Michigan deer hunting has changed.
It used to be if you showed up at a big buck event, you heard the inevitable story about how some guy fell asleep under a tree, woke up with a big buck standing in front of him, and wound up sealing the deal.
Not so much anymore. These days, the lion’s share of the trophies that show up at these events are taken by hunters who know darn well that that the big guy is out there.
That much was apparent at Big Buck Night at Outdoorama held recently in Novi. (And if you missed it, there’s another opportunity at the Ultimate Sports Show in Grand Rapids, March 21.) The vast majority of the hunters who came up on stage to talk with Jimmy Gretzinger and Jenny Olsen — the program was being taped for an upcoming episode of Michigan Out-of-Doors television show — said they had either seen the buck on the hoof or at least had trail camera photos of the creature and were hunting that buck specifically.
Here are some of their stories:
Mike Paull, a 45-year-old auto industry supervisor, saw the 160-inch, 12-point he killed in October in Genesee County on his trail camera. And though he never saw the buck on the hoof until he arrowed it, he found the buck’s sign. But rather than move his stand and disrupt the area, Paull said he made a mock scrape near his stand and brought the buck to him. Cool story, eh?
Brian Jankovic, a 33-year-old surveyor from Dexter, said he bumped the trophy buck that he wound up killing in Jackson County, two years earlier while scouting the area and had found his sheds last year. He took the 169 7/8-inch, 14-point on opening day of firearms season.
Andy Plaza of Southgate took a 172-inch, 11-point on Nov. 21 in Wayne County. The 51-year-old Plaza had seen the buck on a trail camera Nov. 1 and a friend of his, who had seen the buck the day before, invited him to share his blind on Nov. 21. Plaza said they grunt-called the animal in and when it didn’t present his partner a shot, Plaza took him.
Thirty-three-year-old Chris Russ, who owns a construction company in Monroe County, said he’d seen the 171-inch, 11-point a dozen times before he killed him with a crossbow on Nov. 5. Russ said he built a blind in standing corn and shot the deer at 20 yards.
Mike Hopkins of Marine City shot his giant behind his house with a .454 hand gun. The 48-year-old heating and cooling contractor said he’s seen the buck during bow season and all of his nephews had trail camera photos of him. Hopkins’ buck is a tentative state record for handgun.
Zack Ruthven, 20, of Ann Arbor, killed a 184-inch, 17-point with a crossbow on Nov. 10 after missing the same deer with an arrow last year. “He grew a couple of more tines,” Ruthven said.
Robert Sopsich, a 24-year-old construction worker from Milford, shot a 182 1/8-inch 12-point buck in Oakland County. Sopsich said they had “tons of pictures of him” on the trail camera — “only this year, though” — and that he saw the animal in velvet last summer. The buck is a potential state record.
Of course, not all the hunters who showed up with trophies had seen the deer before, but they could have — or they had been seen by somebody else nearby. John Falecki, a 46-year-old machine repairman from Memphis (Michigan) said the 17-point, 173 3/8-inch bruiser he killed with a cross bow on Oct. 26 in Macomb County showed up out of nowhere. But after the buck was down, he checked his trail camera and found out he did have pictures of him. (Falecki’s buck may be the new state record typical whitetail taken with a bow.)
Meanwhile, Gary Reed, a 48-year-old barber from Jackson County — he didn’t want to get any more specific than that — said he’d never seen the 184-inch, 15-point he shot with his Remington 870 12 gauge (the same firearm he’s used since he was 14, he said). But within a day or two, as word spread of the big buck spread, a guy came into his shop with about 200 pictures from a trail camera taken about two miles away. Then later, a guy showed up with a cell-phone photo taken during bow season about a half mile away. (Reed asked me to give a shout out to his wife, Robin, who helped him drag the creature out of the woods. Attagirl, Robin!)
Perhaps the most impressive trophy of the night, however, belonged to 76-year-old Lou Gallas, who shot a massive 114-inch fork horn. That’s right: a trophy four-point. Ms. Gallas said she’d been watching the deer for years and it had never been more than a fork horn.
That buck brings to mind, the campaign by some hunters for mandatory antler point restrictions (APR) in Michigan in order to grow more big deer. I would suggest that Gallas’ trophy would never be legal if we had the mandatory four-on-a side APR that some hunters are pushing for southern Michigan. Gallas’ buck is a better trophy than most Michigan deer hunters ever collect. (I’d have shot him, if it were legal, and I’ve been passing bucks for years.)
Given the caliber of the Gallas fork horn — as well all the other trophies paraded up on stage at Big Buck Night — one has to wonder whether APR is a solution in search of a problem.