The Hole in the Horn may be the most famous non-typical whitetail deer ever.
In the modern era of deer hunting, sportsmen and women have become incredibly distrusting. Every time a giant non-typical deer is shot, we see the usual claims: "high fence deer," "genetically modified," or "unnatural." It is sad deer hunters today have been pre-programmed to automatically suspicious of every big buck that shows up.
Well, there are a few famous whitetails in the big game record books that pre-date the high fences and genetic manipulation. These animals prove whitetail bucks are capable of some incredible things in extraordinary circumstances.
One of those legendary whitetails is the famous "Hole-in-horn" buck from Portage County, Ohio. This beast was found dead all the way back in 1940. This giant non-typical whitetail is one of the largest to ever walk the Earth and there are few mysteries still unanswered about this magnificent animal.
Where was the Hole in the Horn buck found?
One of the greatest deer ever was found in Ohio's Portage County, not too far from Akron. The actual location was just outside the fence for Ravenna Arsenal. During World War II, nearly 14,000 people worked there producing munitions for the war effort. Today this military base is known as Camp James A. Garfield and serves as a training camp for the Ohio National Guard.
One thing that bears mentioning about this buck is that in the 1940s, the Buckeye State was not exactly the deer haven it is known as today. Wildlife management was not a thing from the time of the first settlers to the area in the late 1700s to the late 1800s. A booming fur trade and a need for venison led to deer being killed by the thousands. By the early 1900s, whitetails had been completely wiped out in Ohio. Fortunately, hunting seasons were ceased and programs to re-introduce the animals to the wild began shortly after. Still, in the early 1940s, the deer population in Ohio was still extremely low. Ohio would not have an established season for another three years, which is what makes the story of this buck even more amazing.
Who found the Hole in the Horn buck?
Details on the Hole in the Horn's discovery are a bit muddled. What we know is cobbled together from eyewitness accounts, and even then, details seem to change from source to source. Even the year may be in question. In a 1991 interview with The Oklahoman, eyewitness Jerry Henceroth recalled seeing the buck shortly after it was found. He recalled World War II being in progress, making the year 1943 and not 1940 as is usually cited. Whatever the year of discovery may have been, we do not know the names of all the people who found the deer. We know only it was a group of railroad workers.
One of the few named eyewitnesses was a man named George Winters. In 1995, he told North American Whitetail magazine he had been there when the Hole in the Horn was found. According to Winters, the buck was at least partially tangled up in a chain-link fence. There is more to Winter's story we'll talk about a little later.
In any case, according to Legendary Whitetails, the buck may have been spotted by an engineer riding on a passing train and was then later recovered. We do not know what killed this legendary buck, but the prevailing theory is it was struck by a train because of the proximity to the railroad tracks. We may never know for sure as the buck was allegedly heavily decomposed already. The workers recovered the antlers only and the rest was history.
The buck sits in obscurity for 40 years.
Shortly after its discovery, the massive antlers came into the possession of a man named Charlie Flowers, an engineer with Erie Railroad Company. According to Legendary Whitetails it is not known how he came to own the antlers. The important detail here is Flowers sold the rack to the Kent Canadian Club. The bar is in Kent, Ohio is still open and running to this day. It may be hard to fathom today, but the selling price was only $25.
In any case, the buck was mounted by a taxidermist and then spent almost 40 years hanging over the bar. Only local hunters knew of the deer's existence. The deer remained in relative obscurity until 1977 when noted antler collector Larry Huffman first saw a photo of the Hole in the Horn. Unfortunately, Huffman had no other details on the big buck to go on. Fast-forward four years later to around 1982 when he was shown the photo again by noted antler collector Fred Goodwin of Maine. Goodwin had a lead on the deer's location, and in 1983, Huffman visited the Kent Canadian Club to see the deer for himself.
In the early 80s, interest in big antlers and the record books was just starting to take off. Huffman recognized the rack's significance and quickly acquired the deer as part of the "Legendary Whitetails" collection. It was the perfect time for the antlers to change hands as the Club had recently started to recognize this was a special animal and it deserved to be seen by more people. It didn't take long for news to spread this deer could potentially rival the new world record "Missouri Monarch" buck which had been found just two years earlier outside of St. Louis.
Huffman's initial measurements of the Hole in the horn revealed the buck would likely score somewhere between 330 and 350 inches, with nearly 200 inches of that score coming from the rack's many abnormal points. The first official measurer to put tape to the deer was Boone & Crockett scorer Phil Wright in August of 1983 and his initial scoring of 342 3/8 appeared to blow the Monarch's 333 7/8-inch score out of the water.
However, to be official, Boone and Crockett Club requires a panel scoring verification session with top officials for all world record entrants. Long story short, when the scorers finally finished their work, they came up with a net score of 328 2/8 inches, which put it just below the Monarch in the number two position all-time. It is worth noting that the Monarch's initial scoring session showed a score of 325 3/8 points before it gained more in a panel scoring session.
To this day, some hunters still believe the Hole in the horn is the larger of the two deer. There is no questioning the mass of the Hole in the horn is far more impressive than the Monarch. Seldom does a deer carry that kind of mass all the way up the main beams and through all its tines.
Although this is also a deer that could probably be measured a dozen different times and you could come up with a dozen different scores. Interpreting B&C's rules gets extremely difficult when a buck is this wildly non-typical and has so many points. As Huffman notes, every scorer is going to have a different interpretation of how to score a deer like this. We may never know which one is the bigger of the two.
What caused that Hole in the horn anyway?
Perhaps the bigger controversy over this deer is the buck's namesake. There is a small hole in one of the club-like drop tines of the right antler that has confounded hunters for decades now. There are three theories to how the deer got this hole, and at least two of them have conflicting eyewitness accounts as to what caused it.
The first theory, and by far the most popular, is the hole was caused by a bullet from a gun. Many have speculated over the years the hole is the right size and consistency for a .22 long rifle. Perhaps an opportunistic farmer, squirrel, or rabbit hunter could not help themselves upon seeing the giant and took a pot shot? Even knowing deer were not legal game at the time in Ohio? This theory stirs the imagination a bit as it makes us wonder if perhaps the second-greatest whitetail of all time was poached.
The second theory comes from that eyewitness we mentioned earlier, George Winter. When Huffman interviewed Winter back in the early 90s, Winter claimed he knew the secret of the hole. Winter said one of the wires from the fence was sticking through the antler at the time of the discovery. From there, hunters theorized the buck's thrashing may have caused the wire to slowly bore the hole as the deer died.
"I guess for years everyone has been wondering what made that hole," Winter told Huffman. "But it was definitely caused by that wire."
That may have been the end of it. Except in December of 2015, an entirely new theory emerged. North American Whitetail's Gordon Whittington was in Ohio filming an episode about the deer when he was introduced to Stub Bower, a long-time member, and former bartender of the club. According to Bower, the hole's appearance in the rack comes from the fact the buck is a little heavier on his right side than his left.
Bower claimed the head hung on some lattice in the bar, and it always leaned to the right. Bower said he and the club's manager Whit Nighman decided one day to fix the mounted head so it stood upright. They did this by drilling a hole through the droptine and running a wire through it. They then ran the wire back into the lattice and cinched it tight to keep the buck upright. This explanation may not be as fun as the others. However, we must admit, it makes a lot of sense.
So, we have three theories, and two of them have a witness. Make of it what you will. It is anyone's guess who is telling the truth. Perhaps it is more fitting we will never know for certain what made the hole. It just adds to the uniqueness of this legendary deer. One thing is for certain, this buck proves monster non-typical racks can happen naturally in nature. The first deer farmers and ranchers did not start experimenting with growing bigger racks until the 1970s. Remember that the next time a monster non-typical makes headless. Nature is capable of some amazing things in extraordinary circumstances.
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