Hunters find monster-size antlers during rifle deer season
With Pennsylvania’s two-week rifle season coming to a close, many hunters have found trophy deer across the commonwealth.
Over the past two weeks, sportsmen and sportswomen have been keeping taxidermists and butchers busy with their bucks of a lifetime. Here are just a few of the many success stories.
Big 1st buck
Julia Minnicks of Danville harvested a trophy 8-point on the second day of season while hunting on her boyfriend’s property in Muncy.
The tall-racked buck was her first ever deer.
“We knew there were bucks but didn’t know there were big bucks this size in the woods,” she said.
The deer was taken with a .243 caliber rifle at about 65 yards.
“I was very ecstatic to shoot my deer and it’s a buck that size,” she said about the recovery. She’s been hunting for about five years, and this is the first deer she’s had a chance to shoot. “I was very excited.”
The deer is now at a taxidermist being made into a shoulder mount.
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Bill McClintock of Pittsburgh was hunting with his son Cody when he shot the buck of his lifetime.
They have 183 acres of land along the Casselman River in southwestern Pennsylvania, and Bill shot an 8-point with a broken off brow tine. What’s unusual about the deer is that it has a 21.75- inch inside spread.
Cody McClintock said he saw the buck during the October muzzleloader season for doe. The trophy animal was chasing a doe, and Cody passed on shooting it to not disturb the buck.
On the first day of rifle season Bill, 57, was able to get a shot at the buck with his .30-06 rifle but couldn't find it. Two days later, they hunted the area again and found the giant dead from his bullet.
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“It was quite a celebration,” Bill McClintock said. “We shot our share of deer, but this was a beauty,” he reflected.
With finding the deer two days later, the meat was no longer safe to eat, but they were able to retrieve the head and antlers for a European (skull) mount. “Why I didn’t walk a little farther,” he ponders about finding it a short distance from where they searched earlier.
McClintock did end up getting some venison as he was able to notch his antlerless doe license as well. “It was quite a day," he said.
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The farm property dates to Bill’s great-grandfather. “Just growing up here all my life and getting something this big is just fantastic.”
Cody said they found the deer two years to the day after he personally shot his biggest buck that measured 160 inches. Bill’s buck this year is estimated to be about 140 inches he said. “He has a lot of mass clear out through his main beams.”
John Cripps III of Aldan, Delaware County, connected with the biggest buck of his life Dec. 4 with a crossbow in the Philadelphia area. He was hunting in an area where centerfire rifles are prohibited. The huge 8-point has a 25-inch outside spread and 21.5- inch inside spread.
He made the shot with his Ravin crossbow at 72 yards along a woodline. He said he practices throughout the year and was confident about making long-distance shots if the right conditions are there. He used his range finder and spotted the buck at 150 yards chasing a doe and it finally came in just under half that distance.
“I've never seen that buck before,” he said about the encounter. He hunts the public property during archery season, and “I had a couple big bucks on (trail) cameras, but I never saw this one. I was lucky. In the right place at the right time.”
“I was shaking when I shot it. It definitely got me excited,” he said about the long beams on the rack. He went to the area with a friend who found it within three minutes of leaving the spot where he last saw the deer. He’s getting the head mounted, pointing out he likes the white fur on the older deer’s face.
While this is the largest rack he’s ever harvested at an estimated 151 inches green score, he said he shot a 16 point last year that had a smaller frame than this year’s deer.
Earlier this year, his father, John Cripps Jr., harvested an 11-point in the same area. He said the people he hunts with are looking for mature deer that have at least four points on one side and have a rack wider than their ears.
“This is what happens when you pass up the smaller bucks,” he said about finding larger, trophy deer.
Dan Taylor, 33, of Shinglehouse, McKean County, bagged a massive 10-point with a 19-inch spread on the opening day of rifle season in north central Pennsylvania. He has trail camera photos of him for the past three years and calls the deer “Temptation” as he was tempted to harvest the deer earlier. “I passed on him the last day of season (In 2020)," he said. "He definitely got bigger this year.”
His goal is to shoot mature deer, and he lets younger ones grow on his property. “You have to be willing to eat tag soup if you want to let them grow,” he said about being willing to pass up on shot opportunities at younger deer.
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When he fired the shot from about 40 yards, he thought he hit the animal with his .30-06 but had trouble finding it. He said the bullet made a small entrance wound but never exited, leaving little sign along the trail. Fortunately, it was a short tracking job and the deer that weighed about 180 pounds field dressed expired on an old logging road.
“He’s a beautiful deer,” said Taylor, who hunts in several states, including Ohio and New York. “He’s my biggest Pennsylvania buck.”
9-point beauty buck
Mollie Byrne, an avid archer from Windber, was surprised by the nice 9-point she shot on the first day of rifle season with her .308 caliber rifle.
“That was the first time I'd seen him,” she said about getting the opportunity to harvest the deer at 35 yards.
She was archery hunting on the farm several nights a week but never knew this deer was in the region.
“It’s definitely the biggest buck I ever shot,” she said about the wall-hanger with a 15-inch inside spread. She did get an 8-point in 2018 and it had a smaller spread. She started hunting about 12 years ago when she turned 12.
“Honestly, I just love being out in the woods,” the wildlife biologist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission said. “Being outside is literally my life.”
She enjoys watching the birds and other wildlife. “It’s my happy place,” she said.
The prized buck has become a Eurpean (skull) mount that she made herself through a simmering process using a pot similar to how people deep fry turkey.
Aaron Steppe of Williamsport got the buck he was pursuing for a couple years on Sunday, Nov. 28, on public property in Lycoming County.
“I’ve been after him for two years, but I knew about him for three years,” he said about his 10 point with an 18 5/8-inch spread. The antlers produced a score of 143 2/8 inches. He has photos of the large deer on a trail camera and watched as his following year antlers were bigger than before.
“He grew a lot between two and three,” he said, adding that he gained height in this year’s antlers.
He shot the deer with a 6.5 Creedmoor caliber rifle from about 130 yards through the woods. “It was really exciting," he said. "That’s probably the fastest I went down my tree.”
Steppe also archery hunts and almost sealed the deal on this deer earlier in the year. However, he said the deer was too far away for archery gear and was in thick brush.
The buck, which is his personal best deer, is now at a taxidermist getting mounted on a pedestal. He said he has also hunted in Illinois, Indiana and New York, but this Pennsylvania buck is his biggest.
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Steppe appreciates having that Sunday of rifle season to hunt and wishes the Pennsylvania Game Commission would add more Sundays for deer hunters. He explained he works five days a week, and in archery season there were a lot of rainy Saturdays. If there were more Sundays, hunters could pick either weekend day to be in the woods. “Being able to Sunday hunt was a benefit,” he said about his success.
If you didn’t find the deer you were looking for in rifle season, the muzzleloader and archery season reopens on Dec. 27.
Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA Today Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at email@example.com and sign up for our weekly Outdoors Newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name.
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