What may be the biggest whitetail deer ever harvested by a hunter was taken August 25 at the Apple Creek Whitetail Ranch in Gillett, Wisconsin. The 4 1/2-year-old buck was shot by Apple Creek’s owner, Scott Follett, and green scored 547 inches. There is a 60-day drying period required before the buck can get a certified score, but it is looking very much like it will be the next world record.
Two weeks prior to the deer being taken, SCI Master Measurers Herb Atkinson and Chris Emery were at Apple Creek conducting a measuring seminar. After the seminar, they were given a tour of the 1,500-acre operation and spotted the enormous buck. Last year, the buck’s shed antlers had scored 444 inches, and now looked like it would beat the previous record of 492 2/8.
When asked if Apple Creek can grow even bigger bucks, Follett was confident that the 547 score was “pretty easy to beat.” Not only has this record buck passed on its genes, but the ranch also has a yearling buck that already scores 412.
100% of SCI Record Book and World Hunting Award net proceeds go to anti-poaching and conservation efforts worldwide.
Wild sheep are magnificent, bongo are amazing and elephants are awesome. But for 10 million American hunters, “big game” means deer. Exactly which deer depends a lot on where one calls home. In most of the country, deer means whitetail, but in the western Great Plains whitetails and mule deer coexist, and the mule deer is still king in the Rocky Mountain West. Coues whitetails have their own special almost cult-like following in the Southwest, likewise blacktails in the Pacific Northwest.
Whatever brand of deer happens to live in a given area, it’s almost certain to be the most popular quarry among local hunters. Survey after survey has confirmed that the great majority of American hunters pursue their sport within reasonable proximity of their homes. On a percentage basis relatively few travel out of state to hunt, and even fewer travel out of the country. Many of us reading this publication are fortunate to travel to the farthest horizons in pursuit of our hunting dreams, so it’s all too easy to lose sight of the critical importance of both deer and the American deer hunter. The former, numbering more than 25 million in North America, comprises the largest big game population in the world. The latter, the deer hunters, are the largest group of single-minded sportsmen and women in the world. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, in 2011 “firearms and hunting equipment” comprised the largest gross sales in the world of all sporting goods, with 2.9 billion dollars in sales considerably exceeding golf, fishing, camping—and everything else. You can bet that a major share of those sales was to America’s deer hunters!
With numbers like that, one could even say that America’s deer hunters are the hope and salvation of our sport—and certainly they offer the largest pool from which SCI can swell our own numbers. The San Diego Chapter might have had some of that in mind when, on July 18, their monthly meeting was dedicated to a celebration of San Diego County deer hunting. Working with members, local hunters and taxidermists, they located and put on display a genuinely stunning collection of San Diego County bucks, some taken clear back in the 1940s and others just last season.
Honestly, I was amazed. I’ve lived mostly in California since I was first stationed at Camp Pendleton in 1975, and I’ve hunted the Golden State most years since then. California deer hunting is tough, and the deer herds have problems. There’s a lot of human development, including some of the world’s most intensive farming that leaves little room for habitat. Predators are another serious problem. When the mountain lion was protected 30 years ago, California probably had the largest population in the West. Lord knows how many there are now, but they are the leading cause of deer mortality. A well-intentioned and longstanding “two-point” antler restriction has created a strong “genetic spike” trait in many areas.
Put it all together and “trophy bucks,” whatever that means, are scarce and hard-won. But California also has a lot of extremely rugged country and some huge National Forests. The deer situation is also very interesting, with at least four distinct mule deer subspecies and broad overlap areas. The northeast corner, in the high Sierras and along the Nevada border, has Rocky Mountain mule deer. In the northwest the deer are Columbian blacktail, probably the state’s best trophy opportunity. In the southwest corner, below Los Angeles and on into Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, the deer are southern, or Baja blacktailed deer, typically smaller, darker, and stocky of build. This is probably the least known race of mule deer in the United States—unless you happen to live there. Exact boundaries are impossible to determine, but the rest of the state is California, or desert mule deer, smaller and paler than the Rocky Mountain variety.
When we hear “San Diego” most of us are probably thinking of the city, and few outsiders would consider the area hunting country. San Diego County is huge, encompassing serious mountains and fertile valleys. Toward the coast, the deer would be southern mule deer, running into California mule deer to the east. Neither race is large, and the herd has most of California’s management challenges. San Diego deer hunters know all this, and every year some of them, through hard hunting and maybe a wee bit of luck, find magnificent bucks. I’ll be honest; San Diego County is off my beat for deer hunting. Most of my experience is along the Central Coast, where the hunting is probably just as difficult and the deer are smaller. So I was truly stunned by the sight of several dozen really big California bucks all together, both racks and mounted heads. All were at least 20 inches wide, which is a big buck in California, and several were deer that would be taken without hesitation in any part of the Rockies.
Despite everything you might hear or believe, make no mistake: There are still a lot of serious deer hunters in California, with our many California chapters representing just a small number of them. For the San Diego Chapter I think it was an extremely clever idea to bring some of these hunters out of the woodwork. It was the largest monthly meeting in quite some time, and a show of hands revealed several dozen non-members, deer hunters who came to display their own trophies and admire those taken by others.
Some came as guests and will become new members, but, and this is important, all gained a new appreciation for Safari Club International. We know we’re “first for hunters”—all hunters—and I love the name. But whether we truly appreciate the importance and the power of the American deer hunter, we also tend to forget that even today, nearly 40 years after our founding, that word “safari” remains intimidating to a fair number of the many hunters who pursue their sport close to home. At least until they get to know us…and after celebrating great bucks taken under some of North America’s most difficult conditions, I’m pretty sure we all parted as friends and fellow hunters.—Craig Boddington
Zeiss recently added to its popular Conquest HD binocular line with the addition of 8×32 and 10×32 models. Light weight and durability in a compact package are the kind of features hunters look for in binoculars and this line reportedly has both. The new models feature the same German-made quality and advanced HD lens system found in the 42 mm Conquest HD models, giving the 32 mm Conquest HD binoculars exceptional performance for the money. Incorporating high-performance HD optical technology, colors are neutral and clear while the ZEISS T* multi-coatings and dielectric prism coatings ensure light transmission of 90%. Zeiss’ LotuTec protective coating also helps guarantee a clear, vivid image in any weather. With LotuTec if a lens gets wet or dirty, the water rolls right off and dirt wipes away with ease.
“The Conquest HD 32 mm binoculars are ideal for bowhunting and any other type of hunting where reduced size and weight are more important than the improved low-light performance you could get with larger objective lenses,” said Mike Jensen, President of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. “These are also fabulous all-purpose binoculars for travel, sporting events and general nature observation given their size and weight. We’re thrilled to be able to offer our customers such exceptional quality at this price point.”
These compact, entry-level premium binoculars feature a sleek, ergonomic design and a rugged, lightweight magnesium body that is water- and fog-proof. The easy handling, extra large field of view and extremely close focus of 4.9 feet make using these binoculars an enjoyable and impressive experience. The Conquest HD binoculars also have adjustable twist eyecups ensuring easy viewing with or without glasses.
Each Conquest HD binocular comes with eyepiece and objective lens covers, a neoprene carrying strap, rugged Cordura case, and is protected by Carl Zeiss’ limited lifetime transferable warranty and the ZEISS No-Fault Policy. The new Conquest HD 32 mm binoculars will be available this fall.
The past few months have seen a rash of deaths and serious injuries among African professional hunters. At least two have been killed by Cape buffalo, one young PH had his arm shot off by a client, and another client shot himself in the foot with an elephant gun.
This is not an anomaly. The incidence of serious injuries resulting from clients’ lack of skill, especially with big rifles, appears to be rising. This is ironic, when you consider that you now find an instruction academy around every corner, offering courses lasting from a day to a week, teaching the use of “safari” rifles.
Don Heath, a Zimbabwe professional hunter and now a consultant to Norma ammunition, has suggested a number of reasons. One is that, with safari prices at a relatively all-time low, more inexperienced hunters are buying big rifles and heading for Africa.
Instructors at shooting academies tell me that too many students arrive with rifles they have never shot before, and some with rifles they have not even taken out of the box. In one case, this occurred exactly one week before the student was catching a plane for Africa. The client, a very busy man, decided it was more cost-effective to schedule everything as one trip, in order to minimize time away from the office.
There is absolutely no way on earth that you can learn to shoot a big rifle, and become familiar with every aspect of its use, in three or four days. Sessions at a shooting academy should be viewed either as merely a beginning, to be followed by a long period of practice at home, using what you’ve learned, or as a refresher.
The idea that, with a few days’ instruction and practice, you can go from being a complete novice with a rifle to being expert enough to hunt dangerous game for real is absurd. You wouldn’t go to a Walter-Mitty racecar academy for three days and then expect to enter the Indianapolis 500, but that is what hunters now seem to be doing.
Dr. Heath does not agree with me, but I have a suspicion some of the blame lies with professional hunters themselves, especially those just starting out.
Graduates from the old school were accustomed to clients coming out who were long on money and short on experience, and they learned to watch their clients almost as closely as a wounded lion, realizing that in some cases a client with a rifle was the more dangerous of the two. Hunters like Tony Henley and Lionel Palmer would not tolerate poor gun handling, and said so. The clients may not have liked it, but they either changed their ways or went home.
Today, a young hunter may be intimidated by a wealthy client who is twice his age, and be reluctant to say anything, fearing it will cost him his tip. Many successful men are used to people taking orders from them, not the reverse, and it doesn’t sit well. Or, the PH may be the kind of cowboy who comes close to getting either himself or a client killed before he learns some discretion. Either way, it sets up a dangerous situation.
In the end, though, it always comes back to one thing: The client’s incompetence with his rifle.
The only way to get to know a rifle well is to handle it a lot and shoot it regularly. Heavy-recoiling rifles can only be taken in small doses–six to 12 full-power shots at a session, usually–and so to get in any meaningful amount of practice requires many such sessions, spread over as many months as you can manage. As well, you should burn up a rail-car load of low-power practice ammunition.
In an age when we expect instant results from everything, hunting dangerous game with a heavy rifle is one area where it just doesn’t happen. The recent news from Zimbabwe and Tanzania is proof.—Terry Wieland