't hunting. My wife convinced me to stay home."

Steve loaned his muzzleloader to a friend to use because the friend damaged the frontloader he owned when slipping and falling on ice. That's why Campbell was hunting the big buck with his Parker Enforcer Crossbow. A snowstorm blew in on Dec. 11. Steve's brother Scott was hunting with him that evening from the second stand. The 10-pointer the bigger buck had been hanging around with showed up first.

"I had buck fever when I saw the 10-point," Campbell commented, "because I knew the buck I wanted had to be nearby. I settled down by the time the big one came in 5 to 10 minutes later."

Steve was calm when he made a 15-yard shot on the 16-pointer with a 2-blade Rage Broadhead. The buck only went 60 yards. Campbell's buck was scored as an 11-point typical, with 5 non-typical points totaling 14 inches in length. The inside spread was 18 3/8 inches. The G-2 and G-3 tines on both sides were more than 10 inches. Both antler bases were at least 4 4/8 inches in circumference.

Steve talked to another hunter who was after the same buck. He got a bowshot at the whitetail during the 2014 season, but missed. He gave Steve a trail camera photo of the buck from that year to show what it looked like then. The whitetail appears to have had 12 points then. Steve suspects the buck was 5 1/2 or 6 1/2 years old when he killed it.

Butch Kulikowski had been hunting the 18-pointer he got on Dec. 20 for two years. He got trail camera photos of it during December of 2015 and then it disappeared. When he started getting more photos of it on Nov. 30, 2016, he was impressed with how much larger its antlers were and he started hunting hard for it with his Tenpoint Titan Extreme Crossbow from an Ameristep Doghouse Ground Blind.

Kulikowski used a Sportsman's Block for bait, which contains corn, molasses and other ingredients. He first saw the buck on the evening of Dec. 8 at 50 yards.

"He was there one minute and he heard something he didn't like and he was gone," Butch said. "I had taken the safety off on the crossbow to prepare for a shot and I know he didn't hear that, but something spooked him."

Crossbow Bucks 2
Trent Smith with the new state record typical crossbow buck from Allegan County, which nets 175 2/8.

Uncomfortable with the distance of the potential shot on Dec. 8, Butch bought an Ameristep Brickhouse Blind and set that up 30 yards from his bait a day or two later. He was in that blind on the Dec. 20 when the big buck appeared about 5 p.m. Kulikowski was concerned that the wind direction was wrong that evening. He had seen some does, but none of the young bucks that he normally had been seeing.

Consequently, Butch was thinking about leaving the blind when no deer were around. It's a good thing he didn't.

"All of a sudden, there he was, just like a ghost. He had his front leg back, blocking a clear shot to his vitals, so I waited for him to take a step forward with that leg. Then he started backing up. I thought he might have smelled me. When he moved that front leg, I took my shot."

Butch heard a loud crack when his G5 Hovoc Broadhead hit the deer and he was concerned about hitting the shoulder blade. As it turned out, the sound was from the head hitting a rib. The Kulikowski Buck was measured as a 12-point typical with 6 non-typical points totaling 28 1/8 inches in length. The inside spread of the rack was only 15 6/8 inches, but exceptional tine length of G-2 and G-3 tines really added to the score. Both G-2s were at least 13 4/8 inches long.

Unlike the pair of record non-typical crossbow kills, trail cameras did not play a role in the taking of the state record typical crossbow buck. Trent Smith said he doesn't use trail cameras in his deer hunting, but he had seen the big buck he managed to tag last fall during each of the two previous years. Every one of those times it was too far away for a shot.

"I saw what I think is the same buck that I eventually got on opening day of the 2014 gun season," Trent commented. "He was 160 yards away, running away from me. I also saw him on opening day of the 2015 gun season and the last day. He was always 150 yards or farther. Before the 2015 gun season, I saw him run across a field.

"I knew he was in the area, but there are a lot of good hiding spots around here," he concluded.

Smith said he used to hunt deer with a compound bow, but he eventually had to quit due to problems with his shoulders. It got to the point that it was too painful to try to pull the string of his compound back. He had dropped out of bowhunting for about seven years when crossbows were legalized for deer hunting during archery season in 2009.

Legalization of crossbows permitted Smith to get back into bowhunting. He bought a Parker Tornado crossbow and had taken a number of deer with it before last fall. The biggest buck he had taken with a crossbow before last fall was an 8-pointer.

Smith was hunting from a tree stand on an island of high ground that was mostly surrounded by thick cover when he got the record buck. He had seen a lot of buck sign in the area. Smith saw the 10-pointer about 8 a.m. on Oct. 22 approximately 80 yards away. The whitetail was headed for the swamp around the island of high ground.

"He came back out of the swamp about 20 minutes later and came toward me," Smith said. "When he was 30 yards away, I shot him, and he didn't go too far."

Trent killed the buck with a 3-blade, fixed-blade broadhead called a Black Out that he said is recommended for use with Parker Crossbows. The Allegan County buck had a dressed weight of 230 pounds and was aged at 5 1/2 years. Smith wasn't hunting over bait. He was relying on natural movement of deer through the area.

The wide rack grown by the record buck has a 19-inch inside spread and both beams are more than 26 inches long. The second tines on both sides are the longest, measuring 12 2/8 inches on the right and 11 6/8 on the left. Bases of the antlers are 5 inches in circumference.

There were only 2 5/8 inches of deductions for symmetry. The biggest differences were in tine lengths. The length of the third tine on the right side was 9 2/8 inches, for example, compared to 10 4/8 inches on the left, for a difference of 1 2/8 inches.

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