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Indiana deer among largest ever, but 'pick-up' records highlight ones that got away

Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Michael Shumaker, of Latrobe, displays a deer he had mounted after finding it dead while hunting in Indiana County in 1998. Portrait taken on March 1, 2013.

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Might Pennsylvania some day produce a 300-inch-class buck?

Considering that the world's only seen five of them, the odds aren't good, said Justin Spring of the Boone and Crockett Club.

It takes time — as well as good food and genetics — for a deer to grow a really huge rack. And few deer live that long.

Pennsylvania Game Commission research done in 2006 and '07, for example, found that only 3 percent of the bucks taken by hunters were 51⁄2 years or older, said Chris Rosenberry, chief of the deer management section.

But, here and across the country, bucks are living longer than they have in the past.

Kip Adams, a Pennsylvania-based biologist for Quality Deer Management Association, said his group's annual whitetail report — a status check on deer around the country — will show that regulations like antler restrictions are changing the nature of deer harvests. Hunters are shooting older bucks, with the majority in some states exceeding 31⁄2 years old.

“It's unreal the number of bucks moving into these older age classes,” he said. “And hunters are reaping the benefits in bigger racks.”

In Pennsylvania, hunters are taking record-book bucks more often than ever, said Bob D'Angelo of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's big game records program. He's a Boone and Crockett scorer and probably examines more deer in a year's time than anyone else in the state.

“I wouldn't say that we're going to see any 300-inch deer. Wow, that's extremely rare,” he said. “But I wouldn't be surprised if we break our records sooner rather than later.”

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Saturday, March 2, 2013, 7:49 p.m.

Michael Shumaker will be the first to tell you he didn't shoot the big whitetail hanging on his wall.

The deer is a beauty. It's got a non-typical rack with 19 points that scored 1942/8. Only 21 non-typicals rank higher in Pennsylvania record books dating more than a century.

And all it took Shumaker to get the deer was a backtag.

He and fellow Latrobe resident Don Bushey where hunting in Indiana County on the last day of the firearms deer season in 1999 when they came upon the buck lying in the woods, near the edge of a golf course and a road. It already was dead and obviously had been for several days.

“I honestly think someone shot this deer at night, and it got away,” Shumaker said. “Any hunter that had shot this deer legally would have hired the Army National Guard to find it. It was that big. I've never seen one like it.”

With less than two hours left in the season and having yet to kill a deer, Shumaker tagged the buck and made it his.

The buck is the No. 1 — and only — non-typical buck ranked in the Pennsylvania Game Commission's record book in the “pick-up” category for whitetails found dead.

There are 28 typical pick-up bucks in the state record book, though. The largest, entered by Calvin Rippey of Butler, scored 1692/8, putting it in the top 40 all-time in the state.

Finding such deer is unusual but not unheard of. Sometimes the biggest bucks fall to poachers, get hit by cars or just outwit hunters long enough to die from something else. That was made clear again this past week courtesy of a big buck in Indiana.

A hunter named Tim Beck shot the non-typical in November. Its official score — as confirmed by the Boone and Crockett Club on Thursday — was 305 78.

“It's only the third hunter-killed whitetail to ever score more than 300 inches and will be the second largest hunter-killed whitetail we've ever seen,” said Justin Spring, assistant director of big game records for the club, whose records date to 1830.

But it's only the fourth-largest non-typical recorded. The reason?

The two biggest non-typicals of all-time are both pick-up deer.

The largest is a Missouri buck found in 1982. No cause of death for it was determined. But the 5 12-year-old deer's rack, which weighed more than 11 pounds, scored 333 78. The No. 2 non-typical was hit by a train in Ohio in 1940. It scored 3282/8.

All told, Boone and Crockett has 1,321 “pick-up” whitetails in its record books.

“We do get a lot of pick-up heads. Most of them don't reach the very top of any size category. They're more likely to fall somewhere between the middle and bottom,” Spring said.

But there are exceptions to the rule, and not just with deer.

The No. 1 hunter-killed black bear was shot in Pennsylvania. But it's not the highest-scoring black bear. That would be one found dead, apparently of natural causes, in Utah in 1976.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources biologists, meanwhile, are again this winter tracking a female black bear that's known from aging one of its teeth — they contain rings like a tree — to be 39 years old. It's the oldest bear of any species recorded anywhere in the world.

“That just goes to show you how wary some of these animals are,” said Bob D'Angelo, coordinator of the big game records program for the Game Commission. “Animals like that, to be wary enough to evade hunters for all the years it takes to get really big, that's something.”

Shumaker's buck lived a long while and might have made it even longer if not perhaps for a poacher. He wishes it had made it long enough for him to take it himself. But it looks good on the wall either way.

“Better to be lucky than good, I guess,” he said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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