Wayne Zaft Buck
Travis Smola

The Wayne Zaft Buck Was Denied The Archery World Record Amid Controversy

Deer hunting has no shortage of controversies, especially as far as world record bucks are concerned. There have been plenty of extremely famous whitetails that have earned a rather notorious reputation in hunting circles. Rompola buck ring a bell with anyone? In any case, one of the more famous cases is that of Canadian bowhunter Wayne Zaft. In 2001, he shot a massive, basic 11-point-framed buck during the early season in Alberta that wasn't just one of the largest deer ever taken in Canada, it was believed the deer would dethrone Mel Johnson's long-standing 204 4/8-inch archery typical world record buck from Illinois. It seemed like it was forgone conclusion to the story when Pope and Young accepted the buck with an entry score of 206 7/8.

However, one panel scoring session, a questionable G3 tine, and a huge controversy later, and deer hunters everywhere were stunned with the news that this deer was not the new world record. In fact, you won't find the Wayne Zaft buck in Pope and Young, nor Boone and Crockett's record books today. So, what the heck happened? Well, it's a wild story that starts with an even wilder hunt for one of the largest North American whitetails ever hunted.

The Hunt For a Monster

Wayne Zaft Buck

Travis Smola

It was Thanksgiving Day in Canada on October 8, 2001, when Zaft headed into the field. He was hunting an area outside of Edmonton which is commonly known as the "bow zone." Only archery equipment is allowed in this area. Unlike most whitetail hunting stories, Zaft wasn't in a treestand when he spotted the monster typical whitetail. In fact, he was more concerned with scouting a new area near a funnel between two large stands of timber. Fortunately, he thought to bring his bow along. Zaft described what happened next in an editorial in North American Whitetail. It's the kind of situation many hunters dream about but most will never experience.

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"As I was kneeling, inspecting what I thought might be a large buck track in soft earth, I looked up and saw a monster buck trotting my way. He was about 150 yards out and coming along the bush line I was in," Zaft wrote.

The hunter waited until the buck was behind some foliage before finding a better position behind a broken poplar tree. Zaft had a small shooting window, so all he had to do was wait. Sure enough, the buck entered the window. Zaft grunted at the animal, but it refused to stop completely. The bowhunter decided to take the shot when the buck slowed to a walk. The arrow passed completely through the buck. However, the hunter noticed it was higher and farther back than he wanted. When Zaft inspected the scene, he realized he'd shot for 34 yards, but the distance was really 30. Zaft found only a little blood before deciding to let the world class buck lay overnight. The next morning Zaft searched before and after work with only a few small drops of blood to show for it.

Frustrated, Zaft asked around and his persistence paid off. The owner of the land next door had seen a large buck dead in one of his fields. The landowner took Zaft to the spot and sure enough, there was Zaft's buck. The sad part of this story was that coyotes found the magnificent whitetail first. The only thing left for Zaft to salvage was the antlers, which still had shreds of velvet hanging from them. It was a bittersweet end to the hunt, but at least Zaft had his monster and knew what had happened.

 The Controversy

Wayne Zaft Buck

Travis Smola

The story of the big buck spread like wildfire. It didn't take long for rumors of it beating the Mel Johnson buck to circulate. And why not? The measurements for the buck seemed to check out. His main beams are 27 3/8 and 27 2/8 inches. His tallest tines are stretch to 12 and nearly 14 inches respectively. The buck had mass measurements well over five inches at the bases, and the inside spread is 20 5/8 inches. This was literally a buck that had it all.

After the mandatory 60-day drying period, Pope & Young measured the deer at 222 inches gross. They entered the buck at 206 7/8-inches typical net, nearly two inches bigger than the Johnson buck. However, P&Y requires a panel scoring to confirm the measurements on all world record deer. When the panel finally convened in the spring of 2003, they had bad news for Zaft. The panel dropped the net score down to 172 5/8-inches typical or 210 1/8-inches non-typical. This gargantuan drop was the result of P&Y's ruling on the buck's G3 tine on the left side. The scorers determined that tine shared a common base with another point, making the G3 an abnormal point. The result was devastating. That G3 alone accounted for 14 inches of score. Add in side-to-side deductions for symmetry, and this whitetail buck lost nearly 30 inches from this one ruling. Pope & Young secretary Executive Secretary Glenn Hisey told ESPN the organization was simply following their rules.

"It was obvious that it was mis-measured when it was originally measured," Hisey told ESPN. "The third point on the left hand side is clearly an abnormal point and cannot be counted as a normal point as the original measurers did."

At least one person saw this ruling from P&Y coming, and that was Russel Thornberry of the Buckmaster scoring system. Thornberry told ESPN that he warned Zaft this ruling was a very real possibility when the scorers put tape to bone for the second time.

"When I looked at the buck's head for the first time, I told him (Zaft) that they'll murder you on this. I knew it would happen then and they proved me right," Thornberry said.

For what it's worth, the Buckmasters system doesn't make deductions for abnormal points. They also don't give an inside spread credit. In any case, the Zaft buck was also measured for their record books, and the result was a 226 7/8-inch composite score, and a 205 7/8-inch official score, making it the world record under that system for an archery whitetail. The buck still sits atop their record books to this day, tied with James Cogar's 2013 Iowa giant.

Many people didn't realize it, but the Zaft buck controversy was a sneak preview for a nearly identical situation involving the Johnny King buck that was shot in Wisconsin five years later. In truth, many people have forgotten about the Zaft buck since the King buck was a much higher profile case. Mainly because the stakes were higher. Many hunters believed the King buck was large enough to dethrone the Milo Hanson B&C typical buck from Saskatchewan. However, B&C came to a nearly identical ruling as P&Y did with the Zaft buck on a controversial G3 tine that some say shares a common base.

At 172 5/8 inches net, the Zaft buck was still large enough for entry in both P&Y and B&C. Zaft thought about it for a while, and then decided to withdraw the buck completely from record contention. He explained his actions in North American Whitetail.

"Because I don't agree with this scoring interpretation, I've asked P&Y to remove the deer from its all-time record book," Zaft wrote.

And that was that. One of the largest typical bucks of all time was then denied a spot in the pages of whitetail hunting history by the hunter who harvested it. There are still some hunters who will argue the Zaft buck is the rightful world record typical whitetail deer with a bow. However, it's not likely P&Y is going to change their ruling either. Records aside, there's no denying the Zaft buck is one of the greatest whitetails ever taken. To many, it has one of the most beautiful sets of antlers ever grown by a whitetail, and it is little wonder this deer is still a favorite of hunters today.

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