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smokepole
12-08-2008, 06:51 PM
Are big bucks a thing of the past?
'Buck of a lifetime' bagged by hunter
By Matt Crawford



I could tell the buck was a big one by the crowd that had gathered around the tailgate. They don't line up to see a small 4-pointer in the bed of a pickup.

And I could tell Roger Allen was pretty well pleased with himself. The 10-pointer he shot on the final Saturday of Vermont's 2008 rifle season, the deer that inspired the congregation behind his truck was, as he said "the buck of a lifetime."

My first question to Allen: "Vermont deer?"

Indeed it is. Johnson, as a matter of fact.

The rack on Allen's buck -- a corker of a 10-pointer -- measured a very respectable 128 5/8 inches as scored by the International Boone & Crockett Club system. That score was recorded by a measurer of the Vermont Big Game Trophy Club.

In some states, without our hunting pressure, without our winters, without our old, long-standing deer management philosophy that virtually guaranteed only the young bucks would be breed does, a whitetail in the 130-inch class is merely a "good" buck. Here, it is spectacular, or as Allen noted "the buck of a lifetime."

But will it always be that way? Is a 130-inch whitetail buck about the best Vermont can hope for?

Before we attempt to answer that question, consider this: The minimum Boone & Crockett score required to enter the Maine Antler and Skull Trophy Club book used to be a 140 inches. This year, the MAST club is lowering that to 135 inches, and -- for the first time in the club's 29-year history -- is not putting out a trophy yearbook because the number of trophy whitetails taken by hunters in Maine has dropped off significantly.

And, it should be noted, using the scores displayed on the Vermont Big Game Trophy Club's Web site, that of all the Vermont deer ever measured, less than a dozen would be above Maine's 140-inch threshold.

To take that deeper, the minimum score for a whitetail buck to garner a prestigious Boone & Crockett award is 160 for a typical rack, and 185 for a nontypical rack. Vermont has four deer that have made the B&C book -- just two of them shot by the hunters.

(And to be sure, not every huge-racked buck shot in Vermont has been entered into the B&C or the state trophy program.)

In Maine, the demise of trophy bucks is blamed on severe winters and a change in the forested landscape in the northern reaches of the Pine Tree State. Here, we may be seeing a shift to bigger bucks because of a string of milder winters and a significant change in the age structure of the deer population -- a direct result of the "no spikehorn" policy that went into effect in 2005.

(As an aside: It does appear that in part of Vermont, our winter mortality was rather severe, and our deer numbers are down in some of the more rugged, mountain terrain, but certainly not like the huge drop-off being experienced this autumn in Maine.)

But back to the original question: Is a 130-inch whitetail about the best Vermont can hope for.

Curtis Smiley, a game warden in northern Vermont and the director of big game records for Vermont's Trophy Club thinks 130 inches is very near the upper limit for Vermont, but certainly not the max.

"We probably shoot a handful of bucks every year in that 140 class," said Smiley. "I'd like to think there's probably a couple of bucks taken in each county every year that are real close to that."

But the upper-upper limit?

"I'd say a 150 buck only comes along once in a blue moon in Vermont," Smiley said.

Matt Crawford is the former Outdoors editor of the Free Press. He contributes several columns a month. Contact him at mattoutdoors@comcast.net