NOVI — What makes a trophy buck? Number of points? Spread? Mass? All of the above?
Many hunters agree that the score — the total number of inches of the beams, points circumference — is the standard, with various organizations acknowledging deer that score a certain minimum as “trophies.”
But others believe that they’re all trophies, and the first hunter to the stage at the recent Big Buck Night at Outdoorama received a hearty round of applause for the two nice (but not giant) 8-point bucks she brought with her.
Autumn Pratt, an 11-year-old fifth-grader — “but I was 10 when I got them,” she said — showed off bucks scoring 98 5/8 and 100 that she shot with a crossbow last fall.
“I think they’re pretty special,” she said.
The audience agreed with her.
Pratt was one of 13 hunters who displayed their 2018 trophies at the show, hosted by the "Michigan Out-of-Doors" television crew. All of them were pretty special.
The show immediately shifted gears to big bucks as hunters paraded their trophies to the stage at the Suburban Showplace. The second buck, taken by 60-year-old Travis Woiderski of Cheboygan with a crossbow he’d gotten for a present the previous Christmas, was an 11-point scoring 138 1/8. Woiderski killed the 4 1/2-year-old on public land where he’d never hunted before.
The next hunter up, 64-year-old Mark Dockett of Whitmore Lake, brought two bucks from Washtenaw County to the fore, a big 10-point and an even bigger 16-point, that came with a story. He shot the 16-point on opening day of firearms season. It ran off and he couldn’t find it. So during muzzleloading season, he killed the 10-point. But he never quit looking for the big one and almost a month later, he found it. Dockett, who is a cancer patient, said he hadn’t had time to have either scored because he was in treatment and he spent any free time he had hunting or looking for the first buck.
Tammy Oullette, a 52-year-old human resources manager from Chesterfield, showed off a 146 3/8 bruiser she killed in Jackson County on Nov. 17. It was her first buck, she said, and her third year of deer hunting. She was in a blind with her husband — “he doesn’t hunt; he didn’t even have a gun,” she said.
Gerald Spriet, a 64-year-old truck driver from Macomb, brought up a 10-point Macomb County buck he shot Oct. 7 with a crossbow from a ground blind at 15 yards. It weighed 210 pounds dressed. He’d seen it on his trail camera the year before when it was an 8-point, he said, and it’s by far his best ever. “I’ve got a nice 9-point and a 10- mounted in the house, but those are going to the barn,” he said. “He’s taking over the house.”
Jason McKenzie of Harsens Island showed off the 158-inch 12-point that followed a doe to his bait pile. He shot it from a tree stand on public land in Mackinaw County with a shotgun — “the only scoped gun I owned at the time,” he said. The 28-year-old heavy equipment operator was hunting with his brother for the first time there. His brother’s buddy had seen the buck two days earlier 8 miles away, he said.
In contrast, 48-year-old Mark McCray killed his 157 6/8 8-point in his “backyard” in Berrien County with a crossbow on Nov. 10. “I’d been watching him for three years,” McCray said, “but this was the first time I saw him in daylight — I only had camera pictures of him. McCray said he passed on several smaller bucks, but he killed a 142-incher in 1996 with a shotgun.
Detroit firefighter Brandon Carter killed a 161 3/8 Jackson County 13-point on Nov. 20. He opened the season near Posen with his buddies and his trail camera sent him a photo on his phone on Nov. 14 while he was playing cards. “It kind of ruined my camp because I had this guy on my mind,” said Carter, 37. After he posted the deer online, he heard from a bunch of folks who had seen the buck, he said. “I met some super-nice guys. It sort of re-energized my deer hunting.”
Phil Robertson, a 38-year-old excavator, said the 165-inch Oakland County 13-point he shot with his bow on Oct. 3, had been on his property for the last couple of years, but always disappeared in late September. Robertson said he has a weak stomach and he threw up when he started gutting it, so his girlfriend finished the job for him. (She now has a ring on her finger, he said.)
Tracy Cromner of Owasso shot a 170 2/8 10-point on Thanksgiving morning with his grandfather’s Model 48 shotgun. “I never saw the buck before in my life but I heard someone 4 miles away had him on his trail camera,” the 55-year-old retiree said. “I shot a 7-point a day earlier. He was nice but nothing like this.”
Thirteen-year-old Gabe Jones of Blissfield brought up a 170 4/8 12-point he killed with a .44 mag on opening day of firearms season, while he was hunting with his uncle. “He was leaving; my uncle fired off a shot, the buck froze and I shot him,” Jones said. “He went right down. My dad told me the day before the big guy was out there. The first thing I did was call my parents and (say), ‘I got the big guy.’ ”
Tony Cosbey, a 38-year-old banker from Rochester, killed a 173-inch 14-point on Nov. 16 in Manistee County. “I had no idea he was out there,” he said. “My dad and I have been hunting there for 25 years and never saw anything like that.”
Best of show, however, went to Drew Porter of Manchester who on Oct. 14 used a bow to kill an 11-point that scored 154 4/8 — “the best I ever killed” — then followed it up with a 197 1/8 12-point on Dec. 18, also with a bow. “I still can’t believe it’s real,” the 27-year-old turf grass technician said. “It’s the season of a lifetime, that’s for sure.”
Anyone interested in seeing trophy deer can enjoy another Big Buck Night at the Ultimate Sports Show in Grand Rapids on March 14.
Bob Gwizdz is a longtime outdoors writer and has also worked in public affairs for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.