Big blasts from the past
Photo courtesy of Vermont Big Game Trophy Club
Leo Brown is pictured with the buck he bagged in 1915.
The range-finder confirms it. The big buck is 78 yards out. The binoculars come up and it is clear that the buck’s antlers are spread out beyond its big ears. You’ve got enough scent cover around your blind to make a skunk want to puke. The buck came in, head up and looking about, thanks to the grunt call around your neck. All you have to do now is put the crosshairs of that 3X9, $600 scope at the center of his chest and touch off a shot. In terms of technology, deer hunting has come a long way over the past few decades. While some products give deer hunters a decided edge, many other products are more designed to attract big ($) bucks rather than big bucks. One of the truly astounding factors about Vermont deer hunting is how many record-book bucks were taken many years ago, when the only gadget you carried was, maybe, a compass. A book, set to be published sometime this winter, spells out in detail how hunters, back in the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, killed record-book bucks with great antlers and big bodies — and without all of the gadgets we like to believe will enable us to do the same.
Almost every one of the early bucks was taken with open sights. “Records of Vermont Big Game,” the book compiled by the Vermont Big Game Trophy Club and due to be published in only months, reveals some truly staggering data about our “old-time” deer hunters.
Thirteen out of the 20 top typical and non-typical bucks ever scored in Vermont were taken prior to 1960.
Even more interesting than the data are the deer hunters themselves. The men, those who are still around to talk about those record-book bucks, are a study in themselves. They were found to be humble, held hard-working jobs and accomplished their feats as woodsman and marksmen, rather than with the latest gizmo.
As one of the contributors to the book, which is being compiled by Curtis Smiley, the president of the Vermont Big Game Trophy Club, I had the task of getting a half-dozen of these old-timers to talk about what they did so many years ago.
It turned out to be both an education and a big thrill.
Take the story of Philip Q. Tracy, the East Richford man who shot the 10th-best non-typical buck ever taken in Vermont, scoring 170 2/8.
Tracy first spotted the big buck a day earlier, right before dark.
“The next day, I followed it, tracking it in the snow,” the 80-year-old deer hunter said in an interview. “It was about 10 a.m. I could tell he was doing a lot of rutting, tearing up trees and things.”
Tracy, 30 years of age, noticed the deer was headed uphill.
“I circled around the back of the hill and, suddenly spotted him. He was with another buck and a doe,” he said. “When I first saw him, I thought he had some brush in his horns, but he didn’t. What I saw was his horns.”
The buck was about 100 yards off when Tracy squeezed the trigger.
“I didn’t have a scope and I didn’t know if I hit him or not,” he said.
Tracy found his buck some distance away. It wasn’t until he approached the deer that he realized that he had shot the buck of a lifetime.
In short time, the word got out and Tracy’s buck generated a great deal of attention.
“I had him hanging in my shed,” he said. “A lot of people showed up at the house that night.”
And then there’s Burton Bailey’s big non-typical buck. Burton, his father and his brother were cutting firewood up on a back pasture in Brookfield when they heard 10 rifle shots.
It was during the deer season in 1957, but there were chores to be done. Still, those shots were enough to fire up young 16-year-old Burton and he told his father that he would go and investigate.
Bailey headed up to where the deer were known travel, from out of the hardwoods and across this field.
“I figured they must be out of ammunition by now,” Bailey said in an interview.
“So this big buck came walking out. When I first saw him he was probably 150 yards away but I didn’t want to shoot because he was coming right toward me. Then he stepped behind a big spruce tree and I couldn’t see him and I thought, ‘Oh, I goofed up.’ I waited there and pretty soon he stepped out like nothing ever happened,” he said.
Bailey shouldered his .32 special, a lever action with open sights, and squeezed the trigger.
“He wasn’t more than 50 yards in from of me and I shot him just in front of the shoulder and put him down like a rock,” he said.
A short while later, the two hunters who had cut loose with 10 shots, both classmates at school, arrived on the scene. “They were a little bit disappointed,” Bailey said with a chuckle.
I hope to pass on a few of the stories some other old-timers gave me, sometime in a future column. Meanwhile, “Records of Vermont Big Game,” which will detail the stories behind the top 10 typical and the top 10 non-typical whitetail deer, the top 10 moose and the top 10 black bear, as well as more than a hundred photos, should be an excellent book, on the shelf of any serious deer hunter.