According to a National Deer Association Deer report, just over 3 million bucks were harvested in the United States in 2020 alone. With deer hunting being an American tradition for well over a century, this adds up to countless millions of bucks harvested over the years. Undoubtedly, there have been some truly monstrous bucks in the mix, but very few of them make waves in the hunting community like the Rompola buck did. The enormous deer, hunted in Michigan, has the dubious honor of being the most famous—or infamous—whitetails ever killed.
It was one of the first "hunting stories" to ever catch my attention. I vividly remember one evening when my dad was in his hunting room cleaning guns. In his gun case lay a bunch of hunting magazines, and the one on top had a massive, unique-looking buck plastered on the cover. The buck's rack and the hunter's face stood out. This was before I even knew what the Boone and Crockett Club was, but I knew that buck had to be one of the biggest and best deer I'd ever seen in a photograph. It was, of course, the iconic Rompola buck.
The Story of the Mitch Rompola Buck
The story starts in 1998. Mitch Rompola was a seasoned deer hunter from Traverse City, Michigan who already had some acclaim for killing big bucks. More than a few record book-caliber deer hung from his wall, most taken with a bow.
Rompola had been staying a massive, 12-point buck in Michigan for over three years. Then, on November 13, 1998, he managed to release an arrow at a buck and kill what would (potentially) become the new world record. He headed home to grab the video camera to record the recovery.
In a time before social media, news of the monster buck trickled out slowly. Its rack allegedly scored 216-5/8 inches typical and had an outside spread of 38 inches. With that score, the Rompola buck should have beaten the then-world record typical buck, the Hanson buck, by an even 5 inches—harvested in 1993, it had officially scored at 213-5/8 inches.
But then, things started to fall apart. Rompola himself vanished from the public eye, and people began to speculate as to whether the buck was authentic. In the end, it was never entered into the record books.
Doubts About the Rompola Buck
Four people inspected the Rompola deer other than the hunter himself: three scorers and a conservation officer named Bill Bailey. An article in the August 1999 issue of "Deer & Deer Hunting" featured pictures of the scoring session. Three official antler scorers apparently spent two-and-a-half hours scoring the Rompola buck and declared the deer legitimate.
In the article, scorer Gary Berger had this to say: "The rack was very impressive the first time I saw it, and nothing has changed the second time I saw it. I saw the skull plate and how the antlers attach to the skull plate. I've seen a lot of skull plates and a lot of horns attached to skull plates. Everything looked real to me, and I know some Michigan DNR people have seen it. A lot of people saw it after he killed it. Many dyed-in-the-wool hunters saw it. I felt it. I inspected it. It's real."
However, that didn't stop people from scrutinizing the arrow placement to the ears to the antler discoloration, comparing the taxidermied buck to Rompola's photos. What's more, a lack of follow-up to the questions regarding the buck's legitimacy didn't help things.
Reports emerged that the skull plate was fabricated, and it was never further examined. The rack is discolored, and the antler burrs are an inch and a half wider than average record holders. Naturally, these features raised suspicion, but Rompola denied getting X-rays on the deer's rack.
The droopy ears in the pictures were also a huge point of emphasis for the doubters. The only possible explanation for why a deer's ears would droop like that is if the original skull plate and rack were replaced with fakes, they said.
And then there was the claim that bucks simply don't grow that big in Grand Traverse County.
Less than a week after Rompola killed the buck, he got an unlisted phone number and retreated into seclusion. The rack reportedly burned up in a house fire, and he never entered the buck into the record books. It's rumored that Rompola actually signed an agreement with Hanson that he wouldn't claim his buck as a world record. That was evidence enough for people to point fingers and claim it was all a scam.
New Evidence or Another Hoax?
Recently, the supposed scoresheet used to score Rompola's buck has surfaced. It was originally posted on the Mitch Rompola Fan Club Facebook group, which is "dedicated to Mitch Rompola and those of us hunters who either know Mitch personally, know of his stature, ethics, morals, and credibility, as well as his remarkable bowhunting skills, etc., and those of us that believe Mitch isn't a fake, didn't fake his legendary bow kill of what would be a record buck as well."
Unfortunately, as some members commented, Rompola's supposed scoresheet has a much newer design than those actually used in the late 1990s. It could be a replica of the original scoresheet, reprinted on the more modern Boone & Crockett templates, but currently there's no way to know.
The authenticity of Rompola's buck remains a mystery, with avid believers on both ends of the spectrum and Rompola nowhere to be found.
Enjoy the outdoors?
Sign up for daily stories delivered straight to your inbox.