As November comes on in Maine, with frost-laden mornings and leafless hardwoods graying up the tree lines, serious deer hunters begin preparations. Rifles are cleaned and zeroed. Maps are studied. Hunting clothes are checked over. New gear is purchased. Tree stands are erected. And kindred spirits of the fall deer hunt fix the leaky roof at deer camp, all the while sharing stories and daydreaming about what could be during the best month of the year.
The “what could be” is really what the deer hunt is in its essence. The expectation of that dream buck, the big heavy-antlered behemoth slow-stepping up through the alders from the morning bog, antlers glistening and breath steaming from flared nostrils.
For Horace Hinckley of Augusta, that daydream materialized on Fletcher Mountain in November of 1955. A massive buck stepped into the sights of Hinckley’s 30:06 and, with one shot, was to become a Maine state record that remains a record to this day — 65 years later!
Hinckley’s buck field-dressed at 355 pounds. Its live weight was estimated at 488 pounds.
In a story written by Richard Bernier, he reveals that Hinckley’s wife had dispatched a 200-pound buck minutes before Hinckley fired. She was, according to Bernier, within shouting distance of her husband and was calling out to him to come and help her. On a hunter’s hunch, Hinckley did not rush to his wife’s side like many of us would do. He remained motionless and silent. Perhaps he had seen a sign and suspected that there might have been some buck sparring in the vicinity, with more than one rutted-up critter in the neighborhood. Or perhaps, Hinckley was just plain lucky. Whatever the case, Hinckley’s instincts delivered to him the buck of a lifetime, literally.
Most seasoned deer hunters, even those of us who have never tagged a 200-pound buck, have nevertheless seen or jumped big deer that were later described at deer camp as the Hartford Elk. Still, it is hard to imagine a deer in the Maine woods whose live weight approaches 500 pounds!
In 2018, according to the Maine Sportsman, a woman hunter bagged a bragging buck in the Rangeley area that field-dressed at 215 pounds. There were a number of bucks tagged that year that exceeded 220 pounds dressed. Kyle Wentworth, spokesman for the Maine Antler & Skull Trophy Club, to1d me that his organization’s records indicate that in 2006 a Maine buck was tagged that field-dressed at 331 pounds. He cautioned that his club has no way of officially confirming these weights.
According to retired deer biologist Gerry Lavigne, most mature adult bucks tip the scales between 200 and 300 pounds. Is there a 400-pounder skulking about somewhere in the Big Woods? It is certainly possible, and that makes the fall deer hunt all that more exciting and filled with anticipation, even for those who are not trophy hunters and hoping simply to fill the freezer with some tasty venison cuts.
What makes it all that more exciting is that, in so many cases, these bragging bucks have shown a tendency to show up at the most unexpected times.
Good luck with your fall deer hunt. No sleeping on the job.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]