Imagine you’re on stand late one fall afternoon. Suddenly before you appears the most magnificent buck you’ve ever seen. It happens more quickly than it takes to tell it, thankfully so, because you don’t have time to develop “buck fever” before you aim and the huge animal drops.
By the time you reach down and touch the buck, you’re aware it’s very special indeed. You are excited, but still manage to remember to tag him immediately. Realizing he’s too large for you to drag alone, you head out of the bush and flag down some help. Just as you reach your truck, a vehicle drives down the road. Two hunters stop, and you ask them for help.
A good bit later, as the sun sets, you close the tailgate of your truck. The buck is safe and sound, so for the next hour you relive the hunt with your new friends, explaining in detail how you took the buck with one shot. Happy to vicariously hunt the buck with you, the two hunters congratulate you over and over. Eventually, they part company. You wish them good luck as they drive away, but as their tail lights disappear, you remember you never did ask their names.
During the hour drive home, you try your best to recall what it was you read about measuring antlers. By the time you back your truck into your garage, it’s getting late, but you feel you have to call someone.
You call a friend who says he’ll be right over, but since it’s poker night he asks to bring the guys along, too. Of course, the more the merrier.
By the time the guys show up it’s near midnight. During the course of the celebration, one of the guys says he knows how to measure your buck for the record book. With bated breath you await the verdict. When it comes you’re disappointed. The fellow, puffed out with importance, explains that while it is a big buck, it doesn’t quite make “the book.”
“Oh well” you reason, “it’s still big enough to have mounted.” But then the guys talk you out of it. It costs a fortune they tell you. Better to just have the antlers mounted on a plaque.
So the next morning you cut off the antlers and take the carcass to the meat processor. When you go to pick up the meat a week later, you ask for the hide back. The kid at the counter points to a pile in the corner and says to take whichever one you want or leave it for a donation to the local habitat project. On the same trip you drop the antlers by the taxidermist.
Granted, you might do things differently. Maybe you’d measure the buck yourself or decide to mount the deer in spite of your buddies’ advice, but for the most part the sequence is typical. So what happens when you take the rack to the taxidermist?
First, he says you might have killed a new world record buck, and then he calls some other hunters to come over with their cameras to confirm it. They do, and within 24 hours the story is in a local paper. You were never interviewed for the article.
Within a day your phone begins to ring—outdoor writers and antler buyers. They want the story and the antlers. “Will you give an exclusive? Will you sign a contract? Will you sell the antlers?”
The story appears nationally the next day. Funny thing is, you still haven’t given an interview.
The telephone calls increase in frequency and insistence. “How about a television show? Will you endorse this? How about that? Can we use the buck for a sport show? Have you had it scored officially yet?”
You’re overwhelmed. You sign a contract taking what seems like a fair offer—free taxidermy work in exchange for an interview. Then the strange calls begin. The first accuses you of being a poaching publicity hound. A day later a story appears in the local paper saying you’re being investigated. It’s the first you heard of it. Then the poaching story runs nationally.
A lawyer calls. You’re being sued for misrepresenting yourself in endorsing a product. You explain you never endorsed a product … as far as you know. He says, “Get a lawyer.”
When you hang up, your doorbell rings. It’s the game warden with police and reporters. The questions fly. “Did you kill your buck at night? We have affidavits from some poker players that say you arrived home with your buck around midnight.”
“Not true! I mean, true!” You try to explain that yes, you came home late, but you killed the buck during the day.
“Do you have witnesses who saw you take the deer or drag it out of the woods?”
“Yes! No!” You explain about the nameless hunters who helped you drag out your buck.
“Do you have pictures to verify your story?” Did you have permission to hunt on the land?”
“It was public land,” you protest.
“Can you prove it? Was your buck killed out of season? Let’s see the cape!”
You try to explain about the pile of hides. They confiscate your antlers from the taxidermy shop.
That night you sit in front of your television watching the sharks feed on your formally snow-white reputation. Your father phones to disown you. Your girlfriend calls to say it’s over. Your dog won’t let you touch him.
Now this scenario might seem far-fetched, but it isn’t as exaggerated as you might believe. Ed Koberstein, a hunter who harvested a potential new world record whitetail in 1991, will tell you that shooting such a buck is more trouble than it’s worth.
In Ed’s case, the question of poaching came up as an ugly rumor and was dutifully checked out and dismissed by local conservation officers. What’s more, one of the very first stories in writing about the buck was printed without Ed’s consent.
Another twist to Ed’s story had to do with one of the hunters with Ed that day. It seems he took photos of Ed and his buck, but wouldn’t let Ed have any of the photos to use in the many magazine articles being written about the buck.
Even after countering all the allegations, Ed ended up with more problems. His buck was officially scored by experienced Boone and Crockett scorer Randy Bean. However, shortly after the buck was scored, Ed received a letter from B&C saying the buck would have to be rescored by a panel chaired by an official scorer of their choosing. The matter remains unresolved.
Let’s return to your stand that beautiful fall evening when that magnificent buck walked up. Shoot him like you did and then tag him, but this time when you walk up to him and realize he’s special, forget celebrating, forget excitement, forget every natural human reaction. Think of one thing: Documentation!
Somehow you absolutely have to document the event. Not only the fact that it happened, but the exact time and the exact place. For this you must have a camera. You need a camera; if you don’t have one, get one! Buy it from the farmer down the road if need be, but get a camera!
Start snapping photos of the buck. Always have at least two rolls of film for insurance. Take a bunch of shots of the buck, including several close-ups of its face to show its eyes are not sunken. If possible, try to include something in the photos which will prove the date. Anything will help, but if you had the day’s newspaper in the truck, get it and include it in the close-ups. Take a couple of photos from a distance to show the location. Be sure the animal can be seen in the photo.
Go back to your truck, and this time when the two hunters drive up, ask them if they’ll take a photo of you with the buck. Remember, those two hunters are your best defense against accusations of hunting illegally. They will know your buck was freshly killed, they will know where it was killed, they will know when it was killed and they will know that circumstances dictate you were the one who killed the buck.
Get them to take pictures of you with the buck, lots of pictures. There’s no such thing as too many. Get them to take photos from every angle. Keep the background uncluttered. Get one of the hunters to take a couple of pictures of you and the other hunter with the buck. The situation gets sticky if one of your helpers pulls out his own camera. The last thing you need are unauthorized stories. Suggest to the fellow that you need even more pictures and offer to buy his film. If he won’t sell it to you, make sure you are in every picture he takes of the buck. Legally, he cannot sell photos of you if you haven’t given him permission.
After the photo session, it’s time to take the buck back to your vehicle. Once you’re back at your truck, get the hunters to give you their names, addresses and phone numbers. Also, get them to sign a statement of fact. Any paper, even the back of your cartridge box, will do. Write down the particulars of the hunt like time, location, date and how many points you believe are on the rack. Mention that the buck was freshly killed.
When the hunters leave, they might think you’re paranoid, but you’ll have answers for the conservation officers when they come a’ knocking.
By now it will be dark, but you still have to show the buck to a few more people. Drive it to the nearest farm and show the farmer. Get his name and number and have him sign a paper saying you showed up at his house at such and such time.
Now take the buck directly to the nearest police station or, even better, to a conservation officer. Even if you have to go right to the man’s house, do it. He might complain, but that’ll stop when he lays eyes on your buck.
Make sure whoever sees the buck looks closely and notes it has been dead for several hours. This is to discredit accusations of night hunting. Have the officer check your license and tag to confirm all is in order. Have him sign a paper saying he did.
Don’t do any more that night. Don’t call your friends for a party. Instead, keep the deer in a cool place to keep the meat from spoiling.
First thing in the morning call a professional photographer and be prepared to pay. Unfortunately, the person who snaps the pictures owns the copyright. In your case, it’s imperative the photographer knows you get the rolls of slide film as they come out of the camera. Tell him the only way you’ll hire him is if he’ll sign a paper giving you all rights.
For these photos, the background must be uncluttered and wilderness looking. Drive the buck to where the background is suitably wild. Skyline the antlers or have them displayed against snow. Remember, brushy backgrounds are out. Take at least ten 36-exposure rolls. Have the photographer bracket the exposures; don’t worry, he’ll know what that means.
Only after you’ve posed for so many pictures that you face hurts from smiling can you call it quits. Take your buck home and skin it out, taking care to keep the hide intact and attached to the head and antlers. Make room in your freezer for the head and hide.
Now it’s time to go underground. If you want to tell your friends and family, do so, but no interviews and no pictures.
Now you need the advice of the powers that be. Contact B&C headquarters and ask what they suggest (B&C, Dept. NAH, 250 Station Dr., Missoula, MT 59801 or call ((406) 542-1888). They’ll be able to recommend an official scorer, and will arrange for you to receive a “how-to” guide about scoring. If after receiving your B&C scoring directions and green scoring your buck, you find the antlers are going to score as high as you thought, make arrangements for an official scoring of the rack. The buck can’t be officially scored until 60 days after it was taken. You’ll need the time to decide what you want to happen in your life for the next year.
Do you want to quit your job and do guest appearances at every outdoor show from coast to coast? Do you want your face plastered beside this and that hunting product? Do you want to capitalize on your good fortune? There are those who believe the hunter who shoots the new world record whitetail will have the opportunity to parlay his luck into a million dollars.
Maybe, but more likely not. The “who’s who” in hunting will be unreceptive if you come across as a gold digger. Remember, it’s a small fraternity and one that frowns on the exploitation of a game animal for personal gain. Hunting’s not about money and never will be. Perhaps you should think about the young hunters who you can reach because of your accomplishment. We could use a hero in the hunting world. Why not you?
Regardless of what side of the fence you fall on, there are three more things you should know. First, even if your buck soundly beats the previous world record, expect a re-score of the existing record. Second, the hot line to the NAHC headquarters is (952) 936-9333. Third, ask them to put you in touch with me.